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.

Emotional Fitness

“Let go of your stress and smile!” shouted the aerobics instructor over the loud music as she cheerfully encouraged the class to follow her lead. My first couple of negative thoughts were, “Are you kidding me? I’m lucky I made it here, and I’m not in a good mood because I’m really behind on several things that I had to set aside just to make it to class!” I won’t go into detail about my other negative thoughts but suffice it to say that I was tired, irritated, and stretched beyond capacity. As I mustered through the workout I wondered, “How did I let this happen?” I’m usually very good at time management but somehow I slipped this time around, and I was not in a good place.

Have you ever been there too?  You know, where your thoughts are racing a million miles a minute, time is running out, and it seems there’s absolutely nothing you can do to catch up???

As I looked around the room, I wondered if others were experiencing the same thing. There were a few individuals who looked intense—those who were at the front of the class—but others seemed to actually be enjoying themselves in the moment. I’m usually part of that latter group but not today. What happened?

Thinking back over the week, I began to realize where I detoured: I watched a little extra TV a few days, I volunteered to help a friend at the last minute, and one night I stayed up late surfing the Web. While none of these things are detrimental in and of themselves, when added together they inevitably worked against me. Although I had fun doing each of them at the time, in the end I paid for it—dearly. As I said before, I wasn’t in a good place.

Yet right on time my compassion reflex kicked it and as I sent myself positive messages (“You made a good choice to focus on your health,” and “You are getting back on track”), I felt my mind and body slowly begin to let go of the anxiety and tension, and I was able to focus on the workout with thoughts of getting healthy and feeling better. Once I realized I didn’t feel so stressed, I began enjoying myself and wouldn’t you know it—I actually smiled. I guess the aerobics instructor wasn’t too far off after all.

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Reflecting back later that day, I recalled two important life skills: boundaries and mindfulness.

While exercising relieves stress and keeps us physically fit, practicing boundaries and mindfulness results in improved emotional fitness. When we establish healthy boundaries, we inevitably protect ourselves, which enables us to be responsible stewards over such things as our time. In turn, having healthy boundaries frees us up to practice mindfulness—having the capacity to be present in the moment and to connect with our senses and the environment around us. Good self-care not only includes taking care of our physical bodies but also requires active management of our emotional health. When we make both priorities, we ultimately safeguard our well-being which results in a manageable and balanced life. Are we always going to be perfect in practicing good self-care? No, my account above shows anyone can make a mistake from time to time, but the key is to recognize when you begin to take a detour and then take intentional steps to re-route yourself back to the skills that will help you to restore your emotional fitness.

Five Ways to Help Your Child through Divorce

Divorce is hard. Divorce is hard on you. Divorce is hard on your spouse. Divorce is hard on your children. There are many factors that contribute to the difficulties during the divorce process, including very intense emotions. It can be especially difficult to think of effective ways to help your child through this process while in the middle of your own grief and pain. While divorce is unique and complicated by different personalities, legalities, and mixed emotions here are some practical tips to keep in mind while communication with your children.

  1. Be Realistic: Sometimes in an effort to avoid their own pain a parent might hyper-focus on their children’s pain. Although paying attention to your child’s hurting and finding help when needed is appropriate, the expectation that you can somehow remove all pain from your child is not realistic. Grief is part of the process. Instead of trying to “fix” your child’s feelings allow them to express them in safe ways. If your child is angry then let them be angry as long as their anger is not being expressed in ways that are harmful to themselves or others.
  2. Communicate Change Timely and Effectively: Change can happen very quickly in a divorce and sometimes these changes are not communicated effectively to children. If schedules are changing discuss what those changes will be like and ask for suggestions from your children. Make sure you communicate ahead of time so that they have a week or two to process the changes prior to a major move. Always take responsibility for the final decisions but take into account how these changes might affect their daily lives as well. Your therapist can help you create age appropriate schedules and charts to help your child wrap their minds around new routines.
  3. Be Reassuring: Depending on the age of your child their ability to process very complicated emotions is limited. When children have complicated emotions they do not always understand how to express them and may act out angrily or ask disconnected questions such as, “Will I get a new Mommy and Daddy now?” It can be very easy to simply say NO or brush off the question because you don’t know what to say. I encourage you to ask them more questions and keep the conversation going to find out more details about what kinds of emotions are going on inside. Reassure them that regardless of what is happening now in their lives you will always be their Mom and Dad. They may continue to ask these types or questions, keep reassuring them.
  4. Control Your Emotions: This might seem like an impossible task to ask of you when every day might be full of emotion for you, however, children are experts at soaking up the emotions around them (NOT experts at processing those feelings, though) and can read you better than you think. Children will begin to internalize their own emotions for fear of burdening you with theirs. I am not encouraging you in any way to not express your own emotions – it is absolutely VITAL for you to do so preferably with a counseling professional. I do encourage you to wait until your children are away or asleep to have a breakdown.
  5. Take Care of Your Family: If there is ever a transitions in which you should seek professional help for you and your children it is in the midst of a divorce. The effects of a divorce can be lifelong and life changing for all involved. Additionally, attempting to take care of others while in such a raw place emotionally can prove to be futile. Get help. Reach out to a doctor, therapist, pastor, or group to give you professional emotional support through this difficult time. 

We at Heritage Behavioral Health Consultants are here to help you and your family through this emotional time. Please reach out when you need help through a divorce or during any other time of change.

What Parents Can Learn from Pixar’s “Inside Out”

I’m going to go ahead and assume that most parents of young children in America have seen the recently released movie Inside Out, so I won’t bother yapping about spoiler alert. Like Disney’s Frozen, this movie depicting the psychology behind emotions and memory has taken us by storm. Unlike Frozen however, Inside Out has some major melodrama that I can get behind. Let’s put aside the fact that the main character, Riley, only had five emotions- Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Sadness. Obviously, we are capable of experiencing a huge range of different emotions; not just these five. But for the purposes of this blog, I will spare you all my critiques of how this movie didn’t get it right. Let’s move on to the ways that it nailed it.

The main theme that I took from this movie was what the psychological community calls emotional congruence. This term basically states that what you’re feeling (your emotions) should match what you’re presenting (your behavior). For example, if you’re feeling happy about something, you may smile or laugh. If you’re angry about something, you may furrow your brow or frown (or go sit in your closet and scream into a pillow… No? Okay, never mind about that one). Point is, when Riley goes into her new classroom and feels a normal, healthy mix of excitement and fear, nothing bad should’ve happened. She may have stuttered in front of the class, spoken too quietly for anyone to hear her, or felt a little nauseous at the presence of those feelings. Let’s also not forget the sadness that she feels at the loss of her former life. But what does Joy go and do? Banishes Sadness to the corner and tries with all her might to keep Riley the “brave and happy girl” that her parents need her to be. This is where all of Riley’s internal emotions start to go haywire- when what she was feeling inside wasn’t congruent with the situation with which she was faced.

Think about the way you may react to your child feeling sad. Is your automatic response to say “don’t be sad”? Even if that is said in a sweet voice and accompanied by a bear hug, it may not be the phrase a kid needs to hear. Instead of trying to will your child out of sadness, or even attempting to fix the problem, try doing what Sadness did in the movie. When BingBong was upset and Joy failed to cheer him up, Sadness, knowing how important it was to be allowed to feel sad, just sat with him and patted his back until he felt better and was able to move on. She didn’t try to reason with him or explain why he shouldn’t feel sad or tell him to get over it. She just sat with him. Next time your kiddo is sad about something, just sit (or lay on the floor) with him or her. This super simple action acknowledges your child’s feelings and doesn’t undermine his or her expression of, in this case, sadness. Just take a second and imagine how you would feel if your spouse or bestie or whomever told you “Oh, don’t be so sad” or “Goodness, don’t cry!” Yes, thank you friend, that definitely makes me feel better. Right? Kids are told that all the time! Now, this is all assuming that you know your child well enough to distinguish between her being ridiculously dramatic and her being genuinely hurt about something (even if it seems silly to you). Let’s make a pact and change our automatic response from “don’t be sad” to “I’m so sorry you’re hurting”. It’ll change your life. Okay, maybe not yours, but definitely your kid’s.

Am I Okay?

Am I okay? Is this feeling normal? Am I just too sensitive? Am I weak? What’s wrong with me? These questions are very common in my counseling sessions. Men and women, equally, ask if their feelings are reasonable considering their circumstances. How many of you have felt that way? Attempting to replay a scenario with a friend, describing word for word what was said and done to see if your friend reacts the same way. It is the best feeling in the world when a friend validates your story, subsequently confirming that you’re not overreacting.

But what about those circumstances with which you feel no one else could possibly relate:

A difficult marriage, for example, no matter how descriptive you are about a common scenario in your marriage, they don’t seem to get why you are struggling with your spouse and why it’s hurting you so much.

You may be battling with social anxiety, it intensifies when you’re out with friends and they don’t understand why you get so anxious.

Grief after losing a loved one is hard to talk about, those who knew him/her may understand, but it’s been months, you should feel better by now, but you don’t. Is something wrong?

A broken heart after a breakup, your friends seem tired of consoling you, it has been a couple of months now and you still don’t feel like yourself again.

Parenting can be very challenging, but all the other parents around the neighborhood seem to have it all together. This may be your first child, and you don’t really have a way of gauging whether this is harder than it should be.

Should be?

Who designates how you should feel about any given situation? You might encourage yourself to push through a tough new job, or tough first year of marriage, or that pit of anxiety in your stomach that doesn’t go away, or the grief of losing a loved one. But when is it too much to handle on your own? When is it time to seek help? And what if the difficulty in your life is external, meaning its not coming from you? What if the stress is coming from caring for a family member facing an addiction, terminal illness or mental illness?

Research has shown that consistent stress, depression or anxiety can lead to physical ailments such as back pain, headaches and even gastrointestinal issues. Your immune system can be compromised if stress is not dealt with properly. Is this catastrophizing? Not at all, the body and mind is connected, the emotional pain you feel has the potential to affect your health.

What if you’re all about pushing through, not letting things get to you? You’re tough! You may call it suffering well, what does that mean exactly? Suffering well is important, since disappointment or loss can be experienced in almost every area of life. The sweetest things in life require some suffering through sacrifice and hard work. But there is a difference between suffering well and denying your suffering. Suffering well requires acknowledging the feelings and struggle. It requires vulnerability. Inviting someone into your life to say “sounds like you need to take a break,” or “let me help you with that”. Suffering well does not mean ignoring the feelings of disappointment and pain. Ephesians 4:26 says “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” This biblical verse mentions a feeling that most people would describe as unhealthy. Most would say, it’s not good for you to be angry, but the Bible says, “Be angry and do not sin.” You are allowed to feel (fill in the blank with an emotion). But you must do something with that emotion. Suppressing that emotion is not the answer.

Once you are vulnerable, the next step is to learn healthy coping skills. Healthy coping does not make the suffering go away, but it helps you get stronger, emotionally and physically to see that difficult situation with new eyes. It helps you stay grounded in the truth that you will get through that difficulty. Healthy coping may look like counseling, exercising, getting a massage, or all of the above. De-stressing yourself with either one of these healthy coping options helps your mind and body relax so you can think logically about your circumstances and make wise decisions.

Why don’t we give ourselves a break? Why do we need to be validated by others to then admit, “I’m struggling”? Life transitions like marriage, a new job, becoming a parent, losing a loved one, losing a job, a break up, family issues, the list goes on and on, all of these situations can be difficult. The only difference is how you face them.

I’ve wondered why it is so easy for us to pay as much as $50-$200 to get our car checked for that weird sound it keeps making, but we don’t put that much significance on the pain within that won’t go away. The condition of our heart, body and soul is so important. How could we be our best selves to everyone around us if we’re not doing well?

Galatians 6:7-9 says:

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. “

Don’t give up. Take care of yourself. You’re worth it!