I know I'm not alone in feeling like overnight life has been turned upside down and inside out. These are surreal days and honestly, I'm still trying to wrap my head around this time of COVID-19.
Like many of you reading this, I am in a privileged position. I'm healthy, able to work from home, have access to food, technology ... and still, the anxiety and trauma stemming from this pandemic are very real. Experiences of numbness, fear, racing thoughts, denial, nightmares and sadness are all part of the package right now. Our feelings may come and go quickly leaving a sense of emotional whiplash.
So how do we begin to care for ourselves and each other (from a distance) in the midst of so much crisis?
Well, to be clear, I don't think there's a right way to navigate a pandemic. I believe everyone is doing the best they can, when they can. But as the weeks continue to pass, I'm realizing both from my own experience and from the folks I talk to, that focusing on right now - a tenant of so many spiritual practices - has never felt more wise.
With that in mind, I've compiled some ideas on developing a Right-Now Plan. Looking at what we need and/or can do this week, this day, this hour, or even this moment can make everything feel just a little more manageable. In the weeks to come, I'll use this blog to dive in to some of these ideas more deeply, but for now I've provided some starting points below. As you're developing your plan remember that it doesn't need to feel like a to-do list. The most effective plans are tempered with self-compassion and scaffolded with the support of others. After all, if ever there was doubt about how interconnected we all are, well, here we are ... reminded.
Till next time, wishing you all health & ease,
For Right Now, Consider ...
#1. FEELING ALL YOUR FEELINGS
Here's a truth: Everything you feel is valid. One moment you may find yourself hopeful, the next may bring anger and the next grief. Give yourself space to cry or dance or write or do whatever feels expressive and nourishing. Rumi's poem The Guest House speaks beautifully to this practice.
#2. TRYING TELE/VIDEO THERAPY
If you are feeling overwhelmed, and so many of us are right now, please reach out for professional support. Most of the therapists I know, including myself, are offering phone and video sessions. There's no need to go through this on your own. I'm happy to answer questions about what tele/video therapy may look like and offer (as always) free consultation or referrals to low-fee clinics. Message me here.
#3. CUTTING YOURSELF SOME SLACK
It's more than okay if you are not feeling as motivated as you were. Practice letting go of productivity as you knew it a couple of weeks ago. What can it look like right now? Maybe making the bed is the task of the day or maybe its working on a big project in small chunks to minimize overwhelm.
#3. PRACTICING GRATITUDE & APPRECIATION
Practicing gratitude/appreciation can be helpful in shifting perspective. This practice is not intended to gloss over the difficult, but instead helps us hold a fuller, more nuanced view of everything we're experiencing. One idea is to start a journal entirely dedicated to the practice of gratitude or appreciation. Another idea is to text with a friend or share with a family member what you're both grateful for or appreciative of.
#4. TAKING ACTION & GIVING BACK
Supporting others during this time is not only a way to leverage privilege and practice social responsibility. Acts of kindness and responsibility can also help ease feelings of powerlessness and increase feelings of connectedness. A few ideas: monetary donations to community organizations, sewing masks, fostering pets, joining NextDoor to help out neighbors.
#5. DEVELOPING A (FLEXIBLE) SCHEDULE
We often talk about how important structure is for kiddos, but adults benefit too. Structure increases a feeling of containment and safety and often decreases feelings of anxiety. I highly recommend creating some schedule for your day, even if it just includes a few self-care tasks.
#6. IDENTIFYING MUTAL SUPPORT
Who can you check on and who will check on you in a meaningful way? Asking: How are you?, often elicits a blanket response of Okay. But asking: What do you need? or How can I support you? lends to more authentic, open communication.
#7. LIMITING MEDIA EXPOSURE
What we read, watch and listen to impacts us - consciously and unconsciously. Check in with yourself. The news media and social media serve important functions, but how much media is helpful to you? Does media help you feel connected or does it trigger fear and hopelessness?The answer can vary daily.
#8. EXPLORING YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD ON FOOT
Leisurely walks make it into my gratitude journal regularly. Next time you go for a walk, consider taking photos or mental notes. What are you noticing that you never noticed before? Who can you share it with (virtually)?
#9. PRACTICING PRAYER OR MEDITATION (or both) Whether you are connecting to a higher power or your higher self, or you need a break from inner chatter, making prayer or meditation a regular part of your schedule can be grounding. If you are new to meditation, I recommend the Head Space app. It has many options for those new to meditation and those who are experienced.
Last, but not least ... yes, if you feel like taking a nap, please take a nap. It's good for you. The day-to-day may feel exhausting right now. Let yourself recharge and support others in doing the same.
Pretty much everyone that blogs is writing about the holidays in one way or another right now. And therapists are filling the Web with how-to-get-through the-holiday-season pieces. I'm no different (obviously) and it's for good reason.
For better or worse the holidays shine a light on all that's there and all that's not.
Anger, irritability, sadness and anxiety are all common (and understandable) feelings and yet after hearing client's stories I almost always sense an underlying grief. It's palpable. Sometimes its around the loss of an actual relationship, but more often it's the grief associated with the idea of a relationship with a partner, friend, family members so on.
I believe that grief is real too and should be honored. I also believe that in addition to practicing acceptance and finding space to feel your feelings, one of the most important things we can do is to love-up on ourselves fiercely, in all the ways imaginable.
You may be wondering what that even means. Fair enough.
And it depends - which is my initial answer for most everything, but ultimately the goal is to be kind to ourselves, to comfort ourselves during a time when the pot is full-on stirred and our wounds are tender.
Maybe it's about practicing kind self-talk or maybe it's something more elaborate. It really doesn't matter as long as the result is you feeling cared for.
For some this idea may feel indulgent, especially when the message we receive is that the winter holidays are about giving to others. Okay, I love that idea if it feels right for you. But here's a truth I hold close: you can not give from an empty well.
Ultimately, acts of self-love enhance our relationships with ourselves and increase our capacity to offer grace and empathy in situations or relationships that otherwise prove challenging.
Also know that if you are finding your feelings to be overwhelming
I can't tell you how many times a week I hear from clients, "I had a feeling" or "I knew better," and yet something stands in the way of them listening to their intuition when making important decisions.
To contextualize the phenomena, I want to say first that I believe we are all conditioned in varying degrees to discount our intuition because our patriarchal culture values more 'logical' or 'rational' ways of decision-making. With this in mind, using your intuition and trusting your inner-knowing is actually form of social rebellion. And who doesn't want to be a rebel!?
The first step in using your intuition is to access it more intentionally. Here are 3 simple (but not always easy) exercises to try:
1. First, and this is important, calming your mind is key. To access that steady wisdom (aka the 'gut feeling'), we have to quiet the chatter of our minds which is often fueled by worry, scarcity thinking, 'shoulds' and so on. How you choose to practice it is up to you - meditation, exercise, sitting in nature - do what works for you. I know this is easier said than done, but remember if you are able to settle your mind for just a few moments, you are on your way.
2. Try writing your question down and engaging in automatic writing (writing without censoring yourself or picking your pen up off the page). You can also try this same technique with art-making to access your unconscious.
3. Pay attention to your dreams. While dreams often stray from the linear, they often contain symbols or clues that are helpful to us in navigating decision making. What did you notice in your dreams? How did you wake up feeling? Was there an overt or subtle message?
Ultimately, the practice of accessing and following our intuition is about building healthy relationship with ourselves - and that can take time. Patience is key, as is knowing that our intuition may not lead us exactly where we thought we should be. There are no guarantees with any form of decision-making, but the more we trust the process the more ease we find.
To learn more about tapping your intuition, I recommend the work of Dr. Judith Orloff. You can learn more about her work and writings here.
Till Next Time,
Happy summer, everyone! I can't believe the year is half over. It seems like just yesterday we were making resolutions/setting intentions for the year to come. Some of us were making vision boards and others were taking it to the next level with action plans.
Now, here we are just a couple of days shy of the summer solstice - one of my favorite days of the year - and it's an auspicious time to pause and take inventory.
For those that aren’t familiar with the celestial event, summer solstice is the first day of summer and the longest day of the year, and from then on out the daylight hours grow incrementally shorter.
I think it's the perfect time to reflect, celebrate and make changes as needed.
Here are some questions to think about as you begin reflection:
After you've taken inventory, think about taking simple steps to reprioritize where needed. Schedule time for the things and people who matter; as well as assessing what supports you need to show up for the life you want to live. That support may look like therapy and coaching or may be rooted in spiritual practice, a support group, relationships, community or ideally a mixture of some of the above.
In my own life, I've just decided to work with a personal trainer because they will have the expertise I need to take my health goals to the next level. The right support is everything.
Most of all, it’s important to remember this process does not need to be shame-inducing or stressful. It can be creative and joyful as we pause, assess and re-plan accordingly. I'm here to help!
Till next time,
Anyone who is familiar with my work as a therapist knows that I am a fan of interventions that (a) focus on client strengths and (b) are creative and often outside the box. I tend to pull from a variety of modalities and approaches in my work from well-researched practices such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, to emerging therapies (i.e. those that have been around for a long while, but have only recently been accepted by the mainstream mental health community) including nature-based and expressive arts interventions. I even utilize - wait for it - tarot cards.
Yes, it's true. I'm a licensed clinician and I utilize tarot with clients when they are interested and when the intervention is clinically indicated.
But before I share how I use the elusive tarot in session, let me backtrack a bit because I want to share that I first stumbled upon what would become my first tarot deck when I was just thirteen years old, wandering around the back of a bookstore with my mom. She had no idea then the seed she was planting!
I was immediately smitten with the imagery of the cards; the universal experiences and personality types represented; and the feeling of entering another world filled with symbol and metaphor. Although, my long-term draw to the practice of tarot was the honing of and reliance on intuition. This is to say that by using the cards, reading the traditional meanings and drawing my own associations, I would gain insight into questions and situation that had me feeling stuck. As it turned out, I didn't need someone else to tell me what I already knew deep down, I just needed a way to access it.
In my therapy practice, I offer clients the opportunity to do the same with my support and guidance. This is especially relevant to women and girls I work with who are often learning to trust themselves as well as explore identity and cultivate self-esteem.
If you're intrigued and wanting to explore the world of tarot its easy enough to pick a deck based on which imagery you are drawn to. Most bookstores carry tarot decks, but there are also a host of unique small-batch decks sold on Etsy.com and other online sites.
Once you've picked your deck, an easy way to start practicing is to pick a card a day and let yourself engage with the card. Take a deep breath. What symbols do you see? What is the wisdom or the lesson of the card? Do you feel resistant or open?
Have fun with it! I'll be curious to hear how it goes ...
Till Next Time,
When I tell people that I utilize the expressive arts in my Berkeley therapy practice, I am often greeted with enthusiasm ... and some degree of confusion.
"That sounds so awesome!" People will often respond, and then ... pause. "So, what exactly is that?"
I smile because they are genuinely curious and I am eager to share.
So here are some things to know about of expressive arts therapy (or as we call it in the biz, EXA):
Meanwhile, I think it's important to note that EXA is not an ethereal approach to therapy, though it can feel that way because as adults we are so divorced from viewing creativity as a vital part of living. It can seem "so alternative" rather than straight up natural, and even practical.
After all, by incorporating the arts in therapy we often bypass defenses that hinder us, and are able to access suppressed feelings and inner wisdom that otherwise may not be accessed through talking.
Clients often report feeling relaxed or energized after sessions using the arts, as well as gaining new insights.
If you're interested in learning more about how EXA can be incorporated into therapy sessions, please visit here.
Meanwhile, I hope you'll consider creating something this week. Anything. Just to see how it feels for you. I truly believe creativity is life force, and artistic expression, a birthright.
Let me know how you do!
Till Next Time,
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,