Thursday, December 29, 2011

Day to day mindfulness

I wrote a guest post for pickthebrain.com, all about finding opportunities for mindfulness in ordinary moments of life. Since I've been so bad about updating lately (!!) I thought I could at least link the post here.

If you're new to the Doc Blog, please feel free to go browse back through some old entries, and rest assured that you'll see some more content soon. The holidays are wrapping up, my bus ticket project is slowing down, and I'll be around.

Anyone have some good new year's resolutions they'd like to just break now and get it over with? :)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

One sure-fire way to soften the holiday blues

I'll disclose the secret right at the very beginning, and then we'll talk about it, okay? Are you ready? Here it is!

GIVE.

Pretty simple. I know that many are afflicted with holiday depression. For some, it's a continuation of an issue that they struggle with all year. For others, something about the holiday season triggers a case of the blues that makes this time of year just awful for them. What's worse is hearing "get over it, it's just a holiday," or "quit bringing everyone down." Rule one around here is that your emotions are the only truth you've got, really, and if you're bummed out about the holidays, or because of the holidays, then you're bummed out. No one in the world has a right to tell you how to feel. No one.

That being said, if we had a dime for every "beat the holiday blues" article on the internet, we'd be able to buy Christmas and Hanukkah, and have enough money left over to get Festivus poles for the masses. So, you can go read those, too. My list has one item.

GIVE.

There is so much need out there. Think of what you've got to give, and then share some. Money? Even five dollars helps. Talent? Go entertain someone who can't go out to see entertainment elsewhere. Writing skills? Write letters. Time? Oh, goodness, do people ever need that. A few hours volunteering locally will repay you endlessly with a bounty of thanks and good will.

I think this holiday blues-beating, though, is kind of a two-step process now that I think about it a little more. First step is accepting - just being okay with the fact that the holidays are hard for you. You have your reasons, and they're good enough. You don't have to prove anything to anyone. If you hurt, you hurt. And then second step is to push yourself forward just a little, despite the difficulty, and give. If you really want to be ambitious, give every day. Make a list of things you can do to help, to encourage, to praise, to love. Giving takes so many forms.

Give. Without expectation of return. Give. With the knowledge that all love put into the world ends up somewhere. Give. Without need for thanks. You'll get them regardless.

Most of all, just give to see that you've got it in you. Because you do.
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If you need some ideas for starters, here's a nice list from Uncle Internet to get you going.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Three ways to make breaking up not as hard to do

I work at a college counseling center. Therefore, I work with college students. Therefore, at any given time, I work with people who are in the uncomfortable throes of a breakup. I have become something of a breakup expert at this point, whether I've wanted to or not, and I think that the least I could do with all of that knowledge is to pass a little bit of it along.

Everyone is different, of course, and when you combine two (or more) different people into an intimate relationship, the complexity increases exponentially. At the core of just about every breakup, however, there are a few basic forces at work. I hope that everyone reading this has nothing but perfect, intact relationships from here on out. Just in case, though, here are a few ideas that may help you get through that next breakup.

Let it hurt: As humans, we do everything we can to avoid pain. In my job, I see this in the form of complicated defense systems, and a roomful of denial. Because we are generally rewarded for "seeing the bright side," and often shunned when we appear hurt, we think that things will be better if we can somehow find the magic formula for stopping the pain. We think that if we say the right combination of words, find the right way to distract ourselves, that we'll make it through a breakup unscathed. The problem with this is that the hurt doesn't go away, it just hides from view and finds ways to pop up at the most inopportune moments. What psychologists call "complicated grief" is the end result of that unsuccessful avoidance of the pain. You can tolerate the feelings. Trust me on this one. And, letting that wave of grief wash over you will give you the deep knowledge that you are ready for what's next.

Your heart is a lover, not a lawyer: I had a conversation this morning with a friend who is suffering the aftermath of a painful divorce. The end of the relationship had caught him by surprise, and even after the papers have been signed he continues to learn of new transgressions. His sense of justice is offended. He has been done wrong, and he wants to straighten it out. The problem is that the breakup zone is not a court of law, and all the hard evidence in the world doesn't mean anything. That "sense of justice" thing often results in an ugly desire to hurt back when we've been hurt. I asked my friend whether he wanted to put more hate and pain in the world, or more love and forgiveness. The answer to that question is entirely up to him. And to you.

Shut things down for a while: When I was dating, back when you had to swerve to avoid dinosaurs on your way to the movies, there weren't that many ways to contact your ex after a breakup. If you were in pitiful mode, your heart would jump painfully when she drove by. That was it, though. There was no texting, no Facebook, no G-Chat. What was done, was done. It hurt more at the beginning, probably, but it was over. Now my clients tell me about extended late night chats and surreptitious wall-stalking sessions on Facebook. How do you grieve that? Are they gone? Do you still have a relationship? To grieve a loss, there needs to be a loss. Break the connection, at least for a while. I think those post-breakup chat sessions are often held by two people who are covertly helping each other avoid the painful truth. There's a reason that the truth hurts, and there's an equally important reason to feel that pain. I'm not real big on closure, as you may have read in the past, but I do think that there is something to be said for letting yourself know that it is truly over.

Coming to the end of anything, good or bad, means that it's time to deal with loss. The key words there are deal with it. Approach, rather than avoid, and in the long run you'll be readier for the healthier, happier relationship that awaits you.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Rumors of my demise

Hi all -

Yes, I miss the updates as much as you do. I've been very busy with the Holiday Fare Project, which is going swimmingly, but I know that the Doc Blog is hungry for some new stuff. I will return shortly. In the meantime, please do check out Holiday Fare. See you soon!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Why your last therapy session may be the best one of all

As you know if you've read this blog for any period of time, I work at a college counseling center. At this time of year, most students are bracing for finals, and for that trip home that some love, and some loathe. For some of my clients, though, it's time to graduate.

Graduation is a positive event for nearly everyone. All those years of attending classes, writing papers, taking tests... finally, it's time for a break. But as my clients get closer to the big day, they start to see the truth in one of the things I often say to the people with whom I work. For every loss, there are gains. And, for every gain, there are inevitably some losses. If we've been working together for a while, it can be hard for my client to accept that their graduation means that they'll have to stop seeing me for therapy.

In the therapy biz, this is called "termination." I've always disliked that term, as it conjures up images of Arnold Schwarzenegger dressed in black leather and smoking a rogue robot with a giant gun. Therapy termination is not as dramatic as that, but it can certainly feel just as final.

Termination happens in just about every therapy relationship, not just those at counseling centers. Eventually, therapy ends, whether through artificial means such as a graduation or someone moving out of town, or through organic means like the natural end of a successful therapy. And, for the client and the therapist, there are some ways to make sure that termination is a meaningful, mindful experience that can bring lasting benefits to both people.

Here are six ways that you and your therapist can make termination a positive, healthy experience.

1. Have a plan. A good therapist will pace the overall course of your therapy, just as he or she paces each individual session. Coming to the end of therapy is something that should be planned by you and your therapist. It's a good time to take a look at how your therapy has gone, what you've learned, and where you'd like to go from there. The last 2-3 sessions of therapy should look as though you are heading toward some kind of conclusion.

2. Stick to it. if you avoid things like this, tell your therapist so they can keep you on track. Therapists avoid goodbyes, too... they're human. Make sure they do their job, too. There should be an explicit conversation about how to tell when you (or your therapist) is avoiding doing the termination work, and about what to do if that happens.

3. Resist the urge to drop the bomb. Every therapist has a story or two about clients who save the last session for something earth-shattering. If there are things unresolved in your therapy, then maybe it's not time to terminate. If you're in an artificial termination (like graduation, or moving out of town), work with your therapist to set up the next step. Your therapist can offer a referral. Work with your therapist to plan your next step.

4. Let the emotions come. Work at acknowledging that this relationship is important, and give it the attention and emotion it deserves. Learning how to look someone in the eye and truly say goodbye is a lesson that many people never learn. It might help you as you say other goodbyes, which leads to number five...

5. Generalize your gains. Apply the lessons you've learned in mindful therapy termination to your other relationships. You will nearly always need to be the "grownup" out there in the real world, and take on the hard (but so satisfying) work of not letting yourself or others avoid goodbyes.

6. Remember that it's truly over. When a therapy relationship is over, it's OVER. While we can take the sting out of some endings with a "see you around," your therapist won't be in contact with you again. It's not ethical for your therapist to start a friendship with you after therapy is done, no matter how comfortable or natural that might seem. So, at the end of therapy, it's important to realize that the two of you won't be seeing each other again. This is the case in many goodbyes, but with this one, there's no question.

As a therapist, I think that learning how to terminate with clients is one of the lessons I've learned that has the most application to my "outside" life. It's just not something that anyone shows us how to do. It's also one of the places that some therapists bumble, and let their clients down. By being aware of how the process works, and willing to work with your therapist to do it right, you can use your therapy termination to make important gains right up until the very last moment.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

One Minute to Ground Yourself

When you were a kid, being grounded was not such a great thing - it meant that you'd done something wrong (at least as far as your mom was concerned) and you were forced to stay home, instead of going out and maybe getting in more trouble.

Now, as a grown-up, grounding means something entirely different. Well, maybe not entirely different - after all, when we think of grounding ourselves, we are usually thinking of finding ways to find a little peace, a "center" from which we can then move on with our days. So, maybe the concept of being grounded and staying home is not so far off.

The object of grounding is not to bring a halt to your day, or to find ultimate peace (wouldn't that be nice?). The object, really, is to just take a moment to make sure everything is in balance and ready for whatever is coming next. You know those "exploded view" drawings, the ones that show every part of a piece of equipment as though it had exploded straight out from the center? The purpose of grounding exercises is to un-explode - to bring all those parts of yourself back together. If you can get good at grounding yourself in just a minute or two, you can take on the challenges of your day in a more mindful, peaceful way.

Ready to try? Here are a couple of ways to start.

One of my favorite ways to quickly ground myself is with visualization. Try this one: Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and envision a gorgeous crystal blue beam of light emanating from the sky above you and shining right into you. From below, see a dark green beam of light, bringing you the peace and power of the earth, again shining right into you. As you breathe, visualize those two beams of light intertwining, combining to give you all the power, grace and energy of the earth and the sky. You are filled with the eternal, centered power of the world around you.

Another way to quickly center yourself is with a simple physical act. I like to slip my shoes off when I'm at my desk, close my eyes, breathe and just let the soles of my feet slide against the carpet. I feel the contact of my feet with the solid floor, and I give thanks to the floor for supporting me and to my feet for carrying me through my day. Wiggle your toes, flex your feet, and focus on the physical sensation, all the while continuing to take in deep, cleansing breaths. Add a word like peace, or love, or joy to each inhale, and soon you'll be grounded and ready to move on with your day.

Experiment with what works for you. Your exact technique isn't as important as just giving yourself that moment to bring all those exploded parts back to the center. All it takes is a minute, and you'll have a better day for your efforts.