Blog

Oct 17
What Survivors of Assault Need This Election Season

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As a mental health professional, I believe deeply in the capacity for change. I also believe that part of the ethical responsibility of my  field is to work for change individually and collectively for social justice. Part of the job of a therapist is to help people find their voice and feel empowered. Part of my  job is also to be an advocate when people are not in a place yet where they can do that for themselves. I want to publicly talk about the current election and the recordings of Trump's comments and how they impact women who have suffered sexual assault. I want to speak to this as a trauma therapist, as a woman, and as a survivor of rape and assault.

First of all, the CDC says 1 in 5 women in the US have reported rape. Estimates are that over 60% do not report. Countless others have experienced some kind of sexual assault ranging from verbal assault, exposure, groping, or non-penetrating forced coercion. This is an epidemic. This means that you have known and/or loved someone who has experienced this, whether you are aware of it  or not. Sadly, most likely you have also  known a person  who has assaulted someone, as only 13.8% of assaults are committed  by strangers; the vast majority are committed by partners, family members, or friends. Trump's comments that were captured on video, and his later dismissal of the comments as "locker room  talk ," highlight the rape culture that perpetuates an environment that makes assault so prevalent. In the past week, so many girls and women have come into my office triggered, angry, sad, hopeless and exasperated by hearing sound bites of his comments  on the news. It is not just that Trump said it—this is not a partisan thing. It is that so many people are accepting of the fact that a person in power said it .

The issue is that every one of these girls and women coming into my office has firsthand experience with this kind of sexual assault . It brings up their personal stories of violence. To dismiss it as "locker room talk" or "boys being boys," or to say that people are too sensitive if they are offended, is part of the victim-blaming cycle that makes assault so common. When women speak out, we are often  invalidated, dismissed, judged , or shamed in these ways. Most of us are tired of having to explain the harm in language and behavior like this. Most of us are tired of having to stand up and fight, especially when things don't change. We are tired of being labeled aggressive, bitchy, dramatic, or a whistleblower for simply standing up for ourselves. We are tired of having to justify our pain.

While the numbers reflect that this issue is most prevalent with women, it also impacts men who have suffered assault , and there are many of them out there. Often when we discuss rape and rape culture, we leave male victims out of the equation, and they also need a voice. These dynamics are the breeding ground for their pain, too, and they also need to be heard.

In my office, I often discuss needs with people. Being able to identify and ask for what we need   is a hallmark of creating healthy relationships with ourselves and others. So I am going to speak out for myself and for the women and girls I have worked with (at this point, thousands of them ) who have suffered assault. This is what we need:

We need to be heard and believed.

We need to be understood.

We need people to check in with us right now while this is on the news. We need to be witnessed and validated  and asked if we need anything.

We need men with integrity and respect to stand up against this kind of behavior and talk.

We need the legal system to move in the direction of more trauma-informed practices and victims' rights.

We need a clear message in our society, both institutionalized and cultural, that says this must stop.

We need people to vote, and not just in the big races… We need voters in local elections to put people in power who have social justice and equality in mind.

We need to band together and say NO as one to send the message: "You are not alone, and we are stronger together."

We need ACTION NOW.

While I have shared many times that I am a survivor of assault and rape, this is the most public I have personally gone with it. It feels vulnerable, it feels a little scary, and it also feels empowering. If there is a silver lining to this election and these horrible comments made by Trump, it is that these issues are being brought to light. I sincerely believe it is an opportunity to band together and create more safety, peace, and equality for women.

Feb 15
Mindfulness Through Art: What It Is and What It Isn't

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"Mindfulness" is a common buzzword these days, but the concept is often misunderstood. From a secular and psychological view, mindfulness is about focusing attention and awareness to the present moment, integrating the mind and body to a focal point in the here and now with acceptance. There is a lot of research coming out on the benefits of mindfulness. Recent studies show that mindfulness can help to rewire thinking and behavioral patterns in the brain, create more ease and reduce tension, and even help with chronic pain, anxiety, and depression. In general, mindfulness can increase focus and a sense of presence in a person's life.

 

Mindfulness is attracting more attention recently because of these benefits. However, there's also a lot of misinformation out there. Here are some of the most common myths about mindfulness:

 

1.      Mindfulness is about relaxation. It's true that for some people, this kind of practice can be very relaxing. Others can find this kind of focus stimulating and uncomfortable. Many times, each practice session has a different kind of experience depending on where a person is at mentally and emotionally that day. The benefits actually come from remaining present and accepting whatever experience comes up. Mindfulness practice teaches us not to judge what arises either way as good or bad, but simply be with it compassionately.

 

2.      Mindfulness is about not thinking. I have been practicing mindfulness and Buddhist meditation for twelve years, and not once has my thinking actually stopped. This is definitely not the point. We may have moments of pause or silence that can stretch between thoughts as we practice, which can be quite nice. The funny thing is that as soon as we notice that pause happening, we have named it with a thought, and here we go again. Mindfulness is not about not thinking; it is about changing our relationship to our thoughts. This change consists of not taking thoughts so seriously, of not grasping and attaching to them in reactivity, of being able to hold them lightly and learning to respond gently. 
 

3.      Mindfulness will "fix" my problems. Expectations, agendas, and goals are often sources of stress for people. It is common that people start mindfulness practice with a goal of relaxation or pain relief. That's okay. However, the practice quickly leads one to realize the paradox that mindfulness is about letting go of any goals or ideas about it. Again, it is about being with whatever is. If you have a headache, you practice acceptance of that headache with breath and techniques to let go of obsessing about the headache, but without ignoring and dissociating from it. Mindfulness is about finding a balanced way to be with our experience without expectation, no matter what it is.

4.      You have to practice in a specific way. People often get it in their heads that practicing mindfulness means they need to sit cross-legged in full lotus with a hand mudra, eyes shut and back straight. While this is one way to do it (a more traditional Eastern meditative practice), there are also a thousand other ways. For many people, it's best to start a practice with some kind of movement involved. This is why yoga, tai chi, or many other types of body practices that incorporate mindfulness are so helpful. You can also pick any kind of activity you already do and incorporate mindfulness into it. When I started years ago, my practice was cutting vegetables. Anytime I was preparing my food, I would use it as a practice and have the knife be a focal point as I focused and did deep breathing. When my mind would wander from the knife to other thoughts (my to-do list, something that had happened earlier, or what I planned to do later), I would gently bring it back to the knife without judgment or tension. This was good practice. It is also why I believe art can be a powerful tool in practicing mindfulness, and I'll talk a little more about that at the end of this blog post. 

5.      Mindfulness is about religion. This is an interesting point to ponder. While mindfulness practice in the West does hail from interest in Eastern philosophy and practices, it is not specifically religious. In fact, the kind of mindfulness I am talking about in this article has more to do with psychology than religion. It is important to acknowledge its roots from those traditions but this is where I personally distinguish it from meditation practice. Personally and professionally for me, meditation practices are different and have a root in many different religious traditions with specific worldviews and intentions. There is the practice of yoga and its eight limbs, each with a style and intention of practice; there is Mahayana Buddhism with roots set in compassion and service to others; there is centering prayer in Christianity with a communion with God; there are more indigenous and native practices of listening to and learning from nature. Meditation practices can be diverse and quite powerful if one chooses to explore them. Mindfulness is a component, but the practice and intentions are much deeper and complex in meditation.  

With all of this said, I have been practicing mindfulness through art for many years now, both on my own and in my counseling and art therapy practice. Over and over, I have seen the power of using creative process as a way to cultivate presence and awareness with acceptance. There are so many creative ways this can be done. Art is ideal for mindfulness because your body and mind are involved in a direct experience to focus on. It is an ideal way for beginners to be introduced to mindfulness as well as seasoned practitioners to gain new ideas. I am running workshops in March for both teens and adults to explore mindfulness through art. It can be a great way for people to be introduced to mindfulness, as well as give seasoned practitioners new and fresh ideas. Click here to read about mindfulness workshops at Courageous Heart Healing.


 

Feb 07
Three Ways to Help Your Child Cope with Stress and Anxiety

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Anxiety and stress rates among children are rising. There are many contributing factors to this sad fact, including:

  • Not enough free and recreation time for open play and movement,
  • A cultural hyper-focus on achievement,
  • Over-exposure to media,
  • Modern diet,
  • Lack of sleep,
  • Genetics,
  • Family dynamics and lack of quality time or stress from over-worked parents,
  • Traumatic events, and
  • Social dynamics.

It's a complex maze to navigate in understanding your child's stress and anxiety. However, there are things you can do. Part of your role as a parent is to notice what the contributing factors are for your child, to watch for how they naturally cope, and to help cultivate stress reduction in their lives. We often think of children as small adults, but the signs of their stress can be quite different. Certainly their understanding of what is going on and their natural ability for self-soothing looks different than in adults.

Here are three things that will help your child in maintaining healthy stress levels.

Play: The real work of childhood is play. For many neurobiological, cognitive, and emotional reasons, play is the way children tend to process their life experiences. It may seem like just random musings of imagination, but often there are deep metaphors and themes running in childhood play. Sometimes it is obvious, such as when as children have an experience of being bullied at school and then play it out with cars crashing and people fighting. Sometimes it is more subtle, and children in the same situation may engage in types of play that make them feel in control. Either way, they need space to process these events, which is why giving our children free play time is essential to health.

Naming feelings: This seems simple enough, and often people ask me why it's so important. Children have to learn how to name a physiological and emotional experience in order to understand it. Even just naming something as stress or nervousness helps the brain and body connect and integrate the experience, providing relief. There are even stress-reducing physiological responses we have when we name our felt experience; the act of naming what we feel is soothing. One thing adults can do is to model naming feelings and to help children name theirs. 

Learning to self-soothe: There are many ways to cope with stress and anxiety. For some people, physical movement is critical in order to release energy and important endorphins so that they can relax. For some, talking about it is helpful. Others may need a creative outlet to express their feelings. Often sensory-based activities are most helpful for children. When we engage in sensory-based activities, it activates parts of our brains that are involved in emotional processing and soothing the body and nervous system. Even just squeezing some clay, chewing some gum, listening to music, smelling some yummy lotion, or looking at a picture book can help immensely in calming.

One of the reasons why art therapy is effective is that it combines all three of these strategies for kids. It is playful, an art therapist helps name feelings, and it is sensory-based with art materials.  Art therapy is an integrative process, and childhood is all about the growing integration of mind, body, and feelings. 

I am running a workshop for parents with more information on this topic in February. For more  information on this workshop, please visit www.courageoushearthealing.com/workshops

Jan 09
How to Creatively Cultivate Your Internal and External Resources

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One of the best things my Mom use to do for me as a kid was hand me a spoon and say "Go outside and play." I grew up in poverty, without an abundance of toys and monetary resources, but what that spoon gave to me was priceless: imagination, ingenuity, inspiration, self-sufficiency, tolerance, perseverance, acceptance, and confidence. Hard to believe a dining utensil could do so much for someone, huh? It's all because I would go into my backyard and play with that spoon for hours. I would dress it up with grass and leaves to play characters in grand stories. I would dig and build intricate cities with it. It would become a microphone, a sword, a magic wand. That spoon traveled and lived and so did I. Through this kind of play I maximized my external resources and learned to cultivate my internal ones.

Resourcefulness is a key resiliency in life. It is a birthplace of ingenuity, creativity, imagination, confidence and perseverance. Think of all the meals you have thrown together with only what you had in the fridge, all the fabulous outfits when most your clothes were in the hamper or too small, or the fun times you had on an outing where the original plans fell through or it rained and you had to make due. Learning to build your confidence in these areas can open many doors in life.  Because let's face it, we are all in scenarios frequently when things don't go as planned or we don't have all we need and have to make due.

Working with clients as an art therapist, we often come to a crossroad where we are working on a project and we don't have the right supply or run out of something mid-way. Frustration and disappointment ensue and I always see it as a grand opportunity to assess and work through issues of internal and external resourcing.  While the following are just some examples of responses and ideas of why, it is important to note that each person is different in their challenge with this scenario, and it is common to experience struggle. Frequent responses are:

  • People express their feelings then shrug and rally quickly looking around for what we can use or do for the project instead. This shows me that they have a great ability to resource.
  • People freeze, get quiet, implode and shut down.  They want to give up and often can't even express why or say something about their inability to be creative. They are often locking up in fear and insecurity and often need encouragement and gentle guidance to build confidence in their ability.
  • People melt down emotionally and might even have a tantrum of sorts and give up. They will often insist with frustration that we do something else with "all the right supplies," or that I purchase the supplies for them for their next visit.  They are usually looking for the external world and someone else to soothe them and often need boundaries and calming techniques to be able to go forward and think creatively.  

 

Those that give up often get stuck in their thinking, "there is no hope, I can't do it." This shows difficulty in tapping into their internal resources with ability to soothe, get flexible and find a new solution or way to maximize their external resources creatively. The good news is if a spoon can wear a cape and fly over a city it built, I assure you that with encouragement and learned coping skills, there is always hope.

With creativity, curiosity and a willingness to adapt, potentially fail and try again anything is possible. No glue or tape? Use clay or join things together through dove-tails of some kind. No more popsicle sticks? Use cardboard? No black paper? Use white and color it. There is always a way if you shift your expectations and go with the process, and this takes practice to gain confidence in yourself.  It's good to put yourself in healthy-risk situations where you have to engage the insecurity, fear and frustration and to work through it creatively. This is one of the reasons art therapy is so effective because it is experiential in nature as you learn to cope with what arises.

Here is one of my favorite art interventions to cultivate resourcefulness I call "Mixed Media Surprise Box" I have a box in my studio that is equivalent to an art supply junk drawer. It is filled with all kinds of odds and ends and random objects like old buttons, left over duct tape cardboard rolls, foil gum wrappers, broken bits of things, recyclable/reusable jars, feathers and rocks. I pull out 5 things, hand someone tape and glue and say, "make something."

I facilitate this with a lot of encouragement and questions trying to get the imagination going. I am often reminding them, "It's not what it looks like, it is about the experience of making it!" If there is great frustration or insecurity it is an opportunity to work with that learning new coping skills. Watching the process for those uncomfortable or unfamiliar is fascinating. They end up working through a lot emotionally and cognitively to create some kind of end result; the frustration most often ends up with pride and gained confidence. Below I have an example of client art from this intervention, most people leave this project with a sense of surprise and pride from what they made.

122.JPGApart from projects and play, it's good to reflect on life situations like plans getting canceled, weather intervening, when things break or are missing an ingredient or piece. How do you cope with these situations?

Some good questions to ask yourself on this topic are:

  • What is my relationship to not having what I need or having a plan disrupted?
  • What is my reaction when I am frustrated with a project or something not going as planned?
  • How do I usually work through that frustration, what do I need emotionally and mentally to work through it?
  • How often do I put myself or my children in healthy-risk situations where we have to become flexible to figure something out?

 

Finally, in a culture of consumerism, what this kind of resourcefulness also brings us is awareness on what we need versus what we want. Many of my clients are children and adults who can purchase or have whatever they want, they have ample external resources to do so. I suggest trying something new: don't get the ready-made kit, use stuff you have at home. Give yourself opportunities to try even knowing you might fail and have to try again. It's good for you. The Rolling Stones said it best with "you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need."  

Jan 04
Are You in a Modern Day Busy Trap with your Children?

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A common call that I receive as a therapist is from parents with children who are acting out either through tantrums, defiance, or paralyzed from worry and anxiety. Typically there will be a quality of immediacy to the call and often something becomes blatantly obvious in the equation of the struggle. Let's see if you can notice it in the following example:

Parent: We need to get in right away but can only do every other Mon at 3:15 or the opposite Wed at 4:25 because she's in soccer, piano, karate, jump rope, chess club, and dance and then we have homework club and nightly homework because she's in all AP classes and needs help with that.

WHOA! WAIT A SECOND! HOLD UP! Did you just list 500 after school activities and performance demands? If I only had one hour of free time a week I think I would have a tantrum, get defiant or start to have paralyzing worry and anxiety too. What's worse is the parents are not having a good time driving the child around, spending all the money for the classes, and keeping up on making sure they are doing all the work load either. Everyone in this scenario is stressed out. It's a modern day dilemma I believe most of us struggle with: a busy trap! If it's hard to find an hour in a week for support for immediate and ongoing stress, this might be a major indicator you and your child are over-scheduled.

What is really startling to me is how many parents, really well-meaning, intelligent and loving people cannot see this trap at all. I believe part of the inability to notice the trap is that being busy has become an integral part of our culture and lifestyle. It is also something I believe is unhealthy for all of us. I usually get one of several responses when I address this up front with a gentle, "Do you think that possibly your child is overextended in activities?"  Below I have outlined the responses I hear most often with some of my thoughts as well as questions for parents that I hope are helpful to explore. As you read through them, have compassion for yourself because as I said...this situation is VERY common in our American culture.  

1.       My child WANTS to be in all of these activities

Sure your child does! And you love them and want to provide, that is a great intention. And they want to eat all the Halloween candy in a few days, but you probably don't let them do that. As parents it is up to you to watch stress levels and create boundaries, teaching your child to say no is an extremely valuable lesson. There will be time in life to take up dance maybe next summer or school year, focus on karate only for now. It's also a good lesson in pacing life and learning how to focus on one thing at a time and learning patience.  Also, your children watch you closely and pick up on habits and coping skills, modeling pacing and saying no for yourself is just as important as setting boundaries for them. I like to remind parents often, oxygen mask on you first: if you are stressed your kids are probably picking up on that. Slowing down and caring for yourself is critical in parenting. Some good questions to ask yourself are: What is your relationship to saying no and pacing yourself? What example are you giving to child on scheduling activities and doing things in your own life? Also, do you tend to take everything on at once and expect yourself to be good at them all? How do you cope with that?

 

2.       We are prepping for a good high school and college; they need the activities on their resume.

I hear this most often from parents with middle school kids, but even from those with grade school children. While I do understand that if you are shooting for elite schools down the road this is a factor I urge you to slow down. I urge you to teach your child to slow down. If we are always pushing toward a performance goal that can create all kinds of unhealthy patterns like feeling you are only worthy if you are achieving instead of feeling worthy just as you are. It can teach kids that they need to be busy all of the time which takes away time for recharging and rejuvenating, getting bored and then creative and imaginative with that boredom, and just being a kid and enjoying the moment. Childhood goes so fast, why are we rushing into college in the second grade? Also, where is the time for your relationship with yourself and loved ones?

So many times I ask parents when they spend time with their kids and it's in the car going to and from activities. This is not quality bonding time, if you are so scheduled it is hard to find time to play together or talk this is also an indicator you are over-scheduled.  

Good questions for you are: What is my relationship to self-worth? Do I need to show achievement in order to feel good about myself? What priority do I put on time for myself and relationships?

3.       I didn't get this as a child, I want them to have as many opportunities as possible.

I have so much compassion for this one. Of course you want your children to have more and better, that is another loving intention. I bet you are already providing way more emotionally and logistically for them because you are sensitive to it. This can be a tricky one as I see so many parents living through or for their children. Neither are very healthy or fair for your kiddo. They need room to have their own unique experience of childhood. This will include being able to participate in some things and not in others. They will learn how to accept that, they need to learn to accept that because you cannot do EVERYTHING in life.  Some good questions to ask are: Do I want this for them because I wanted it, or because they want it? Do I feel like I need to give this to be a good parent, and why? What do I provide as a parent in our relationship without activities, bells and whistles?

 

4.       But all his friends are in them too, he doesn't want to be left out.

This one is interesting for me because I talk with so many parents privately. Here is a secret: most of you are miserable carting your kids to all these activities but some of you are doing it because you think you have to in order to keep up with everyone else. Somebody has to break the cycle here and do what's best for you and your family and not what you think you are supposed to do. Should-ing is never helpful, especially when it comes from comparison. Here is a good question: Am I doing this because I think it is right or good for my child and family, or because I think I should due to societal expectations?

 

5.       I believe these are necessary for her growth and well-being.

With schools no longer providing as much physical activity and arts programs I do really understand this one. Don't get me wrong, I am an advocate for extra-curricular activities as they can provide so much richness in experience and socio-emotional learning. However, do you know what is really not good for well-being? STRESS. If you are in so many activities that it is creating stress for your family it is counter-productive. There is also a lot to be said for free-time and just being a kid, having to figure out what to do with space. In fact, if we need science to back this one there are ample studies on the need for children to process through play and imagination, which takes free-time. It also creates many resiliencies like having to be resourceful, learn patience, delay gratification, increase tolerance of frustration and more. These are also all valuable to a child's well-being.

Instead of teaching your child to adjust and cope to a world that is over-scheduled and overwhelming for her, maybe it's about teaching your child boundaries, healthy pacing of activities and stress, and good self-care through cultivating free-time. Ultimately these internal resources will be more valuable for her in life as she approaches any activity.

Nov 23
The Power of Memes to Connect

025 (2).JPGA quick google of Wikipedia says a meme is, "an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.  A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme." The word meme has its roots in Greek meaning to imitate.

I propose that memes are much more than that: they are a creative way to express and connect near and far in our humanity.

Memes are one of the most interesting concepts on the internet for me right now. I cannot tell you how many times a friend or a client shares a meme with me saying, "I have had this on my phone for weeks, or printed it and put it on my mirror and it means so much to me." I have seen people in relationships pass memes back and forth as a means to express how they feel, even when things are tough. Then there are the funny memes that spread like wildfire and give you a boost in the day. Memes can inspire, inform and relate.

How many times have you taken a screen shot of a meme with your phone to save for later or send to a friend, let alone private message one to a friend or share on a timeline? They give people the opportunity to share ideas, sentiments or images that are meaningful and timely.

I am a long time sharer of memes and a very recent maker of memes. My personal style is what I call "old school/new school" as all of my memes are either pictures of places I have been personally that were meaningful to me, or art that I have created. I like it that my memes are intimate in a place I have been or something I have touched, they are human. Mostly the backgrounds are painted circles of various arrangements that I most often paint while in session with clients. Painting circles soothes me and helps me listen better as I make art with people sharing the intimate details of their lives. Then I take these and put some kind of quote on them, whether it is mine or someone I admire. The memes are a form of daily creative expression.

Ultimately I make them for myself as a creative practice of expressing what's going on in my life or what is important to me that day. My secondary intention and why I put them on my page is a hope that they are of benefit to someone else in some way. Even if they only get one like (which has happened many, many times), I hope that person had a moment of recognition and feeling. A moment of connection. What is surprising is how many I create go viral.

One meme I created that went viral was this:

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I posted this on a day where my own life was falling apart on many levels and I was really down and trying to cope. I had this painting that I had done in a session illustrating the power of imperfection and allowing space for creativity in chaos through making something that is messy. So the painting was paired with a journal entry and a meme was made.

It was picked up by other larger pages and communities and spread far and wide. I want to note that I have found in business that it is through connections and networking with other people of a similar mission and passion that we collectively cultivate success through support of one another. I am so grateful for the community I have in my geographical location and online. This is also the beauty of social networking and memes.

Within days over 30K people had an experience with my expression of "Life is Messy" from every continent and many different countries. The meme made me feel better as a way of expressing my feelings, but more importantly it taught me this: We are all connected, we all struggle with similar things and we are not alone. This awareness humbles me and inspires me. As silly as memes can be and as trivial as they may seem, we often take them for granted. I believe they are a powerful means of expression and connection that we have at our fingertips in today's world.  

I would love to hear from you. What is your connection to memes? How do you feel they inspire, inform or keep you connected? How do you use them?

Nov 09
Soothing Public Speaking Anxiety

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Picture of my self compassion monster, a wonderful creative helper.

I started this blog on wordpress in 2012 and did four postings in all the time between then and now. I am terrified of public speaking and writing and sharing art is in that category for me. In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health the number one fear, even over death is public speaking at 74% of the population. I am in good company on this one.

I am also a frequenter of public speaking. I have presented at universities, public schools, mental health agencies and national conferences on various topics on mental health and art therapy. I have been in art shows, am building a social media presence and am now writing more frequently, this all terrifies me on one level and excites me beyond words on another. I am constantly working my own uncomfortable edges on the fear of putting myself out there and being seen. I am hoping this blog post will also help me with my fear of writing and publishing; as you will see in step four naming it publicly is part of the process of working with the fear.  

 

I hope these six strategies can be of benefit for you:

1. Visualize success

I am a firm believer that the key to success in most things is visualizing. Everything starts with an idea, a dream. We have to allow ourselves space to daydream the scene. Mentally preparing yourself for the setting, what you will do and say, what you are going to wear, who will be there is a way to prepare as well as manifest. Dream big! However, it's also important to hold this loosely as you don't want to have expectations where you create rigidity. This can cause more anxiety later if you spill breakfast on that fabulous presenting blouse the morning of. Or if your computer crashes at a national conference minutes before you present in front of almost 100 people. (True story, I lived to tell the tale through deep breathing, improv humor and announcing my dilemma. Someone got up to help me and rescued the day.)  It's always a combination of preparation and flexibility.

2. Practice with posture

This is a no brainer on some levels. You need to practice. Get up in front of the mirror, your dog, your friend, a small group and give it some trial runs. Ask for constructive feedback, what is working well, what can be changed? (Please  feel free to give me some helpful feedback or encouragement!) Part of practice and visualization is posture. There is a great ted talk by social psychologist Amy Cuddy on how you can change confidence levels through your body posture. I practice this often and have found it to be very helpful, at the least make sure to keep your feet planted firmly on the ground, shoulders back so you can breathe, and head up to face the audience....and smile. Smiling also helps release endorphins that can help. Check it out: http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are?language=en

3. Make friends with your inner critic

Here's an ongoing one, and how you do it is key. We all have internal bullies and story lines we like to run. A favorite of mine is that I'm full of crap or that nobody cares what I say, or that I don't make any sense. I run this so much that I sometimes finish sentences with a desperate check in of, "does that make sense?" In writing I like to obsess that I am horrible at spelling and grammar and that everyone is going to find out. (My facebook memes have been helping with that as I have put out several with typos and to my inner critics surprise no one called me a fraud or told me I suck. Amazing!)

You need to get to know what that dialogue is for you and then start making friends with it. I often tell folks, "What would you say to a good friend?" I would tell her, "Hey, you just do your best. If you have a typo or bomb a sentence that's okay. Your content is more important anyway. It's a good opportunity to learn more about the nuts and bolts of writing and to experience feeling vulnerable as you put it out there. It's better to try and fail then not put it out there at all."

Along with this friendly pep talk it's important that you find out what your inner critic needs and is feeling. Mine is feeling vulnerable and scared, she needs some empathy, encouragement and probably a hug. Maybe chocolate. You get where I'm going with this. BE GENTLE AND NURTURING WITH YOURSELF. Most importantly, don't beat yourself up that you are beating yourself up....this common tactic will only make it worse. Added points if you make art about making friends with your inner critic or to remind you to be gentle. (See picture of my adorable self-compassion monster that is sitting on my desk right now as I type to remind me to be gentle.)

As another resource here is a video I watch repeatedly for encouragement by Brene Brown on working with your critics: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-JXOnFOXQk

4. Name it to soothe, be personable, and model behavior

Whenever I get up in front of people I introduce myself and immediately say, "I'm so nervous!" This does a few things. As Daniel Siegel, a well known psychiatrist and writer says, "Name it to tame it." It actually helps to regulate your nervous and limbic system when you name what you are feeling. Doing this out loud with witnesses adds to the experience of soothing. The other thing it does is breaks the ice and makes you human. I find that every time I do this I get empathetic looks, understanding nods and people seem to listen more and try to be supportive. The final thing it does is model healthy behavior. Most people with a fear of public speaking don't even try. When you put yourself out there and say, "Hey, this is scary!" It shows what is possible to others, you create inspiration.

5. Breathe and Fidget

There is a lot of good research out there on how anxiety effects the body and how moving the body can help regulate it. Did you know that at least 5 deep breaths start to release endorphins in your brain that help calm you? Did you know that when you engage in sensory activities of any kind they can help regulate your nervous system and affect?

Well, it's all true and extremely useful. Practicing deep breathing before and even during a presentation can make all the difference. I also like to wear a scent that is pleasing and calming like lavender and carry a small piece of clay in my hand. Yes, I fidget while presenting much to the dismay of my college speech teacher. I figure it's healthier than Xanax. (Although medication can have its place with anxiety and I have tried that too, always review with a professional.) As I talk I gently knead the clay or squeeze it in my fist and it has helped greatly in giving myself a body focus other than the shaking and profuse sweating. It is calming and helps me focus on my hands instead of my legs, which want to either buckle and fall or run out of the room immediately. Often I have clients with anxiety of any kind carry clay or a rock with them for this exact purpose, to fidget and regulate.  

6. Accessorize

This last one is a bit of a personal priority, but really....I am believer that one can accomplish anything with the right accessories. Wear something meaningful for you that gives a sense of protection or confidence. If nothing else, just make sure your shoes are comfortable so you can feel your feet on the floor and you feel fabulous in your ensemble.

As I renew my intention to blog regularly I will try to keep these in mind and to remember what Wayne Dyer says, "What other people think of me is none of my business." I write because I have lots to share and if it is of benefit to even one person, that would be success. Even if that one person is me.

I appreciate any feedback or comments!

Create courage to express!

 

Nov 08
Transitions with Kids

​Originall posted in wordpress in October 2012

Here we are at fall again, my favorite time of year with the crisp air and colorful leaves.  It can also be a challenging time for parents as the school routine takes back over.  Transitions are challenging for all of us.  Our nervous systems naturally respond to change with a jolt of energy and activation.  For some people this can take form in anxiety, for some they become hyper and aroused, for some it is seen outwardly as a total shut down or an external melt down. 

 

Bruce Perry, a famous Psychiatrist and Neuropsychologist talks about how to help the nervous system out and regulate.  He talks about the four R’s, repetition, rhythm, rhyme, and routine.  Incorporating these through transition for both you and your child can be very helpful.  If there is some kind of ritual you can think of, like singing a little song or a small saying with rhyme and rhythm each time you transition can help greatly.  This is also why music in the car can help when we are going place to place. 

 

I also like to think of sensory based activities as these can also help the nervous system regulate.  Many kids I see come from families who have experienced divorce.  I suggest to parents that they have ritual when going from one house to another.  Coloring together for a little bit after your child is packed and ready to go can be a great ritual and an opportunity for them to talk about their feelings around the transition.  Having a special snack upon return can be a great ritual too which involves smell and taste.  This leads to a final suggestion with transition, empathy. 

 

The nervous system also relaxes when feelings are acknowledged and validated.  Saying statements like, “I see you are really excited to be leaving” or “I notice you seem frustrated and don’t want to leave” can help your child not only learn language for the feelings they are having but also shows them that you see them in their difficulty with the transition.  They key to helping ourselves and our children out with transition is to add some kind of predictability to it with intention to help support the nervous system through the change.  When done consistently you will notice your child engaging the change in a calmer more secure manner.

Nov 08
Special time with children (and partners!)

​Originally posted in wordpress in June 2012

When I see kids individually or in family therapy one of the very first things I suggest is to have “special time” scheduled with your child.  Special time is a routinely scheduled play date with your child that is consistent and allows them to choose what to play or do.  For some parents this might look like a half hour or more at 3pm each Saturday.  For others this is ten minutes each night before the bedtime routine or after school.  The three main ingredients to this designated time are the consistent schedule, the parents undivided attention, and the child being able to choose what to do.  This works for many reasons, most of which have to do with the nervous system regulating, giving your child a sense of empowerment and building bonding and attachment in the relationship.

We forget as adults that children’s days are mostly scheduled by us.  We tell them when to get up, when to eat, when to play, when to sleep….most of the day is dictated by someone else.  Just giving a child some time each week with you that they know they have control of gives them a sense of empowerment. Knowing that during this time your attention will be totally on them opens a door for exploration in the relationship and builds trust.  It  can be very exciting for them to show you things or play in ways they normally don’t get to with you and this can be very informative and fun for parents.  Having it be a routine time also lets their nervous systems relax a little knowing that if they can’t have your undivided attention now…they will get it at the designated special time.  Often I have had parents come into me saying, “my kid yells mommy! mommy! or daddy! daddy!” non stop and their behavior escalates to get their attention every moment they are around.  When they have implemented special time consistently in a short while they notice their kids calmer and less demanding on attention in the day to day because they know they will have it at their scheduled time.  Parents can also use this as a way to help calm their children by saying, “I can’t play with you now because I’m making dinner, but we have our special time at 7:30 and then we’ll do what you want to.”  This can also help to build patience and what is known as frustration tolerance for kids as they learn to self-soothe until they get the attention they want.

Most families have very busy schedules these days and adults are often distracted by the routines of the day with their children.  They also will count that as time spent together, and it is, but it is not the same as quality time of the child’s choosing.  This is a powerful way to join with your child and learn their language through play and expression which will ultimately build trust in your relationship with them.  The caveat I always put on this is that special time does not need to be elaborate or have money involved at all.  In fact I usually suggest it is not so as not to set up patterns of manipulation.  Hanging out in their room, going for a walk or to a park nearby, maybe with your teen it is listening to music or going for a drive.  Some kids want to play with toys, some to color, some to just sit and tell you about what’s going on in their lives.

In another post I will talk about the importance of reflective dialogue in relationship and with children especially as this is an added ingredient to build trust and rapport and to soothe your child and make sure they feel heard.  In the meantime, try setting up a special time with your child.  And I’d like to add, it works with partners too!!

Be well!