Spring Cleaning – Clearing the Clutter

Oh my goodness! Have you ever cleaned out – as in removed every single thing in preparation for a move or a remodel – your closet?!?!? HOLY COW. How do we acquire all that STUFF??


“Spring has sprung”, as the old saying goes, and many of us become obsessed with cleaning out closets, drawers, books and clutter. This is a lot like life. All that clutter weighs us down and drains our energy at work, at home and in our relationships. I find it interesting that we are not as excited to embark on a road to an “emotional clearing of the clutter.”

We put up with, accept, take on and are dragged down by things that we may have come to ignore.

Situations, people’s behavior, unmet needs, crossed boundaries, incomplete items, frustrations, problems, and even your own behavior can drain your energy and increase your stress levels. Perhaps we have gotten really good at excusing or minimizing certain things that get in our way of living life to its fullest.

Emotional cleansing is an art form: It takes practice as well as a deep commitment to shifting your thinking. But you can clear out unproductive thinking, negative self-talk and the clutter of past experiences. Just like cleaning out a closet, this kind of cleaning requires a sorting process (what to keep, what to release, what to give away).

Emotional Spring Cleaning Checklist:

1. Clutter. Yes, we’re talking about physical clutter! Messy surroundings are a definite source of stress because cleaning it up is constantly on our “to do” list. Our goal in emotional spring cleaning is to get rid of the excess baggage that’s needlessly occupying space in our brain and holding us back. A great place to start is by getting organized in our living and work spaces.

2. Resentments. Make a list of the people in your life you haven’t forgiven yet, and work on letting go of this negative energy. When you allot negative energy towards people and situations and do nothing about it, it festers and grows, and gets in the way of you being (and sharing) your best self. Try to understand why you’re holding on to it and what the payoff is aside from having something to occupy your mind and keeping your focus off of what’s really important. Do you hold onto resentment because you’re afraid of moving forward? Don’t be afraid to get real with yourself.

3. Excuses. Do you make excuses as to why you don’t go after the things you want in life? When someone suggests something to you that’s out of your comfort zone, do you make excuses as to why it’s not feasible or possible? This is your fear talking. Ask yourself: “Whose voice am I listening to?” Life is about opening your eyes to the opportunities that are available to you. Ignoring or dismissing them will only result in stagnation and lack of growth.

4. Procrastination. Procrastination is the physical result of denial. When you choose not to live in the present and you put things off until “someday”, which inevitably never comes, you’re again using valuable space in your brain and body as a storage space for stress. Abolishing procrastination and taking care of your business in a timely manner sometimes takes willpower and discipline, which may expend more energy in the present moment, but ultimately saves you tons of energy and stress in the end.

5. Wishing/Regrets. When you wish for something, or say, “If only…”, you’re focusing on the future, but in a very passive way. It does absolutely no good to wish for things or to express discontent about the way things are, if you do nothing to change them. The same goes for the past – having regrets about your actions only expresses your inability to see the potential growth that could come from every situation you’re in, positive or negative. Not to mention – you certainly can’t re-write the past, so dwelling on it without reflecting on the lessons is another pointless energy waster. If you find yourself unhappy about your current circumstances, figure out what you can do to change it. If you can’t change the situation, then perhaps choosing to view things differently will help you learn to accept that reality and not stress as much about it.

Why not take some time this weekend to inventory old behaviors and patterns that keep us in a constant state of drama – and clean them out along with the dust bunnies?

As a place to begin, let me encourage you to make a list of what you are putting up with at home, at work, or from outside activities that may be limiting you right now. There is no time like the present to identify those items. You may or may not choose to do anything about them just now, but becoming aware of and articulating them will bring them to the forefront where you will naturally start handling, eliminating, fixing and resolving them.

Are You Wasting Your Emotional Energy?

So I’m going to talk about famous people for a bit.  Just bear with me.

As I was watching the news on Tuesday morning, a story about the rivalry between Kanye West and Taylor Swift (both current pop/R&B icons) was brought to my attention.  The segment focused on a speech given at the Grammy Award Ceremony by T. Swift.  A portion of the speech is below.

“There are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success, or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame, but if you just focus on the work and you don’t let those people sidetrack you…”

Evidently, Swift was responding to a lyric in one of West’s new songs where he supposedly tried to take credit for her success.  I understand that she is standing up for herself, and encouraging young women to persevere.  However, both of these celebrities continue to hold power over one another by constantly talking about each other publicly.  The news anchors reminded me that this all started back in 2009!  That’s 7 years ago people!

SERIOUSLY!?   How often do we waist emotional energy focusing on grudges or past hurts?  Holding grudges will steel your joy and, frankly, it’s a terrible waste of emotional energy– energy that we could be using to grow, discover, process, relate, connect, and practice vulnerability.  Yes, working through horrendous hurts and pain takes time and work.  Some of my clients have experienced things that make me weep if I dwell on them and these experiences will never disappear.  Experiences change people.  But, if we are able to spend the time and do the work (hard work) of confronting our pasts honestly, then we are able to experience a new sense of freedom and peace that is life-giving.  We are able to focus on what we desire to focus on- healthy relationships; and stop focusing, all the time, on those who have injured us.

If you are allowing a past experience to rule your mind and heart, reach out and seek help. This takes an extreme amount of courage, but sometimes (a lot of times) we need a professional to walk alongside us and teach us how to move forward in a healthy way.  Whether it’s sexual, physical, verbal, or emotional abuse, trauma, or relationship issues, something that happened as a child, or 3 years ago, don’t waste any more precious time.  Make an appointment with a counselor today.

Life Lessons from my Lab (George) #5: Healing

George 5

“George stop it! No! No George!” I yelled across the room at my dog.

George lifted his head and then cocked it to one side as if to say, “Who me?”

“Yes you!” I exclaimed as I walked over and crouched down beside him.   I talk to my yellow lab frequently as if he understands me. Don’t’ worry about it… I’m aware it’s weird. I examined the lower area of his leg to find that his wound had not healed. In fact it looked worse.

“Why will he not leave his leg alone?” my husband wondered in a frustrated tone. “If he would stop licking it, it would heal!”

“I don’t know, but are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

“Yep.” He chuckled and turned to look at our dog. “Sorry buddy. It’s time for the cone of shame.”

Now the “cone of shame,” is really just an e-collar, and e-collars prevent animals from pulling off bandages etc. after a procedure has been done. At our house we lovingly call it the cone of shame because of the look George gives us when he has to wear one. I have to say, it’s pretty pathetic and equally hilarious to watch our hundred pound lab walk around wearing a huge Elizabethan style collar. He runs into EVERYTHING and cannot walk through a door without getting one of the sides of the collar stuck on the wall. He constantly knocks over furniture and in the midst of the chaos, my husband and I cannot help but laugh.

George hates the cone, but the cone is necessary. The cone keeps George from aggravating his wound. Though annoying and burdensome, without it, George’s wound would never heal. He would just keep licking his leg, without even realizing that he was making it worse!

I started thinking about the different ways that we aggravate our own wounds; the ways we prevent past hurts from healing. We try to make it better. We try to make the pain go away. But no matter what we do, we can’t figure out how to make it heal. We focus so much on the pain that we become hyper-focused and stuck in a pattern or cycle that only makes the wound more raw and exposed. We are unable to see any other way to heal. If only someone else would step in to show us a different way. If only we could see the bigger picture. If only someone would help guide us in another direction, any other direction that might actually assist in the healing process. This is where I come in.

As a Licensed Professional Counselor, I am trained to walk with people through their pain, and begin the process of restoration. If you feel stuck, as if there is no end to your suffering, there is hope! Give us a call here at Heritage and let’s start the process of your restoration.

Life Lessons from my Lab (George) #4: I Love You No Matter What

George inside the back door when I get home.
George inside the back door when I get home.

As I turn the key to unlock our back door, I can’t help but laugh. Through the glass, I watch as George springs into the air awkwardly. I use the word awkward because my VERY large yellow lab does not look anything like a dog when he jumps to greet me after a long day at the office. Instead, he resembles a cat. Let me see if I can describe a snapshot of him in mid air. He takes off of all four paws at the same time. When he reaches maximum altitude his back is dramatically arched and his toes are pointed like a weird ballerina dog… Do dogs point their toes?!? I digress. He does not touch the back door. He does not put his paws on the glass. He leaps into the air over and over again, reaching the same height each time, a good 3 feet off the ground. At the top of his bounce he has a grin on his face and his tongue hangs out of his mouth. Okay, tell me that’s not AWKWARD!

The interesting thing is, though I can expect George’s excited reaction when I come home, it still makes me smile every day. Yes, he is a dog, but George accepts me no matter what I do. Even when I neglect to walk him in the morning, or even when I get home later than expected, George’s reaction does not change. This got me thinking about human relationships: relationships with ourselves, relationships with others, and the ways we allow our judgments to interfere with the potential for deeper connection. Ask yourself the following questions, and it might shed some light on the ways you may be hindered in your relationships.

Do you value yourself based on what you do or based on who you are?

Are you hard on yourself when you make mistakes? Are you hard on others when they make mistakes?

Do you consider yourself to be a human-doing? Or a human-being?

Does your acceptance of others change based on what they do or do not do?

Do you withhold love and kindness from those close to you when they mess up?

Do you withhold love and kindness from yourself when you mess up?

Do friends/family/loved ones show you their imperfections? What about your reactions makes you a safe or unsafe person to open up to?

What if we were all able to see one anther honestly, for who we truly are?- loveable, imperfect people in need of grace.

Life Lessons From My Lab (George) #3: Enjoy Every Moment


I walked into our back room to find our dog, George, frozen in front of the window. Every muscle in his body was tense and his concentration was locked in on something in the lower windowpane.   I was surprised that he didn’t turn his attention to me as I strolled through the doorway. No, at this moment he was 100% focused on the thing that had his attention. Very slowly, George inched forward, careful not to spook the tiny black speck on the glass. I almost busted into a belly laugh when I realized what George was doing.   My hundred pound yellow lab was, “hunting,” a house fly. I held in my laughter so I could watch as the pursuit unfolded in front of me. The small insect skittered a couple of inches across the pane and George’s nostrils flared a couple of times as he sniffed the bug.   Suddenly, the fly took flight, and in the same second, George’s jaws clamped down on the insect mid-flight. Almost immediately, George spit the fly out. He nudged it with his nose a couple of times, and cocked his head curiously to one side, but the fly didn’t move. I knew the, “hunt,” was over when George sighed and plopped down next to the window. He was successful. It was time to rest. He needed to regain his energy for the next big chase.

There was something about this entire scene that made me smile; and as I sat down to write this blog post I realized that I was smiling because of the way my goofy dog was demonstrating some of the mindfulness skills that I work on with my clients. If you are feeling stressed out, anxious, overwhelmed (emotionally, mentally, physically), and hurried, the following skills will help you to calm down and focus on what really matters NOW.

  • Prioritize – Really think about how you use your time. Does how you spend your time reflect what you truly value?
  • Use your senses – When we slow down enough to pay attention to each of our five senses, not only does it help us to relax, but it makes the task at hand more enjoyable. Touch, sight, taste, sound, smell
  • Don’t multitask- efficiency decreases when we try to multitask. Whether we are spending time with a friend, doing algebra homework, cleaning the house, or finishing a project, we will be more efficient when we focus our attention on one task at a time. You might find the task even more enjoyable.
  • Refocus your attention – When your attention wanders to something else, don’t beat yourself up. Just refocus… again, and again, and again.
  • Breathe – Taking deep breaths slows down our respiration, decreases our heart rate, and brings our blood pressure down. This helps us to stay present to the task at hand.
  • Practice – Don’t be discouraged if these seemingly simple skills prove to be hard to implement. Just like anything else, the more you practice mindfulness skills, the easier these skills will become.

Life Lessons from my Lab… GEORGE: Don’t always act your age.


“How is George this excited every time we arrive at the ranch? He acts like he has never been here before!”

We laughed aloud as we drove up the dirt road to the house. George was bounding out in front of the car. Though he had been here dozens of times, our older dog with white hair around his eyes and snout, was acting like a puppy. His paws kicked up dust as he sprinted toward the house. Suddenly, he cut hard to the left and pursued a jackrabbit for a couple of seconds, then veered back onto the road. His ears flapped in the wind, his tongue hung out of his mouth, and he was grinning from ear to ear. George’s pace did not slow as we pulled into the driveway and started to unpack the car. He continued to run around the front yard, tail wagging, as if to say, “We’re here! We’re here! What are we going to do first?!”

About an hour later, George was splayed out on the porch fast asleep. “He’s like a kid when he’s out here,” we commented as we turned in for the night, “young at heart.”

The phrase, “young at heart,” doesn’t even begin to describe the way George acts when he is in his element at the ranch. Though George is a dog, (Yes. I’m one of THOSE people that talks about her dog like he’s a person) the truth is that we can learn something from his example. A new research study in the November issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry* says that feeling younger than one’s real age could help to preserve memory and cognitive function as people get older. The men and women in this study who felt older than their age scored 25% lower on memory and cognitive tests than those who felt younger.

So, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of life, don’t forget to run, bound, get dirty, pursue a passion, let your tongue hang out, and your ears flap in the wind. Find something, someone, or some place that brings you joy and excitement and makes you grin from ear to ear. Allow yourself to play so hard that at the end of the day you are splayed out on the porch… exhausted and happy. And someday at 95 years old, when your grandchildren ask you how your mind is still so sharp, you’ll be tempted to answer with a smirk, “I just acted like a puppy.”

*Stephan, Yannick et al., Subjective Age and Cognitive Functioning: A 10-Year Prospective Study, The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry , Volume 22 , Issue 11 , 1180 – 1187.

Life Lessons From My Lab… GEORGE


“No, George! No!” I scream as I sprint across the street. The woman with the beautiful golden retriever has a panicked look on her face as my hundred pound yellow lab begins to mount (yes, MOUNT) her dog. “Oh my gosh. OH MY GOSH!” are the only words that escape me, followed by a slew of other pitiful phrases. “I’m so sorry. I am SO sorry! He never does this. I don’t know what got into him. I’m so embarrassed. I’m so sorry. He’s ‘fixed’…”

As I drag George by the collar back across the street and into our yard, I look over my shoulder to make eye contact with the lady whose dog was just shamelessly humped by my 8 year old lab. Some jumbled version of the following thoughts run through my head:

“I can’t believe I just reassured a total stranger that my dog is, ‘fixed’!”

“I’m so embarrassed, but maybe we can laugh about this?”

“I wonder if she will still be my friend?!”

“I would like to get to know more of our new neighbors!”

My hope for gaining a friendship out of this fiasco is squandered when she shoots me a look of total disgust. As she briskly walks away, the only communication she offers is the back of her head. My mind continues to race.

“What if she thinks I’m a horrible dog owner?”

“She probably thinks that I did not train George.”

“What if she tells all of our neighbors to stay away from us?”

“I hope she doesn’t hate me!”

This is when I catch myself and realize how out of control and irrational my thoughts are. I take a deep breath and start to ask myself some questions.

  1. What am I worried about?

We moved into our new house recently, and I’m worried about what the lady with the golden retriever and my neighbors think of me.

  1. Are there any other fears connected to this worry?

I fear not being liked.

I fear disapproval.

I fear rejection.

  1. Can I control what other people think?


  1. If our neighbors dislike or disapprove of me, will I be okay?

Yes. I’ll survive.

  1. What does my anxiety and worry tell me about the object of my trust?

If I worry about others liking me, then my trust is in others. I’m basing my self-worth on my neighbors’ opinion of me and trusting that their opinion is ultimate.

  1. Is their opinion ultimate?


I notice my anxiety has dropped significantly because I am telling myself the truth. About this time, George plants a huge, slobbery kiss on my forearm to get my attention. His goofy grin makes me laugh. I am reminded to not take myself too seriously. I lean down to give him a good scratch behind the ear and walk through our front door. George follows behind, tail wagging and I think to myself, “It’s going to be a good day.”

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree… or does it? What we know about depression and genetics.

Today we throw around the word “depressed,” like it has the same meaning as the word “sad”.  It seems that many of the people we know have dealt with some sort of depression at some point in their lives.  If you have experienced depression before or know someone in your family that has dealt with depression, you may have asked the following questions: What really constitutes clinical depression?  What is the likelihood that my children will inherit depression if someone in our family suffers from this illness?

What really constitutes clinical depression?

There are three things that people confuse: Grief, Sadness, and Depression. Grief is acutely reactionary. For example, if you have a large loss, then you will most likely feel extreme pain after that loss.  Six months later, if the sadness is still there but is a bit less intense, then you are experiencing grief.  This grief will most likely resolve itself in some measure over time.  On the other hand, if you experience a catastrophic loss and six months later you can barely function, then you are probably suffering from depression that was triggered from the catastrophic circumstance.  The trajectory tells us a great deal.  Often out of misunderstanding, people think of depression as sadness.  The idea is that it’s just too much sadness, or too much grief at far too slight a cause.  This is not true.  Sadness is simply the emotion felt due to a loss.  Clinical depression is characterized by loss of interest in almost everything.  Someone who is clinically depressed will not want to do any of the things that he previously wanted to do.  In addition, for this person small tasks that used to be easy to accomplish become too much work.  For example, emptying the dishwasher or checking his voicemail both seem like daunting tasks.  This is much more complicated than the emotion of sadness.

What is the likelihood that my children will inherit depression if someone in our family suffers from this illness?

Depression is the result of a genetic vulnerability (that is presumably evenly distributed in the population) and triggering circumstances.  At least 10% of the U.S. population will experience major depressive disorder (clinical depression) at some point in their lives, and two times as many women as men experience major depression.

If you have a parent or sibling that suffers from depression then you are probably at a 2 to 3 times greater risk of developing depression compared with the average person (or around 20-30% instead of 10%).  The situation is a little different if the parent or sibling has had depression more than once (“recurrent depression”), and if the depression started early in life (childhood, teens, or twenties).  This kind of depression is less common.  The exact percentage of the population is not known but is probably around 3 to 5%.  But the siblings and children of people with this form of depression probably develop it at a rate that is 4 to 5 times greater than the average person.

If you are reading this article and fall into one of the categories talked about above, don’t freak out!  Research shows that someone who suffers from depression and seeks treatment in the form of medication and therapy is less likely to have another depressive episode.  When used together, medication and psychotherapy have been proven to help alleviate depression, and thankfully we offer both of those options here at Heritage.  They key to feeling better is getting into treatment as soon as possible.  So call us and make an appointment if needed and we can help get you on track to feeling better.

Preventing the Post Holiday Blues

“The stress and craziness of the holiday season is finally coming to an end. So why do I feel so down and depressed?”

Many people have some variation of the above thought at some point during the first part of the new year. If you have asked yourself this question, then you have already achieved the first step in preventing the “post holiday blues”. We must recognize and acknowledge our emotions before we can begin taking action steps to move through this hard time and feel better.

What are the symptoms of the blues? Changes in sleep patterns, such as the desire to sleep more or insomnia, can be a sign of mild depression. Mood swings, having the urge to cry for no apparent reason, and feeling sad or down are also common signs. The National Institute of Mental Health states that people can have headaches, increased alcohol consumption, and overeat as a result feeling depressed after the holiday season. Feelings of fatigue or increased anxiety are also common indicators of depression.

Children can suffer from post Christmas doldrums as well, though their symptoms may present themselves a bit differently. Kids may have decreased motivation, decreased focus on schoolwork, seem as though they are in a brain fog, or become more reclusive. Returning to school can be difficult because they are facing another 3 months without a break from homework and tests. Many children feel sad because they are not engaging in the fun activities they enjoyed over the Christmas break such as seeing family, or hanging out and relaxing with friends.

There are several ways to assist your children through this back-to-school time. It is helpful to create opportunities to see family after the holiday season, and allow meaningful hang out time with close friends when possible. Plan activities that your entire family can look forward to such as ice-skating, game night, or a trip to the movie theater. Even printing off holiday photos and creating an album can raise your little one’s spirits.

Here are several steps that can help to return you and yours to a better state of mind:

1.    Get rest!  The hustle and bustle of the holidays can lead to less sleep. Lack of sleep has been linked to irritability and depression, as well as weight gain and other health concerns. Give yourself a week of 8 hour nights of sleep and get back on a sleep schedule by going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day. Incorporate down time to relax and regain energy.

2.    Feel it.  Allow yourself to acknowledge and experience your emotions and tell yourself that it is okay to feel down. Name the emotion, identify what your thoughts are regarding the emotion, and express your feelings in a productive way. This may be crying, talking to someone, journaling, or listening to music. Remember to give yourself permission to move out of the emotion.

3.    Get sunlight and exercise.  You may not have noticed how much you have been inside over the winter break, or the way the days have become shorter. Our bodies need sunlight in order to produce vitamin D3, which is needed to synthesize the brain chemicals that create feelings of well-being. If getting outside is difficult during these shortened days, then you may want to consider purchasing a sunlamp. Sunlamps are typically used for ten minutes a day and results are usually seen in four to five days.

Regular exercise (3 to 4 times per week for at least 30 minutes) has been linked to increased production of neurotransmitters, which in turn leads to increased mood and energy.

4.    Focus on others.  When we help someone in need or give of our time and energy to better other human beings we can’t help but experience feelings of joy. Sometimes we simply need to take our focus off of ourselves and by taking an active step in this process we stop dwelling on our negative state of mind. Volunteering for an organization you are passionate about, taking a sick friend dinner, or running an errand for a family that is going through a hard life circumstance are just a few ideas of how to focus on other people.

5.    Plan events and get excited about the future.  We often look forward to spending more time with family during the holidays, but why not plan an activity once a month to look forward to as well? You could organize a supper club with those closest to you, plan a girls or guys night out for the same time each month, or have a family movie night every couple of weeks. Planning fun activities with those we love not only gives us something to look forward to, but it helps us not fall into a pattern of isolation and reclusiveness.

6.    Focus on spirituality.  Research shows that when we are all consumed with ourselves and our day- to-day lives and have no spiritual grounding, this can lead to depression. Give yourself permission to explore big questions such as: What is my purpose? Why am I here? Why is there suffering? Is there a higher power? Of course, you may never find the absolute final answer, but allowing ourselves to ask these questions and explore what we believe can lead to joy and understanding.

If you are struggling with any of these questions, then seek wise counsel to help you navigate through this exploration. Pastors, friends, and Licensed Professional Counselors are all good people to include, if needed, in your spiritual journey.

I hope that the above steps will help to relieve any post holiday funk that you or your family members may be feeling. If you implement the steps above and still cannot seem to get any relief from feelings of depression, then you may need professional help. Licensed counselors and psychologists are trained to help people navigate hard times, and achieve relief from depression.