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Reflections by the staff of the Replogle Center invite you to explore topics ranging from how to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life to how to change your life by changing your brain.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Supporting Wellness, Relaxation, and Vitality through Food and Herbs

By Brenda Kissane, Intern

Feelings of anxiety, stress, depression, and lethargy are frequently expressed by clients I work with—as well as individuals in my personal life—as chronically distressing and debilitating.

People seek out many forms of relief in therapy, medication, lifestyle, job changes, and other solutions, which can all be incredibly beneficial. However, a lot of them can be inaccessible and strenuous. I think that a lot of times we forget what is right in front of us: what we eat and drink!

More and more research is showing that what we eat and the well-being of our digestive system have a great impact on our emotional well-being. By being intentional about what we put into our bodies we can not only nurture ourselves and support well-being but start to heal our relationships with food if that is challenging. It is also a great way to incorporate self-care in our daily lives!

Below are some recipes for tea and food that support emotional well-being and the nervous system. Before continuing, though, I want to be clear that I am not a medical professional. All information provided is from my own explorations in learning. If you have a medical condition, are pregnant, or are on medications that could potentially interact with herbs in a harmful way, please consult your physician before embarking on your own herbal adventure.

Herbs that support the nervous system and ease tension
     Chamomile
     Skullcap
     Motherwort
     Yarrow
     Passionflower
     Oatstraw
     Lavender
     Lemon balm
     Mugwort

Soothing Chamomile Tea
     2 spoonfuls of chamomile
     1 spoonful of lemon balm
     1 spoonful of lavender

Happy Dreams Tea
     2 spoonfuls chamomile
     1 spoonful mugwort
     1 spoonful lavender
     1 spoonful passionflower

Nourishment for Nerves Tea
     1 spoonful oatstraw
     1 spoonful yarrow
     1 spoonful skullcap

Oatmeal for Ease and Wellness
     1 cup of oats
     2 cups of water
     Sprinkle of cinnamon
     1 spoonful hemp seeds
     1 spoonful chia seeds
     1 spoonful coconut oil
     1 spoonful raw honey
     Handful of almonds

Bring the oats, water, and cinnamon to boil and let simmer until they reach a consistency you like. The timing depends on the type of oats. Once you have a consistency you are happy with, add in the hemp and chia seeds, coconut oil, honey, almonds, and whatever else you like, and enjoy! Oats are a natural antidepressant, and the omega 3 and 6 in the chia and hemp seeds support brain health. The essential acids in coconut oil support general wellness, and the propolis in raw honey supports the immune system.

While these are just a few recipes that I like, I encourage you to explore what foods and beverages could potentially support you feeling like your best, happiest, nurtured self!

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Changing Attitude, Changing Culture: “The Hundredth Monkey”

By Nathalie Theodore Collins, J.D., L.C.S.W.

How many people need to change their attitude in order for the culture at large to change? Consider the story of “The Hundredth Monkey,” written by Ken Keyes Jr. and retold by Jean Shinoda Bolen as follows:

Off the shore of Japan, scientists had been studying monkey colonies on many separate islands for over thirty years. In order to keep track of the monkeys, they would lure them out of the trees by dropping sweet potatoes on the beach. The monkeys came to enjoy this free lunch and were in plain sight where they could be observed. One day, an eighteen-month-old female monkey named Imo started to wash her sweet potato in the sea before eating it. I imagine that it tasted better without the grit and sand or pesticides, or maybe it even was slightly salty and that was good. Imo showed her playmates and her mother how to do this, her friends showed their mothers, and gradually more and more monkeys began to wash their sweet potatoes instead of eating them grit and all. At first, only the female adults who imitated their children learned, but gradually others did also.

One day, the scientists observed that all the monkeys on that particular island washed their sweet potatoes before eating them. Although this was significant, what was even more fascinating was that this change in monkey behavior did not take place only on this one island. Suddenly, the monkeys on all the other islands were now washing their sweet potatoes as well, despite the fact that monkey colonies on the different islands had no direct contact with each other.

Read more about “The Hundredth Monkey” here.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Resistance to Self-Care: How to Outsmart It

By Thomas Schemper, Director, Replogle Center for Counseling and Well-Being

There are times in life when almost everyone feels the need to focus on self-care and then encounters resistance to doing it. You might want to eat healthier food, exercise more, finish chores, clear clutter, search for a job, make necessary yet difficult calls, write a paper, work on taxes, be more social—the list goes on and on. Resistance is tricky, because like the little straw Chinese finger torture toy, sometimes the more you try, the stronger the resistance becomes and holds you back. Depression and anxiety are notorious for their ability to activate resistance and hinder progress towards goals like being social, planning activities, exercising, and working. It’s in taking the first step where resistance is the strongest. People often report, “Once I got to work (or once I started walking or once I arrived at the party), it was not as bad as I thought it would be.”

Resistance often presents itself as an inner voice that uses some combination of doubt, pessimism, judgment, cajoling, exaggeration, defeatism, dramatization, fear, or procrastination to keep you immobile, hesitant, paralyzed, shut down, and too fearful or demoralized to act. There is value in understanding your resistance. Sooner or later you may have to find a way through the resistance and get moving. Here are a couple of strategies to outsmart your resistance.

The first is to invoke the statement “Something is better than nothing, and more is better than less.” Let this be a mantra you repeat in a supportive way to yourself. The first goal is to get to “something.” It’s important to define “something” as the first modest step towards a larger goal. For example, if it’s exercise you are choosing to start, “something” might be getting to the track and then walking around it once. This tends to work, because the “something” seems small and is therefore likely to invoke little resistance. In fact, your cunning resistance may even use this to promote its agenda and try to tell you that your “something” really does not amount to anything. It is important to counter with an attitude that favors doing it anyway.

After getting to “something,” it is important to acknowledge that you just did the good and necessary work of starting to move towards your desired goal. At that point the second part of the phrase can be invoked, and whatever else is added will be “more, which is better than less.” Again, adding the “more” leaves you with an accomplishment and weakens the resistance. If you have a lot of resistance to exercise, you have a better chance of running a mile starting with the walk around the track and then adding to it rather than starting with the larger goal.

A variation on this strategy is to negotiate with yourself to start an activity and continue it to a limited degree. You then promise yourself that if it’s as difficult at that point as you anticipated, you will allow yourself to stop. For example, if your goal is to be more social but you encounter a lot of resistance to your plan to attend a business reception, you could negotiate with yourself and say, “I will go to the reception and stay twenty minutes. If after twenty minutes, I am really uncomfortable, I will give myself permission to leave. Furthermore, if I choose to leave, I will not consider it a failure. Rather, I will compliment myself for the twenty minutes I was there.” Doing this you have a greater chance of pushing through the resistance that was telling you not to go at all. Once you have been there for twenty minutes, the odds are much greater you will decide to stay longer.

Over time, if you employ either of these strategies, you will accomplish more than if you start out expecting yourself to achieve the whole goal.

All the best to you as you work to become more clever than your resistance!

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Three Questions to Ask Yourself When Work Is Stressing You Out

By Nathalie Collins Theodore, J.D., L.C.S.W.

Feeling stressed at work? Perhaps the job itself is demanding, or maybe your career isn’t unfolding the way you planned and you’re feeling unfulfilled. How we feel about our careers can have a significant impact on our lives. Job stress and dissatisfaction can affect mental and physical well-being and can also take a toll on our personal relationships.

If you’re dealing with career stress and dissatisfaction and need a change but don’t know how or where to begin, consider these three questions to help you get started.

1. What’s really stressing me out?
The first step in managing career stress is identifying the root of your dissatisfaction. Is a demanding boss making your life miserable? Is a long commute wearing you out? Or is the work itself less fulfilling than you anticipated when you accepted the job?

Take a moment to think about all the aspects of your job that are causing you stress, and write them down. If you spend all day Sunday dreading the work week ahead of you, you probably have a general sense that work is stressing you out. But taking the time to specifically identify what isn’t working for you will help you take charge of your stress if you’re feeling a bit helpless and overwhelmed.

2. What changes can I make to reduce my stress?
Now that you’ve got a list of stressors in front of you, carefully think about which ones you have control over and which ones you don’t. While you can’t control a difficult coworker, for example, you can control how you respond to them. And if you’re contributing to your own stress by taking on more than your share of responsibilities and regularly cancelling social engagements because you’re too busy, start working on setting healthier boundaries so you can better manage your time. If your list of stressors are mostly manageable, some small changes may be all you need to take the edge off your stress. If, on the other hand, you’re feeling fundamentally dissatisfied with your workplace or career in general, you might be due for a bigger change.

3. Am I practicing good self-care?
Self-care is always important, and especially so when we’re stressed out. Oftentimes we neglect self-care during times when we should be making it a priority. If you don’t already have a self-care routine, think about how you can incorporate one into your schedule. Check out a yoga class, take up meditation, or unwind with a good book after work. Making time for activities you enjoy will lower your overall stress and, as an added bonus, can help boost self-esteem. Feeling good about yourself and getting in touch with what makes you happy will likely offer clarity about your career and create momentum to make the changes you need for greater job satisfaction.

In certain cases, small changes can go a long way to help make a stressful job more manageable. In other instances, a more substantial career change may be in order. Asking yourself the three questions above can help you identify which course of action is right for you.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Seasonal Change

By Margaret Brennan

In Chicago winter can be long and harsh. Most of us hope, indeed, long for an early spring. We become impatient, even resentful, if winter overstays her March 21 official departure date. Cold winds pull, warm breezes push; mud puddles turn to ice, dewdrops refresh morning’s first flowers. We can experience the month of April as a seasonal tug of war. We can also see it as a dance of change. The seasonal cycles offer us some wisdom for understanding our own life rhythms.

Frequently people seek counseling either because they want to make some change in their lives or they have been impacted by a change, perhaps in a relationship or family situation or in their health or work life. Spiritual writers and poets find inspiration in the natural world to express our struggles, aspirations, and hopes. They also see the natural processes as instructive for our human endeavors. The twelfth-century mystic Hildegard of Bingen notes, “When the inner and outer are wedded, revelation occurs.” What does the winter-to-spring dance of change have to teach us?

The popularity of poet Mary Oliver is due in large part to her keen wedding of the outer and the inner. Her poems call our attention to the workings of the natural world and almost always suggest a correspondence to our own lives. Consider these lines from her poem “Swan”:

     And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds—
     a white cross, streaming across the sky, its feet
     like black leaves, its wings like the stretching light
          of the river?
     And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
     And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
     And have you changed your life?

Change. As we live the changing of the seasons, what can we learn that will support and encourage our own growth into new life? Pondering the lessons revealed by the transition of winter to spring, persistence and patience come to mind. “Persistence” from per (through) and sistence (stand): like the early green that pushes through the frozen earth, we are called to stand against the patterns and habits that resist growth and change. “Patience” from Latin patienzia (suffer): winter’s cold and spring’s warmth must suffer each other. And with patience, one gives way to the next and so the seasons change and new life abounds.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

10 Ways to Embrace the Season of Lent Daily with Your Mind, Body, and Spirit

By Nicole M. Chmela, L.P.C.

  1. Get out of bed an hour earlier

  2. Drink 8 oz. of water first thing when you wake

  3. Pray or meditate or sit quietly for ten minutes

  4. Be mindful of what, how, and when you eat

  5. Record one thing for which you are grateful

  6. Do one act of intentional kindness

  7. Call a friend or family member you have been meaning to call

  8. Say thank you and be specific

  9. Let go of one of your routines or attachments (e.g., mid-morning snack or afternoon soda or evening glass of wine) and replace it with a five-minute walk outside

  10. Turn off the TV and Internet one hour earlier and do something that feeds your soul (e.g., read poetry, pray, write a letter, journal, exercise, whatever you desire)

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Marriage Cinquain

By Maureen Garvey, L.C.P.C.

“Cinquain, like Haiku, is a structured form [of poetry] that encourages the writer
to express the heart of an experience in just a few words.”
—Christine Valters Painter

Sweet, Savory,
Exploring, learning, forgiving,
Deciding to love
Communion. MG

I love my husband. We will be married forty years in February. I love Kevin more today than when we first married. Sometimes love is a delicious feeling, sometimes love is a lot of work, a conscious decision.

Here are some tips I know to be helpful and true for us:

1, Gary Chapman describes the five love languages: words (saying “I love you,” “honey,” “sweetheart”—terms of endearment), time together (going on dates, cooking together, sitting side by side reading), service (taking out the garbage, doing the laundry, filling the car with gas), touch (holding hands, making love, giving a massage) and gifts (a flower, candy, a card). We may have a favorite one, but it’s best if we can shower our lover with many different ways of saying “I love you” and give them their favorite way of hearing you love them. It becomes dangerous when we begin to take our lover and best friend for granted.

2. John Gottman talks about a concept called Positive Sentiment Override. He believes there is a magic ratio of 8 to 1, so that if, in the course of the day, 1 negative thing occurs between you, it takes 8 positive loving actions to override the one to mend the break. So when you are doing those loving gestures noted above, you are putting money in your emotional bank that will serve you well should you mess up. And we all mess up.

3. Be your partner’s biggest fan. I believe the strongest temptation to have an affair is often not because someone is sexier or better looking but because they’ve somehow become your partner’s biggest fan. Don’t let this happen.

4. The next time you have an argument, consider saying, “Will you forgive me?” vs “I’m sorry.” “Will you forgive me?” requires a response. I truly believe that just about anything can be forgiven in a marriage.

5. Tend the embers/fire of your intimacy.

6. Consider praying together. You might even write your own couple prayer to your higher power or perhaps write a prayer of thankfulness that you read together every morning before heading out for your day.

7. Remember the best thing you can do for your children is to love your spouse. You are their first teachers of how to love.

8. Any two people can stay together for the rest of their lives: just don’t get divorced. However, if you want to be happily married for the rest of your lives, consider getting help outside of your family and friends. We sought couples counseling at two difficult times during our marriage, when it seemed as if we were both speaking two different languages. The therapist was like a translator, and it was extremely helpful.

9. Be assertive, not aggressive. Your partner is not a mind reader. Ask for what you need more of or less of and be specific. “I wish (fill in the blank).” “If you did this I would feel (fill in the blank).”

10. When making a big decision, consider
     • What’s best for you
     • What’s best for your partner
     • What’s best for your relationship. Make your relationship an equal voting partner to an important decision.

 

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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Allergic to Love

By Ruth Durchslag, Psy.D.

Love. We seek it. We want it. We live for it. And sometimes, it just never seems to come our way. A shortage of eligible partners? Maybe. But more than likely your disappointing dating record is because you are allergic to love. Love, like allergies, is complicated, challenging, and can keep you up at night. As with any condition, diagnosis is key. So it’s time to come clean. Which of the following apply to you?

Allergic to Happiness
It may sound counterintuitive, but trust me, it’s real. Some of us are allergic to happiness. It comes from a childhood or life that keeps reinforcing the message that if misery is what we’ve known, misery is what we deserve. If we are not used to being loved, seen, heard, cared for, given to, valued, and cherished, when we experience those things we are likely to break out in hives and run the other way.

Allergic to Intimacy
Being in a loving relationship means being willing to be vulnerable. Period. And that means being willing to show your cellulite and your soul. It means letting your partner see your old wounds and being willing to see theirs and, over time, learning how to acknowledge and accept each other’s wounds with a loving and open heart. Not that it is easy or fun, but there is no real intimacy unless we feel safe enough to reveal our deepest, truest, most challenged places. The good news? There is nothing like an honest and loving relationship to help us heal those places and become the truest, best, most glorious version of who we are.

Allergic to Boredom
We live in a society with constant stimulation and where everything is dispensable. We upgrade our cell phones, microwaves, and jobs, so why not trade in our partner for the latest and most improved app? Works with technology but not so well with intimate relationships. Hot, sexy, sizzling romance may start us down the relationship path, but over time there are other things that become more precious: a shared history, the deep knowing of another, a comfort and ease in being together, a true friendship and the beauty of a shared life—even if it means hearing the same stories for the hundredth time. Staying together over the long haul may mean tolerating a little boredom and giving up some of the sizzle, but there is nothing sweeter in partnership than a lifetime warranty.

Allergic to Commitment
These days the subtext to “I do” is “until I don’t.” Divorce is easy, and there is no stigma to trying again. So here’s the bottom line: commitment is a decision. It means being able to tolerate the inevitable ebb and flow of relationships because of the potential benefits of sticking it out. It means being willing to wake up next to your partner and sometimes wonder why the hell you got in bed with him (or her) in the first place. There is nothing easy about the commitment of a long-term relationship, but if we are willing to work through the inevitable mess and disappointments of hanging in for a lifetime, the rewards can be immense.

If you have answered yes to one or more of the above categories, don’t give up hope. You may be allergic to love, but no one is allergic to working on themselves. Healing ourselves can be daunting, difficult work, and there is no quick fix. But trust me: it’s the kind of work that creates the possibility for true love. The kind of love that is heart stopping, breath taking, and can endure over time. The kind that is guaranteed not to make you sneeze.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Four Lessons about Life I Learned from My GPS

By Nancy Karen, L.C.S.W.

As a newcomer to Chicago, I faced the challenge of learning how to get around town. “Chicago is so easy to navigate” people would tell me, but they were all natives and seemed to have an intuitive sense of where they were when they encountered intersections with no street signs or how to deal with our ubiquitous six-way diagonal intersections.

When I got a new phone that had GPS with spoken directions, I was in heaven. I wouldn’t say that I never got lost after that, but its frequency was much reduced.

One day, I was in a strange part of town, listening to that familiar voice say “in 1,000 feet, turn right.” Not having a great sense of how far 1,000 feet is, and impatiently not waiting for a prompt, I turned one block too soon. When I realized what I had done, I braced myself, waiting for a sigh or to be scolded for not following directions, which might have happened with a human navigator. But, of course, as you already know, the GPS voice didn’t do any of these things. There was the barest discernible skip of a beat and then a calm, confident instruction to make the next left turn. No indication at all that anything had gone wrong a moment ago. I realized that all she “cared about,”—if you could say that about an inanimate object—was where I was at that exact moment and how to get me to my goal. As far as she was concerned, where I had been a moment ago was of no importance at all. My anxiety about being in the wrong place dissolved immediately.

In my practice, I often work with clients on being more mindful. According to Psychology Today, “mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.” As a colleague once observed, clients often say they spend about 50 percent of their time on the past and 50 percent on the future, leaving no energy for contemplating the only moment where we can act and make a difference in our lives. So if we’re dwelling on an argument we had with someone yesterday or agonizing over where we’re going to live next year, we rob ourselves of the ability to live fully now. My GPS manages to stay in the present moment all the time and leave mistakes behind her.

So the first two life lessons are Lesson 1: Stay in the present moment and focus on where we are right now. And Lesson 2: Forgive yourself for past mistakes and leave them behind you.

So let’s suppose we’ve focused on the present moment, chosen a route for our lives, and are moving along with living it. We can get so caught up with our one path that we fail to notice opportunities that arise. I was caught in traffic, driving home from a distant suburb last week, when I heard a ding from my phone, and noticed my GPS telling me that she found another route that would save me seven minutes. All I had to do was accept it, and she then routed me around a terrible traffic jam. So as we go through life, we should look up from time to time and not miss a beautiful sunset or the chance to hear music from a band we’ve never heard of before or an outing our children suggest. If we make sure to contemplate our surroundings, we can try not to miss experiences that can make our lives better.

Lesson 3: Be open to last-minute surprises that can enrich your life.

And when we’ve finally arrived at our destination, my GPS doesn’t rest. She “knows” that it’s only a matter of time before she’ll be accompanying me on our next journey. Once we program in a new destination, all thoughts of our old destination are eradicated. She helps me recognize the impermanence of life and the need to make the most of this moment. Think of all the things we’ve never gotten around to doing in life, such as telling someone we love them, making an overdue apology, or even ending an unfulfilling relationship. As we become aware of impermanence, we can be more motivated to not put these things off.

Lesson 4: When you arrive at a destination, know that life is impermanent and, before long, you will have a new destination.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Essentials of a Good Counselor

The words of John Boyle, shared by Elise Magers

John Boyle, the founder and former Director of the Replogle Center for Counseling and Well-Being, wrote the following thoughts for the staff of the Replogle Center while he was hospitalized in May of 2013, shortly before  his death in early June 2013. They outline what he called “the essentials of a good counselor.”

First, counselors need to have a sense of gratitude—for oneself and whatever gifts one has and brings to the therapeutic alliance with the client and also for what the client can teach the counselor during the course of therapy. A good therapist fosters an appreciation for the therapeutic process itself.

Secondly, a good counselor communicates to the client the counselor’s acceptance of that person, both as they are and as they are becoming. To accept a person only as they are may be to run the risk of fostering a sense of hopelessness regarding the future and the possibility of growth that such a future may hold.

On the other hand, to accept a person only as they are becoming may run the risk of not accepting them as they are at the moment.

Both being and becoming are part of what it means to be accepted.

At the risk of oversimplification, there are four fundamental ways to relate to another human being:

One is to idealize the person by acknowledging and seeing nothing but their good qualities, resulting in an idolizing of the person.

Second, the reverse of one, is to demonize the person by seeing only what we deem unacceptable about them.

Third is to relate to a person as if they are a thing to be used, to utilize a person, and, by so doing, to make of them a nonperson.

Fourth, is to humanize another person, to treat them with respect and dignity, accepting them neither as idols to be worshiped nor demons to be destroyed, nor as things to be used, but as manifestations of the goodness of creation—however flawed—and of the worth of human beings—also however flawed—as parts of that creation.


Dictated on May 26, 2013
Weiss Memorial Hospital

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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Because There Is No Such Thing as Perfect

By Kim Staniforth

Hello. My name is Kim, and I am a recovering perfectionist. People-pleasing and over-achieving have always been a part of my internal vocabulary. I enjoy working hard and dreaming big. But somewhere along the way working hard was confused with working always, and high standards were confused with impossible standards.

That confusion is important, because perfectionism and high standards are not at all the same, although they wear a similar costume most days. High standards are good. They are present when you strive for an A on that paper or put in a little extra effort in hopes of a promotion at work. Perfectionism sees high standards and raises it one. Perfectionism is not just wanting an A on this paper but also on the next one—and every one after that. It is always staying late at work. It’s beating yourself up whenever you meet a bump in the road, because you know that you could have, or should have, done more, even if you did your very best.

The trouble with perfection is that it’s a moving target. It’s the carrot on the stick, always bobbing out a little further ahead, pulling you deeper and deeper into its daring embrace. I know that embrace well. It’s the voice in my head telling me that life will be perfect if I just work a little harder, earn a little bit more, and weigh ten pounds less.

That little voice in my head might seem harmless enough. It has inspired me to achieve the many successes that make up my mostly happy and fruitful life. But that voice is also a backhanded compliment that doesn't keep my best interests in mind. By telling myself that success means earning more, being smarter, and looking better, the inferred assumption is that I am not enough now. Perfectionism breeds self-doubt and lives on the wings of unattainable ideals.

 Combating perfectionism is an ongoing process. It takes the patience and perseverance developed over a lifetime of over-working and over-thinking. It takes a daily, hourly, and momentary reminder that I am enough. Now when I hear that voice in my head, urging me to do more and to be more, I stop and say hello to my dear old frenemy. But then I move on, because there is no such thing as perfect.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Five Small Changes to Significantly Improve Your Workday

By Nathalie Collins Theodore, J.D., L.C.S.W.

As a therapist who specializes in career counseling, I often help my clients identify small changes they can make at work to greatly reduce their stress. Oftentimes we become so overwhelmed by work stress that we forget that a little self-care goes a long way.

If your job has you feeling frazzled, read on for five small changes you can make to significantly improve your workday.

1.    Practice mindfulness throughout the day.
In our fast-paced lives, it can be difficult to slow down and pay attention to the present moment. Odds are, you’re often stuck in your head, either ruminating about something that happened the day before or anxious about the day ahead of you.

If this sounds familiar, make a point of being more mindfully aware throughout your workday. Start by practicing mindfulness during your morning commute to set the tone for the rest of the day. Whether you walk, bike, or drive to work, notice your surroundings and pay attention to what you see.

When stressful thoughts come up at work, bring your attention back to the present moment by focusing on your breath. You can even take a five-minute break to listen to a meditation app if you need some help getting centered. Practicing mindfulness throughout the day will help you stay present and focused so stressful thoughts don’t take control.

2.    Examine your eating habits.
When work gets stressful, we often let good eating habits fall by the wayside. Whether you’re skipping meals altogether or relying on caffeine and candy to get through a busy week, you’re doing yourself a great disservice. Food is fuel, and you don’t want to run on an empty tank or crash and burn. Make time for meals, keep healthy snacks at your desk, and choose nutritious foods that will give you the energy you need to tackle your day.

3.    Get moving!
We all know that sitting all day isn’t ideal when it comes to both physical and mental well-being, so be sure to keep moving throughout the day. Take the stairs as often as you can, go for a walk after lunch, and take breaks throughout the day to stretch at your desk. A little chair yoga at the office can go a long way to alleviate muscle tension and help you relax during a stressful day.

4.    Connect with your coworkers.
Sometimes we spend all day at work staring at a computer screen, with little human interaction. If feelings of isolation are contributing to your work stress, make an effort to get beyond the water cooler small talk and get to know your coworkers—just make sure not to get sucked into complaining about work, which will only drag you down further. Grab a bite to eat, invite them to join you for a midday walk, or plan a workout together. Enjoying friendships with coworkers can significantly increase satisfaction at the office and take the edge off of a stressful job.

5.    Leave work at the office.
When you step outside of your office at the end of the day, make an effort to mentally shift gears. Resist the urge to check email all night long or log on remotely for an hour or two before going to bed. Whether you’re meeting friends for dinner or making a meal for yourself at home, use the time to really unwind and relax after a long day at work. Knowing how to set healthy boundaries will help prevent stress from accumulating and leading to burnout.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A Good Life, Our Deepest Values

By Susan Cornelius, L.C.S.W.

I have seen Jersey Boys, the musical, three times. It is the compelling story of the inspiring rock–pop music group, The Four Seasons, that in the ’60s and ’70s came up from the rough streets of Newark, New Jersey, to international fame and fortune.

Having grown up with this group’s music, I was pulled back by Jersey Boys to a simpler time in my life where music transported me from a turbulent adolescence to heartfelt melodies and dancing. What a fun nostalgic experience! I loved it.

But when I saw this play recently, I left the theater feeling melancholy. This time I tuned in to the background story of the young men in this group. At the height of their popularity and success, their relationship to each other began to fragment as the band leader incurred massive gambling and tax debts. Their family lives were alienated and in shambles. Most tragic was lead singer Frankie Valli losing his oldest daughter to a drug overdose.

The human experience is never just one note. In the midst of triumph there can be a nagging dissatisfaction with life. Great success can bring individual insecurities to the forefront. Whatever is gained can be overshadowed by loss. The question is how do we deal with life.

In The Wise Heart, Jack Kornfield quotes one of his teachers, Ajahn Chah: “We are not just here to gain pleasure and avoid pain. No one can do that for very long, right? We are here to grow in wisdom and compassion, to grow in the path of awakening. Just remember this universal truth and everything gets easier.”

What the Jersey Boys discovered eventually was that following their deepest values—love of family, forgiveness, compassion for self and others, gratitude for the good things in one’s life—this is what leads to a good life.

So how might we seek to live out our deepest values ? John O’Donohue, poet/philosopher, writes in his book Beauty: The Invisible Embrace

“Wholiness [wholeness] is about learning to hear the voice of your own soul. It is always there, and the more deeply you learn to listen, the greater the surprises and discoveries that will unfold. To enter into the gentleness of your own soul changes the tone and quality of your life. Your life is no longer consumed by hunger for the next event, experience, or achievement. You learn to come down from the treadmill and walk on the earth. You gain a new respect for yourselves and others, and you learn to see how precious this one life is.”

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Embracing the Light

By Ruth Durchslag, Psy.D.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?” Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God and playing small doesn’t serve yourself or the world. Seek your path to greatness. Find your way with compassion and love.
       —Marianne Williamson

Most of us spend our lives struggling with feelings of inadequacy. All too often as children we learn that we are not good enough, smart enough, popular enough, thin enough, lovable enough, or “cool” enough. And then, as adults, those feelings get reinforced. Each time we fail our partners, our children, our bosses, or ourselves we nod knowingly and tell ourselves that all those things are true. And when we believe that we are truly inadequate, our feelings of fear deepen. Fear begins to dominate our lives. We are afraid to risk for fear of failure. We are afraid to open to love for fear of being hurt. We are afraid to give 100 percent at work in case it still isn’t good enough. We are afraid to lose weight in case we are still lonely and alone. Fear, not joy, becomes the foundation of our lives.

For most of my life I have lived from a place of fear. Fear that the darkness of depression would overwhelm me. Fear that I wouldn’t and couldn’t ever be good enough, smart enough, desirable enough, or lovable enough. I did what our culture teaches us to do with fear. I medicated it, ran from it, and believed that it would destroy me. I didn’t realize that the more I ran from my fear, the bigger and stronger it would become. Then I began to practice meditation and mindfulness. Slowly I began to gain the confidence to see and embrace my fear. Make no mistake: we are not the best of friends. Fear is still unpleasant. Now, however, fear no longer makes me afraid. Instead I see my fear as an invitation to know myself in a deeper way. And now that I am no longer afraid of my internal darkness, I am coming to understand that what I am really scared of is embracing the light.

So how can meditation and mindfulness help us embrace the light? How can they empower us to reach for and embrace our most glorious, most accomplished, most beautiful, most loving, and most spiritual selves?

Meditation decreases the power of fear.
When we quiet our minds and have no external distractions, we create a kind of magnifying glass to our internal world. And when, without judgment or criticism, we commit to seeing and accepting all of who we are, then we can begin to see all of ourselves—including our fear—with a sense of calm and acceptance.

Meditation frees energy to put towards realizing our potential.
We have no idea how much of our energy is used to run away from fear. When we free that energy, we can use it towards realizing our most magnificent selves.

Meditation encourages us to take risks.
When we come to accept our humanness, we come to accept failure. Humans are not perfect. Failure is inevitable. If we want to become all we can be, we have to be able to allow ourselves to risk, fail, forgive, and try again.

Meditation actually changes brain physiology.
When we meditate, we quiet the part of the mind that says “We can’t, we shouldn’t, don’t!” Meditation increases the capacity of the part of the brain that says, “You can.”

One last caveat. Being our fullest selves isn’t the same as living in bliss. Embracing the light is about embracing the fullness of who we are. It means loving and living our wholeness and finding ways to bring that wholeness out into the world. And when we can do that from a place of love and compassion, there is no limit to the power to change ourselves or our power to change the world.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Key to Long-Term Relationships

By Susan Cornelius, L.C.S.W.

It isn’t easy to sustain long term-relationships. We only have to look at the divorce rate to know how hard it is to commit to a partner for life. So what is the secret to sustaining a long-term romance? The acronym “SAFE” provides some clues.

S stands for sanctuary and safety.
Good relationships are sanctuaries from the challenges and disappointments of the outside world. As couples deepen their relationship, they come to know their partner’s vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and limits. That knowledge can be used to hurt or help. It is important to honor those tender places in the other and in ourselves. Loving relationships invite us to heal old wounds. Each time we can share our old hurts and pains with a loving other, those places begin to heal. It is easy to attack when those tender places get triggered. When we are responded to with compassion and understanding rather than anger and hurt, relationships deepen and grow. Taking the time to understand each other’s triggers and each other’s past is not optional. It is the only way to ensure that a relationship will flourish and survive over time.

A stands for affection.
Love, like plants, needs watering. Knowing you love your partner isn’t enough. Feelings need to be translated into action. When was the last time you told your partner you loved him or her? Brought flowers for no reason? Offered to do the dishes or take out the trash? It is not about occasional grand gestures but about building in small displays of affection on a daily basis. See what happens if you make a commitment to hug and kiss your partner each day before you leave the house. It only takes a moment and can shift your love energy for an entire day.

F stands for forgiveness
If you think that being in love means never hurting your partner, think again. Human beings are mistake makers. We all grew up hurt, and we invariably hurt the people we love. The issue is not whether we will hurt our partner. The issue is what we choose to do about it. There is no healthy relationship unless we are willing and able to say “I’m sorry.” Forgiveness and reconciliation are as basic to a relationship as breathing is to a body. No one says those are easy. Blame and anger are often far more comfortable than going to a place of accountability. But each time we are able to say “I’m sorry” (and mean it), we lay the groundwork for deepening trust and love.

E stands for effort
There are no long-term relationships unless we are willing to work at them. Period. No matter how passionate, intense, or fabulous, love is not a noun. It’s a verb.

Love changes, evolves, makes us high and makes us low, burns brightly, flickers, and sometimes seems to disappear completely. Sustaining long-term relationships means being willing to work at love. We need to be willing to put as much effort into working out our love as we do working out our bodies, especially during those times when love seems hard to find. No one says either kind of work out is easy. But if you aren’t willing to work your relationship with the same intensity and regularity as you work your biceps, it is unlikely that your relationship will stand the test of time.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Change Your Brain, Change Your Life

By Ruth Durchslag, Psy.D.

As human beings we love change. We change jobs, apartments, wardrobes, and lovers. We change the way we eat and where we choose to go on vacation. The one thing we don’t think about is changing our brains. And yet every day, every time we speak, feel, or act, we alter the structure and functioning of what goes on in our cerebral cortex. It’s amazing, really. Up until about fifteen years ago, scientists thought our brains were fixed. Scientists now know that the brain is flexible and capable of continual regeneration and change.  And here is the amazing truth: the person in charge of how that brain evolution looks and acts is you.

So here’s the thumbnail of how it works. Our brains are basically wired for “fight or flight.” That’s great if you’re a caveman surrounded by wild beasts. Not so necessary if you live in a condo and shop at Whole Foods. When we experience stress in our lives (and who doesn’t), our “go to” reaction is fear and anger. The problem with staying in a place of fear and anger is that it is bad for our immune system, our blood circulation, and our longevity (to name a few). And every time we respond with fear or anger, it limits our choices and makes the “flight or fight” part of the brain stronger. Most of us can’t change the stressors in our lives. We can change the way we respond to them.  And every time we change our response, we change our brains.

One way to change our response to life’s challenges is to start meditating. When we meditate, we activate the part of the brain that creates a sense of distance and perspective. Meditation also stimulates a hormone that creates feelings of compassion, connection, and love. Each moment we respond to stress calmly and from a place of loving-kindness, we literally change the anatomy of our brains, deepening the neural pathways that result in feelings of freedom, wholeness, and peace. The choice is ours. When we understand that we are the architects of our brains, we empower ourselves to become the architects of our lives.

See this posting by  Rick Hanson in Psychotherapy Networker  about teaching your brain to be strong 

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

How to Choose a Therapist

By Susan Cornelius, L.C.S.W.

It often isn’t easy to choose a new therapist. There are so many questions. How do I know if this will be a good fit? What is this person’s theoretical orientation? Is it right for me? Does this person talk a lot or a little? What kind of experience do they have? Have they worked with people like me before? Am I comfortable in this person’s presence?

All of these are important considerations. There is, I would suggest, an equally important consideration that often gets overlooked, and that has to do with values. Every therapist has a certain set of values that informs who they are as a therapist and how they approach their work. It is easier to ask a therapist about their degrees and their theoretical orientation than their values, but if your values and the therapist’s values are not in sync, it is less likely that this person will be right for you. Asking a therapist about his or her values may seem daunting, but it is a way for you to get a deeper insight into who that person is and whether there will be a good fit between you. My values inform my choices as a therapist and are the cornerstone of my work. They are—

1.   Human beings are made in the image of God.
I believe that every individual possesses worth, dignity, and an innate goodness that reflects that which is holy and divine in the universe. Each of us has an essence of goodness and light, and each human life is precious and holy. There are no bad people, only bad choices. Knowing that we are made in the image of God reminds us that there is always the possibility of healing and becoming whole.

2.    We are blessed and we are broken. We are gifted and we are wounded. We are limited and we are complex.
Human beings are profoundly complicated. Healing and therapy are about inviting the full range of who we are into the therapeutic relationship. We need to approach all of who we are with compassion and acceptance. Self-awareness and self-compassion are the cornerstones of healing.

3.     We are the stewards of our lives.
The poet Mary Oliver writes, “What do you intend to do with this one wild and precious life you have been given?” No one can take better care of us than we can of ourselves. In fact, it is the  mission of each of us to do so. And no matter how talented the therapist, each person is the only one who can heal him or herself.

4.    Spirituality is an important resource.
Having a religious affiliation is not a requisite for healing. Neither is believing in God or a power bigger than ourselves. However, looking at life from a broad and spiritual perspective allows us to ask questions that can lead to a deeper wholeness and peace. Ask yourself

  •  “What gives my life meaning?”
  •  “What informs my core values?”
  •  “What in my life is bigger than myself?”

A spiritual perspective enhances and enriches our lives as well as serves as a resource for healing work.

 5.    The choices we make matter.
There is no such thing as small choices. Small choices are big choices, in that each choice creates a kind of momentum. There are choices that move us towards health and those that lead us away from health. The course of each day is determined by hundreds of small choices we make in each moment. When we change the smallest choice, we create the momentum to change a life.

There are, of course, more values I could name. I offer these as an invitation for you to begin to explore your own values. Ask yourself, “Who am I?” “What really matters in my life?” “For what purpose was I put on this earth?” Knowing your values will deepen and enrich your therapeutic work and enhance the quality of your life. Connecting to our core values is our life’s work. It is a journey of discovering our highest truth. I believe that truth is created for and by love. It is when we operate from a place of love that we open ourselves to a life of meaning, purpose, and health.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Five Ways to Incorporate Mindfulness into Your Daily Routine

By Nathalie Collins Theodore, J.D., L.C.S.W.

1. Focus on what matters to you.
Mindfulness is a particular way of paying attention to the present moment: deliberately and without judgment. Let’s first examine what it means to pay attention deliberately. The practice of mindfulness requires an awareness of what we value in our lives and the deliberate intention to focus on what matters to us. Life is full of distractions. Our minds often wander: whether we’re at work, at the movies, or spending quality time with friends and family, it’s easy to lose focus. If you find yourself missing out on things that you value because you’re not fully present, first take some time to think about what matters to you. Then create an intention to be fully present during these moments. For example, if you are attending a continuing education seminar on a topic that interests you, deliberately create the intention to be fully present during that seminar. This doesn’t mean that your mind will never wander; when it does, gently bring your attention back to the present moment. Look for opportunities throughout your day to be fully present, and do not be discouraged if this practice is difficult at first. Cultivating mindfulness is a process, and it will become more natural for you with practice.

2. Let go of judgment.
Mindfulness is also about paying attention to our thoughts and observing them without judgment. We all experience unwanted thoughts from time to time. Perhaps a stressful situation at work has shaken your confidence and you find yourself thinking “I’m not smart enough.” This thought leads to others—“I’ll never get promoted,” “I hate this job,”—and so forth. Before you know it, your thoughts are in control and you’re in a terrible mood. How we respond to our thoughts is important. When you notice yourself thinking “I’m not smart enough,” recognize that this is just a thought. Then let go of that thought. Just let it drift away. Mindfulness does not mean changing your thoughts but rather accepting them and letting them go without judgment. Observing your thoughts in this manner allows you to remain fully present instead of allowing unwanted thoughts to take control.

3. Slow down.
Living life at a frenzied pace can make it difficult to pay attention to the present moment; instead, we are always thinking about the next thing on our to-do lists. Oftentimes, our hectic schedules can cause us to run on autopilot. We perform routine tasks automatically—like making a pot of coffee in the morning, or even driving to work—with very little awareness of what we’re doing. Meanwhile, our minds are racing with thoughts about the day ahead of us. If this sounds familiar to you, look for opportunities to slow down and be more thoughtfully present throughout the day. Use your senses. When you make your coffee in the morning, take a moment to smell the aroma of your favorite brew wafting through your home. On the drive to work, appreciate the scenery that surrounds you. When you’re walking, be aware of the warmth of the sun on your skin. Even a routine task like washing the dishes can be an opportunity to practice mindfulness.

4. Just breathe.
For most of us, being present takes some effort—particularly when we’re experiencing stress. Oftentimes we find ourselves ruminating about a past event, or worried about the future. Paying attention to your breathing is a great way to bring your focus back to the present moment. Begin by sitting comfortably, closing your eyes, and gently bringing your awareness to your breath. Feel the rising and falling of your chest and belly as you inhale and exhale. Thoughts will come and go. This is natural. When your mind starts to wander, gently bring your focus back to the sensations of the breath. Setting aside as little as five minutes each day for this exercise is a great way to practice mindfulness and manage stress.

5. Enjoy your food.
We live in a society where multitasking is the norm, and when we’re busy, it’s not uncommon to pay little attention to what we are eating and how we are eating it. Instead, we gobble a breakfast bar in the car on the way to work, have lunch at our desks while we’re checking emails, and snack mindlessly at night while we’re watching television. Before we know it our food is gone, and we have no recollection of really tasting or enjoying it. Try to find some time in your schedule to enjoy a meal without distraction. Eat slowly, and notice the way the food smells; notice the texture of it; notice what the first bite feels like. Be aware of thoughts or feelings that arise as you’re eating. Take note of whether your experience changes if you’re eating with a friend or partner versus eating alone. Eating mindfully is a great way to practice incorporating mindfulness into your daily life.

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