Built for Hard Times

Built for Hard Times

by Joel Christie

Life can be really hard. Most would acknowledge that, but can our awareness of that actually help us in any way, or simply doom us to further misery? When asked what might help them deal with the fact that life so often feels overwhelming, unfair, mean, brutal, impossible or heartbreaking, I have heard many people say they'll feel better when their circumstances improve, which is certainly understandable. Circumstances impact how we feel, but they are also often largely beyond our control. So we need more reliable things to lean on. Friends and family. Life purpose. Faith. The pursuit of our dreams perhaps. And I think all of these are invaluable. All of the suggestions below pertain to your beliefs and your worldview, which means they are ultimately within your control to accept or reject as you so choose. So: what might help?

Accept that hardship is an inescapable, unavoidable part of life. Gosh, thanks for that uplifting gem? Yeah, that may have come off as grim, but I don't mean it to be fatalistic, I promise. The fact that life is often brimming with hardship does not nullify the possibility for it to also contain vaults of goodness, joy, and satisfaction. Along with this, when we accept that hardships are part of the gig, we become a little freer, strange as it sounds. We spend less time wishing that hardships wouldn't happen, pining for a world where we don't always end up getting hurt, only to end up hurt by our own impossible desires. This doesn't mean we simply discard hope. If you lived in the Game of Thrones universe, then yes, perhaps it would be best not to bother with hope. But here, hope is a wonderful compass for us when coupled with realism. It tells us what we want and what we should spend our efforts seeking. We must simply know that hardship will still accompany us along the way. This knowledge--this integral part of our beliefs--can normalize hardships, removing them from the category of "things that should not have happened," to things that have happened and will happen, and must, therefore, be faced.

Start recognizing how resilient you are. There are things in life that will grieve us no matter how strong we might be, such as the death of a loved one, the betrayal of a friend, debilitating health issues, and several others. Grief and sadness are precisely the right emotions in such situations. Yet it is critical that even in the midst of tragedy we do not completely lose sight of who and WHAT we are. Our brains are natural problem solvers. It's how we survived as a species in the past, and how we survive now. You could even say we are built to handle hardship. Certainly there are times we may not feel able to handle everything, but I think there can be a danger in allowing ourselves to accept this despair too often. I can't handle my bills. I can't stand one more of my kid's temper tantrums. I can't deal with my evil boss. My messy husband. My condescending wife. My noisy neighbors. Traffic. Politics. Society in general. Stop, and please try giving yourself a little credit. These things may all be substantial problems. But the more you are able to see yourself as a person with a brain that is highly adept at problem-solving, and the more you see yourself as durable, resourceful, and resilient, the less you will likely feel undone by anxiety and despair. And here's the cool part: you'll feel the effects of this diminished anxiety and despair even before these problems are fully resolved. If you realize that you are indeed often capable of facing the onslaught of life's tribulations it will change how you feel about the problems themselves. You will not likely suddenly come to love your problems, but you will likely feel far less dominated by them because you'll know that you are cut out to deal with them. And for those of you who think, "well, that may be nice for the lucky people who happen to have such confidence," I would invite you to dare to believe that you too possess numerous strengths and problem-solving abilities and that you are far more durable and resilient than you currently realize. After all, how many times have your bills or your boss or your toddler actually succeeded in killing you? Seriously. Consider all the stuff you've been through already. That should tell you that you're durable. Take some comfort from that.

Find things to invest yourself in that feel worth the effort. As I mentioned, our brains are wired to be problem solvers, so it comes very naturally to most of us to fixate on what's wrong. But it's critical that we also allow ourselves to strive after things that generate excitement and passion. I'm not talking so much about fun, per se, although fun is fine. But on those rough nights at the end of a brutal week, a little fun peppered in--or even a lot, with a whole big rush of dopamine and all that lovely stuff--will likely prove inadequate to buoy us indefinitely against the reality that there are always more glacier-sized hardships on the horizon. We need things that have a lasting potency to deal with that, things we can pull with us when we're feeling low, or uncertain about our future, or yes, even just bored. People tend to fair better in life both in the high seasons and low when they believe their lives matter and that they have a purpose. So invest some time in that question, because a part of your brain will likely remain hungry for answers. And the more pieces you find along your journey in this regard, the more stable your ship is likely to be as you face the many storms of life.

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What Are You Modeling for Your Kids?

What Are You Modeling for Your Kids?

By Joel Christie

How do your kids see you? As someone who handles problems with confidence and figures things out? Someone who is patient with others even when you are frustrated? Someone who is in control of him or herself? From the time kids come into the world, they are absorbing how to do life from us, their parents. They're absorbing what anger, and problem-solving, and anxiety, and sadness, and happiness, and confidence look like. Little if any of this is done consciously, especially at first. It’s experiential. It’s feeling mom or dad’s gentle arms of comfort, or hearing them yell, or seeing their loving smiles. It’s the feeling of having your attention verses not having your attention. It happens when they see how dad reacts if someone treats him rudely, or when they ask mom yet another question at the end of a stressful day and she still manages a gentle response. It’s little pieces at a time that are building an encompassing experience for the child that will deeply impact how they eventually interact with and understand the world around them.

Often I hear parents tell me things like, “He makes me crazy!” or, “She won’t listen to me!” or, “There’s nothing I can do when they throw a fit like that in the store.” It offers insight into how these people see themselves as parents: Does this woman believe she’s equipped to handle this difficult situation? Does this man feel strong here? Capable? It’s unlikely, given the vast power they ascribe to their child while portraying themselves essentially as victims at the emperor’s mercy. This is not to say the shrill cry of your three-year-old will not effect you, regardless of how grounded and healthy your self image might be—indeed, it will physiologically effect you, spiking your blood pressure and giving you an immediate jolt of stress to deal with. But for those who recognize such moments for what they are—invaluable opportunities—these parents can learn to navigate these rough emotional waters and to exemplify the characteristics they most hope to increasingly see within their children: self control, confidence, kindness, respectfulness, gentleness, and even empowerment.

The thing is, regardless of whether the parent is cognitively aware of it or not, the child is going through an imprinting process here. He or she is experiencing how YOU experience stress in these moments. When your son is throwing a fit in the store, and you come roaring back at him, shouting for him to shut up, he might actually shut up for the time being, halted by fear or shock. But he will also vividly experience you displaying what happens when you feel upset or stressed or annoyed: you shout and yell. Or you ignore your child. Or you respond calmly bur firmly. Or you throw up your hands and look for the wine aisle. Or a thousand other ways, all of which will be experienced both by you and by your child.

It should not surprise us when our children exhibit behaviors and characteristics similar to our own. It should also not surprise us if our children can eventually beat us at our own game. For example, we may discover that next time we have to shout louder to achieve the same results, or worse that we end up escalating things beyond shouting, demonstrating our own inability to remain in control. But the inverse may also happen where we demonstrate that when our son or daughter loses control, that they still see in us a picture of someone who is calm but firm, safe, and able to handle the child’s tantrum without succumbing to one of our own. Our kids are absorbing from us all the time. So be intentional. “You were feeling some big emotions back there in the store, but we don’t yell at people and throw things. That’s not okay.” Yelling and shouting may achieve short term results, but the long term cost will likely be exorbitant.

I don’t want to offer a false portrait of reality here: this isn’t implying that if you can only

manage to act perfectly all the time and never lose your cool then you will have kids who are also perfect angels. You’re allowed to feel frustrated, annoyed, sad, and all the rest of it, just as your kids are. But this discussion doesn’t need to be about perfection: it’s about being more aware and making a commitment towards your own character growth to enable you to model the kinds of behaviors you want to see in your children. And also in yourself.

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The Talent Question

The Talent Question

by Bethany DuVall

As an artist, I hear it from people all the time:
"I appreciate art, but I have no talent."
"I can't even draw a stick figure."
"If only I had the talent, I would paint/draw/write..."

So I started asking people: What do you think talent is? Almost everyone had the same response: Artistic talent is the mystical unicorn that carries your ideas directly from your brain to your hand so that they flow seamlessly out from your fingers onto the canvas.
I've never met this unicorn. Here's what I know about talent and art making:

1. Getting your hand and your mind to work together is a skill that you can learn. A mechanic who's been working on cars for twenty years will usually be better at her job than a mechanic who started six months ago. This is not because of talent. It's because of practice.

2. Coming up with images and ideas for creative projects, appreciating beauty in all its forms, and connecting your experience with creative expression – this is talent. We all have it to some degree. A mechanic with the intuitive ability to understand engines as a whole will pick up the skills faster than one who does not, but both will pick up the skills with practice.
Even if you have both the creativity and the skill set, it is very unlikely that you will ever produce an image that is exactly like the one you imagine. In 23 years of painting, I never have. In fact, accepting this has had such a profound impact on my work that I remember the exact moment of that epiphany.

In 1997, I was alone in my college dorm painting. I was working on a piece I'd tried twice before and had wasted miserable amounts of acrylic and canvas on these failed attempts. But I couldn't get the picture out of my head. It was Father Gregory from the movie The Mission. He sat on a rock in the middle of the rain forest playing a primitive recorder while native tribesmen stood among the trees, weapons raised, ready to strike. As he'd played his haunting melody, the tribesmen cautiously lowered their weapons and came out to listen. Father Gregory's voice came over the music: With an orchestra, we could have charmed them all.
I'd seen the movie only once, about four years earlier, but Father Gregory's comment on this moment had stuck with me. I kept trying to capture it, and kept failing.

But this time, it was working, sort of. Father Gregory's face under my brush was correctly proportioned, but the features and pigment were off. The trees around him were taking on a washy, haunted look. This was not how I remembered it. I remembered beauty and peace. There was a quiet violence in the painting before me.

I considered gessoing over it – the artist's version of erasing the whole thing. But something was right about the painting, even if it wasn't what I was going for. I sat back and stared at it. I'm not sure for how long because the scene started stirring into different things in my head. In the movie, this scene was a triumph. But I was old enough now that I knew more about the devastation that European colonization and missions created in the Americas. I began to see that forcing the painting into my preconceived direction would be telling a story that wasn't true. I began to understand that however well-intentioned, this moment was an assault on a way of life.
I gave in to the direction the piece wanted to go. I let the musician become a native man holding the same recorder Father Gregory had played, and imagined the way the music would change in his hands. The trees became the faces of the listeners. They were screaming silent screams. It was disturbing and beautiful and true, and the best work I had done to that point.

You can learn skills. If you can't draw a stick figure, that's a good place to start. If you have ideas for artwork, or even just an appreciation for beauty, that is reason enough to learn the skills. The artwork has things to teach you. Our job is to meet the images in our heads with the best of our abilities and grow from there. And if you ever meet that unicorn, don't send it my way. I have too much fun learning from my mistakes.

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Mindful Eating

Mindful Eating

by Simanto Khandaker

3 steps to having a more mindful eating experience:
Preparation (Remove distractions)
Observation (Utilize all senses while eating)
Reflection (Bringing awareness to how the body & mind processes the experience)

Preparation: The goal is to minimize distractions and maximize opportunities to be present. For example, finding a secluded location, turning off the phone/tv/computer, washing dishes, removing disruption by informing others about your intentions eating mindfully.

Example: When i'm eating with a group of people, I usually take a few minutes to set my food, and put my phone face down, on silent, and about an arms length away from me. Usually, in front of my food, where I have to reach across my food to get the phone. It allows me to be conscious about my reaction to the phone's vibration (ringing).

Example: When I'm eating alone, I put my distractions (phone, reading material, computer, to do list, etc.) in another room, set my table, wash dishes used to prepare my meal before eating. This allows me to minimize the to do list before moving onto the next step.

Observation: This is the big one! The goal is to use all the senses while eating: taste, smell, touch, hearing, and sight. Observation can be more impactful if the first step, preparation, is done to the best of our ability. Minimal distraction allows us to focus on the experience.

Example: Eating a peanut butter sandwich: I look at the bread, the ratio of peanut butter, how it flows, the grains and patterns of the bread, the crust and other characteristics that I see. When I pick up the sandwich, I feel the texture of the bread, the temperature, the peanut butter, etc. As it approaches my mouth, I smell the sandwich, and after every bite I try to find another aroma. I observe how it impacts my taste buds, and listen to my chewing or other sounds. I give myself 5 - 10 minutes before moving on to the second half and reflect on my experience.

Reflection: The goal is to create an open connection with our body and mind. For example, I observe my thoughts, feelings, body posture, stress, etc... Taking an inventory of myself.

Example: When I have a peanut butter sandwich, my mind usually goes back to when I was in college. My roommates and I used to make, hot pressed, peanut butter sandwiches. The bread was toasted, the peanut butter melting, the jelly combined with the peanut butter and bread. It was something we did when we didn't want to cook and were too tired to go out. It was quick and delicious. At this time, my body is relaxed, eyes are closed, and I feel happy to have gone through the experience.

Reminder: Give yourself permission to be present and accept that sometimes it will be challenging. Each attempt is a step closer to having a more mindful eating experience.

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Who Do I Think I Am? The Role of EGO in Relationships

Who Do I Think I Am? The Role of EGO in Relationships

by Joseph Noecker

What role does Ego play into our meaningful relationships?

The concept of the enlarged Ego within significant relationships takes quite a bad rap within our proverbial cultural identity. But what are we really saying about it and what are the ramifications of possessing this Ego in terms of relationship and is it truly large??

Well, let's take a look at the definition of Ego through the eyes of Carl Jung.
The Ego represents the sum total of our thoughts, ideas, feelings, memories, and perceptions of who we think and feel we are – or in shorter terms, the center of consciousness.
From where we stand in our personal lives, it is everything we can perceive about ourselves. Our roles, recognized traits, behaviors, and desires are wrapped up in this perceptual package. And perception is truly what is at play here. For our total make-up is comprised of much more than what we can see, feel, perceive etc... The Unconscious is a haven for all that we cannot acknowledge in our day-to-day conscious lives.

This is truly fascinating and yet totally understandable if you are now thinking this is confusing to grasp. For, to accept this is to admit that our Egos do not know all. And this has magnificent ramifications within our intimate and close relationships. For, if we do not know who are as individuals then how can we relate authentically with another – no matter how awesome he or she is.

So, let's get back to this "large ego" thing. When one says that another has a large Ego, what is really being said is that this person is putting too much stock in only what he/she can perceive about him/herself or is over-identifying with particular aspects of his/her life at the expense of less known and more unconscious areas.

Now this sounds like heavy stuff, does it not? But, the good news is that it really just requires a simple idea to live by.

We want to become more conscious about ALL that we are. This means paying attention to our emotions, daydreams, unexpected overreactions, night dreams, our patterns of relating to each other – all of those things that surprise our Ego or our sense of conscious understanding of our previously perceived definition of ourselves.

And it is difficult to do alone. So intimate and close relationships are potentially wonderful wellsprings to do this work while solidly building the foundation that our Authentic Self has been craving all along.

Jung said that that there is no such thing as a conscious, psychological relationship between two people that are in a state of unconsciousness.
The more that we grasp of our own unconscious, the more conscious we become. And it is in this state of consciousness that we are able to connect at the spiritual and intimate levels most deeply.

To the degree that we are conscious of our inner and outer world Self, (way beyond what our Ego wants us to think), we are able to relate to others more intimately, compassionately, authentically, and from a stronger foundation of trust.
We can learn to relate to each other from a position much closer to who we truly are versus just who we "think" we are.


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Men and Stress, Please Don't Fix Me

Men and Stress, Please Don't Fix Me

by Peter Rivkees

Stress that is not dealt with is a real issue affecting just about every living creature on earth and can be managed successfully with a little bit of self-awareness and effort.

We all stress over money, work, and family relationships (yes your pets count), personal and family health, world events and everything that we hold as important to us. Research shows that almost 70% of us feel that stress has a negative impact on our physical health and mental health. Symptoms of stress that we can experience include anger, general irritability, fatigue, disturbed sleep patterns, addiction, passive aggressive behavior, depression and sexual dysfunction are but a few. We all experience stress in our own unique way based on our past experiences over our lives. When we were younger we may have dealt with stress by acting out with slamming doors, refusing to listen to our parents or eating an entire bag of Doritos and some of us in our adult years may do exactly the same things. How do you act when you are under a lot of stress?

My therapy practice focuses on the men so I'll share with you how stress directly impacts the lives of men and potentially every interaction in their lives. For most men we have been brought up to hide our emotions, do anything in our power not to appear weak and live life as if it were a continuous competition. We are the perfect candidate for physical and psychological issues directly related to stress. Most men are programmed not to ask for help when help is needed most, to keep up the bravado that makes us "real men". We are more apt to hire a golf coach to improve our swing than hire a therapist to work on our family, our marriage, our relationships with our children our career, our siblings, our boss or our coworkers. My wish for all men is not to be remembered for our golf handicap, but for the impact we make on those that are most important to us in our lives.

We would rather suffer in silence, saying "I've got it under control ", or take out our stress on those in our lives at home and at work. We have been conditioned, some will say brainwashed by our parents, media and any other sources from our earliest memories that "real men" get over it, don't cry or just don't get emotional. The truth is that every man, woman and child is born with the same set of emotions. We pretend not be afraid of anything, have an "I can conquer anything attitude", but in reality we are most afraid of discovering who we are and how we got to be who we are.

Discovering our inner self requires courage. The same courage that we have or pretend to have when facing the challenges of everyday life. Being a man in today's world is scary, frustrating and full of uncertainty. Changing our attitudes towards self-help and awareness will be an evolutionary versus revolutionary process and only you can start your journey of self-discovery. Dealing with stress through regular exercise, listening to music, reading, seeking professional help with a therapist are the leading activities to help relieve the symptoms of stress. Unfortunately, many men turn to negative harmful behaviors including alcohol/substance abuse, behavioral addictions like gambling, exercise and pornography that only lead to self-destructive behaviors and damaging relationships that sometimes cannot be healed. The unfortunate result of not dealing with or ignoring stress will often lead to feelings of shame, fear and loneliness.

I often use the phrase "hiding in plain sight" to describe how we often wear masks that hide how our inner self is truly feeling in contrast to the mask that we project to others. We may appear "fine" to all that we are connected to in our personal and work lives, but inside if asked "if you really knew me, you would know that I am really __________ " afraid, scared, lonely, suicidal, sad, angry, confused, depressed, an addict, a failure, in debt or whatever you chose to fill in the blank. If we could only recognize and be comfortable in knowing that we are not perfect and that all men could truly benefit from exploring ourselves without the self-judgment or external judgment that "men do not go to counseling unless they are broken" what a better life we could have. We would open up our hearts to others and demonstrate true compassion; we would be vulnerable with ourselves and with those that we love. We would be better men, better husbands, better fathers, better in life.

Learning and growth does not often come from a place of comfort. True learning and growth comes from a place of discomfort when we push through the uncertainty of not knowing the answers to life's questions or being able to fix any problem with our tool kit. Men want to fix any and all problems that are presented to us as soon as possible and we practically know the perfect fix before the other person has fully described what the problem is. Most people aren't looking for someone to fix them; most people would prefer someone to listen to, a shoulder to cry on, a hug or gentle reassurance that you are in their corner or just someone to sit next to in silence.

When I work with men, I understand that we are not accustomed to expressing emotions, that it is just really hard to admit to someone else, let alone ourselves that our world is not perfect. I want to create a safe environment built on trust so men can learn to understand what emotions are, how they feel, how to accept them, how to heal, how to communicate effectively, how to be angry, how to be sad and most importantly how to feel real joy and happiness. I choose to believe that our purpose is not to live a life hiding in plain sight; it's your decision to make as to what you can do to become a man that makes a difference in others' lives and to live a life that is full of all the rewards that you deserve.

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Questions about Purpose

Questions about Purpose

by Joel Christie

At one time or another, most of us have had wondered "What's the purpose of my life?" or "Do I matter?" These are not just midlife crisis questions. No, these kinds of questions will likely tug at us over and over throughout our lives. Even in this era of constant entertainment and distraction, the brain and the emotions it generates tend to return to such questions. I might enjoy watching Downton Abbey or The Walking Dead, but eventually I'll need a break. Something else. Something more. Same goes for riding roller coasters, or playing Monopoly, or sitting in that massage chair in the mall. Not that there is anything wrong with pleasure and fun, of course. But activities we place in the "fun" category may fail to satisfy that part of our brain that's asking questions about purpose. Unless, for example, I happen to love movies, and also happen to be a movie critic, wherein I perceive part of my purpose being to inform the good citizens around me of what's worth seeing, and what's putrid garbage, thereby striving to increase the overall artistic threshold of society. Or some blather along those lines. Whatever. It doesn't have to make sense to you. The important thing is that it satisfies that part of my own brain. That tugging insistence that I matter in some way.

It's hard to predict when this "tugging" will happen. Sometimes it's when we're feeling driven and strong. Sometimes it's when we're feeling low or unsuccessful. (And indeed, it is very hard to conceive of "success" at all without acknowledging we want things to end up a certain way, which quickly leads back to the concept of purpose.) People have mulled over these questions for eons. And as you have likely noticed, we have arrived at many different conclusions. Some are eager to tell you they've solved this dilemma. Some say it's different for everyone, or that it changes over time. Others have concluded that such questions are ultimately unanswerable, or else that the answer is "There is no purpose to life: not to mine, yours, or anyone else's."And yet, we find that throughout humankind, from one society to the next, people report that these kinds of questions circulate through their minds, sometimes subtly (such as vague feelings of depression or anxiety), other times with obnoxious persistence (like a guy who sits down to write an article on the subject).
So why does the brain do this? Why does the brain expend energy thinking about whether or not I, as an individual being that presently exists here in the year 2015, has purpose, and, perhaps more significantly, whether or not I am satisfactorily connecting with this purpose? Let's follow this existential rabbit hole a little further:

Maybe we find comfort in the notion that my life is bigger than just me. Maybe these questions are an attempt to make death less scary. Maybe having purpose is just a great antidote to boredom. Or perhaps it's just something that societies have propagated to keep people busy. But of course that only leads to other questions, like why it should matter to me whether other people in my society are busy or not, so long as they aren't trying to steal my sheep or burn down my grain fields, right? Regardless, the concept of purpose certainly is integrated into our societies, right from childhood. We could translate, "What do you want to be when you grow up" to be a kid friendly version of "What significance do you hope your life will someday take on?" or "Why do you think you matter, O young one?" Then again, maybe the subconscious reason we ask kids purpose-minded questions is so that they'll take care of us when we're old, bringing us all the way back around to basic needs again. Sheesh.

Okay, let's settle on this: there are lots of possible answers to the question, "What is the purpose of my life?" (And there are perhaps just as many possible answers for "Why does my brain care about whether my life has purpose or not?") The part that seems easier to clarify is that these purpose related questions are there. Some part of me wants an assurance that I matter. So what do I do with that?
Start exploring!

If you find yourself happily resolved on this matter, congratulations! But for those of you still pondering questions of purpose and meaning, I encourage you to take measures to explore them in greater depth. Anxiety and depression are likely byproducts when the brain is confronted by something it perceives as a significant problem, and the fear that your life doesn't matter or lacks purpose would qualify as significant for most people. Facing the issue will lead to not only greater understanding but also a reduction in fear (eventually) and an increased sense of empowerment, self worth, and lasting durable happiness that is not so dependent on whether or not you happen to currently be hang gliding or drinking your favorite beer.

"My life matters because..." can be a potential place to start this journey. What can you come up with? And if you're not satisfied, then feel free to seek ways to change this. Maybe help out at an after school reading program. Or patent that invention you've been tinkering with for the last decade. Or talk to your boss about taking on some different projects that match more closely with your passions. Write a novel (or an article on purpose). Go on a spiritual retreat. Whatever you decide to do, connect it back to that question you began with: "My life matters because..."

You're the one who needs to be satisfied by the answers you come up with. But even spending time considering this question should generate some measure of hope and satisfaction, particularly as you pursue the pathways that open up in response to the questions you're allowing yourself to experience. We don't have to "solve" a problem to start to feel more empowered. We just need to know that we are making progress on our journey. And if these purpose questions are indeed ruminating in your thoughts, perhaps it's because some part of you is eager to progress further along your own journey of discovery. If that's true, then you probably won't find the satisfaction you're seeking watching Downton Abbey or riding roller coasters. Not in the long run. Because your mind is hungry to better understand your purpose. So go explore. And when you find pieces of your purpose, grab hold of them with vigor.

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Illness and the Family Unit

Illness and the Family Unit

By Keisha Delva

      In terms of serious injury or illness happening to a loved one, I tend to use the metaphor of being in a really bad car accident. Like a car accident we don't necessarily see it coming, and the impact is sharp and sudden. It may throw us into a state of shock or we may become very emotionally reactive. The aftermath can be long-lasting, costly and cause us a great deal of physical and emotional pain. Since certain adjustments have to be made, we are reminded of the incident on an almost daily basis, until we have resolved all resulting issues, which in and of itself is re-traumatizing.

      There are obviously many things to consider when a loved one becomes ill. Some of the common questions are: Will they recover? Are we able to get them the best care? How will we cover the expenses of the recovery process? When my mother had a stroke, I found myself asking all these questions and more; most of which I didn't have the answers to. You may not either. Finances are a major concern for many people and if your family member is no longer able to work or care for themselves, there may be a shift in the roles of many of the members of the family. Understandably, the person who is ill suddenly becomes the focus of the entire family. There doesn't seem to be much time or space left to address how that loved one's illness is impacting the rest of the family unit. Depending on the nature of the illness, our family member may change in ways that causes them to become almost unrecognizable. If it is an illness that has affected their brain, such as stroke, a traumatic brain injury or Alzheimer's disease, we may find them behaving in ways that are strange or foreign to us. The family member is still living, yet we may find ourselves still going through the grieving process, as the person that we once knew them to be, is gone.

      Whether the illness we are speaking of is mental illness or a physical medical condition, it is undeniable that it will take its toll on the affected person's loved ones. We will worry, feel stressed, and feel sad. We may begin to neglect to take care of ourselves by developing unhealthy eating and sleeping habits, as a means of trying to cope with our stress. Concurrently, we may find ourselves wrestling with feelings of guilt or shame for any of the conflicting thoughts or feelings that we may have throughout this time. Feelings of resentment may develop for suddenly becoming our family member's caretaker, yet we may feel that we don't deserve to have a break or to take time to process our emotions, much less have the right to complain.

Here are a few of the tips that I found helpful in the early stages of my mother's recovery:

1.    Ask for help: You do not have to handle everything on your own. If the people in your life have some idea of what you and your family is going through, they will be more understanding and will likely want to do anything they can to assist you. This applies both at work and at home.

2.    Talk to a therapist: Talking to someone who is trained in techniques and interventions to cope with stress in healthy ways can be very helpful. They will listen empathetically, without judging you or trying to tell you what you "should" be thinking or feeling during this time. Our family and friends mean well, but you may find that they cannot relate to what you are going through, or are trying to rush you through the healing process.

3.    Nurture yourself: Making rest a priority and eating nutritious foods goes a long way. Make time to do simple things that you enjoy such as taking a warm bath, going for a run, or reading a good book. It may seem silly, but engaging in small, pleasurable activities is a very effective means of relieving stress and naturally boosting our mood.

      It is crucial that we take time to address our own emotional and physical needs during the distressing time of illness in our family. If we ourselves are not well, we certainly will not be of any use to someone that needs our help or is dependent upon us. Preventative care has been proven to be the single most important means of maintaining good physical and emotional health over an extended period of time. While you are caring for your loved one, remember to care for yourself too.

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Anxious and Stressed: A Technique to Reduce Anxiety and Stress

Anxious and Stressed: A Technique to Reduce Anxiety and Stress

by Adam Tharkur B.A.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation or PMR as it is commonly referred to as a tension release exercise I have used with many clients. One of the first things I do with all clients is finding out what is bringing them into counseling. For the clients who share they have obstacles like stress or anxiety, which are preventing them from reaching their goals, I recommend PMR. I have also used it for client's with panic disorder, the results have been positive.

I noticed a growing trend since I began seeing clients. Different people with different stressors all had the same concern- anxiety. It is not uncommon for a client to come in due to concern of a possible, future event which they cannot control. For instance, applying for a job, and becoming anxious during the wait period even though there is nothing more they can do at the time. Same applies for clients who show signs of depression; in most cases the depression comes from past events that a person wishes to change. However, unless scientists have developed a time machine which allows individuals to change their past, the individual is in a standstill until they choose to move forward. The idea of staying present and keeping it in the "here and now" can be daunting, I am not dismissing that. PMR may be the answer to continuously staying in the present moment.

I will share an experience I have had using PMR with one of my clients. A client came to seek counseling due to his continuous panic attacks starting in Christmas of 2012. Although he has been given medication to combat these attacks, he wanted a more lasting solution that does not have many side effects that comes with medication. The client disclosed that he had sexual dysfunction and insomnia from the medication. In addition to the medicinal side effects, we learned during our sessions that he was constantly living in fear that he might have another panic attack at any moment. I taught this client PMR techniques so he may implement these during stress provoking situations, such as work. With PMR and counseling, the client was able to determine what the best course of action to apply at work. Once he determined the appropriate action, and implemented it, he was no longer distracted by what he should have or could have been doing. Instead, he was able to focus on his responsibilities and therefor increase productivity. Once this client saw the progress he made with PMR and counseling in a professional setting, he attempted to apply the techniques with personal goals and duplicate the results there as well.

In my experience and opinion, PMR cannot be the only intervention. As I've shared through my example, counseling plays an important role in identifying the client's triggers and the causes of their issues. With the above mentioned client, I used cognitive behavioral therapy techniques which allowed the client to become aware of his anxiety by using a technique known as paradoxical outlook: Welcome the panic attack rather than being scared which may intensify the episode. Though frightening for some, this is also the most effective way to apply PMR efficiently.

As for my client the use of PMR helped quell the intensity of the panic attacks. He felt like he was in control for the first time. The client has maintained his job for almost three years and has no written complaints from his supervisors about his work performance. Through counseling, it allowed him to have one more tool in his toolbox to combat panic attacks and endorsed a new stronger resilient person.

If you would like more information regarding a Progressive Muscle Relaxation script, I have provided a link Progressive Muscle Relaxation . Remember this is only a tool; this alongside counseling may garner better results.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation Script

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I "Like" Doing Things

I "Like" Doing Things

By Daniel M. Fisher Ed.S.

I like to tell my clients how, in order to overcome depression, they have to take action steps to accomplish this goal. Depression is an illness of the minimums. By this I mean it's an illness that takes away motivation, excitement, and interest in our lives for reasons we have a hard time putting a finger on and puts us in the mindset of "how can I get through my day by expending the least amount of effort or energy as possible." Some might disagree with this notion, but I find a lack of motivation and interest in once loved activities really shows up quite a bit and the rationale is "well I just don't feel like it." This is a very passive way of hoping to get out of depression and my question is always "Why would we aid in this process by succumbing to sometimes irrational ideas of avoiding the things we love or avoiding the social connections we crave?"

In pondering these ideas, I recently I found myself scrolling through my Facebook news feed, as I so often do, and "liking" things left and right. A friend of mine made a pithy comment about a celebrity, so, of course, I "liked" it. I saw a picture of a puppy licking an ice cream cone, so I "liked" it. Another friend posted about bicycles, so I "liked" it. Facebook, in its algorithmic wisdom, saw I had "liked" a post about puppies and then about bicycles, so naturally, they suggested that I "Like" the "I Love Puppies" page and "Bicycles" page in order to signify my undying support for these two aspects of my life. And you know what? I did it! I am not ashamed to admit, I love puppies and I love riding bicycles! What a wonderful turn of events! Now, all of the 312 people on Facebook who I've proclaimed to be my "friends" will now know even more about me and for some, our mutual interests will become even more intertwined. It's amazing. I have never felt so close to people in my life.

Only, no one is around. I haven't talked to many of these "friends," save for the occasional supportive "like," in years. I became a little sad in participating in my daily Facebook excavation and I got to thinking about this notion of "liking" things.

It occurred to me how Facebook and other "social" networks help create an illusion of activity and inclusion but accomplish, in many cases, the opposite. For me, sitting and "liking" something is similar to avoiding the actual real life social participation so many suffering from depression describe. It's not on purpose and social networks are a wonderful way to stay connected but, like anything else, it can't be our only form of social activity if we expect to maintain interpersonal relationships and activity levels necessary for overcoming or preventing our depression.

What does it all mean if I don't actually do any of the things I "like" to do? So what am I doing here sitting in front of my computer "liking" things and getting depressed about it when I could be out DOING things? I can only answer that with: "See you later, I'm going for a bike ride."

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