10 Tips for Protecting Your Energy

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One of the biggest sources of stress, anxiety, burnout & life dissatisfaction is a lack or a perceived lack of control over our energy. When we invest our energy into things that aren’t in alignment with our goals and values, spend more of it on other people than on ourselves and/or are spending an excess amount of energy without also taking the time to recharge our batteries, it’s inevitable that stress & anxiety will take over — eventually leading to burnout and in extreme cases, life dissatisfaction.

So how do we protect it? Here are some (not always so) simple steps.

  1. Recognize it’s a problem. Identify where you are NOT protecting your energy, how it’s effecting your life and why you want to make a shift. Ask yourself whether you’re controlling your energy or whether your energy is controlling you. Without a clear understanding of how you aren’t prioritizing this or a meaningful reason for wanting to do so, none of these other steps will matter.
  2. Get clear about your priorities. What things are most important to you? In what areas are you currently spending most of your energy & in which areas do you want to be investing more of it? When what we WANT to be spending our energy on isn’t in alignment with what we ARE spending our energy on, it can naturally be unsettling.
  3. Visualize. What does life look like if you continue investing your energy in areas that aren’t in alignment with your priorities? What would life look like if you did? How would you feel mentally & physically? What would your relationships be like? How would you communicate & interact with people? What would you accomplish? Visualizing a life where we’re protecting our energy is more likely to cause us to prioritize doing so.
  4. Set boundaries. In order to protect our energy, we need to set boundaries with the other people in our lives. We need to say no to things that don’t realistically fit in our schedule, aren’t in alignment with our own values or goals, and that may deplete us of the energy we need for other things. Whether it’s a co-worker, friend or family member, don’t hesitate to set boundaries and put your energy first.
  5. Communicate more. In conjunction with #4, we need to become better communicators. We need to tell other people what we need from them and get vulnerable & honest about why we may have to say no more often. Chances are they will understand, respect and sometimes even admire our ability to do something they’d also like to do more of. In turn, this strengthens our relationships and, if not, some distance from the type of people that lack understanding and empathy for our needs may be a good thing.
  6. Schedule time to re-energize. Even if we’re spending our energy in full alignment with our goals, values and priorities, it can still be exhausting. We all need time to decompress and recharge our batteries. Set time aside each day to do so — even if it’s just an hour in the morning or at night. Determine what helps you feel re-energized and implement those activities during this time. Whether it’s reading, writing, watching television, or taking a hot bath, part of protecting our energy is allowing ourselves the time & space to cultivate more of it.
  7. Anticipate energy-draining activities. The truth is, we can’t always avoid certain tasks/activities/relationships that can drain us of our energy. However, we can learn to anticipate them and approach them with a different strategy and mindset. Setting time aside for ourselves before and after a particularly energy-draining activity is important. It’s also helpful to go in with an action plan for what we’ll do when & if it starts to become overwhelming. Approaching the situation with a plan of attack for how to implement breaks, ask for help, communicate better, etc. helps us feel more confident and in control of our energy.
  8. Ask for help. Sometimes we think we need to take on everything & to be all things to all people, but putting our pride aside and asking for help or delegating some tasks can make an incredible impact. We’ll often find that people are more than happy to help and we may even become less resentful in our relationships as a result, which cultivates more (and better) energy.
  9. Avoid toxic people. The type of people that we surround ourselves with can greatly effect our energy and it’s no surprise that being around negative, bitter or tense energy can quickly deplete our own. Do a scan of the people you spend the most time with and ask yourself if they’re adding positive or negative energy into your life. If it’s the latter, it may be a good time to communicate with them so you can work on shifting your energy together or putting some distance in the relationship.
  10. Know your stress signals. It’s important to know what symptoms you experience when your energy is being taken or controlled by someone/something else. Tension in your neck/shoulders? Rapid heartbeat? Shortness of breath? Clenched jaw? Be able to pinpoint the physical symptoms that you personally experience so you can use them as a trigger reminder to regain control over your energy.

Have you been trying to implement these strategies for awhile with no or little success? Talking to a therapist or a friend who will hold you accountable can keep you intentional in this mission. As tip #8 suggests, it’s okay to ask for help — not only with the tasks that are consuming your energy, but also with staying committed to protecting it.

Have other strategies that help you to protect your energy? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!

It’s Not the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” For All of Us

freestocks-org-470417.jpgIt’s the most wonderful time of the year, right?

Surprisingly that isn’t the case for a large number of people who actually feel increasingly depressed, lonely, and anxious around the holiday season. The societal pressure to feel all ‘holly jolly’ makes people who are already experiencing some level of distress, loss or unhappiness in their lives feel even worse. Mixed with the seasonal shift and the added stressors of extra expenses, busier schedules, poor eating & drinking habits and dysfunctional family relations, it only makes sense that our emotional and mental state would be heightened during this time.

If you’re one of the many people who struggle around this time of year, there’s a few important things you should know:

  1. You are not abnormal. It might seem like everyone around you is wrapped in Christmas lights and singing ‘fa-la-la’ while tap dancing in the snow, but more people are experiencing intense levels of depression, anxiety and stress at this time of year than you probably realize. People are often too proud to share the hard stuff, especially when they (like you) assume everyone around them is so full of joy, but believe me, it exists. As a therapist, I see many patients who struggle during this time of year and many who even consider taking their own lives as a means to escape it all. Despite the supposed ‘joy’ of the holiday season, there are plenty who just like you – are feeling down. You are not flawed, wrong, or a bad person for feeling this way. In fact, it’s completely normal for your emotions to be intensified now more than ever.
  2. You are not alone. When we feel like the people around us are happy, the last thing we want to do is burden them with our problems. But we’re actually not burdening them at all. If it is the case that they seem to feel particularly happy during this time of year, they will likely be even more eager to listen and support you. On the contrary, they might be relieved by you sharing your struggles because it gives them an opportunity to relate and share their own. When we feel depressed, we often assume the worst about the people in our lives – that they don’t care about us, that we’re a bother to them or that they couldn’t possibly understand. These are usually just defense mechanisms that we create to justify our feelings of loneliness and, ultimately, make ourselves feel worse. If you’re not comfortable reaching out to the people you know, there are plenty of therapists and support groups that can help you through this time of year.
  3. You are not your thoughts or feelings. One of the biggest challenges people have is separating their thoughts and feelings from themselves. They feel lonely, so they believe that they are lonely & might fail to see the ways that they’re not. They feel depressed, so they beat themselves up for it, assuming they’re flawed or a failure of some sort. They think that nobody cares about them and assume that must be true. Our thoughts & feelings are separate from ourselves. I like to think of them as clouds, just floating by, unattached to us. They exist, and they’re a part of our existence, but they don’t define who we are and what our reality is. When we can begin to separate our feelings and thoughts from our reality, our worthiness, and our identity, we can begin to heal and not feel consumed and controlled by them.
  4. You are not doomed. It’s often hard for people to see light at the end of the tunnel or to believe that they are capable of overcoming the intensity of their emotional and mental state. When we’re in the midst of a severe period of depression or anxiety, it doesn’t necessarily matter how much we rationalize with ourselves, remind ourselves of previous times that we worked through something similar, or use positive self-talk. We just feel stuck, frustrated, and helpless. But let me remind you of point #3, just because you feel stuck, frustrated and helpless, doesn’t mean you actually are. You might feel that way right now and it may take some time for you to feel otherwise, but chances are, if you’re reading this, you are also extremely self-aware, resilient and curious — and those things will help you through this difficult time.

If you don’t personally experience increased feelings of loneliness, depression or anxiety at this time of year, make sure you’re being mindful and aware of the people in your life who may. Reach out to your loved ones and make sure to remind them that you’re there for them. Invite them to spend time with you, but be understanding if they’d rather not. Don’t make them think they can just ‘snap out of it’ or try to guilt them into feeling better. Show them patience, kindness, love and support – even if they only let you do so from a distance.

I’m offering free, 30-minute ‘holiday healing’ sessions through the new year to help you start the process of working through the difficult emotions you may be feeling during this holiday season. Please contact me with your availability to schedule yours.

 

Why We Should Be in More Bad Moods

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Ever feel like you can’t just ‘get over it’? Can’t snap out of your bad mood? Can’t force a smile? Can’t pretend everything’s fine?

Good. That means you’re human.

Society has made us believe that positive emotions are good and negative emotions are bad, thus making us feel even worse when we experience even a hint of an emotion that we perceive to be negative. Not being able to ‘shake it off’ just makes us feel even worse and, sometimes, as though something is inherently wrong with us. The social media highlight reel doesn’t help this false notion.

What would it be like to never experience emotional pain, sadness, frustration, loneliness, anger or jealousy? On a very surface level, you might think it sounds great. But the avoidance or absence of these emotions would actually stunt our positive emotions, too.

While it’s healthy to learn how to regulate our emotions so that they don’t feel overwhelming or out of our control all the time, part of getting there is by accepting them – ALL of them – and allowing ourselves to fully sit in and experience the good, the bad and the ugly.

Imagine if I told you NOT to think about a purple elephant. Chances are you wouldn’t be able to STOP thinking about one. The same goes for telling ourselves to just ‘get over it’, to stop feeling a certain way or to stop thinking about a pressing issue. Instead, we often end up feeling worse or thinking about it more and, as a result, a viscous, counterproductive cycle begins.

Sometimes things just suck — and anger or sadness is an appropriate reaction. Sometimes you might find yourself in a bad mood for no clear reason. Those feelings can be uncomfortable, but they’re also important. When we avoid them, we risk prolonged anxiety, depression, and more severe issues down the road.

So what do we do when these super uncomfortable & seemingly “bad” emotions flare up? What do we do when we just can’t shake our bad mood?

1) Be kind to yourself. You are not a robot. You are not going to feel positive, happy and in control all of the time. Learn that that’s okay. Be your own best friend and remind yourself to let you off the hook. Keep a mantra or affirmation that resonates with you written down somewhere to read, re-write or say out loud as needed.

2) Give yourself space. It’s okay to take a few minutes, an hour or even a day to just feel your feelings. While we all have responsibilities, we also have a responsibility to ourselves, too. Depending on the severity of what you’re experiencing and how you’re feeling, consider taking a mental health day, having a good cry in the shower or finding healthy ways to release your emotions, such as journaling, exercising or speaking with a therapist or friend.

3) Give yourself time. Don’t expect your feelings to dissipate immediately upon giving yourself some space. Don’t set limits on what the right or wrong amount of time to feel something is. Just continue checking in with yourself and reminding yourself that how you’re feeling now is not necessarily how you will feel forever. Rushing the process will only prolong it.

4) Communicate with others. We often fear judgment or feel guilty when we’re in a bad mood, but there’s something powerful about being vulnerable and transparent. When we avoid communicating our feelings with those around us, there’s often misunderstanding which can sometimes make things worse. Don’t be afraid to tell the people around you that you’re dealing with something and need some space. Your feelings are your own and you deserve to give yourself whatever YOU need while experiencing them.

5) Reflect afterwards. Once you’re feeling more neutralized, reflect on what was going on for you. Was there a deeper issue causing your feelings that you can address once you’ve had some time and space? While it will probably feel nice to have some relief, it’s also important to try and gain a deeper understanding of what led to these emotions. This will help you anticipate and cope with similar ones in the future. If you can’t pinpoint it, though, move on. Sometimes there isn’t a deeper issue and other times it won’t come to us right away. Don’t dwell on trying to understand.

I’m curious to hear about what you do when you find yourself in a bad mood. Do you try to force yourself out of it or do you allow yourself to fully experience the emotions that come up? It’s okay if you still feel inclined to avoid negative emotions — it’s a very normal reaction and you are certainly not alone in it, but through awareness and practice you can begin to become more patient and accepting of yourself when a bad mood or uncomfortable feeling strikes. Feel free to comment below or send me a message – I’d love to hear from you.

Managing the Stress of City Living

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Living in a city can be harshly stressful. Everyone around you is rushing to get from point A to point B, living a fast-paced lifestyle, and working extremely hard. The pressure to keep up with that can be overwhelming and exhausting. If we do keep up, we might experience burnout. If we don’t keep up, we might feel anxious. So how do we make sure to manage our own personal expectations for ourselves and avoid getting consumed by the energy of the people around us?
1. Book end your days with stress-relieving activities. Implement a routine in both the morning & the evening that will allow you to begin your day on a calm and focused note and end it in a way that helps you de-compress and relax. Some examples of activities that can be done during this time are reading, meditating, writing positive affirmations, journaling, drinking tea, or exercising.
2. Make positive associations with your commute. Let’s face, commuting is often one of the most stressful parts of the day, especially in a city. Finding a route that is less crowded or more scenic or listening to a motivational podcast or audio book, for example, can ease some of the tension caused by traffic and other commuters. You may also consider listening to some relaxing music, enjoying a healthy snack or drink, or doing a guided meditation if you’re on a train or bus.
3. Set daily, weekly, and monthly goals. Goal-setting helps us feel productive, organized, and in control over our progress. Setting weekly & monthly goals and making a daily to-do list that involves steps to attaining them is the most effective strategy to avoid feelings of overwhelm from disorganization or lack of focus. It also keeps us aligned with our own goals and minimizes our likelihood to compare ourselves to others. Make sure your goals are specific and realistic otherwise this step will backfire.
4. Make time to escape. Getting out of the city once in awhile can be extremely positive for our mental well-being, but we often feel like we don’t have the time or resources to do so. Plan time, at least once a month, to get out of the city for even just a few hours. It could be to a neighboring town or, at the very least, your city’s park. Being in nature and/or stepping outside of our daily environment helps us to slow down, ground ourselves and be more present which in turn helps us feel relaxed, calm and de-stressed.
5. Find and use your supports. Sometimes our strategies and systems to avoid and manage the stress of the city fail and we need someone we can vent to and share our frustration with. Identify the people in your life that you can turn to during particularly overwhelming times and make sure you communicate to them what you need from them when you do, whether it’s someone to listen, someone to help you problem-solve, or someone to give you tough love. Letting others know what we need from them avoids additional frustration and helps us to relieve our stress quicker.
Keep in mind that our strategies will need constant re-adjusting, so don’t be afraid to switch up your routine or to try new techniques for managing your stress. We are ever-changing, our lives are ever-changing, and our environments are ever-changing, so it only makes sense that our routines & coping mechanisms need to be ever-changing, too.

Using Anxiety to Better Understand Ourselves

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Let’s face it: the symptoms of anxiety are uncomfortable. Tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, shaky hands, sweaty palms, obsessive thoughts, and sometimes even worse. Those symptoms don’t appeal to most of us. But what if I told you that anxiety plays an important and even crucial role in our lives? What if I told you that accepting our anxiety as a helpful part of ourselves would, in some cases, be more useful than trying to find ways to cope with or avoid it?

When we understand the ways that our anxiety can benefit us and when we accept it as a helpful part of ourselves, we in turn have a healthier relationship with it and are better able to manage it and, eventually, experience less of it. On the contrary, when we do everything in our power to avoid, eliminate or disengage with our anxiety symptoms and what’s at the root of them, it is often counter-productive to our emotional growth.

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t use techniques and strategies to cope with our anxiety in the moment. These tools can be helpful and sometimes even critical, especially for those with anxiety or panic disorders. But once our anxiety symptoms subside, we should fully acknowledge and explore our triggers and patterns through talk therapy, movement therapy, journaling or cognitive challenging.

I personally believe that underlying most of our anxiety is fear. For example, those of us that get anxiety when running late may have an underlying fear of being perceived as irresponsible or a fear of being judged. While we may be able to practice breathing exercises or other mindfulness strategies to minimize our anxiety symptoms in the moment, we are likely to experience this anxiety again in other situations unless we acknowledge and address our underlying fear of judgement. In some cases, our anxiety may also be the result of some internalized, past trauma and, similarly, it is only after working through and repairing that experience that we can fully begin to heal.

Anxiety, while uncomfortable, alerts us that something is off. It gives us the opportunity to learn something new about ourselves and it is through that learning that we grow, develop, and improve our quality of life.