Anchor Your Day ~ a mental health blog by Counselwise ~

Anchor Your Day

Thank you for visiting! The purpose of this blog is to provide short, daily counsel on a variety of topics and interesting facts about mental health. We all live busy lives which is why the focus of this blog is to have something relatively quick to read; it can act as an “anchor to your day” so to speak. If you would like to have this blog sent to your email directly on a daily basis, please follow the link below (you can unsubscribe at any time) and join me on the path to self-care. 

The Need for Safety

The need to feel safe is an inherent need that is with us from the moment we are born; it is tied to our survival and so remains with us for the entirety of our lives. If we don’t feel safe for any reason, we are driven to move towards feeling secure. This level of safety is both physical and emotional. If we are faced with a physical danger, our instincts immediately kick in and everything is set aside in order to deal with the danger at hand. Essentially our fear response is activated and we are impelled to deal with the threat.

We also, however, have an emotional level of safety; one that is individualized for everyone, and is based on what we have learned about our emotions in our lifetime. For example, if you grew up in a very stoic home where the expression of emotion was not encouraged, you may have grown up believing that emotional self control is the only option.  This will become part of your emotional level of safety and you will be driven to maintain it, healthy or not. This tends to be an important area of growth for many people who come into therapy; to gain a greater understanding of our how emotional level of safety can affect our decisions. Essentially, we may flee from a healthy emotional choice because it doesn’t feel safe. Learning about our own emotional safety can help us to begin to challenge ourselves to move to healthier choices where our emotions are concerned; providing a greater sense of balance to our emotional experience.

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Anxiety Symptoms in Children

When exploring when anxiety first started for them, many clients will link it back to their early adult years; I often remark that their anxiety may have started earlier than that as it tends to manifest differently in children.

In an article entitled “10 Anxiety Symptoms in Children that Most Parents Miss” by Angela Pruess, we learn about how anxiety isn’t always what we assume it to be in children. Pruess lists symptoms that might be masking what turns out to be underlying anxiety. Three that stood out to me include:

  • Anger. “When our brain’s emotion center is overactivated (which is what happens with anxiety) a child is more inclined to be irritable and reactive as all emotions are working in overdrive.” I often mention to folks that it is a natural response to jump from feeling anxious to feeling angry as our body physiologically is essentially mimicked in both cases – heightened blood pressure, rapid breathing, feeling ‘wound up.’ Makes sense that could be happening to our littles too.
  • Struggling to fall asleep. “Anxious thoughts love to visit when our minds are quiet and the hustle and bustle of the day are no longer there to distract us. Night waking is also common when our brains are functioning out of a state of anxiety and are more hypervigilant of any external or internal stimuli such as a noise from the hallway or a scary dream.” Children’s tendency for magical thinking might also trigger an anxious response; especially when the house is dark and quiet.
  • Trouble with focus. “Living under a heightened state of stress puts a child’s brain on continual ‘survival mode’, meaning the emotion center of the brain is continually overactivated. When a child’s amygdala is working in overdrive their ‘thinking brain’ (located in the frontal lobe) automatically becomes less accessible.” This is why it is important to assess the amount of stress that might exist in our children’s lives; from overscheduling, to conflict in the home, or not enough down time/connection as a family.

Pruess mentions seven other symptoms that are noteworthy of reading. To read the full article:

To visit her website entitled “Parents with Confidence”:

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Embrace the Unexplained

I love the title of this blog post and it also begins this short prose by Morgan Harper Nichols:

Embrace the unexplained

of the millions of things you do not understand.

May today be the day that you 

embrace the unexplained, and find in

new moments, not only new things,

but space to slow down and room 

to breathe.

– Morgan Harper Nichols

We spent a lot of our energy on trying to figure out what is existential and unexplained. Sometimes the hardest part of our journey is to accept and understand that we may never get answers to unexplained questions. And that is okay. When we can embrace the unexplained, it often brings us peace.

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The Structure of Society

Structure and routine help us to feel grounded and safe. There was a time when society contributed to that framework for us; but today we see less and less of it in our ever busy and technology filled world. Some examples of how I experienced that structure when I was a kid (in the 70’s and 80’s) include:

  • Sunday was a day of rest. As a family, we went to church and then spent the day in relax mode.
  • Stores were closed on Sunday; on weekdays, you had to do your shopping before 5 pm or you were plum out of luck.
  • There was “phone time.” My sister and I had about a 1/2 hour tops before my Dad would tell us to not tie up the line.
  • We didn’t have TV’s in our rooms (and there were no computers or laptops yet) so when we went to bed, we read to help relax our brain.
  • My Dad worked an 8 to 4 job; supper was at 5.

In today’s society, it is often hard to escape the frenetic pace that consumerism and technology has created. Heck, we can buy things online at 2 am if we don’t feel like going to a 24 hour Walmart. Our society may have changed, but our need for structure and routine remain; it becomes important for us to establish our own limits, our own family’s framework in order to establish our own structure. Society may have dropped the ball on this one, but we need to remain in the game 🙂

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The Notion of Unconditional Love

A little poem by Matthew Spenser caught me eye:

There are days when the sun rises a little later and I am all storm clouds,

I hope you love me still and choose to dance with me in the rain, instead of reaching for your umbrella…..

It is the notion of unconditional love that speaks to me in these words. The idea that you can be granted the freedom to have your feelings, give space for your emotions and have those around you simply allow it to be. No conditions, no unspoken rules, just acceptance. It is about positive regard for the other; not only an unconditional affection for the one experiencing the storm clouds but also an understanding and sense of empathy for the one standing in the rain. For unconditional love to grow benevolently, there must exist both symmetry and vulnerability to the dance.

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Quotes by Alice Walker

Alice Walker, best known for the book “The Color Purple” has many wise things to say. I especially love these three quotes as they reflect in many ways the themes that I see in the people who sit across from me in therapy:

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” – Alice Walker

“No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.” – Alice Walker

“Look closely at the present you are constructing; it should look like the future you are dreaming.” – Alice Walker

Thank you for your wise words, Miss Walker 🙂

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The ‘Boredom’ of a Healthy Relationship

Many people come to therapy in order to help understand and then change their unhealthy relationship patterns. Over time, they have begun to notice that they are attracted to a ‘type’ – perhaps they tend to choose someone who is controlling or dependent, emotionally unavailable or needy. Givers tend to be attracted to takers and those who are passive to those who are dominant. In any case, they do the work – uncovering the pattern, figuring out how and why that dynamic has appealed to them and then looking at what a healthy relationship does look like. They have goals to not repeat the pattern, to act on the red flags, to have a healthy relationship.

For anyone who has had a relationship pattern that tends to run hot and cold or one in which love and approval are intertwined, sometimes entering into a healthy relationship seems boring.  They have met someone who fits the criteria of a healthy relationship, and yet this niggling feeling comes in that there isn’t much ‘spark.’

It is at this point that we can’t confuse consistency with incompatibility. Healthy people tend to be emotionally consistent, stable and dependable. If we confuse that solidity with ‘boring’, we may be landing in seeking what is familiar, not what is healthy.

We are much better served to first recognize the default position so as to stay the course to see if compatibility is present – to feel the stability of a healthy relationship, to be able to rely on its foundation of trust, commitment and securely attached love. To understand in this case that ‘boring’ is good. 😉

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The Power of Nature

The benefits of walking are without question; not just from a health perspective but also a psychological one. A study, conducted by Stanford University entitled “Stanford Researchers find Mental Health Prescription: Nature,” addresses the increasing trend of urbanization (we have reached the 50% mark for people living in urban areas) and along with this statistic, two accompanying trends: a decrease in the amount of exposure we get to nature and an overall increase in mental illness including anxiety and depression.

For the study, participants went for a walk either in a natural setting or on a busy street, both near Stanford U campus. Their brains were scanned before and after their walk; the participants walking in nature had decreased rumination (the looped cycle of negative thinking that often accompanies the onset of depression) whereas for the urban participants, there was no change.  “These results suggest that accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world,” said co-author Gretchen Daily. 

Although the article highlights the benefits of planning green space into urban settings, perhaps this study can also encourage those of us who live in small towns or rural areas to get outside. It would seem that the very act of being in nature soothes the mind and gives us the space to slow things down, bringing clarity to our thoughts and a feeling of weightlessness to our spirit.

To read the full article (there is a 2 min video):

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Asking the Worry

After a worry has passed we can often look back and recognize that the worry grew too big. We agonized over it, paced the floor with our minds over it, allowed it to grow out of proportion until it occupied way too much of our time and space. Perhaps, instead of reflecting after the worry, we can pause for a moment mid-worry and ask it “Are you a hypothetical worry or a practical one?”

Hypothetical worries are not based on facts – they are based on fears. They are the worries that niggle at our doubts and drown us in anticipated despair. They are the worries that take up way too much space. Practical worries might actually help us. They are the here and now worries, the ones we can do something about.

If our worry is hypothetical, we are much better served to ‘put it on the back burner’ and move to a distraction. This can take some work, but it is achievable. And if the worry is practical, we can move to action – doing something always brings us a greater feeling of feeling settled.

Stopping to pause and ask our worry just where it stands can be a small coping strategy with big impact.

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A Myth About Healing – Debunked!

Very often in therapy, people will encounter setbacks. A habit that they are trying to break, a new way of thinking that they are incorporating into their mindset, much-needed boundaries being put into place. Lots of variables will often be at play when making a change, and there are times when we slip up, revert back to an old habit out of familiarity, or have an expectation that doesn’t come to pass. When clients come in with news of their setbacks, they will often have an accompanying fear that they “are right back to square one.”

This is the thing about our emotional wellness journey that we must keep in mind:

“Healing is not linear.”

It doesn’t happen in a straight line. We don’t advance through stages or levels, we can’t continue straight through all of the hoops until we reach the end. Healing is a process. Our minds need the ‘aha’ moments and our bodies need to integrate them into feeling. We will battle the unknown and subsequent fear of change. The universe will test us. We will make mistakes. When we are tired, feeling vulnerable or overwhelmed, we will rely on an old coping strategy to get us through. And all of that is okay.

When we understand that healing is not a linear process, we can also recognize that we can’t be back at square one. Everything that we have learned about ourselves is still there, we are in the process of incorporating that knowledge into being, our courage is still accessible.

Healing doesn’t happen in a straight line; the path has some twists and turns, some crossroads we must face. It may not be the quickest route, but the trip will long be remembered 🙂

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