The Power of I…Taking 1% Responsibility

When we experience loss in our lives, we often feel immense emotional pain. Sometimes the pain is so profound that it leaves us feeling paralyzed and hopeless about the future. It’s as if we are stuck in an emotional prison, unable to escape and incapable of imagining a life without suffering. Over time and without new action, our prison can become so familiar that we begin to believe that we are powerless over our emotions, our lives, and our circumstances in life.

The good news is, we do have control. As challenging and painful as it can be to take ownership of our lives (especially our pain), we do have the capacity to own our emotions, own our stories, and decide what we are going to do with the emotional pain we are carrying. This ownership is the first step on our path to healing and recovery.

What if we looked at things from a different lens and took 1% responsibility for our reaction in the present moment. That 1% represents the small part of us that feels hopeful about feeling better and our willingness to take new action to heal from our pain. If we don’t accept at least 1% responsibility for our emotions, we get to stay in prison.

Action is the antidote to fear. In order to experience true emotional healing and fulfillment in our lives, we must be willing to push through our fears and the familiarity of our pain and take new action to move forward.

Even if recovery is what we deeply desire in our hearts, our fear can have a powerful grip on us in the present moment. It is often our fear that stops us in our tracks and limits us from taking emotional risks in life. Richard O’Connor, the author of Rewire, states that “fear of success is a euphemistic stand-in for deeper fears that are the real motivation for handicapping ourselves – fear of freedom, happiness, intimacy and responsibility.”

Aren’t we all willing to do whatever it takes to feel happy in life? Then why is this so challenging for us?

Well, it is in our human nature to seek what is familiar, even if it is not comfortable. Over time and without new action, our pain becomes familiar to us. Yes. We develop a fierce relationship to our pain and sometimes even defend it. We don’t like to give up what belongs to us, right? This familiarity, stacked on top of fear, is a powerful barrier to feeling better and recovering from loss.

Having experienced the painful deaths of loved ones, as well as other losses, we deeply appreciate how scary and uncertain life feels after loss. It’s like you see your life path diverging in front of you, and you know you have to make a massive decision about which path you choose to walk. The decision we make at this crossroad of our lives is critical in our healing.

Making the choice to walk onto a new path can feel very scary, intimidating, and uncomfortable. It compels us to take new ownership for our lives and the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what we are capable of achieving. Walking the path we know may seem easier in the moment, simply because it is familiar. It doesn’t necessarily mean it will offer us what we truly need to move beyond the pain.

Connect with one of our Therapists in Milwaukee, WI, and Across Wisconsin

If you’re interested in learning more about Grief or counseling, you can send us a message here or follow these simple steps:

  1. Contact Hillary Counseling to schedule an appointment

  2. Meet with a caring therapist for your first session

  3. Start receiving support from the comfort of your home!

Other Services Offered with Hillary Counseling

Our holistic therapists are here to help you when it comes to your mental health! We offer a variety of mental health services to support individuals and couples based in Milwaukee (or who live in Wisconsin). Sessions are available both in-person at our office in Milwaukee’s Third Ward, as well as virtually for anyone in the state. We offer anxiety treatmentteen therapygriefcounselingonline therapyeating disorderstrauma, EMDR therapy, OCD therapytherapy for college students, women’s health and wellness, and LGBTQ+ therapy.

Article Written by: Gina Baretta at The Grief Healing Centre.

What Is EMDR Therapy?

Have you ever seen the 2004 movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? The premise of this movie revolves around a company that can erase unwanted memories. We all have terrible experiences that we’d like to forget. Whether it’s as extreme as combat or as commonplace as an embarrassing moment from high school. There’s currently no machine that will erase our memories for us. However, there is a form of therapy that can change the way that you remember these moments. The treatment is called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR.

This form of therapy is twenty-five years old but has a high success rate in treating trauma patients. It’s also now proven effective at treating the symptoms of depression, anxiety, OCD, eating disorders, grief and several other mental health issues. EMDR takes your most traumatic memories and desensitizes you from the mental and physical effects. The memory is still there. It just doesn’t bother you anymore. After all, we need to remember these terrible experiences so that we can learn from them and mature. We just don’t want them to keep us up at night or hold us back from trying new things.

EMDR MOVEMENTS

One of the first exercises that you learn is the eye and hand movement technique. Your therapist may ask you to follow their moving hand or to tap as you focus on a traumatic memory. Think of it as that iconic image of a hypnotist waving a watch back and forth to put their patient into a trance. Instead, the movements are said to help your brain process the traumatic memories. It extracts the thoughts that are keeping the feelings raw like an open wound and allows them to heal.

In your next session, your therapist may ask you to describe yourself and your negative feelings when you’re in a depressed or anxious state. The goal is to target the memories related to these feelings so that these symptoms disappear.

VISUALIZATION

Next comes visualization exercises. First, you may be asked to envision a box in which to store your negative thoughts. This box is to be used not just in your sessions but any time you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just the act of locking these ideas away can help to calm you down and put things in perspective. It gives you control over your emotions that you wouldn’t have otherwise, to turn ideas into tangible objects that can be moved and locked away, out of sight. That doesn’t mean that they can’t come back, but it does help you to get through those tense moments where feelings and memories overwhelm you.

Your therapist will also ask you to think of your earliest memory when you began to experience the feelings that are causing you distress. Then, in a few sentences, to explain what images, thoughts, or feelings come to mind.

During this explanation, you may be asked to tap on your arms or legs or follow their hand with your eyes. Some therapists use a pulse tool. The pulse tool looks like two computer mouse that you hold in each hand. They’re attached to the box which creates different levels of rhythmic vibrations in your hands while thinking of these memories. It’s not painful or numbing; it’s just a firm sensation that helps with the healing and keeps you from having to multitask with hand or eye movements as you process your memories.

For each memory, you explore every facet of what you remember, from sights to feelings to details you probably haven’t thought of in years. After each observation you make, your therapist will tell you to go on that feeling and then close your eyes for another minute and keep deep diving. Your mind may wander, or you may feel like you have nothing else to say or think about this memory. That’s a good sign, and that’s usually when your therapist will ask you to check in on the memory and rate your level of distress.

Gradually, you begin to dissociate those negative feelings with the memory. The visual still stays intact, but you don’t feel sad or stressed when you remember it. It loses all significance as one of the roots of your negative thoughts. Once you get the memory’s level of distress down to 0, it’s time to move on to the next memory associated with your negative thoughts. The more traumatic the memory, the more time you will need to spend in this visualization session. You may even need multiple therapy sessions for one memory. The goal is to keep visualizing until it no longer affects.

HEALING

The average client requires six to eight sessions in order to get through the EMDR process. It requires visiting multiple memories and focusing on them until you get to a 0 on the level of distress that they cause you.

EMDR helps people immensely in being able to live with past traumas and not let them define their present state of mind. As some people dwell on the past, both good and bad, it can be a relief to no longer be haunted by the bad memories or to wish that you had done things differently. Instead, they are mere learning tools with no emotional weight. It doesn’t require a drug or a science fiction-like procedure to accomplish. It just takes you, your therapist, and time.

Connect with one of our Therapists in Milwaukee, WI, and Across Wisconsin

If you’re interested in learning more about EMDR or counseling, you can send us a message here or follow these simple steps:

  1. Contact Hillary Counseling to schedule an appointment

  2. Meet with a caring therapist for your first session

  3. Start receiving support from the comfort of your home!

Other Services Offered with Hillary Counseling

Our holistic therapists are here to help you when it comes to your mental health! We offer a variety of mental health services to support individuals and couples based in Milwaukee (or who live in Wisconsin). Sessions are available both in-person at our office in Milwaukee’s Third Ward, as well as virtually for anyone in the state. We offer anxiety treatmentteen therapygriefcounselingonline therapyeating disorderstrauma, EMDR therapy, OCD therapytherapy for college students, women’s health and wellness, and LGBTQ+ therapy.

Article By: Laura Smith

4 Types of Burnout

Burnout, an occupational health concern, is described as exhaustion related mostly to work, although it applies to other domains too. Burnout carries emotional exhaustion (e.g., emotional drain/depletion), physical exhaustion (e.g., taking more time in the morning to get ready for work), and cognitive exhaustion (e.g., inability to concentrate on tasks that were previously easy to complete).

The symptoms vary among individuals, but a clear indicator of burnout is a progressive distance or mental detachment from work responsibilities. Although burnout is not recognized as a formal medical condition, it is a concern that can affect all areas of life and have a substantial impact on the psycho-social functioning of the individual.

There is emerging evidence regarding the subtypes of burnout, such as the freneticunder-challenged, and worn-out subtypes, and more recently the misalignment subtype. Considering the level of work dedication, one may experience a transition from one form of burnout to another.

Common sub-types of burnout

Frenetic sub-type:

  • Characterized by work overload, and usually a high level of dedication
  • It is commonly attached to the “law of compensation” in psychology, meaning an overachievement at work and underachievement in other areas of life (e.g., personal life)

Under-challenged sub-type:

  • Characterized by an under-stimulating environment where work tasks are mostly repetitive
  • Over time, work becomes uninteresting and monotonous
  • There are no clear avenues for professional growth

Worn-out sub-type:

  • Also known as neglect burnout
  • Characterized by learned helplessness and hopelessness
  • Typically related to unstructured or unclear tasks, the individual adopts a progressive neglectful approach in the face of potentially demanding and stressful work

Misalignment sub-type:

  • Characterized by a discrepancy between the company’s values and the personal values and life principles of the individual
  • Such burnout is often present in jobs that are considered uninspiring for some people
  • Professional and personal fulfillment are considered conflicting (misaligned)

Suggestions to navigate a chapter with burnout:

  • Identify the type of burnout you are experiencing. Be honest, authentic, and transparent with yourself as this form of self-reflection is fundamental to starting a fresh direction in terms of the prospective approach to work.
  • Identify personality traits and explore their correlation with burnout in your particular situation. An interesting literature review found that some people are at a higher risk of experiencing burnout depending on their personality traits, such as higher levels of neuroticism or lower agreeableness according to the Big Five model of personality. As a prevention measurehaving awareness of one’s personality traits helps in aligning personal characteristics with different job profiles to limit burnout rates.
  • If possible, discuss your concerns with your manager. Suppose you are one of those lucky individuals who can address their professional circumstances with the managerial team. This is a great opportunity to negotiate tasks that are in line with your objectives, personal values, and future professional development.
  • Discuss with a therapist who can provide support and advice regarding different perspectives while considering your abilities. An experienced therapist can help you identify and unlock the fusion between past personal circumstances and present work situations.
  • What are the challenges at work? Are there perhaps personal patterns that arise at work but their core lies in family or relationship dynamics? This could potentially be food for introspection. For example, a person who was raised in an unpredictable and chronic stressful environment may seek present job profiles that resemble core emotional and cognitive responses from the past.
  • Implement quality over quantity. Some people engage in their work from a quantitative standpoint (the more hours they engage at work, the greater performance they expect). This is a myth and a counterproductive approach to a healthy outlook at work. Research indicates that spending fewer hours at work, taking regular breaks, having a more realistic work-life balance, or working, for instance, a four-day week can boost productivity and overall well-being, and reduce burnout rates.
  • Take a break. It can happen that you did parts of the above. If there is financial stability (you have savings for a certain period), an incredible way to reconnect and find a purposeful job is to wander around freely, to let your mind rest and come up with new ideas. Replenish energy to gain a fresh perspective. That may come from internal work, traveling or perhaps engaging with the community. In many cases, you are the expert of your life, trust your intuition.

Connect with one of our Therapists in Milwaukee, WI, and Across Wisconsin

If you’re interested in learning more about BURNOUT or counseling, you can send us a message here or follow these simple steps:

  1. Contact Hillary Counseling to schedule an appointment

  2. Meet with a caring therapist for your first session

  3. Start receiving support from the comfort of your home!

Other Services Offered with Hillary Counseling

Our holistic therapists are here to help you when it comes to your mental health! We offer a variety of mental health services to support individuals and couples based in Milwaukee (or who live in Wisconsin). Sessions are available both in-person at our office in Milwaukee’s Third Ward, as well as virtually for anyone in the state. We offer anxiety treatmentteen therapygrief counselingonline therapyeating disorderstraumaOCD therapytherapy for college students, and LGBTQ+ therapy. We would be honored to support you in learning new coping methods to help strengthen your relationship.

Article By: Alexandria Ghita of Psychology Today

Online Therapy for Busy Lifestyles: Prioritizing Your Mental Health

Managing the balance of work, life, and relationships can be challenging, and sometimes, finding the time to prioritize your mental health can feel like a daunting task. But, that’s the benefit of having an online therapist.

Whether you’re juggling work, family, or a never-ending to-do list, online therapy, offers flexibility and convenience to help you take care of your mental well-being. So, let’s explore how you can make the most of your online therapy appointments when your schedule is busier than ever.

The Challenge of Work-Life Balance and Mental Health

Balancing work, life, and mental health can often be a challenge to figure out. The demands of a busy job, relationships, home responsibilities, and the daily grind can leave us feeling stretched thin.

Sometimes this might mean our mental health takes a backseat as we attempt to handle all of our commitments. But it’s essential to remember that neglecting our mental well-being can have a ripple effect, impacting both our work and personal life. Finding that equilibrium requires intention, self-care, and a willingness to seek support when needed. It’s a challenging task, but acknowledging the struggle is the first step towards achieving that balance.

Tips for Making the Most of Online Therapy

1. Prioritize Self-Care: The first step to making online therapy work for you is to recognize the importance of taking time for yourself and for sustainable and meaningful self-care. Mental health is health so it is something to consider prioritizing alongside work meetings, errands, and meet-ups with friends or family.

2. Choose the Right Therapist: Finding the right therapist is essential. Take your time to research and select someone whose expertise and approach align with your needs. Most therapists have online profiles that detail their specialties and approaches, making it easier to find the perfect fit.

3. Set Realistic Goals: Be honest with yourself about your schedule. If your days are jam-packed, it might not be feasible to commit to weekly sessions. Work with your therapist to set realistic goals and set appointment times that can work for your schedule on a weekly basis.

4. Embrace the Convenience: Online therapy allows you to attend sessions from the comfort of your own home or wherever you may be. Take advantage of this convenience and enjoy the lack of commute time. You can even have sessions during your lunch break if that works best for you.

5. Create a Dedicated Space: Designate a quiet, comfortable space for your online therapy sessions. It could be a cozy corner in your bedroom or a secluded spot in your living room. Ideally, this space is free from distractions so you can fully focus on your therapy and, of course, private and confidential.

6. Stay Committed: Consistency is key in therapy, so commit to your appointments. Treat them as non-negotiable, just like you would with any other important commitment. Remember, this is time for you to heal and grow.

7. Integrate Mindfulness: In the midst of your busy life, remember to stay mindful of your mental health. Check in with yourself regularly, practice self-compassion, and remember that it’s okay to take a break when needed.

What to Expect In Online Therapy (and Is It Effective?)

In online therapy, you can expect a similar therapeutic experience as in-person sessions, with a few key differences. During your virtual sessions, you’ll interact with your therapist through video calls or phone conversations, which offers flexibility and convenience. While the physical distance may initially feel unusual, many people find they become just as comfortable discussing their concerns and emotions online as they do in person.

Online therapy can be as effective as in-person therapy for individuals and couples because it is the same level of support, guidance, and evidence-based interventions. However, the effectiveness can vary depending on the individual’s comfort with technology, the quality of the therapeutic relationship, and the nature of their mental health concerns.

Ultimately, the choice between virtual and in-person therapy should be based on your personal preferences and needs, as both formats of therapy have been proven to provide valuable mental health support.

Connect with an Online Therapist in Milwaukee, WI, and Across Wisconsin

Online therapy offers a dedicated space for those with hectic schedules, allowing you to invest in yourself without adding extra stress to your day. And, getting started can be the hardest part of getting started with therapy. If you’re interested in learning more about our online therapy or our team, you can send us a message here or follow these simple steps:

  1. Contact Hillary Counseling to schedule an appointment

  2. Meet with a caring therapist for your first session

  3. Start receiving support from the comfort of your home!

Other Services Offered with Hillary Counseling

Our holistic therapists are here to help you when it comes to your mental health! We offer a variety of mental health services to support individuals and couples based in Milwaukee (or who live in Wisconsin). Sessions are available both in-person at our office in Milwaukee’s Third Ward, as well as virtually for anyone in the state. We offer anxiety treatment, teen therapy, grief counseling, online therapy, eating disorders, trauma, OCD therapy, therapy for college students, and LGBTQ+ therapy. We would be honored to support you in learning new coping methods to help strengthen your relationship.

Happy couple who utilizes couples therapy by a licensed therapist at Hillary Counseling in Milwaukee, Wi

The Four Horseman and Their Antidotes…The Secret to Managing Relationship Conflict

The Gottman Institute studies relationships and looks for evidenced based signs of what works, and what doesn’t. They use the metaphor of the “four horsemen of the apocalypse” to describe four dynamics that can predict the end of a romantic relationship. Luckily, they have also discovered the “antidotes” that can change these unhealthy dynamics.

Criticism

Attacking someone’s personality or character, usually with some level of blame. Often “you” statements – “You should have done the laundry by now, you know I wanted to go out later!”

Antidote: Complaining – Expressing anger or disagreement about a specific behavior. Often uses “I” statements – “I wanted the laundry to be finished by now so I could get out before everything closes.” Complaining does not involve blame or get personal.

Next time, try: Instead of criticizing the other person, tell them what you would like them to do instead.

Defensiveness

Avoiding any responsibility for partner’s complaints. This can look like denying responsibility, making excuses, disagreeing with negative mind-reading, cross-complaining, “yes-but”-ing, repeating yourself, whining.

Antidote: Taking responsibility for some part of the problem.

Next time, try: Considering if there any part of the other person’s complaint that makes some sense to you. If so, say, “I can see what you’re saying about (this part).” See how that changes the conversation.

Contempt

The intention here is to insult and psychologically abuse the other person. This happens when the relationship feels so negative, that one partner has difficulty identifying anything positive about the other. It can include insults and name-calling, hostile humor, and mockery. It is also visible in body language and facial expressions. Contempt in communication between partners is a strong predictor of divorce.

Antidote: Culture of appreciation – focus on what you admire about the other person.

Next time, try: Noticing when you are expressing contempt and stopping yourself immediately. There are also exercises that you can do to remember and rekindle the things you admire or appreciate about the other person, which will start to shift the habit of expressing contempt.

Stonewalling

Habitual disengagement during conflict.

Antidote: Self-soothing—Monitor your emotional arousal during arguments; take breaks and do something to calm down. Find a way to stay engaged in the discussion, even if it means taking a break.

Next time, try: Catching yourself when you are starting to get emotionally overwhelmed during a conflict. Let the other person know you are going to take a break, but will return to finish the discussion when you are more calm. It generally takes about 20 minutes to calm down from “emotional flooding

We can help improve your relationship.

Hillary Counseling offers couples therapy and online therapy services to help you gain tools to strengthen your relationship, rebuild your connection, and restore the joy you both once felt.

Contact us to schedule a complimentary 15-minute consultation! →

 

Article summarized from the Gottman Institute Research.

Woman practicing mindfulness to manage her social anxiety.

Being Thankful in an Age of Anxiety

 

This Thanksgiving feels different to a lot of people. They are glued to the news, concerned about the state of the world, watching or participating in demonstrations and rallies, not sure how to speak to their children about war, and seeing cracks in friendships because of opposing opinions about global events. Anxiety about Israel and Hamas, Russia and Ukraine, Israel and Hezbollah, America and Iran, gun violence, political polarization… the list goes on and on. There are fears for the present and trepidation about the future.

Individuals vary in how they react to anxiety. Some bury their heads in their sand and ignore the rumbling sense of anxiety that seems to permeate society or that lies beneath their exterior. Others are in a hyper-alert state and can’t get enough of the latest, up-to-the-minute news reports and social media feeds.

At a time when people get their news from sources that accentuate their own beliefs and communicate in an echo chamber, emotions become even more intensified. Because of 24/7 media, the international, the interpersonal, and intra-psychic have all converged in a way that we may never have seen before. This tests the metal in each of us.

As Benjamin Franklin said, out of adversity comes opportunity. Our age of anxiety presents us with what can be considered a Zen challenge. Can we maintain calm and experience gratitude at a time when we are tense, worried, and, perhaps, feeling a bit pessimistic? Like anything else, relaxation and calm take a bit of work.

Steps for Easing Your Anxiety

Here are suggestions for easing your anxiety and fostering your appreciation for the blessings in your life:

1. Modulate what you are being exposed to. Staying tuned to news all day is a recipe for agita. Give yourself breaks. Some people can’t help but starting and ending their day with updates on the news, but try to limit your exposure.

2. Practice loving-kindness and self-compassion. This frequently means relieving oneself of guilt for things not done to your satisfaction or just generally feeling anxious. Try to do this for five or ten minutes. Holding on to moments when you are not consumed with negativity is invaluable.

3. Exercise. Whether you run, practice yoga, or do any other type of physical movement, it will help clear your head and access positive energy.

4. Take a couple of moments during the day to count your blessings—including the people in your life and the good fortune from which you’ve benefitted. Take nothing for granted. Taking things for granted only robs you of the fruits of your labor. (If you don’t think you have good things in your life, chances are this is a distortion from being depressed. Don’t ignore this sign. Seek help.)

5. Meditate. Posture, relaxation, breathing, and focus calms one’s body and mind.

6. Surround yourself with people who nourish you. Think about the effect that others have on you and, to the best of your ability, spend time with those who exude positive vibes. It can be just a phone call; it needn’t involve spending a weekend together.

7. If it’s within your spiritual outlook, pray for goodness in the world, for those you love, and for yourself.

If you’re looking for more guidance…We can help.

Hillary Counseling offers individual psychotherapy and online psychotherapy services for anxiety treatment, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and EMDR.

 

Contact us to schedule a complimentary 15-minute consultation! →

Written by: Samuel L. Pauker, M.D

Hillary Counseling sign, located in Milwaukee, WI

TMJ4 News: Gallery Night Interview

It’s the Monday after Gallery Night weekend and the Hillary Counseling team had a blast. We were lucky enough to be interviewed by TMJ4 news, who kicked off Gallery Night at the HC office.

https://www.tmj4.com/news/community-voices/milwaukees-vast-creative-culture-on-display-during-gallery-night-mke

It’s clear that the therapeutic potential of art is vast and applicable to individuals of all age groups. The notion that art can improve mental well-being is something many people intuitively understand but can lose sight of — especially if we have become disconnected from the dancing, creative writing, drawing and singing we used to enjoy as children.

But there’s a “really robust body of evidence” that suggests that art, as well as creating art and activities like attending a concert or visiting a museum, can benefit mental health. Here are a few simple ways to elevate your mood with the arts.

Try the three-drawing technique

Dr. James S. Gordon, a psychiatrist and the founder of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine, pioneered something called the “three drawing technique.” It is featured in the new book “Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us.”

“In my experience, art like this goes beyond words in helping us to understand what’s going on with ourselves and to understand what we should do with it,” Dr. Gordon says in the book. You don’t need to be good at drawing — stick figures are OK.

Start by quickly drawing yourself; don’t overthink it. The second drawing should show you with your biggest problem. The third drawing should show you after your problem has been solved.

This exercise is meant to encourage self-discovery and help give people agency in their own healing — and you can do it with or without a therapist, said Susan Magsamen, an assistant professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a co-author of the book.

Color something intricate

If you are one of the many people who have turned to adult coloring books, it may not come as a surprise that research suggests this activity can help ease anxiety.

Coloring within the lines — of an intricate pattern, for example — appears to be especially effective. One study, that evaluated college students, and another that assessed older adults, found that spending 20 minutes coloring a mandala (a complex geometric design) was more helpful in reducing anxiety than free-form coloring for the same length of time.

Susan Albers, a clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic and the author of “50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food,” described coloring as a “mini-mental vacation.” When we focus on the texture of the paper and choose the colors that please us, it becomes easier to tune out distractions and stay in the moment, she said. “It’s a great form of meditation for people who hate meditation.”

Listening to music, playing an instrument or singing can all be beneficial. A 2022 study, for example, surveyed more than 650 people in four age groups and asked them to rank the artistic activities that helped them “feel better” during the 2020 pandemic lockdowns. The youngest participants, ages 18 to 24, overwhelmingly rated musical activities as most effective. Across all age groups, “singing” was ranked among the top activities.

Other studies have found that singing reduces levels of cortisol, a hormone that the body releases when it is under stress. As one example, mothers who had recently given birth and regularly sang to their babies had less anxiety.

Music can be effective at reducing stress because things like rhythm and repetitive lyrics and chords engage multiple regions of the brain.

Looking for more on art and mental health? Reach out to schedule a complimentary 15-minute consultation with one of our Milwaukee Therapists.

Happy interracial couple who sought premarital counseling by a licensed therapist

Assuming Positive Intentions In Your Relationship

“Happiness is a conscious choice, not an automatic response.” ~Mildred Barthel

I used to think he was out to get me. The man of my dreams was continually plotting to undermine my happiness in countless ways, all for some mysterious reason I couldn’t comprehend.

Can you give me a ride to work today?” He missed his shuttle on the morning I had my first speech, a forty-five-minute drive in the opposite direction. He obviously didn’t want me to succeed in my career.

Are you wearing that tonight?” Oh great, just before we go out to meet friends for dinner he wanted to throw off my confidence in how I looked. Did he think I was getting fat?

Can you come help me with this?” Couldn’t he see that I was in the middle of a relaxing Saturday morning, my first bit of sanity after a very stressful week? He must not care if I got any down time, though you could bet he’d be sitting on the couch watching golf all afternoon.

A lot of my time was spent stewing, working over these scenarios and replaying them in my mind. Overthinking was my specialty, my calling card in life. I prided myself on seeing things other people missed, reading between the lines to get to the “real” meaning.

These little bits of drama took a lot of mental effort for me to concoct, but after a while I became really good at them. I could summon up a motive from his every glance or change of tone, sometimes simply from thin air.

Nevermind that I still considered him my dream man, just one with the not-so-adorable quirk of trying to undermine happiness.

What did that say about me?

Like most of my uncomfortable feelings, I pushed these thoughts down, working to keep things cool on the surface while I boiled underneath.

Life kept moving forward, and then one day my brother had a heart attack. A year later, a friend had a brain aneurysm. Both survived, but it changed our mindset about time and dreams.

We decided to sell everything we owned and travel the world, taking our retirement dreams and living them at midlife instead, when we had the health and energy to enjoy them. It was a beautiful time, planning our grand adventure and then stepping into it together.

But still, I had these nagging thoughts about him and his continued efforts to rob me of my happiness, even as we were living out our biggest dream. Looking back, it was pure insanity.

I read about this site in Northern Peru that’s supposed to be really cool. Want to go there next instead of Machu Picchu?” He knew I was dying to go to Machu Picchu. Why would he try to take that away from me? He didn’t want me to be happy.

Why don’t you write in the early mornings so we still have the days to explore Edinburgh together?” He knew I wasn’t a morning person, so why would he ask such a thing? Because he was a morning person, that’s why. He thought I was lazy.

I’ve been editing the podcasts and you say “this and that” a lot. It detracts from the message. Can you tamp it down?” Hey, I just got a compliment from a guest on my radio voice. Why was he nitpicking like that? He couldn’t stand it that someone said something nice to me.

None of my thoughts were said out loud, but they did needle at my happiness in small bursts multiple times a day. We were rarely apart in this traveling lifestyle, especially when we started publishing books and podcasts together, and I found an ulterior motive in almost everything he said. Over time, my brain almost melted at the continuous effort required to read into his every word. It was a full-time job.

Then a very big fight happened, one of those life-changing arguments, and I let the cat out of the bag. He was stunned.

“Of course I’m not out to get you. I love you.”

At the end of all the harsh words and tears this was a revelation, an insight into this years-long issue in our relationship.

It wasn’t him; it was me.

All those years of reading between the lines, a skill I’d honed since childhood, kept me from seeing reality. I was ignoring the black and white meaning of what he said in favor of some imagined murky gray story with no basis in fact.

My writer’s mind was altering my own life story, as it happened, without the consent or knowledge of the other main character. I was changing a light-hearted romance into a mystery and painting my husband as the bad guy.

In the aftermath of the very big fight, we agreed to always assume the best intentions of the other person, no matter what words were chosen in the delivery. Instead of picking apart how it was said, we would focus on where it came from, which was always from the heart.

Questions were encouraged. Clarification was required. No guessing games allowed.

It was surprising how fast this one change impacted my outlook. I stopped spinning crazy stories in my head and focused on the moment, what this man who loved me was trying to convey. When I didn’t understand, or the understanding I had was negative, I asked for clarification.

He always freely gave it.

He wanted to see everything in the world with me. He wanted me to have time to write, but also to play together. He wanted the work we produced to be as professional as possible, and he knew we both had quirks to overcome.

The meaning was there in plain sight, in the honesty of his words. He wanted the best for us in everything, as anyone in love would.

He wasn’t out to get me. He was out to love me, to share a life with me, and all I had to do was take him at his word.

The day we vowed to always assume the best intentions in each other was as powerful as the day we vowed to be together forever. And it makes honoring that marriage vow a lot more enjoyable.

How to Train Yourself to Assume the Best Intentions

1. Every single day, compliment or thank your partner for something they have done.

Make gratitude for what they do right an everyday thing and the occasional slipups will not seem as big. It also reinforces positive behaviors, making them more likely to continue.

2. When your partner says or does something that rankles you, first stop and ask yourself if a stranger in the room with you right at that moment would have the same reaction.

If you’re overthinking, you will have added layers of meaning that aren’t there. But if you look at it from the outside, it’s a more realistic version of events. It will help center you.

3. If all else fails, ask for clarification.

“I may have taken this the wrong way. Did you mean X?” This gives your partner the chance to clear it up right away, before you’ve had a chance to concoct a story in your head.

It will take some time to train yourself from over thinking and reading between the lines, but it can be done. And you (and your partner) will be happier because of it.

Article written by: Betsy Talbot of Tiny Buddha Blog

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Christmas tree

How To Cope With Grief During the Holidays

The swell of grief around the holidays is a common reason clients enter our therapy office this time of year. People often seek help for the immense sorrow that starts surfacing right around Thanksgiving.

When you’re grieving, there may be times when you want to participate in the excitement and joy but simultaneously don’t want to participate at all or feel guilty for celebrating.

Grief is complicated and unique for everyone. While accepting loss becomes easier over time, it is often something we carry with us forever.

If you’re wondering how to get through the holidays this year without your loved one, these strategies can help:

1. Trust That Grief Is Part of Healing

Time doesn’t heal the pain associated with a loss; it’s what you do with that time that matters. Grief is the process by which you heal. Experiencing the pain—rather than constantly trying to escape it—can actually help you feel better in the long-term.

So while it may be tempting to pretend the holidays don’t exist—or to numb the pain with alcohol—temporarily avoiding the pain only prolongs the anguish. Eventually, the holidays will get easier, but only if you allow yourself to experience the grief of going through them without your loved one.

2. Set Healthy Boundaries

You certainly don’t have to force yourself to face every holiday event or celebratory tradition, however. If attending a tree lighting ceremony or participating in the office gift swap is likely to bring about too many painful memories this year, be willing to say no. Other people may try to convince you to participate, but you certainly don’t have to try to please everyone.

3. Focus on What You Can Control

There are a lot of things you can’t control about the holidays. You may be subjected to Christmas music in the waiting room of your doctor’s office or you may overhear your co-workers constantly talking about their holiday plans. While you can’t prevent those things from happening, there are some things you can control.

Think about what you can do to lessen the heartache when you can. It’s OK to limit your decorations or shop for presents online only. Pick a few things you can do to assert some control over the holiday cheer, and keep in mind that life goes on for other people and it’s OK that they’re happy to celebrate this year.

4. Plan Ahead

Often, the anticipation over how hard something is going to be is worse than the actual event. So while Thanksgiving dinner may only last two hours, you could easily spend three weeks dreading it. Create a simple plan for how you’ll get through the holidays to avoid extending your anguish.

Often, it’s helpful to create an escape plan. Drive yourself to holiday functions or ride with a trusted friend who will take you home whenever you want. Just knowing you can easily leave at any time can help you enjoy the activity much more than you would if you felt stuck.

5. Allow Yourself to Feel a Range of Emotions

The holidays can bring about a wide range of emotions. You might feel joy, guilt, and sadness all within a few minutes. Allow yourself to feel those emotions without judging yourself or thinking you should be happy or you shouldn’t be laughing.

6. Find a Way to Honor Your Memories

Create a special way to memorialize the person you’ve lost. Whether you decide to light a candle every night or eat your loved one’s favorite food, honoring your loved one can serve as a tangible reminder that although your loved one is gone, the love never dies.

7. Create New Traditions

Don’t be afraid to create new traditions this year too. It’s OK to get creative and do something a little out of the ordinary. You can also alter old traditions and make them fit better with the new phase in your life.

8. Do Something Kind for Others

Even when you’re in the midst of grief, you still have something to offer the world. Performing a few acts of kindness can be really good for a grieving person’s spirit. Donate gifts to families in need, serve meals at a soup kitchen, or volunteer to help people at a nursing home make holiday crafts if you’re up for it.

9. Ask for Help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you’re struggling with the holidays. Reminding loved ones that you’re having a rough time may be enough, but you also may want to reach out for more support. Look for support groups or contact a professional counselor to help you deal with your grief in a healthy manner.

 

Want to learn about coping with grief during the holidays?  Contact us to schedule a FREE initial consultation with one of our experts, info@hillarycouneling.com.

jackolanterns

Intuitive Eating Tricks for Halloween Treats

“Halloween” and “candy” are almost synonymous, and this can be a confusing time for us to know how to handle the sugar overload that’s heading towards us like a high-speed freight train, especially for those struggling with and eating disorder and working in recovery.

Most individuals spend their time thinking about costumes, decorations and haunted houses weeks before the big day but individuals who are recovering from an eating disorder are often inundated with thoughts of body image and weight disturbances when shopping for a Halloween costume and walking the candy aisles.

Shopping for a Halloween costume, navigating parties, and being faced with Halloween candy, treats and drinks are just a few of the many ways that Halloween can trigger your eating disorder in unexpected ways. Being mindful of these potential triggers and arming yourself with coping tools to support your recovery is vital. Whether you are trick-or-treating, attending a Halloween costume party or passing out candy with your friends, these triggers may creep up on you before you know it.

Halloween Treats and Binge Eating

Halloween in recovery can mean binge eating can be more likely during times of stress and increased anxiety. During this particular holiday, stress and anxiety may be caused by feeling pressure over Halloween to dress up, attend a Halloween party or potluck, pass out candy and purchase candy. From chocolate bars and candy corns to lollipops and gummy bears.  Halloween can lead to candy overload, which can lead to intense urges or action to binge. Depending on your eating disorder, you might have kept yourself from indulging in Halloween candy in the past; you might have binged on it after everyone had gone to sleep, or some combination therein. If you are still in recovery for your eating disorder it is recommended that you have a recovery action plan to help with the triggers.

Understanding your reasons for binge eating, along with learning how to deal with stress and anxiety through other coping strategies are beneficial to your health and recovery. Here are some tips for your recovery action plan to help you avoid binge eating on Halloween this year.

1. Practice Mindful Eating. This starts with allowing yourself to use all of your senses in choosing to eat foods that satisfy you while nourishing your body at the same time. You obtain the opportunity to acknowledge your genuine responses to food, such as your true likes and dislikes, without any judgement. Eat with awareness of your senses.

2.Remember to have regular meals/snack throughout the day. Try eating three regular meals and two snacks to prevent cravings that can lead to overeating. Have a game plan for the potluck. Meaning look at all the foods before you take a plate. Figure out which foods seems the most appetizing to you and which foods you know you are hungry for. Plate your food, allowing yourself to enjoy what you are eating. Give yourself permission to stop eating when you feel satisfied.

3. Feel empowered to use your voice and seek support. Identify who you support system is going be for the Halloween festivities. Strategize with your support system on what type of support you may need and what that will look like.

4. Practice Self-Compassion. When you start experiencing feelings of guilt and shame, practice self-compassion. Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment? ~Kristin Neff

Halloween costumes and body positivity

There are many ways that Halloween in recovery can be challenging. Clothing shopping can be triggering for individuals who are in eating disorder recovery, especially costume shopping. Costumes tend to be on the skimpier side and our society tends to praise women who show more skin and wear less clothing on Halloween. Regardless of where you are in your eating disorder recovery, it is important to feel comfortable in any costume you wear. Whether it is a homemade costume or a store-bought costume, you should feel comfortable and exuberate self-confidence in your costume.

If you feel that a costume will trigger you to have negative thoughts then here are some ideas to try instead of dressing up; 1.  to try a different costume that you feel comfortable in 2. buy a Halloween t-shirt instead of dressing up 3. wear Halloween colors in clothes that make you feel good.

Regardless of where your Halloween takes you, the most important part is practicing self-care. This is at the root of most recovery-minded decisions. Self-care means spending time with people who support your recovery, and giving yourself permission to enjoy that Snickers!

If you feel like you would benefit from support when it comes to your relationship with food, reach out to us at info@hillarycounseling.com to schedule a FREE initial consult with one of our eating disorder therapists.