Spring has sprung here in the Bay Area, and more and more I consider acts of joy and beauty to be medicine - a necessary ingredient for emotional health and resiliency during a turbulent (and fingers-crossed, revolutionary) time in history.
Often when I bring up this notion of chasing the joy to my clients they look at me suspiciously. Most of my clients, actually all of my client are high-achieving, growth-oriented and socially-aware. They give their all to work or school, are involved in social change initiatives, and community organizations, as well as creative projects. They are making things happen or would like to be.
So who has time to chase the joy? And more so, isn't it selfish when there's so much work to do in the world?
These are important questions, and to be clear, I am not suggesting that we only focus on the positive - that would be, from my perspective, unhealthy. Rather, I'm suggesting we hold both the shadow and the light, and that by taking the time to savor and enjoy the richness and beauty in our lives we actually fuel our capacity to take action, heal ourselves, and the world around us.
Often in session with my clients I hold space for laughter and gratitude to arise, as much as I do for exploring the sadness and worry that is also part of the human experience.
The joy and the beauty can be found in big events or small rituals from mid-afternoon naps, time with loved ones, a solo trip to a museum, or anything else that feels meaningful and nourishing. It can something you've always enjoyed or something new and unexpected.
As an example, last fall during the Kavanaugh hearings I found myself feeling overwhelmed with grief and rage - an experience shared by so many at that time. Meanwhile, I also found myself having comforting dreams wherein honey bees played a central role. Because these dreams felt especially potent for me, I ended up exploring the symbolism and felt inspired to begin a ritual of drinking milk and honey when feeling overwhelmed by the news. At that time, it was every evening. I focused on taking in the sweet, while holding space and staying present for all that was going on in the world.
Regardless of what you choose to try, the key is to savor it - to give your mind, body and spirit the opportunity to experience pleasure and restoration on a deeper level. In service of healing, we have the opportunity to cultivate joy and beauty - what a concept.
Till Next Time,
As girls we're often told that saying "no" is perceived as rude, selfish and even defiant behavior. Sometimes the messages are explicit, but more often they are implicit.
If someone hugs us without consent, we should grin and bare it. We should attend a friend's party even if we're not feeling up for social time. If an adult gives directions that don't make sense, just do it.
It's no wonder then that many of the women I see in my practice arrive on my couch questioning when to set limits and how to hold boundaries in professional environments and personal relationships.
If these concepts are new to you and even if they are not, this process can feel daunting. So for the purpose of this blog post we're going to focus first on cultivating curiosity and observation skills so that we can later make a plan for action.
The challenge, if you are willing to accept it is this:
Begin by taking one day (and one week, if you're up for it) to hone in on your felt experience in the world using all your senses. Begin first thing in the morning and take note of how you feel moving through your home and then on your way to work or other engagements, followed by each environment you find yourself throughout the day. Take note of both physical and verbal interactions.
Some questions to consider:
1. Where do I feel most comfortable in proximity to others? Do I like being close? Do I need to stand a few feet away?
2. How do I know when I feel comfortable or uncomfortable in my body? Do my muscles feel tense/relaxed? Does my jaw clench? Do I smile? Do I laugh nervously?
2. What was my energy level a/o mood after talking to the person in question? Do I feel calm, irritable?
3. Did I say yes to something that I really didn't want to?
4. Did I avoid expressing my true feelings when someone upset me?
This list is not exhaustive, but a good starting place to begin noticing where your emotional and physical boundaries are and when they've been crossed.
Boundaries are personal and have as much to do with our unique preferences and personalities, as they do with our cultural upbringing and values. There is no right or wrong.
Next week we'll explore ways to take action based on what you've learned about your feelings and needs. Meanwhile, be patient and kind to yourself as you begin this process. You are taking a step into uncharted territory --how brave!
Till Next Time,
So the goal of last week's blog was to normalize the lower energy and mood that comes along with the darker months of the year, but to be clear ... that doesn't mean it's always easy. As I noted last week we live in a time when (for most of us) it's not acceptable to slow down even though instinctually we're being called by the natural world to do so. So then ... what are the options?
Well, for starters we tweak our self-care practices and kick them into high gear. Self-care in winter often looks different than other times of the year. The strategies that I list below are just a few of my go-to's and all have one theme - acceptance of the shift in season. We've got to work with what's in front of us, and lean in.
At the end of this post I'm also including a complimentary Radical Self-Care template that I use with clients. Please feel free to download and use to help you identify self-care practices unique to you.
Next week is the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, after which time the sunlight starts staking its claim a little more each day. Hang in there, or lean in, as the case may be. There's plenty to be learned in a time of slowing down and patience with what is, is often the first step.
Till next time,
Self-Care Practices for the Dark Months
1.Nature as teacher
I am a strong advocate of spending solitary time in nature, feeling your feet on the earth, and taking note. What colors are soothing and how can you bring them into your home or office? What animals and plants do you notice as you take your walk? What lessons can they bring? For most of this year I’ve been noticing banana slugs – talk about slowing down! If wooded trails aren’t your thing, a walk in a local park or even your neighborhood can be grounding. The key though is to focus your attention on your feet touching the earth as you walk. Breathe in and out, remember you are both supported and connected.
2. Tending the body
In my opinion, there is no one-way to support our bodies, but our bodies must be supported for a healthy mind and spirit. I encourage my clients to regularly check in with their own needs and plan accordingly. Do I need more rest or more activity? If I do need activity, will an active run help settle me or do I need a calming walk through the hills? Do I need raw food or cooked? If you’re not sure, you can experiment with different routines, and track your response. The goal here is not to add another task to our day, but to approach self-care with a sense of curiosity and exploration.
And lastly, but certainly not least …
3. Reflect, Create, Express
Late fall, early winter practically begs us to turn within and reflect on the year that is now coming to a close - what we've learned and how we've grown. As an expressive arts therapist, I often support clients at this point in the year in taking a visual inventory of their year either via collage or by creating a road map with different landmarks along the way. If neither of these directives are stirring your inspirational pot, make up your own - write, make a playlist ... the options are really unlimited.
The light is fading, the temperature is dropping and for many so is mood and energy. This time of year it's common to hear folks contemplating the reasons for lower mood and energy, and wondering if they have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
If you don't know, SAD is a medical diagnosis that accounts for depressive symptoms including decline in mood and energy correlating with a change in season - usually fall and winter. It's also a term that gets thrown around in popular culture quite a bit.
But what if there's another lens in which to view your shift in mood and energy that doesn't involve a medical diagnosis?
Maybe your mood and energy are just different than at other points in the year. Is different necessarily wrong?
It's a hard concept to grasp in a culture that tends to label and pathologize the human experience at every turn. But if you take a look outside, you'll see all around us the natural world is slowing down and preparing to go inward during the winter months... meanwhile the pace of human activity and productivity is expected to stay as it would during other parts of the year.
Why and how this came to be, is material for a whole other blog post, but the phenomena often makes me wonder: what would it be like if we could lean in to the slowing, rather than push against it? And even if our lives can't fully accommodate for slowing, just knowing that our bodies and minds are doing what is instinctual can often ease some of the discomfort that comes with a dip in energy.
Next week's post will focus on some strategies to lean in and care for ourselves during the darker months of the year, but also know that if you are experiencing significant distress no matter the time of year, it is important to reach out for support.
Till Next Time,
Last week's post was about identifying and unpacking the anxiety many introverts feel as they navigate a world based on extroverted preferences. This week, let's take the conversation to the next level.
How do folks who are more introverted live their best lives when conditions can be at best uncomfortable and at worst, panic-inducing. Well, one approach is to live life on your own terms (as often as you are able), while also having an emotional first aid kit ready for when circumstances are limiting and you just can't.
I know naming your terms is often easier said than done, but let's give it a try and explore ways you may have more power in your life than you may think.
Here are a few starting points ...
I hope these strategies are of some support to your introverted souls! I'd love to hear how else you care for your yourselves. Please feel free to leave comments - you never know who you'll reach!
Till Next Time,
Many of my clients seek my help to "manage their anxiety."
I hear these phrases regularly: I feel more comfortable at home. I don't like going to school/work. I get nervous in groups of people. My heart beats faster when I hear loud noises, and so on ...
Well, come to find out many, if not most, of the women and girls I see in my practice are introverted, and many had no idea. The feelings of unease, worry and panic they experience are in response to a world that is made for extroverted folks.
The majority of my clients are creative, intelligent, sensitive and highly introverted, yet at some point in their lives, usually early on, they had been pathologized for not adapting to or even thriving in environments based on extroverted preferences.
For those that are confused by the terms introverted and extroverted, put simply, introverts recharge in quiet and tend to prefer small groups or one-to-one social interaction, while extroverts tend to recharge via social activity and enjoy large groups. There is of course a spectrum, but in general we talk about folks as being introverts or extroverts to better understand their social needs.
That said, much of my work with introverted clients focuses on (1) helping them understand their reactions are understandable and (2) helping them identify ways to best take care of themselves in an extroverted world.
This can be tricky, and goes far beyond avoiding loud music festivals. Work and school environments are moving toward project-based learning and team models, which can be draining for those who are more introverted. Bright lights, sounds and scents can be overwhelming. Too much talking can be overwhelming. And so it goes ...
In next week's post, I'll talk about specific strategies to care for your introverted soul. But until then, from one introvert to another, know your introversion is not a flaw!
Till next time,
Often I am asked why I chose to focus my psychotherapy practice on the support of self-identified women and girls, and I always appreciate the question because it prompts me to pause and consider my journey. The truth is, I didn’t think this is the work I would be doing in the world.
In fact, my previous experience in community mental health agencies had almost entirely focused on the emotional health of boys who were tangled up in foster care and/or juvenile justice systems, as well as facing extensive systematic oppression. It was humbling work that felt important, and I’d be remiss if I said I don’t miss it sometimes.
But in the last election cycle things shifted for me. Like all of you, I watched as an unqualified man spewed misogynistic and racist slurs, while admitting to sexual assault – and still he was elected as president.
I’ll spare you the play-by-play recap, but for me it was heartbreaking and enraging. In the weeks that followed it became clear to me that I wanted my practice to support the so-called nasty women and girls in the world. To provide a space for them to express, heal and cultivate resiliency, and to unapologetically become the fullest versions of themselves.
The opening of my private practice happened to coincide with the inauguration of Donald Trump and the Women’s March in late January 2017. I knew definitively that I wanted to work from an intersectional feminist therapy framework, which is psychotherapy speak for an approach that takes into account not only the personal experiences of clients, but also their unique social and political experiences.
While the field of psychotherapy has historically pathologized women (think: Hysteria), intersectional feminist therapy shifts the power balance by placing the client as the expert of her own experience, views the therapeutic relationship as collaborative and embraces a commitment to equality. This way of working feels natural to me, and revolutionary.
To be sure, the issues women and girls face existed long before the election of Donald Trump (as did the issues facing all marginalized people), and still in our lives we may have pivotal moments, whether they be casual conversations or historical events, that make our paths clear. For me, this was one of them.
Now a year and a half later, I can’t say that politically things are looking any better. This was a rough week for those of us that are worried about reproductive rights … or human rights for that matter, but I continue to hold the hope as I bare witness to stories of wounding, healing and resiliency.
I hope you will tell your own stories, listen to others and seek support when you need it. I am here. Others are here. These are not easy times, but we are strong and I believe we will persist.
Till Next Time,
In January’s e-newsletter I highlighted the work of Bay Area artist Courtney Privett . You may not know her by name, but if you were at all present on social media the months leading up to and following the first Women’s March, you’ve probably seen at least some of her art. Privett uses imagery combined with text to draw attention to the harmful messages women receive filtered through different levels of privilege (i.e. race, ability, body type, sexual orientation and so on). The talented Brazilian artist Carol Rosetti, shown above, does the same, while focusing on everyday acts of women’s resistance to those messages.
I remember seeing their art for the first time, along with many artists who are doing similar types of work, and thinking: Yes! That’s exactly it. This is why I have dedicated my psychotherapy practice to the support of girls and women*.
I witness (and, admittedly, experience) the emotional toll toxic messages take on even the most resilient women and girls, such as lowered self-esteem, pervasive worry, emotional depletion, difficulty speaking up … just to name a few.
For the purposes of this post, I’m focusing on just a few incremental daily practices that women and girls can incorporate to help cultivate a feeling of personal power in a world that often negates our attempts. Some of these practices may seem foreign and even uncomfortable at first, so I encourage you to be patient with yourself if you choose to give them a try and seek additional support if needed.
And lastly, if you are interested in exploring the theme of personal power more deeply, you are invited to attend Your Powerful Self: An Expressive Arts Workshop for Self-Identified Women in June 2018. No arts experience is necessary to participate. Please feel free to message me with questions or to register. I hope to meet you there!
As always please feel free to leave comments and suggestions below. You never know whom you may help.
Till next time,
Three Strategies for Cultivating Personal Power
Reclaiming Mental Space
I’m too ___. I haven’t achieved enough ____. If only I was ______. What do you spend your days thinking about? If you are already aware of the messaging you’ve internalized and want to reclaim and/or shift that energy, replacement thoughts (aka affirmations) are a great way to start. For a creative spin on affirmations (and one of my favorite art therapy directives), you can take a deck of blank art cards (available at most art supply stores) and create your own deck of affirmation cards with images and matching affirmations of your choosing to review regularly. Check out an example below.
Reclaiming Physical Space
To varying degrees, women and girls are taught their bodies and personal space are not their own. As a woman, you may notice this when someone you barely know puts a hand on your shoulder to get a point across, or someone simply stands too close for comfort. In childhood, girls often experience boundary violations through forced hugging, rather than adults asking for their consent first.
I often encourage my clients to practice stating feelings, needs and requests associated with physical space. This intervention is rooted in Non Violent Communication (NVC) and may sound something like: “I feel uncomfortable when you stand so close. I need space. Can you give me some space?”
I want to acknowledge NVC may not feel right for everyone, and in some cases may not even feel safe to practice. I encourage my clients to trust themselves. Often, simply noticing your relationship to space or physically moving yourself when you notice feelings of discomfort, are solid first steps in reclaiming what’s yours.
Tracking Emotional Labor
How often do you find yourself pulled into a support role without full consent or reciprocity? The concept of emotional labor is becoming increasingly common as more attention is paid to the unacknowledged roles women take up in their homes, offices and community spaces. The women and girls I work with are not always ready to make sweeping changes, and in some cases, are ready, but for many reasons aren’t yet able.
That said, begin where you are; small steps add up over time.
Notice when you’re extending yourself due to conditioning or unspoken expectation. Is someone at work asking to “pick your brain” when you have already have an endless to do list? Do casual acquaintances seek emotional support when you haven’t consented to do so? These are times to reclaim the moment and know your limits. If setting boundaries feels too overwhelming, offsetting the impact of emotional labor with increased self-care, whatever you perceive self-care to be, is another good starting point. For some ideas on simple self-care practice check out my previous blog post!