Returning to wholeness

Women Returning to Wholeness

breathe

Depression and anxiety therapy can increase your sense of joyPractical steps for increasing your Happiness quotient.

In part 1 of how to increase your Happiness quotient, I talked about the importance of increasing the average of positive thoughts and verbal expressions in order to achieve a ratio of at least 3:1. Incidentally, if you’d like to test your happiness quotient, try this online quiz to give you an idea of how happy you tend to be in everyday life.

So how can you shift from negativity to YES?

 

Step one: Become mindful of your thoughts, your verbal expressions and what you tend to focus your energy on.

Mindful thinking could be compared to meditation. When you meditate and try to quiet the mind, you  most likely notice how your mind drifts off before you bring it back to your breath or some other point of focus. Maintaining a steady awareness of negative self-talk, judgments, defeatist thinking and negative verbiage means raising your level of consciousness and presence with yourself and your mental and emotional state. You could compare this process to being the Quality Control supervisor at a chocolate factory (or any other merchandise) where you are observing the chocolates traveling on a conveyer belt past your vigilant gaze before being packaged. It is your job to pick out and remove any chocolate that is dented, broken, moldy or not up to the highest standards of satisfaction before they are packaged and shipped.   You can create an awareness of your thoughts and language in similar fashion. Outgoing and Incoming images, ideas and thoughts are examined and eliminated or replaced if found to be negative.

Step two: Translate -ve thoughts

Burnaby counselling help for depressionOnce you have identified the negative thoughts and expressions, translate them into positive expressions and affirmations.   Remember that your unconscious mind cannot differentiate between the present or the future. It also doesn’t hear “not.” Example: I don’t want to smoke to cope with stress.  – your mind hears what you want …so I don’t want to smoke is translated into “I want to smoke”…   Affirmations need to be formulated in the present tense. A good way to create positive affirmations is to start with a list of negative thoughts. Take a moment and write down some of the more common and repetitive negative thoughts, ideas and judgments that are on “autoplay” in your head. List these thoughts on the left hand side of a page… think about choosing YES, and replace them with an affirmation that starts with YES on the right side. Here are some examples:

I am never going to lose weight. C H O O S E   Y E S Yes I can! I can influence my body weight thru healthy food choices and exercise.
I feel so guilty, I’m a terrible parent. Yes I am! I forgive myself for the mistakes I make and appreciate that I try to be the best parent I can be.
I hate rain. It’s going to be another crappy day. Yes I do! I appreciate all the good things in this day and focus on being positive.
Nobody ever helps me around here. I always have to do everything. Yes I can! I can ask for help and delegate tasks. I deserve to take breaks and have energy left at the end of the day.

Of course it takes practice and regular effort to slowly shift from negative to YES. 

Step three: Shift your focus in the world.

You have heard about the glass being half empty or half full. Remember that you choose the thoughts you think. You also choose the lens and filter thru which you experience the world. You can either focus on the silver lining, the benefits, the things you can be grateful for… or you can get stuck in seeing everything thru the grey lens of disappointment and disgruntlement.

Step four: Think about the purpose of your negative thought habits

North Vancouver counselling therapy for depression and stress reliefIf you are finding it difficult to implement mindfulness and to shift to YES, ask yourself what would change in your life if you practiced a more positive mindset. What would happen if you lived your life with more joy and contentment?   Sometimes we develop patterns because that is what we were taught. Often we maintain patterns because they represent some sort of security for us.

If you think back to your family of origin… what would you say was the “speed limit” for happiness in your family? Were your parents optimistic, joyful and content? Or was your mother a bit of a martyr or your father often angry? Perhaps you grew up with the chaos of addiction or the low vibrational energy of depression and anxiety. Perhaps your family had an intergenerational belief that life is about hard work and happiness was not the purpose of life. Maybe religion played a role in what you were taught or witnessed and feeling too good about yourself or life meant that you were straying of the righteous path of obedience and sacrifice. As you examine the beliefs about joy and happiness of your childhood and how they are still affecting you today, remember that you can make different choices at any given moment.

If you are finding it difficult to sustain joy and positive energy in your mind and body, if you need help to cope with depression Get help for depression and anxiety with Burnaby certified Body psychotherapistand anxiety, consider working with a counsellor such as myself who has a somatic (body-mind) approach. Integrative Body Psychotherapy  can help you repattern your thoughts and release negative holding patterns in your body. Hypnotherapy, EMDT or EFT are all useful tools to help you overcome depression and anxiety and shift from no to YES so you can raise your Happiness Quotient.

Are you wondering if you are a perfectionist?  Take a look and see if you can relate to these statements: how true are they on a scale of 1 to 10?

  • Nothing good comes from making mistakes
  • I must do things right the first time
  • I must do everything well, not just the things I know I’m good at
  • If I can’t do something perfectly then there’s no point even in trying
  • I rarely give myself credit when I do well because there’s always something more that I could do
  • Sometimes I’m so concerned about getting one task done perfectly that I haven’t have time to complete the rest of my work

If your total score is higher than 32, your life is undoubtedly being affected by perfectionism.

As a perfectionist you’re every employers dream. You’re usually willing and ready to work overtime and always go the extra mile. Your colleagues come and hand you projects they don’t have time for because they know you will take them on… even though your own to do list is stretched to the max.

You would think that with all this extra effort you would be particularly appreciated. Instead your boss has grown to expect you to be always available and the promotion went to Jane in accounting. Furthermore, your boyfriend, partner or family is not impressed. What is wrong with this picture you wonder?

As a perfectionist you’re also every employee’s nightmare. You can’t relinquish control over anything and your stance is: why bother delegating to get the job done with mediocrity when you can do it yourself perfectly the first time. Your team is used to receiving mostly criticism rather than praise and everybody has long stopped to come up with innovative ideas.

At home you wonder why you always have to do everything yourself. The truth is that others just don’t do it well enough for you. Because, didn’t you know, there is a right way and a wrong way to stack the dishwasher…

Perfectionists can be in the habit of engaging in a number of unhelpful behaviors to make sure that they continue to meet the incredibly high standards they set for themselves.

 

Difficulty in making decisions is one of these unhelpful behaviours that you might be engaging in if you have perfectionistic tendencies.

Let’s say you’ve had a long day at work and all you really want to do is have a quiet evening in front of the TV. The voice in your head however is of a different opinion. It is suggesting that really you should be going to the gym because otherwise you’re going to gain weight. Or, you should work for another hour on that report you have to present tomorrow. Or, you should have sex tonight because that’s what your boyfriend or partner has been hoping for. When you have all these shoulds going on, it can become very confusing and feel overwhelming.

In the end you don’t know what you really want to do. All you do know is, that you want to do the right thing, you don’t want to upset anyone and you don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. Every should has a whole chorus of voices advocating its validity.

So here you are, struggling to make a decision.

If the should virus has taken over your life and your trying to figure out what you really want to do, you need to go back to the body. Remember, while all the voices in your head are competing for your attention, your body already knows the truth.

 So the next time you’re undecided, take a moment and close your eyes. Take a few breaths to become calm and grounded. Then visualize each of the options proposed by the should voice. Finally visualize your original thought of what you wanted to do.

Notice how your body feels with each image that you produce in your mind. When your body feels open or relaxed, you have connected to what you really want to do and ironically what you should do.

The short-term benefits of allowing your inner truth to be your compass are authenticity and an increased ability to be fully present with what you’re doing.

Confronting the double edged sword of perfectionism isn’t always easy. It requires courage and a certain willingness to feel vulnerable as you show up in the world as your authentic self. The long-term benefits of this act of courage and of letting go of perfectionism are deeper connections with others and yourself.

 

Are you a perfectionist? You might be nodding your head vigorously and saying “Yes, that me. It’s what has gotten me to where I am today.” Or you might think that you’re so laid back and relaxed, perfectionism plays no role in your life whatsoever.

No matter what your stance, perfectionism can be a double-edged sword because it can lead to counter-productive behaviors.

Marketing and advertising strategies tend to exploit the image of “the perfect woman.” What’s wrong with doing and looking your best, you may ask? After all, many would concur that being a high achiever is what makes you successful.

As a perfectionist you may be familiar with  certain behaviours that are actually counter-productive to your desired outcome.

We all know the quote “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” One might think that perfectionists would be the first ones to put this into action.

Yet a common behavior for perfectionists to engage in, is procrastination. You see, what we haven’t really talked about yet, is that perfectionism is connected to anxiety. The anxiety or the fear of not being good enough, of being rejected, of being a failure or displeasing someone.

Let’s take the example of Susan. Susan is a successfully self-employed interior decorator. Recently her business coach suggested that she should start blogging to establish herself as an expert and connect more frequently with her clients. On Friday, when Susan had planned to blog, she found herself very busy. She caught up on all her filing, she did her invoicing and she cleared her desk. Because her office is located in her home, Susan then decided she should bake some muffins as an afternoon snack for the children. Susan got a lot accomplished on that Friday, except the one thing that was on her schedule: write the blog post.

When Susan and I talked about what happened, she realized that her procrastination was connected to anxiety. She was worried that her writing wouldn’t be good enough. She agonized that people reading her blog post would think she was stupid or was passing on irrelevant information. She was a hostage of perfectionism, which in turn made her feel vulnerable and afraid to fail.

 Do you ever find yourself putting off a task because you’re not good at it or you’re worried about the outcome?

While procrastination is actually a way to self soothe your feelings of anxiety, in the long run it makes things worse. Anxiety lives in the body, so one way for you to move forward is to literally move your body forward. Grounding breathing techniques such as belly breathing, visualizing a positive outcome, and repeating positive affirmations can help.

You can also break down the task at hand into small steps so it feels less overwhelming. Progress comes with awareness. Once you have identified that you’re procrastinating and why, you can do something about it. Journaling and exploring worst-case scenarios can be useful to dispel the story in your head.

Because it is a story, a story that you’ve been telling yourself or that you have bought into. And just like you can change your thoughts, you can choose and learn to change the story. Are you ready to let go of your need to do it perfectly?

 

Do you listen to “I’m too fat FM”? Over the years of counselling women I have discovered that perfectionism and low self-esteem or poor body image are often connected.

Being synchronized to “I’m too fat FM” is a painful experience with ripple effect.

Many women pretend that they don’t listen to this station by putting on an air of self-confidence when they go out into the world.

Only closest friends and partners become privy to the painful internal struggle that gets triggered with every glance in the mirror. What happens is that once in a while, “I’m too fat FM” gets interrupted by spontaneous broadcasts of messages from “Maybe I’m ok FM”.

In these moments, the woman usually turns to her spouse or friend asking for reassurance. What follows is a dialogue which, repeated often enough,
leaves both parties frustrated and / or annoyed.

Can you relate to this scenario?

“Honey, do you think I look ok in this dress?”
“You look great babe! How many times have I told you that I think you’re sexy and I love your body?”
“Oh, you just say that because you love me. I guess I wouldn’t look too bad, if only I didn’t have ____________ (choose from these options – this big belly, such bad skin, fat thighs, bigger breasts ecc).”
“That’s nonsense! I’m telling you, you look great!”
“You don’t really understand. Like I said, you love me so of course you think I’m ok.”
“If you don’t believe me, why do you even ask?”

 While listening to “I’m too fat FM” or “I’m not good enough FM” maybe a habit you’ve picked up during childhood, today, as an adult, you have a choice to choose a different radio station.

You have a choice regarding the thoughts you think. Perhaps you feel  that changing these thoughts is difficult if not impossible.

If you can’t seem to break the habit of negative self-talk, ask yourself these questions:

What is the benefit of negative self-talk or keeping yourself small?

Here are some answers I have heard while counselling women for anxiety and depression: It makes me work harder and always strive to be better, it allows me to see nice things in other people, it makes me a good friend,

What is the cost of negative self-talk?

Answers women have shared: Depression, anxiety, I don’t go out and do things I want, I hide my body, I’m inhibited in bed, I become obsessed about being perfect in other areas, I obsess about my body and weight loss, I’m unhappy

What would be the benefits of listening to “I’m perfect just the way I am FM”?

Answers women have shared: I would have more freedom, I would have more energy, I would feel great about myself, I would do more things, I would have more fun, I would dress differently and wear what I want, I would initiate sex and feel less inhibited

 What would be the (imagined) costs of stopping negative self-talk?

Answers women have shared: Having to step out of my comfort zone, people thinking I’m conceited or arrogant, losing friends, conflict with partner or family, realizing that I want to live my life differently,

Here are 4 tips to help you stop negative self-talk and shift low self-esteem / poor body image:

1) Do mirror work: Many of my clients resist this exercise, but mirror work is very powerful. To avoid getting distracted by your body, start with a hand mirror and look into your eyes when you say the following:

I love you. It’s not what you do but who you are that I love. You are perfect just the way you are. You are special to me. I have confidence in you.

Start with one of these messages. Take a couple of minutes in the morning after you wake up and in the evening before going to sleep to connect with yourself. Breathe into these messages. Notice any voices in your head that disagree and just let them go. You may choose to journal about what the voices in your head are saying.

2) Practice gratitude: Thanks to your amazing body, you get to experience life. You get to enjoy the beauty of nature, taste good food, touch the people you love, hear beautiful sounds, do the work you do. You might think you’re thighs are too fat… but imagine missing a leg. You might worry about your breasts being too small but imagine losing them to illness.

3) Start a daily practice of writing and saying positive affirmations to yourself. There are lots of great books that you can use to inspire you.

4) Start doing some of the things you now don’t allow yourself to do because you imagine everybody is looking at you and thinking horrible thoughts. Learn anxiety management techniques such as EFT and thought stopping to help you cope.

You don’t have to be a hostage of your inner critic and “I’m too fat FM.” You can and you deserve to own your greatness.

Do you have questions or comments? I’d love to hear from you.

Ina Stockhausen is a psychotherapist in Burnaby and North Vancouver, specializing in counselling women for anxiety, depression and stress management. She offers solution focused counselling and helps women navigate life transitions.

When you’re stressed or anxious your body releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol makes you crave sugary and high calorie foods like chocolate, ice cream, donuts or pizza, just to name a few.

When you eat these foods your body responds by producing a hormone called serotonin.

Serotonin can be considered a “happy” hormone, as it greatly influences an overall sense of well-being.

Essentially wanting to eat certain foods is your body’s way to stop producing stress hormones and start producing pleasure hormones.

Here are 3 stress management and wellness tips to stop stress eating

1)  Take a deep breath

and another one and another one. Often when you’re stressed your breathing is very shallow and your body contracts. Neither one of these things feel good. By focusing on taking deep breaths right into your belly, you bring oxygen into your system and your body automatically relaxes. You can increase the calming effect by soothing yourself with a reassuring phrase like “It’s going to be ok.”, “I can do this.”, “I am safe.”.

2) Laugh

Laughing is often the best anxiety and stress help. Being able to laugh at yourself can heal you of any emotions that you are going through.

And remember the stress hormone cortisol? Well, laughter releases certain cells that suppress cortisol…. so no wonder it feels good and is good for you. Start an emergency laughter kit. Watch funny movies. Read funny stories.

3) Get your body moving

Take a brisk walk, do some stretching, play some music and do a jig. Exercise helps lower cortisol and other stress hormones in your body. The key is to do something you enjoy. So tune into your body and let it tell you how it would like to move.

Learning how to cope with stress differently and tapping into other resources will help you stop emotional eating. If you have come to a place in your life where you need to lose weight because you have diabetes or other health concerns and you need anxiety and stress help, or if you’re simply tired of yo-yo dieting this Coaching Program can help you.

 

Becoming a caregiver can activate a lot of emotions. Particularly when women become responsible for the care of a parent, I have noticed how easy it is to get caught in the perfectionism trap.   It becomes important to do a perfect job, to be a perfect caregiver…adding an extra layer of stress.

I have yet to meet a woman who isn’t familiar, at least to some extent, with the notion of not feeling good enough.

Today I’d like to share a story of how the need to do it right  can contribute to overstepping boundaries.

In the last little while I’ve been counselling and supporting women who are navigating that life transition piece of becoming a caregiver.

The story of Joan (name has been changed) illustrates how perfectionism, or  “extremely high standards” can be driven by the need for approval of others.

Joan’s mother is a widow in her late 70s. In the months, she’s been struggling with vision loss and recently she broke her ankle.  Because mother hasn’t felt very safe to go out on the streets alone or to do her shopping, Joan has stepped in and has been taking care of providing her with groceries.  Now that mother is fairly immobilized with a broken ankle, Joan has taken over the cleaning of her apartment as well.

When Joan came to see me she was feeling very frustrated.  Her mother was complaining to everybody that all she was doing was cleaning.  Here I am trying so hard and all my mother does is complain, Joan shared with a mixture of sadness, anger and confusion.

Then the other day Joan and mother had a big fight about mother’s housecoat. In her efforts to keep everything clean and tidy, Joan had also decided to wash mother’s robe. It was then that she noticed that the robe was starting to look a little worn and ratty.

She told mother that she thought she needed a new housecoat.  But mother didn’t agree. Not only did she love that housecoat – it had been a gift from Joan’s father. She  thought it was still good enough. Joan spent about 30 min. arguing but couldn’t sway mother.

So she decided to take matters into her own hands. The next time she visited, she replaced the housecoat with a new robe and took the old one with her for disposal. Instead of being grateful and pleased about the gift, Joan’s mother was furious and Joan felt very unappreciated.

As we worked together, Joan was able to identify what had happened. She’d been afraid that someone would come and visit her mother and see her old worn-out robe and decide that Joan was neglecting her parent.

Her cleaning frenzies had been motivated by the same fear. So rather than enjoying time with mother and keeping her company, she’d been driving herself crazy cleaning the apartment from top to bottom… even though her mother had asked her to stop.

Have you ever experienced anything similar?

Have you felt embarrassed by the behavior or circumstances of someone close to you because you felt it was a direct reflection on you?

Perhaps you worried about being judged a poor parent, an incompetent pet owner or a “not good enough” daughter or son. While this is a good example of how the desire for approval can activate perfectionism, it also illustrates the loss of boundaries.

The next time you feel an urge to step in and fix something or somebody, or take care of something for somebody that isn’t really your responsibility, stop and take a deep breath.

In fact take several deep breaths. Then connect with this mantra or truth:

“I don’t have the power over, control of, or responsibility for other people’s lives. I was taught that I had these powers. This is a lie I now tell myself.”

Of course you are responsible if you’re caring for an infant or child. But as the child grows and becomes more independent or when you deal with adults who have full mental capacity you are no longer responsible for their well-being, appearance or feelings.

While you may mean well when you step in and fix something, as the story of Joan illustrates, you’re not really doing the person a favour. Furthermore while it may look like it’s all about them, upon closer examination, you will most likely discover that you’re meeting a need of your own.

 If you’d like to ease the stress that perfectionism can create, I invite you to check out my new tele-seminar series about “Embracing the gifts of imperfection and letting go of perfectionism” in the Events section.

As always I welcome your comments and feedback to this blog post.

If you have ever struggled with depression you can probably relate to feeling stuck and/or overwhelmed. When I am counselling clients for depression, most often in our sessions we address a combination of four  mind states:

  1. Grief and loss:
    – trying to come to terms with change and grieving what once was or could have been
  2. Low self-esteem:
    – being caught up in not feeling good enough
    –  self-blame / inability to love and accept yourself where you’re at
  3. Lack of hope:
    – an inability to formulate or connect with a new inspiring vision for the future
    – feeling overwhelmed trying to imagine the energy needed to surface from the layers
    of depression
  4. Feeling shut down to cope with anxiety and overwhelm

As I was sitting down the other day to write a condolence card for a dear friend who has lost her partner of 40 years, I pondered the cycle of life. The term cycle reminded me of movement.

I thought about the delight and happiness we experience when a child is born. Usually there is lots of excitement connected to witnessing every new step of development and growth.

Watching someone we love grow old and slowly lose more and more of their vitality tends not to be a joyful process. Having to say good bye to a loved one is painful.

 Joy and happiness, grief and loss these are two sides of a coin.

Help for overcoming depression and anxiety / counselling BurnabyOnly seeing one side of the coin means the coin has stopped spinning. When you stop moving thru emotions,  you can get stuck in between “spin cycles.”

We live in a society where we tend to focus on the “bright side of life.” Little time is afforded to not feeling good. Great efforts are made and products are offered to make you feel better quickly.

I believe that in this process we have lost our ability to  dig deep and connect with our inner strength.

We have internalized a message that we need external means to help us move thru “negative” emotions as quickly as possible. If we don’t get over our grief and loss there is something wrong with us. Our environment is uncomfortable witnessing despair for extended periods of time.

As a collective we have lost touch with our place of trust and hope and acceptance. Acceptance of the cyclical nature of life.

There is a difference between acceptance and resignation. There is a difference between supporting and holding space for someone who is grieving and seeing their grief and trying to hurry them along to be happy again. In order to appreciate and be able to see the bright side of life, we have to be willing to dwell in the darkness.

When you suppress how you really feel and put on a bright face for the world to see, when you abandon yourself by neglecting to get your needs met at the benefit of making sure the needs of others are met, you pay a price.

This price can come in the form of depression, which is really a place of shutting down.

 Burnaby counselling for women and depressionSometimes, you need a helping hand to dig deep when you’re depressed, sad and unhappy.
You need someone who is willing to keep you company in the dark places.

When you open the door to a dark room, some light enters. With the light, comes an awareness of other things that have gotten lost in the darkness and thus temporarily invisible.

When you’re depressed it’s only too easy to move from low self-esteem and despair to a place of shame. Sharing how you really feel and being seen and heard can be a very vulnerable place.

Finding the courage to allow yourself to be seen however is also an empowering place and the first step towards getting the coin to spin again.

If you’re struggling with depression, I invite you to give yourself permission to love and accept yourself exactly where you’re at.

Dig deep within yourself to connect to your place of faith; trust that this too shall pass.

Carefully select someone who you can trust  to help you stay in touch with your own courage and hope. Choose someone you can trust to see and hear you without having to fix and change you.

 This is what you don’t want to have happen:

  • Rather than expressing empathy, your friend feels sorry for you thus reinforcing your shame and feelings of hopelessness
  • Your friend gets triggered and takes on your problems and you end up having to take care of him or her
  • Your friend has a need to fix and rushes in with solutions rather than just hearing you
  • Your friend has a habit of one-upmanship and proceeds to tell you how her problems are much worse than yours

Burnaby counselling / psycho therapy for depressionConsider getting professional counselling support for depression if you don’t have someone in your life who has sufficiently strong boundaries and the emotional resilience to come and connect with you in the darkness when you need company.

Finally, continue to engage in movement. Continue to breathe. It literally takes energy to keep the coin spinning. Get help  to keep yourself moving physically.

It is difficult to remain stuck mentally when your body is in movement. If activities like swimming, dancing or walking seem overwhelming, start small. Connect to the rise and fall of your chest as you breathe.

Take several moments each day to breathe with awareness. Taking in air and life force, letting go of tension.

Connect to gratitude. There is always something to feel grateful for. Use gratitude and the good feeling associated as a stepping place to climb the ladder towards feeling good.

As always I welcome your comments and feedback.

Smiles,

Ina