Picture that gerbil on the wheel...it's chasing something that never comes....endlessly chasing. Great for burning calories. Not so great for mental health. That's us when we chase "better." I want a "better" life, job, car...it's ongoing. There is always "better"... tempting us through facebook posts, commercials, childhood dreams, TV, movies....visions of "better" come to us constantly and entice us to spend endless amounts of energy in its pursuit. But at what cost? Stress, anxiety, depression? Trust me -- I am not saying we should be content with mediocre. But we might do well to switch the word "better"for the word "different." I might be ready for a different car, job, house, friend group,etc...but it may or may not be "better." By making this small change in our language, we create a goal that we can control and take ourselves off the gerbil wheel. "Different" is a goal we can attain. "Better" is an always shifting illusion that sets us up for disappointment.
When's the last time you were stressed doing something you love?
Stress thrives in the void between our values and our actions. So when we're doing things that reflect our values, stress is squeezed out. But as the space between our values and our actions grows, stress happily fills in. Stress is natural outcome of disconnect between how we live (our actions) and what we believe (our values). Viewing stress through this lens provides us a road map to reduce it. When I notice stress, I look at my daily schedule. Though I value exercise, have I gone to the gym? Value/action disconnect. When a friend noticed herself losing her cool, she found that though she treasured alone time, she hadn't had it in days. Value/action disconnect. And when a super-anxious client with a strong Catholic upbringing mentioned she hadn't been to church in years, she realized the value/action disconnect could be responsible.
Stress thrives in other places, too. Our values and actions can be perfectly aligned and we can feel stress from illness, conflict, powerlessness, pain. But stress in the value/behavior disconnect is uniquely within our control to relieve. So how can we limit value/disconnect stress? Think about your values and what's important to you. Then start at the areas with the highest disconnect and make a plan to take one step towards closing the gap. The tighter the connection between beliefs and behavior, the less space for stress to live.
Need a space to think about your values, your life, and how it's all working together? Request an appointment and come on in!
Think you're anxious about that test, that meeting, that upcoming holiday party? Think again. It's what we tell ourselves about an event, not the event itself, that's usually to blame for stress. The good news is that when we figure this out, we can reduce anxiety in no time. Here's how it works.
Think of the acronym "ETC" - as in it's not the event, it's the "etcetera" of the event that causes anxiety to rise. Event. Thoughts. Consequences
E. The Big Event. "I'm invited for dinner with friends."
T. Thoughts. "I'll say the wrong thing. People will notice I've gained weight. I'll be dressed differently than everyone. I'll make the event awkward."
C. Consequences. Stress increases. Self-consciousness increases. "I'll make an excuse to not show up at all."
This hypothetical young lady tells herself that going out makes her anxious. But going out isn't the problem. It's her thoughts, the "etcetera," that make her anxious.
Without stepping foot in the restaurant, she's made four different assumptions, all negative, about what will happen. Without exchanging a word, she's given herself reason to worry about everything from her clothes to her waistline. She's coronated herself "Queen of the Awkwards" without so much as a conversation.
If our heroine gets herself some good counseling, she can avoid living the self-fulfilling prophecy of feeling isolated and awkward. Focusing on the actual, not perceived, root of our stress allows us to make changes and get results.
Call Debbie Granick today. Talking may help. Medication may help. Find what works for you. One person. One stop. One step to better health.
Notice I didn't say "if" the holidays suck. They will suck. Not every moment, hopefully, but a number of moments comprising the lethal combination of holiday reality and holiday fantasy will indeed suck. So what to do? Suggestions to reduce crappy holiday moments:
1) Lower your expectations. At the moment you feel the nagging sense of disappointment, ask yourself if the moment itself is bad or if it is only bad because you expected something else. A child going out with friends instead of languishing at the dinner table with grandparents isn't in itself crappy, it's only crappy in comparison to the vision in your own (and only your own) head of the extended family playing cards together all night. Let her bid everyone farewell and enjoy the evening yourself.
2) Be a less prepared host. All that time spent "getting things ready" is BOUND to be unrecognized and unrewarded, plunging you into a bad mood and an ugly tantrum (or at least that would be me....) Cut back. Do what you need and want to feel festive and not a drop more. No, you do not need to clean out that coat closet - throw the coats on the bed. No one will know you had the carpets cleaned...don't! Relax and enjoy your own party. Your guests are thrilled the gathering isn't at their house!
3) Carve out a little time for yourself. You only see these folks once a year so you feel obligated to spend every moment together....no go. You still need to recharge. Take a walk, call a friend across the country, take a long bath. The one hour to yourself will make all that togetherness more tolerable.
4) Stop trying to please everyone. That mother-in-law or aunt who never seems satisfied will NEVER BE satisfied; stop trying. We waste 90% of our energy on the 1% of our friends or family members who are high maintenance. Hold back. Let them figure out how to make the holidays work for them. If they're not happy - nothing lost -- they weren't going to be happy anyway but at least they didn't bring you down with them.
Want more tips and ideas for surviving the holidays? Book an appointment and come talk it through. Permission granted to whine.
New location! Grand opening of our North Raleigh/Wakefield location. Call today, or send an email, and get in next week to talk about how to get back to your best self! Anxiety, depression, ADHD, addiction....we can help!
I recently spoke with a parent whose son is struggling with alcohol and drug use. “We are good parents,” she said, “no drug use, no child abuse; he’s got a nice, stable life. This whole thing has made me anxious and angry. I yell at everyone. I can’t sleep well. I've lost it."
We spoke for over an hour before she said, “I’m disappointed in him. I don’t like him. He’s not who I want to be parenting. He embarrasses me and I’m angry at him for it.”
Then she started LAUGHING!
“Why are you laughing?” I asked
“Because I’ve never said that and it feels so good. It’s not politically correct to not like your son, but I don’t like him right now and that’s just the truth.”
When we hold in the feelings that we really feel because they “shouldn’t” be said, they come out in other ways. Anger can come out as depression. Shame can look like anxiety. We try to treat our depression and anxiety with every yoga class and medication available and it won’t go away because it’s not the real issue.
Real issues are often what is not said. It may be ”I’m not happy with my life choices.” “I don’t like my kid, my spouse, my job.” “Antarctica in winter sounds better than another meeting with my book club, Parent Association, Church….insert whatever works for you. Real feelings don’t always need a solution. And they are often temporary. But they don’t go away if we are afraid to acknowledge them.
So put your arms around yourself. Close your eyes and take a breath. Tell yourself what you really feel. Say it out loud and release yourself from judgement. The heart feels as naturally as it beats and the feelings can’t be stopped. Remind yourself that feelings are just feelings. They don’t necessarily demand action. They aren’t necessarily “truth.” They may seem bigger today then they will next week. But they do demand respect or they will pop up in other ways. Then take another breath and tell yourself that you can get through this. The feelings will dissipate or the situation will change and either way you can handle it.
What “shouldn’t” be said is often what we most need to say.
Need a safe place to talk or think it through? Book an appointment today in my no-judgement zone. Counseling, medication, or both from one person with one stop.
If you're feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, here's a possible solution: realistic expectations.
We want fulfilling work, a connected marriage, high achieving kids, organic meals, great abs, healthy finances…all at once. All the time. But what if we defined success differently?
What if we agreed we are the ultimate parent if our kid goes one day without tripping on LSD? We are diet gurus if we limit ourselves to four Oreos instead of the whole pack. Our marriage is awesome if the day ends with only one episode of sarcastic sniveling. OK, maybe we can set the standards a little higher than that, but you get the point.
I blame two phrases: “work/life balance” and “having it all.”
Who started the idea that work/life balance means that work life and home life are equally magazine-shoot flawless? That's not balance. It's a pipe-dream. Balance is giving energy to both, not letting one or the other take over, and not expecting either to be "perfect."
My sister, new mom to a beautiful three month old, wept recently as she talked about her recent return to work. “I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t,” she said. “I’m at work but less productive. I’m with him…but for a lot less time. Balanced. But not the balance I sought.”
But I think that balance might be exactly right for this point in her life. Having a work life and home life that are going okay, with occasional moments of amazing is a very reasonable definition of balance! Holding out for balanced flawlessness in all areas at the same time holds us back from ever feeling we have achieved it.
We further punish ourselves with aspirations of “having it all.” What is the definition of “it?” If “it” is fulfillment and achievement of our life’s purpose, we are bound to be disappointed. But if we redefine “it” as “having totally mixed feelings about competence in all areas of our life,” we’d be there already! Achieved. Checked off the list.
Again, our definitions keep us down.
We control those definitions. Aim for what can work in your life and preserve your sanity. Let’s redefine success so we experience it.
If you know someone struggling to find joy in their "good enough" life -- send them my way!
The near pathological eating of sugary carbohydrates is the first sign of my life being out of balance. As soon as an entire loaf of chocolate chip banana bread mysteriously ends up in my stomach without my noticing, I know it’s time to check in with myself. I’ve found four questions that help me figure out what’s out of whack and direct me to get back in gear:
Are my goals in balance?
Are my values in balance?
Is my energy in balance?
Is my time in balance?
1) Goals: Is there a balance between my focus on future goals and my gratitude for the present? I ask myself: what would I trade for a million dollars? My arms? Legs? Child? Dog? Vision? If I wouldn’t trade, I need to take time to be grateful for it.
2) Values: Is there a balance between my core values and the reality of my life? If I care about exercise or cooking, for example, and I’ve eaten out and haven’t been to the gym in weeks, I’m going to feel that….
3) Energy: Is the energy I’m expending matched with the energy coming in? Think of a child’s see saw – how much of my day actually GIVES me energy vs. just sucking it out?
4) Time: Is there a sane, health-affirming balance in how my time is spent? I Imagine a pie cut in eight slices, with each slice between a “non-negotiable” in my life, e.g., sleeping, eating, time with family, work, time alone, volunteering, exercising …Are the pie slices sized right to keep me happy or do I need to re-size the slices to fit better with what I need? If I have a huge pie slice for work and exercise, but I’m not balancing that with good nutrition and sleep, I have a problem.
Stress THRIVES in the imbalance of these concepts. The more imbalance there is, the more stress seeps in to our lives and sabotages our efforts to stay emotionally and physically healthy. The key is to periodically check in with these areas of our lives. They will not all be 100% balanced all the time, but they can’t stay out of balance for too long either. Look at your see-saw? How are you doing? Pick one thing, in one area, and make a commitment to get a bit more balance.
"Sadie" ruminates endlessly about decisions and drives herself insane. In most aspects of her life she functions confidently but when it comes to decisions, she's paralyzed and seeks comfort in whatever a bottle or a few thousand calories can provide. The cycle ain't working for her.
Can you relate? Do you feel stuck in a cycle of stress and self sabotage? Here's today's sanity rescue --three steps to get you moving forward:
Step one: Ask yourself: "At the time I am going crazy about ______ (fill in the issue), and engaging in ____________ (fill in self-destructive, un-helpful behavior) what do I believe about myself or the world?"
This question uncovers the "core beliefs" that shape our most basic behaviors and thoughts. Unfortunately, many of these beliefs were shaped in childhood and haven't been challenged since.
Sadie filled in with, "at the moment I'm going crazy worrying about doing the right thing, I'm drinking too much and I'm believing that if I make a bad decision, I lose value as a person. Somewhere in my life I decided that my value was tied to making the 'right' choice and it's still messing with my head."
With her value as a human at stake, who wouldn't agonize over each fork in the road? If a belief is going to have so much influence, it better be true. Time for...
Step two: Put the belief on trial and look at it objectively. Did her value ACTUALLY go down when she had to un-do a poor college decision years ago? Was her value diminished when she had to repaint the tangerine-colored kitchen a more tolerable tone? Not a bit.
Step three: Develop a more honest and helpful mantra, "Every choice can help me grow," she said. "Few choices can wreck my life. And a couple screwy decisions don't ruin my value as a person."
Many of us have deeply rooted beliefs holding us back. Figuring them out, challenging them, and replacing them with more empowering perspectives can have amazing results.
The good news: In just a few sessions, you can create new energy to help you move forward. Make an appointment and come on in! See you soon!
Who am I?
Debbie Granick is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner and a Therapist in Raleigh providing both counseling and medication to reduce anxiety and depression and improve mental health. She is available to speak about wellness to groups of all sizes.