Mind Space

It seems that our best intentions cannot prevent clutter from finding its way into the corners of our lives; it piles up in our homes, in our minds and in our devices and it comes in many forms:

  • Physical: Clothes we don't wear, miscellaneous papers, broken sports equipment, old toys
  • Emotional: Repetitive negative self-talk, fragmented to-do lists, excessive worry
  • Digital: Promotional emails, forgotten downloads, unused apps

We invest a lot of time, energy and money in thoughts and things that we hope will return the life we want. We tell ourselves that we're one click, purchase, promotion or relationship away from happiness, only to get it and still feel dissatisfied. 

We've all been there.

So, what do we do with all this...stuff? All the memories of past relationships? All the crap in the closet? All the poorly labeled documents on our laptop? It can feel daunting to go through it and figure our what's worth carrying forward, what we want to share and what we need to let go of. I'd venture a guess that, if you closed your eyes right now and tried to imagine what you'd feel like after a process like that, you might feel a little lighter, calmer and more free.

And then you'd remember that you held on to all this stuff for a reason! I wouldn't be who I am without this, or what if I need that in the future! Like I said, this is a process and a slow and very intentional one at that. 

In the end, we're left with the question, "How do I live a more meaningful life?" In therapy, we reduce clutter by building an insight based action plan to create experiences that bring you a greater sense of contentment, connection and joy. We do that by:

  • Nurturing a mindful relationship with products by identifying the emotions attached to them
  • Improving mental and physical organization to increase accessibility and utility
  • Reducing time and energy spent maintaining thoughts and things that do not add value
  • Strengthening capacity for decisive action and effective boundary setting

Interested? 

More

I’ve found that people tend to begin therapy with the intention of feeling less; less pain, sadness, anxiety or fear. Once I start talking with folks though, it becomes clear they actually want to feel more; more joy, connection and fulfillment. It is totally normal to want to feel less uncomfortable, but when it comes down to it, we spend less time in uncomfortable emotions when we focus our energy on activating pleasant experiences.

The opposite is not true.

 If a person is successful in their goal to feel less, they’ll likely wind up feeling flat, empty and numb. In fact, it is not uncommon for folks taking anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications to report feeling flat because their medication blocks, or alters, the neurotransmitters related to sadness, stress and pain, but does nothing to increase their experiences of  happiness, confidence, connection or calm, which is often what they were hoping for.

Emotions serve a purpose and when we practice treating them as feedback about the quality of our physical, emotional, relational and environmental system , we can make a conscious choice about how to proceed. Response will vary person to person, and is situation specific, but generally, emotions remind us to slow down, be a little gentler with ourselves, speed up and engage our body through movement, set a stronger boundary, turn in for insight, reach out to connect or do something that nurtures our creativity. When we set our intention to feel more, not less, we make meaningful progress.

So let’s talk about it, what do you want to feel more of? 

An Ode to On-Call

There are a lot of people out there for whom work and home are not distinct. If you’re expected to answer your phone, or email, when you are not at work, you are not alone. If your company has productivity standards that no reasonable person could meet during the hours for which they are paid, I see you. If you are one of the thousands of people whose sleep, meals, relationships, bathroom breaks, movies, vacations and holidays are interrupted by the beeps and buzzes of your phone, I am here for you. 

Whether you knew what you were getting into or not, the 'always-on' work culture trains our mind and body to adapt to circumstances in which a heightened state of reactivity becomes a default setting. Over time, people come to expect that their conversations will be interrupted, so they stay a little closer to the surface. Sleep becomes less restorative as their brain learns it has to go from rest to best at a moment's notice. Friends and family come to expect that plans will be delayed, or cancelled, with little warning if something at work comes up, leading to strained relationships throughout the support system, which only exacerbates the stress of uncertainty. 

You are not a machine. When employees are expected to add value to the company whilst being cut off from the vital nutrients that keep them healthy (sleep, daylight, predictability, strong relationships, time for activities that make life worth living) they are being treated as equipment more than the conscious humans that they are.

Bleh.

So what do we do? In the short term, these are some options:

1)  Get really clear about the expectations in your work group. Example | Reduce assumptions. If your manager sends an email at 10pm on a Saturday, do they expect you to respond immediately, or are they sending it when they have the time to do so? Example | Identify levels of responsiveness. Can your response time be chunked into immediate, under 30 minutes, 1 hour, etcetera?  Developing a communication system in which team members consistently flag their requests with this information serves to minimize unnecessary stress. It may be that the vast majority of your work requires immediate response. I get it, the next two options may be more helpful. In general though, clarifying miscommunication (at home and at work) is like finding money on the street. Nobody needs to compromise, negotiate or advocate, they just get to move forward a little better off.

2) If you have taken the step to clarify expectations, the next step is to reinforce your relationships. Just like our buildings increasingly have earthquake proofing, your relationships need the same kind of upgrade. Have conversations with your people (friends, partners, kids, parents, whoever) about the aspects of your work that you have control over, and the aspects you don’t. This can reduce risk of confusion, misunderstanding and resentment down the road. Example | you might say, “If a work thing comes in, and I have to respond immediately, I will let you know as soon as I can. Then I’ll give you an estimate of how long I think it's going to take so you can plan your next steps accordingly.”  Granted, if you and your partner are engaged in separate activities at home, maybe this level of detail isn’t necessary, but if there are plans with friends, a date night, parenting responsibilities or a shared activity of some kind in the works, more communication will likely be needed. So often, partners of folks who have on-call jobs experience second-hand stress because of the fluctuations in scheduling. When you invest in your support network through conversations like these, you increase predictability, stability and trust which will produce stronger relationships. 

3)Keep the light of your humanity on by cultivating creativity. On-call work has the tendency to saturate your mind space with logic, problem solving and technical information. All great things, don’t get me wrong, but when our pre-frontal cortex works overtime, it tends to get tired and make more mistakes; which can lead to self-doubt, fear, anxiety or shame. By letting our limbic system share some of the load, we relax, and become more expressive, innovative and connected. So whether you’re creating something yourself, or are taking the time to enjoy the fruits of someone else’s creativity, you can reap the benefits of a more balanced brain. Example | writing, art, making/listening to music, dancing, cooking, coding and outside activities. Nature offers us the unique opportunity to sync our mind and body through movement, allowing us to connect, on a visceral level, to our internal landscape.

If you read this and thought, it is just not that easy. I agree. Especially when on-call work is layered on top of pre-existing anxiety, depression, partnering, parenting, and variable management structure. This post is not intended to be a quick fix, or a, “see it’s easy!” The intention is to open a dialog about the challenges that come with this type of work and start thinking strategically about how to integrate work and home life in a way that is sustainable for your physical, emotional and relational health.

There is so much more we could talk about and I would love to continue the conversation. If any of what you read here resonated, please don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment, or stay tuned for upcoming events in Hillsboro on this topic.

Progress is a Practice

Therapy is not about 'fixing' you (phew!), or your loved ones for that matter (...); the work of therapy is to usher in the pain that needs to be seen, validated, integrated and healed to move forward in your life with a sense of wholeness. When we do not trust ourselves to be alone in our mind, with all of the memories, thoughts and feelings it contains, we lock ourselves out. Therapy is an opportunity to give voice to the parts of your Self that are too often silenced. It is a place to laugh, cry, curse or just be still for a moment. In therapy, we practice feeling our way through all of the emotions that make us human and develop the muscle of courage that allows us to show up before we feel ready and connect where we are most vulnerable. Progress is a practice and when we fear less, we live more.

Cool. How?

One second at a time. Literally. In the moments when we feel sad, disappointed, irritated, mad, lonely, scared, confused, inadequate and stuck, we perk up our ears and start listening to the thoughts running through our mind. I like examples, so here we go. Person 1 | Thought: "Bleh, that sucked. I need something to make me feel better." Emotion(s): Sad, frustrated, disappointed. Action: Buy something, eat, get a Starbucks. Person 2 | Thought: "I am so overwhelmed by everything I have to do...but I just can't do it right now." Emotion(s): Worried, powerless, defeated. Action:  Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Reddit, Tinder, video games. Person 3 | Thought:"My relationship is falling apart and I don't know what to do." Emotion(s): Sad, scared, shame. Action:  Send work emails, have a glass of wine.

When we feel an uncomfortable emotion, we are, of course, going to want it to stop; and we are, of course, going to do what we know has worked in the past. Except numbing, distracting, and bribing ourselves out of a tough spot is not sustainable. When we consistently turn to stuff, we wind up with clutter. When we consistently turn to food, we wind up with extra weight. When we consistently turn to work, the confidence gap between our professional and relational skills only widens making us even less likely to engage at home. When we consistently turn to technology, we wind up feeling empty because there is content, but no substance. 

One second at a time, we learn to resist the impulse to lock ourselves out by escaping, distracting and numbing, and instead, trust ourselves to tune into the feeling. We ask,"What happened? Why did that experience affect me in that way that it did? I want the next decision I make to align with my long term goals, what are my options?" Insight to action.

For your garden variety emotional flare-up during the day, this process takes less than a minute. The heavier, and often historical, experiences not yet seen, validated, integrated and healed, tend to produce more complex emotions.  

You can zip in and out of therapy for a tune-up if you want help with garden variety emotion management, or, if it would be helpful, you can stick around and we can do the work of transforming insight into courageous action. Fear less, live more.

Moving Forward

It is inevitable that our experiences change how we think, feel and relate. So we’re changing, but are we progressing? Are we growing? Are we becoming the person we want to be? For many of us, those are challenging questions. It probably depends on where you begin searching for answers because the landscape of our lives are speckled with warm memories, small successes, embarrassing whoopsie daisies, intense sadness and more boring patches than we know what to do with.

Really, what do you do when you’re bored? Or sad? Or stressed? If you’re like a lot of people, you probably pull out your phone or flip open your laptop. And you’re probably doing it more and more because it feels good! Or at least you feel something, or feel less of something or feel something different.

We now have a tangible, accessible and reliable tool to mediate our relationship with ourselves and others, but at what cost? We’re being primed for speed, novelty and control in ways that aren’t always compatible with our physical, emotional and relational health.

Therapy provides a workspace to define meaningful goals and actionable steps to accomplish them. It is a place to engage with complicated question with the support you need to see them through to solutions. Meaningful change is a process and by the end you have built a mindset that increases your adaptability, creativity, and confidence. You build resilience that enables you to deepen relationship with others and trust yourself enough to move forward, vulnerabilities and all. Because in the end, we are all doing the best we can. When we meet each other in that space of authenticity, we nurture a deeply human connection, and it is through that connection, we experience love, belonging and purpose.

Amplify

Most people have a relationship with technology, and like any relationship, it can be awesome, confusing or really hard depending on the day. So, technology is awesome when Oregon is doing its brooding, stormy, cold thing,  and you can tuck yourself into the couch and hibernate with Netflix. Delightfully sunny, bird chirpy Oregon day? Netflix with the window open (yup, we've all been there). Don’t know the name of the important person who did that thing you need to know about suddenly? That’s what Google was made for! Have a stomach ache? WebMD will confirm your worst fears, but then you’ll read a post on an obscure blog written by renowned medical expert CrazySquirrel986 that clearly says there is absolutely nothing to worry about, so you go to bed and rest easy.

Thanks, Internet.

Sometimes technology is confusing though, right? There are things we didn’t go looking for that we can’t un-see. Or the nagging feeling that our lives are boring compared to the happy looking people in the pictures who seem to have it all together. So then we post a witty tweet here or a pretty photo there. What happens when we start getting jealous of...ourselves? Thinking, “I wish my life was as good as other people think it is.”

And then there are the downright hard parts about this whole technology thing. The loneliness of being surrounded by other people who are on their on their devices, head down, totally on another planet. Or work seeping into our home life as the phone pings with each incoming email. Or filtering through so many profiles on the dating apps that you are confused about how your could possibly choose just one person, or if you even want to. Or handing your kid a tablet in the grocery line and hoping nobody judges you for doing what you need to do to get through an errand. Or the background noise you try to tune out, but the quiet moments seem to amplify, “Who was I before I used technology this much? What did I used to do? What do I want? Is this what it's like for other people, or is it just me? Am I doing enough? Am I enough?”

These are just some of the questions I am interested in helping clients explore. We have all struggled through experiences that left us feeling out of control and overwhelmed; short lived or long term, none of us need go it alone.