Reaching Out

By Erica Rivers, LPC-S, CPT

A few weeks ago some news came to my fiancée and I that caused a lot of fear and sadness.  It hit like a ton of bricks.  It was time to phone a friend.  So, we did.  We reached out to a couple in Florida who we dearly love.  We asked for a Facetime call, and ya know what? It made all the difference!  These friends were encouraging, uplifting, and supportive.  They were there with creative ideas, comfort, and love.  It was beautiful!  No, they hadn’t fixed all the problems and no, everything wasn’t all better, but goodness it was helpful to know they were there and could be a sounding board of reason and love.  I remember hanging up and feeling so grateful to have people that we could reach out to in hard times.  Even more so, they hopped on a plane a week or so later and gave us a hug in person.  Wow. 

Oddly enough, sometimes I forget to reach out to friends at all, and tend to try to struggle through it alone.  I’m slowly learning (yes, even as a counselor) that letting people know we are in need and what we need, is a really, really good thing.  It’s healthy.  Yes, it’s vulnerable to let people know we are not okay and that we can’t do it alone but it’s so good to let people love us. 

Of course, this means having friendships that are give and take relationships, not one-sided or surfacy.  I find that there are many people who crave such relationships but struggle finding people who are up for the job.  It’s especially hard, I’ve found, for people right now during the pandemic to meet new circles of people.  This is impactful.  Yes, there are some online forums, and I would encourage folks to take advantage of those (support groups, clubs, networking group, studies) but there is something really nice about seeing people face to face.  Of course, it takes time to make those kind of friendships, too.  Trust is not (nor should not be) an overnight process.  It is developed and tested over time.  It doesn’t mean the relationship is conflict-free, either, but it does mean that we learn how to care well for the other person and we are patient enough to work through differences of perception and behavior.  A good friendship can handle some stress.  Maturity in any kind of relationship involves assertive communication, healthy boundaries, forgiveness, self-care, kind words, flexibility, receptivity to feedback, and purposeful quality time to keep the relationship alive. 

Today, I’m thankful for my friendships.  It makes me want to be a better friend.  I see where I have some significant areas to grow in that.  I want to encourage you, too, to take time to phone a friend when you-know-what hits the fan.  Let them in.  Give them the opportunity to be there for you.  Tell them you need a chat, to grab a coffee, or that you need help weeding your garden.  If you are wanting more friendships like that, consider if there are any that you would like to build on and pour into those.  If there aren’t any current options, consider how and where you can meet some interesting people and put yourself out there (safely, of course, especially now!).  Consider how you can be a better friend to others and consider ways that you can express this or show up when people need you.

Don’t just struggle alone.  Reach out.  There’s a lot of people who want better friendships.

The Metamorphosis of Positive Habits

By Erica Rivers, LPC-S, CPT

During my middle school years, I used to chew a lot of gum.  I mean, A LOT of gum.  I could blow bubbles the size of my head (as I’m sure most middle schoolers have done) and my brother used to compare me to a truck driver with chewing tobacco (I don’t know if that’s a thing for truck drivers or not but whatever, that was his analogy).  I think my gum chewing faded after I started college, most likely because I was on a pretty strict budget and ramen noodles for survival seemed a bit more important.  Nowadays, it’s rare that I chew a piece of gum especially as I try to avoid much sugar or artificial sweeteners but it’s a nice treat from time to time (and there are some brands out there that are healthier alternatives, thankfully, just not as readily available and a bit more pricey).  The thing is, we all develop habits all the time… from the order of our morning routine to an over-priced latte to more obvious vices like smoking, picking up fast food, or drinking alcohol regularly. 

As a counselor, personal trainer, and life coach, I am fascinated by how a human being creates and changes habits.  Sometimes they form gradually, by coming in the back door, and sometimes we simply adopt something that we like and keep going with it from that time forth and forever.  When we are aware of a self-sabotaging habit or of a habit that is hurtful to us, we are faced with the challenge of changing it.  That is certainly not easy!  As “they” say, we are, indeed, creatures of habit.  In any change process, though, we first have to become aware of any negative or positive impact that behavior has for us.  For instance, for a while my love of coffee started extending from 1-2 cups in the morning to 4-5 cups throughout the day.  Oddly, I noticed that I was having difficulty sleeping at night.  There were a few factors going on there but limiting my coffee to 1-3 cups and stopping caffeinated beverages before 3  p.m. helped significantly.  Coffee, of course, can be a healthy drink (depending on the type, additives, and balance of fluid intake) and quite delightful so it wasn’t that I had to give up coffee, it was that I had to modify it to better meet all my goals and to make my life healthier, more energized, and more productive. 

So, there is the challenge for each of us.  We need to evaluate what our habits actually are and whether or not they are healthy and productive for us.  It doesn’t mean that we have to drastically change everything but rather, over time, it would benefit us to discern what’s working for us and what’s not working for us.  Occasionally we may need a drastic change – for instance, some addictions are not safe in any capacity and we may need some serious help in overcoming those challenges (and that’s okay to get, by the way).  We, also, need to receive (and take stock of) feedback from those closest to us to see how our behaviors are impacting others (or even ourselves).  For example, if one’s spouse tells him/her that they are snoring every night then it might be a good time to see a doctor, get a sleep test done, and to evaluate health behaviors that could impact weight, sinus inflammation, breathing, and sleep. 

I may have grabbed a piece of gum as I am writing (the power of focus and suggestion, by the way!!!) but I am reminded that I choose not to chew gum in public and around people I love because it can be noisy, unflattering, and unprofessional (other people may be able to pull this off but not me).  It’s not bad (and it has some potential health benefits like cleaning teeth, strengthening the jaw, and minimizing snacking) but it doesn’t serve my end goals.  In the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg he states, “Typically, people who exercise, start eating better and become more productive at work.  They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed.  Exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.”  If we put habits into place that facilitate other positive habits, it becomes even more of a win in all directions.  It builds momentum toward several goals.  The hard part is that not taking action toward positive habits also builds momentum but in a way that hinders energy and progress.  There is hope, however, because it doesn’t have to be huge sweeping change that makes an impact.  We can take small steps, one after the other, and get moving in the direction we want to head. 

Daymond John says, “You are not stuck where you are unless you decide to be.”  That’s powerful.  If we don’t like where we are at, we can look at our habits and change them to healthier, more productive ones that actually get us where we want to go.  We can start today!

The Chat I’m having in the Mirror

By Erica Rivers, MA, LPC-S, CPT

One of the big Don’t Do’s that relationship counselors discuss is name-calling.  Yea, sure, they tell you this in Kindergarten nowadays but it’s a pretty common scenario that adult people like to label other adult people – sometimes to their faces and sometimes not.  For instance, many couples in arguments may engage in such tactics where one might call the other “lazy”, “sloppy”, or something a wee bit more offensive.  Does that endear the partners to one another?  Does it build trust, bonding, and intimacy?  Ha!  That’s a hard no!  Even broad-spectrum blanket statements can make a negative impact.  You know, the “You always forget to close that door!” or “You never help me with cooking!” statements.   Nope.  Simply not effective for building bridges and helping people fall in love.  Sure, it’s easy to feel slighted by a partner but it’s not helpful to name-call or make sweeping over-generalizations of a critical nature.  It simply does not help 98.9% of the time (totally made that statistic up but unless someone is a superb, easy-going listener who can read between the lines, it’s not the best way to ask your partner to change). 

Then, there’s those people who like to label others who aren’t in the room! (I bet we have all done this a time or two…maybe!?!)  For instance, have you ever heard someone call a politician a not-so-loving term of endearment?  Have you read commentaries on social media platforms where other people very forthrightly exert their opinions and label someone with an opposing point of view?  Hmmmm…. Yup.  Pretty common.  Effective?  It all depends what we’re aiming for.   If the goal is causing division and creating stress?  Yes, yes, very effective!  Creating a climate of actual positive change?  Yea, not so much.  Persuading someone that their point of view is better? Nope! We can do better! 

In reading this, I bet the majority of people can see the benefit of speaking in a more kind manner as well as avoiding name-calling and making blanket critical statements.  That said, however, if we were being honest with ourselves and others, how often do we harshly label ourselves and call ourselves names?  How often do we put ourselves down?  How often are we critical with our own personhood?  We can be super mean to the person in the mirror!  Often we are really harsh with our “self-talk.”  If someone else were to hear the way we speak to ourselves, it might cause us to blush. 

Brene Brown has said, “Talk to yourself like you’d talk to someone you love.”  That’s pretty sound advice.  If we are mean and cruel to ourselves, we’re not coming at life from a place of love where we can love others well.  Rather, by beating ourselves up verbally internally, it creates a place of insecurity and doubt of our own personal value.  We often believe the lies we tell ourselves.  If we accept our own value and worth, our own purpose, and our own humanity (where we aren’t going to get it perfect all the time but we can learn from our mistakes), then we can see that others are similar to ourselves.  We can recognize that they are struggling with their own issues, just like we are.  Our struggles might be different but everybody deals with the challenges that life brings.  We are all in this struggle together.  If we can have grace for ourselves, we can extend that grace to others and vice versa.  If we can hold ourselves to a high standard, we can treat ourselves and others well while taking responsibility when we make mistakes, not getting caught in the shame trap, and learning from the times when we didn’t do things as well as we could have.  It’s a process.  We can learn to speak to ourselves kindly while holding ourselves to a high standard of integrity, honesty, and loving words and behaviors. 

If you notice your self-talk is filled with bullying, take a step back and consider how you can practice speaking encouragingly, graciously, and kindly to yourself instead.  Try it today!  Be kind to you.  Be kind to others.   

See it Through

By Erica Rivers, MA, LPC-S, CPT

“Every task, goal, race, and year comes to an end… therefore, make it a habit to always finish strong.” – Gary Ryan Blair

We are midway through the year now in a very challenging year.   2020 has been difficult!  Yes, there have been good takeaways and lessons that we have learned.  There have been opportunities for insight, growth, and positive change.   The pandemic has caused some businesses to “pivot” (one of the words of the year, I daresay) and families to spend A LOT more time together.  (Friendships, less so.) Despite all the stressors, it seems like the year has gone quickly so far.  So, it’s time to evaluate what we started doing and what we are doing now.  Are we following through on priorities?  Have we done what we said we would?  Are we taking care of our health? Our relationships?  Our business?  Our education?  Our hobbies? 

I wonder if we have gotten sidetracked.  Sure, not everyone makes new years goals and that’s okay.  The question I have for each of us, though, is whether or not we are living purposefully considering our time, energy, and relationships.  Are we putting in effort toward our goals or are we reacting to the situations around us and getting off-course?  This is a good time to evaluate as I’m sure reacting to the pandemic has caused a shift of focus for many. 

The reality is, we might need to change our path towards our goals because of everything that has happened this year.  We may need to get creative and reroute.  Sure, sometimes we need to set things aside and come back to them later.  For instance, I was really hoping to do more in-person personal training this year, host an in-person therapy group for women’s growth, and hold a relationship/marriage workshop.  Those goals are not looking promising… or safe.  I still love the ideas… and maybe I can change them up somehow but… it looks like I might have to set my focus on some of my other goals.  There’s a lot of adjustment of course as we navigate these uncertain waters.  And, it’s okay.  C’est la vie!  We press on and we finish strong! 

So, my encouragement for you today is to take a step back and consider what is really important for you now and if you are leading that charge or responding to stressors.  If you aren’t heading toward the things you value, how can you shift course and purposefully move in that healthy direction?  Or, if you are making progress, how do you continue to do that in a healthy manner?  Notice that health is a part of this, no matter what.  Let’s see how we can do our very best in lieu of all the challenges of 2020 and lovingly, boldly, and assertively complete the aims that we set out to accomplish. 

Coffee Drip

By Erica Rivers, MA, LPC-S, CPT

Have you ever felt the need for a coffee IV?  I “woke up” this morning (if you can call it that) and it felt like a Mack truck had run me over and backed up a few times.  There were bags the size of watermelons under my eyes.  No, last night was not a wild party and not a sip of alcohol was had.  Upon consideration, I realized that this deleterious effect was caused by a variety of sources.  Let’s peel back the layers:

  • It just so happened that my sweet dog Clive had a horrible night because he is terrified of thunderstorms and, for multiple nights in a row, has woken me up when the lightning flashes and the thunder rolls for hours of trembling, pacing, and whining (and yes, he has medications and lots of other amenities but the meds have their own complications and the other “helps” are limited at best).  So, problem 1: disturbed sleep
  • I went out to a restaurant for dinner last night to celebrate a friend’s birthday – we were the only ones in the restaurant, which was nice from a pandemic sort of view – and the food was very tasty, however, it was Chinese food and I suspect it had a lot of salt and perhaps some MSG in it.  Culprit 2: Sodium / MSG (Why is MSG still allowed???? It’s 2020, folks! It’s not food.)
  • Upon arriving home last night, I partook of a piece of red velvet cake with vanilla ice cream and a diet soda (yes, clearly this was not my model night of health!), which is pretty rare for me but I saw someone else have one and I thought, “Oh, that looks good, I will indulge.” So, 3rd contribution:  red dye (also, why not from natural real food sources??), sugar, diet soda (also contains sodium)
  • Remember the above storms?  Well, pollen and such gets stirred up from said storms.  So, yes, allergies, my friends, environmental allergies.  (Yes, this can also be affected by one’s nutritional profile and gut health!)  Problem 4: Allergies – haaaaa choo!

So, why am I exploring all the details of my evening to morning challenges on a public blog?  Well, I think it’s really relevant to all of us that there are a lot of small and large details that affect how we feel physically, mentally, and emotionally.  Sometimes we need to take a step back and evaluate the factors that lead us to a moment.  We need to see what we can control and what we can’t control. 

As much as I want to, I cannot control the timing of thunderstorms (which somehow 90% of the time in North Texas arrive at 3 a.m.) but I can control what I put in my body for “food.”  I’m also not saying that we have to be perfect in food consumption because, well, let’s just be real.  There is a time for red velvet cake and pork dumplings.  This mornings effects, however, are motivating me to really focus on healthier nutrition sources for the week.  I’m going to significantly increase my water intake today to help reduce the effects of the sodium and my kale and cucumber smoothie (with lemon juice, fresh ginger, and strawberries) will be making a comeback later today. 

It’s easy to bemoan the fact that we feel terrible.  It’s more difficult to own our choices and do what we can to actively avoid feeling this way in the future.  My main point here is that we need to take control of our health and make regular active steps to feeling better.  There’s almost always something we can do to feel a little bit better or to make an investment in our well-being. We need to own the mistakes and do the next right thing, whatever that might be.  Cheers to a kale and cucumber smoothie (alongside my coffee) and making healthier choices today! 

Sideways coffee cup because I can’t figure out how to turn it due to brain static

Building Consistency

By Erica Rivers, MA, LPC-S, CPT

I once heard a story of a couple with minimal wage jobs who lived very frugally and simply.  They saved every penny they could by eating basic foods, walking or biking instead of driving, and using minimal electricity and water.  I’m not sure how long they did this or how they even got started but over time, they saved a large amount of money and invested it well.  Gradually, with their consistent frugality and pauperistic lifestyle, they became quite wealthy.  They didn’t change their lifestyle with the monetary accumulations but used their wealth, at times, to help other people.  It’s quite inspiring as we live in a world of plenty with plenty of spending being part of that.  It takes a lot of self-discipline to go against the grain and to not feel the need to keep up with the rest of society.  Pretty impressive!  Now, I’m not advocating that we all do that.  Rather, the point is that it is amazing what goals we can accomplish when we set our sites on something and steadily, consistently work towards it. 

The key to the above couples’ success in savings was, indeed, consistency.  Many of us tend to save for a while but then get tempted to purchase something that we have desired.  It’s not a bad thing to buy things.  The question becomes, what is actually our priority?  What is truly our goal?  I have heard the phrase, “Most people trade what they want most for what they want at the moment” (attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte).  It’s an easy thing to do.  We do this with workout programs, starting strong, perhaps with a challenging exercise session or two but then losing the motivation at some point to get up and continue the process day after day.  When we can start a healthy regimen and continue over time, that’s when we can reap the health benefits.  Consistency is key!  The same is true with nutritious eating for health and yes, even relationships. 

If we want a friendship or romance to work well, we need to consistently have quality time with the other person.  We need to bond.  It’s like keeping a camp fire alive.  We keep having to add fuel.  What we don’t consistently feed, dies.  Fuel is needed to keep up the warmth.  I have found that it’s quite hard in today’s busy culture to maintain this with the people I enjoy.  It takes pursuit, planning, and presence to build quality relationships.  Mind you, this is a challenge, nowadays (and very few people have this figured out – I’m trying to learn from them)!  But, consistency matters.  Think about time with your family.  How have you invested your time in them recently?  Was it quality time with verbal connection or was it watching something on TV where everyone was connected to the screen and not each other?  When’s the last time you completed a home project together (i.e. painting a room, planting a garden, or making a piece of furniture or art)?  Variety is good here, too.  There does not seem to be a magic formula (i.e. dinner out every Friday night).  Rather, it takes some creativity and variety to invest well in the relationships.  It makes it important that we don’t fall into a rut.  Consider this – if children in a classroom have the same teaching method day in and day out (i.e. only lectures), will they grow as much as they could with innovative labs, field trips, homework projects, books, hands-on activities, debates, plays, etc.?  The more we shake things up, the more memorable and the more we learn and grow.  This is true for relationships and businesses.  A rut can only get us so far.  Granted, ruts are the sheer definition of consistency, right?  This, however, is where we need to differentiate between doing something the same way over and over and expecting different results (what is often described as the definition of insanity around psychological circles) and changing things up purposefully for the good of the relationship (or whatever outcome we are looking for) while being consistent with the behaviors that matter.  We can’t just mindlessly be consistent, we have to rather be intentionally consistent with behaviors that lead us toward a purposeful goal.  In exercise, repetition is good for learning moving patterns and for building muscles but we also need variety in our training regimen (every sport will be unique in this and yet there will be some overlap with goals and programming in different sports).  We have to shake it up and progress with the fitness training. 

Let’s look at this from a different angle.  Let’s take brushing your teeth.  What is the goal?  I’m going to say fresh breath that doesn’t offend others and healthy teeth without cavities.  If we are brushing our teeth twice a day consistently but are still finding ourselves with cavities and funky breath, what do we need to do?  We need to find out what’s the problem and approach it from other angles!!  First, we might need to check in with a caring, quality dentist and ask for ideas for an improved regimen.  Perhaps not only do we need to brush our teeth regularly but maybe we need to decrease sugar in the diet, make sure we are getting good quality nutrients in our food supply, see the dentist more regularly, floss, gargle, and buy a better toothbrush, for example (I’m not a dentist but you get the idea).  That might sound like a lot but it makes a difference how we care for things that we value.  The good news is that consistency does not mean perfection.  There’s quite a bit of grace for missing a flossing or two.  There’s quite a bit of grace in relationships (hopefully!) when sometimes we just want to numb out with mindless TV. 

So, consider today where you can build up purposeful and creative consistency for those people and goals in your life that really matter.  It may take some time to build some intentional habits but it can be worth it in every area of our lives, especially in our relationships!  Gradually we can build on habits that lead us forward and let us reap the long-term quality rewards. 

Receptive Ears

By Erica Rivers, MA, LPC-S, CPT

I’ve always been impressed with Stephen Covey’s Habit #5 which is “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood” (Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) (yes, along with the other 6, for that matter).  It is reminiscent of James 1:19 (ESV) which says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”  Our world today has a lot going on.  There is a large amount of unrest, and rightly so.  There is a lot to hear, a lot to say, and much to be angry about.  Anger has a rightful place and can lead to positive change when directed toward healthy goals. 

In reflecting on what to say today, I hesitated because people are saying a lot of different things in the news and in social media about everything that has happened in this unique year of 2020 regarding the pandemic, rights, racism, protests, riots, the economy, and politics.  It’s overwhelming on a grand scale.  I do believe that good can emerge from the ashes of deep, heartbreaking sadness and brokenness.  We can make good come out of this pain.  And, my friends, there are many people in pain.  There are many who are fearful – of an invisible virus, of loss of life, of injustice, of abuse, of business failure, and of a continuing broken system of inequity.  So, we need to hear the pain.  We need to hear the voices of those who are in pain and of those who have been impacted not just this year but for a very long time.  We need to listen carefully and seek to understand what we may not understand ourselves.  We have to be careful to not too quickly speak an opinion or a quick fix.  We must dive in and explore.  We must listen intensely to needs and concerns and opinions different from our own.  We need to actually learn from history so that we do not repeat its mistakes and learn to not just follow blindly what we learned once upon a time. 

It’s definitely okay to have an opinion.  We all have them about everything and our opinions may change over time.  I hope they do.  I hope our opinions change as we listen, learn, connect, and mature.  We don’t have to agree with everything that people say and do to learn from them.  We can learn ways that we need to make a change.  We can listen carefully to hear how our attitudes, views, privilege, rights, choices, etc. may be very different from other beautiful souls’ experiences.  We all know what it’s like to walk in our own shoes but let’s take some time to hear what it’s like to what in someone else’s shoes, too.  Let’s listen very carefully right now for ways we can lovingly be part of healing. 

Photo by Ivan Bertolazzi on Pexels.com

Seething Hot

goats-animal-bock-billy-goat-67280.jpeg
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

By Erica Rivers, MA, LPC-S, CPT

Since the pandemic started, there have been reports locally and worldwide about an increase in domestic violence. This is pretty concerning for our societies as people have been stuck at home with few options. There is a lot that could be addressed here but today I’d like to narrow in on couples where there is not a regular pattern of physical violence but there is a sometimes pattern of nasty verbal fights and/or emotional distancing that would be deemed toxic. Even with “normal” couples there can be incidents where people cross the line and it turns to physical violence. More often than not, however, people cross the line verbally first and words are said or actions are taken that are inappropriate and hurtful. We often don’t realize when we are being hurtful initially and we don’t see how quickly each party may be escalating a situation.

So, let’s get to the nitty gritty. Physical violence is not okay. Name-calling is not okay. Screaming at someone is not okay. Slamming doors, throwing things in anger, and punching things in front of someone is not okay. Giving someone the silent treatment is not okay. Demeaning someone is not okay. Trying to control another adult’s behavior is not okay. Manipulating someone to get what you want is not okay. Lying to someone is not okay. The list could go on and on. Some of the things we do in our relationships can deeply wound the mind, heart, and soul of a human being. Most every one of us have been guilty of some of the things above… I have. Sure, there are a few people who may ease out of that list squeaky clean who are always super sweet and kind no matter what the circumstances but, I bet that’s not the majority of us.

All that being said, there’s hope. We can learn to do it better, to channel our anger and hurt into more productive places. It doesn’t happen overnight, but we can retrain ourselves in how we deal with stress. Breaking a significant boundary in a relationship can have extremely damaging consequences to the relationship and in many other ways. Making a mistake can wreak havoc on everyone, especially a family. As humans, we mess up sometimes. That said, prevention is always best but if harm has been done (even if it’s hurtful words), we can do our best to repair, reconcile, and take steps to prevent repeat occurrences. We are all responsible for our own words and actions. We must take responsibility for ourselves. Here’s a message that I want all of us to apply: work on you – keep growing – become more loving – learn more communication and coping skills – set healthy, safe boundaries – don’t settle for a backward version of you. UPGRADE.

Some tips for people who get angry and caught in a fight:
• Stop blaming the other person
• Try to listen to what they are needing or feeling (you don’t have to take everything on that they are putting on you but you can listen – you don’t have to agree but you can show respect and listen)
• Guard your tongue – be careful not to name-call, blame, disrespect, be hurtful, or demean (even if they are)
• Watch your tone – try to stay kind-spoken (not sarcastic, edgy, or loud)
• Soften your muscles and pace your breathing – loosen your hands, soften your shoulders, take deep breaths
• Take a break if you need it but communicate it to the other person (“I am getting amped and I’d like to hear what you are saying. I need to take a break. I’ll be back in 30 minutes.”) Keep your word.
• Look for solutions where you both win
• Ask honest questions that confirm you are listening and care
• Affirm the relationship – affirm love even if you do not feel it in the moment (try to remember when you did feel it)
• Examine how your actions may have impacted the person and consider how you can be kind
Remember, sometimes it takes more strength to control ourselves and to love than it does to let loose and say whatever our brain thinks in that moment. This is a time to be slow to speak and cautious with words.

If fights are frequent and there is a lot of bickering on a normal basis or if there is escalation, consider these things:
• Talk to people who have experience – counselors, pastors, mentors
• Read books or watch videos on communication, stress coping skills, fair fighting, and anger
• Find healthy outlets for your stress – i.e. regular exercise, meditation, fun activities with friends
• Put supportive people in your life (even if it has to be online during a pandemic!) who you are meeting with regularly – you don’t have to talk about problems but it is good to talk about life. We all need supportive friendships for an outlet. I don’t care how introverted you are, you need a few.
• Consider what emotions are underneath your anger – if you feel rejected, where can you feel accepted? If you are sad, what can you do to heal those wounds and find joy again? If you are embarrassed, how can you start to feel empowered? Deal with the root.
• Address any addictions you might have – alcohol, pain meds, drugs, pornography, TV – find help
• Don’t hide, keep secrets, or stay stuck in unhealthy patterns. Share with safe people. The more we hide and ignore, the more a problem grows.
• If one source of “help” isn’t helpful, keep searching for others until you find enough help. Don’t quit that. Don’t say, “Oh, I tried counseling for a few sessions and it didn’t work.” Nope. Not a good excuse. If it’s not the right counselor for you, that’s fine… find a different one or a different source of help. Keep searching. Growth isn’t easy. It takes work.
• Accept responsibility and do the honest, loving next right thing (as hard as that is).
• Give people space if they need it. Respect boundaries (even with yourself). Learn about boundaries.

Every person is valuable. That might sound cheesy but the reality is everyone you know is a precious human being with needs and wants. Everyone needs to be known, accepted, and loved. You do. I do. Everyone.

We can improve our interactions. One person can make a difference in the dynamic. Both working on themselves and their dynamic can change the world! It’s worth the effort to deal with our stuff and to unselfishly look at how we can love another human being and grow into the upgraded version of ourselves. We are never too old to do that.

Please note: For victims of domestic violence, there is help: National Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

In the Still of the Afternoon

bench in the garden

Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

In the Still of the Afternoon
Erica Rivers, MA, LPC-S, CPT

Life sure has been odd lately in lieu of the pandemic. It’s hard to know what to expect or how to make plans. There is a ton of adjustment and change. People are afraid and rightly so – there is an actual threat to health and well-being. There has been too much loss – of life, of income, of travel, and of businesses. Much of our normal way of life has been shifted. There are many unknowns and yet there is a lot that is still rolling onward. Bills are still coming in the mail and expectations for work and school are still there. Most of us have binged on way too many TV show and cookies. We miss hugs and dining out with friends. We miss classrooms, concerts, in-person church services, shopping, and group fitness classes. The struggle is truly real. This is a rough period.
Even as a mental health and fitness professional, I have struggled with my own responses to the stress of everything. It’s hard to know how to respond and adjust in ways that are healthy and hopeful. It’s difficult to even know what to think sometimes with all the different opinions out there and vastly different media reports. There are no easy answers.
No easy answers. Yep, that about sums it up and yet, that’s true of not just this time period. Rather, it’s true of all time periods. We often have valleys to navigate, losses to bear, difficult people to deal with, and realistic concerns that are overwhelming. Yes, this situation has its differences for sure, but perhaps it’s just making things a bit more obvious.
I do know that in all of this we need to stay grounded with the essentials: our faith, our values, and our relationships. It’s easy to get distracted, to numb out, or to forget when things are so weird but now is a good time to take a moment to really focus on what’s important to you. Pause. Breathe. Let your mind focus on what is really important. Are you doing those things or growing those aspects of importance? What are you grateful for? How do you hold fast to those things that truly matter? Find a spot where you feel peaceful whether that’s in your back yard, a nearby park, or in a comfy chair. Consider for a moment what you are doing to stay connected to those key areas that you care about deep down. Pay attention to those things that give you strength. Focus there. Pray, meditate, journal, draw, write a poem, sing a song, read, or discuss with a friend. There is value here in what connects you. How can you deepen that? I’m encouraging a reflection… a pause to consider what you need, want, or a sense of gratitude in what you already have. It’s tuning in to the blueprint so you can stay on track with the bigger plans. I can’t speak for you but it’s the feeling I get when I’m walking through a forest trail and the weather is just right and everything just seems to fit. It’s taking care of that inner world and not running from the emotions and not getting distracted by the bright and flashy everything. Let yourself feel and connect. It might sound kind of goofy or foreign but it’s also part of what we are designed to need… to take a moment and regroup and to remember what makes you you.

All in all, we know this is just one chapter of the bigger book and the plot will twist several more times.  Take this time to reconnect to what is most important and to get anchored with what you identify as life-giving, hopeful, and good.

 

 

 

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Ways to Reduce Stress and Cope When Times are Rough

photo of woman in blue spaghetti strap top sleeping on a blue hammock

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Ways to Reduce Stress and Cope When Times are Rough
By Erica Rivers, LPC-S, CPT, MBA

We all need things to turn to when life gets overwhelming and stressful. It’s good to have a list of activities to do when you feel like you are near the edge or are just tired, emotionally or physically. It’s not that these are going to completely fix the problems that you are encountering but they can help your mind and body relax, help you take a step back, and give you the space to think more clearly. It’s good to write down your own list so that you can utilize it when life gets taxing (i.e. during a pandemic). We all are different so coping skills that work for some folks won’t work for others. Here’s some ideas:
1. Go for a walk
2. Sit on a bench, swing, or porch swing
3. Take a YouTube musical instrument tutorial
4. Write a poem
5. Color a picture
6. Call a friend or family member that you enjoy
7. Take a bubble bath or hot tub
8. Meditate
9. Learn a language
10. Make crafts
11. Lay in a hammock and read or nap
12. Research an ancient civilization
13. Go for a drive and listen to your favorite music cranked up
14. Garden
15. Surprise your partner with something romantic
16. Make a modern art piece as creatively as you can
17. Set up a practical (but kind) joke
18. Prep and cook a 3-7 course meal
19. Send a card to a friend that you haven’t spoken to in a while
20. Read a book
21. Take a course of a topic that interests you
22. Dance in the living room – try some new moves that will impress
23. Adopt a pet (if you have the time, money, and space for one…)
24. Make an elaborate costume
25. Make a prayer list and pray for loved ones
26. Find a new hair-do or make-up style
27. Rearrange a room
28. Clean out a closet
29. Take up juggling
30. Go for a boat ride/kayak/canoe or paddleboard
31. Memorize a verse, poem, or movie scene
32. Go fishing
33. Bake something for your neighbors
34. Sit by a firepit and roast s’mores or hot dogs
35. Find and join an online support group
36. Make a donation to a local non-profit
37. Build something for around the house
38. Lift weights
39. Create an online book club or discussion group
40. Sit in a sauna
41. Practice self-hypnosis
42. Sing karaoke
43. Play tennis, badminton, or catch with someone
44. Teach your dog a trick or play fetch
45. Play a game with someone
46. Watch the clouds and look for shapes
47. Volunteer at a non-profit or a favorite organization
48. Have tea or coffee with a friend (can be virtual)
49. Write a song
50. Go jogging
51. Practice a magic trick
52. Take black and white photographs and make an album
53. Tell 10 people what strengths you see and appreciate in them
54. Float in a pool
55. Find a nature trail and look for particular birds, insects, or vermin
56. Draw pictures of five favorite memories
57. Find helpful quotes and write them out on sticky notes and place them in spots you will see
58. Find a safe, scenic spot in nature and just enjoy
59. Walk through sand or grass barefoot
60. Get a massage or pedicure or give one to a loved one
61. Write out a list of 10 specific things you are grateful for
62. Watch a comedy show
63. Talk to a spiritual advisor

And the list could go on and on…

The key is finding healthy, non-addictive things that help you release tension, process thoughts/emotions, and move you toward a healthier place. Get creative and get out of any ruts you might be in to help you deal with your current situation. We don’t have to stay stuck or in a negative spot. Just changing locations can make a difference even if that is from inside a house to outside in nature.  Find what things help you and give yourself permission to do them when you are having a rough time.

 

 

 

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