Anchor Your Day ~ a mental health blog by Counselwise ~

Choices as Opportunities

We often avoid change; it has enough associations to fear and negative results that sometimes just the thought of something changing can lead us to try and sidestep it. Sometimes however; change is inevitable and we are faced with a choice. That choice can be exciting (such as the prospect of a new job) or it can be difficult (ending an unhealthy relationship). We can do our list of pros and cons, talk to our best friend about how they would proceed, we can bring it to therapy 🙂

An additional thought to the process is to begin to view the choice through a lens of opportunity. “What will this choice bring me by way of opportunity? How will making this decision potentially better my life/experience?” 

By asking ourselves these questions, we temper our fear with curiosity. We are able to move beyond our immediate response of anxiety to a more objective view of the big picture. By seeing our choices as potential opportunities, we give ourselves permission to move forward, to grow, to reach the next stepping stone.  Sounds like a good plan to me 🙂

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Figuring Out the Right Amount of Bend

In a classic form of the “opposites attract” relationship, we have the passive versus dominant dynamic. Very often attracted to each other, the passive person appreciates the dominant person’s ability to make decisions, and it often quite happy to defer. The dominant person likes the alpha position as it gives them the feeling of control; most often sought as a means of feeling safe and secure. 

When a couple is aware of this dynamic and work together to best appreciate each other’s differences, both parties are quite content to work as a team and the longevity of the relationship isn’t compromised. It is when a couple is not aware of the dynamic that, over time, issues may arise.  The control element of the dominant person plays a role in creating what I like to refer to as the “bend principle.” Control likes to see another person bend 100% of the time, as that is where it feels safest; that is also where the biggest trouble lies, as you will eventually reach a point where the passive person begins to feel oppressed. 

This is where the right amount of bend comes into play, and it is an agreed upon measure by the couple. It is often based on a percentage; some people are quite happy with the 95 – 5% ratio, others will want it closer to 70-30%. In any case, it is about saying “I am happy to bend 80% of the time, but the other 20%, I want to contribute and have a say.”

Having this agreement works. It allows the dominant partner to feel safe in their alpha position while giving the passive person permission to have a voice when they feel strongly about something; working together to provide a sense of unity and teamwork. 

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Defining Who We Are

I love this quote by Brooke Hampton: “I am pieces of all the places I have been, and the people I have loved. I’ve been stitched together by song lyrics, book quotes, adventure, late night conversations, moonlight, and the smell of coffee.”

Our experiences help develop us; but more importantly than that, it is our awareness of how we are shaped by life that truly allows us to appreciate how nuanced and beautiful our souls are. Every single person has a quote similar to this; every single person can reflect upon what it is that ultimately creates and sustains them. Perhaps taking a few minutes to write our own quote can help us in continuing to gain a deeper sense of our definition; to grow in the soil that has created us. Here is mine:

“I find myself in my loved one’s mannerisms, in their laughter and their light. A piece of my heart is left in every place that I have traveled; tied to the memories that were made there. I’ve been stitched together by book quotes, the sound of laughter, the waves of the ocean crashing upon the shore, the stillness of nature, family dinners and the smell of spring.”

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Being Mindful of Structure During Covid-19

My girlfriends and I have a little group chat where we often post funny memes – since Covid-19 began, many memes have circulated. They tickle the funny bone, bring some humour to a stressful and discouraging time, they lighten the mood. Some of them have running themes about alcohol (having wine in your coffee cup during a Zoom meeting) or the ability to never have to get out of your pj’s.

In my work as a therapist, I have also seen some running themes – essentially, we are getting ‘Covid-tired.’ The isolating effect of the Coronavirus is beginning to affect people’s overall mood and it is increasing the tendency to slip into depression. Exploring this with many clients has led to an interesting observation:

Not maintaining a similar structure to your ‘pre-Covid’ workday exaggerates the isolating effect of the pandemic.

So much so, that I now ask clients specifically “Are you getting dressed in the morning as though you are going to work?” You would be surprised as to how many people report working in their pajamas or lounge wear. Further to that, their workweek habits are no longer defined and therefore are being set aside (such as exercise or getting outside.)

We have built associations in our brain. Our Monday to Friday work week has associations to structure and routine just as our weekends have associations to relaxation and freedom. When I get into my pajamas at 8:00 pm, that is my brain’s signal to relax. You will find me reading or watching TV; not vacuuming or doing my taxes. 🙂

We are much better served to establish a structure similar to our ‘pre-Covid’ workday so as to stay on track, motivated and productive. It should make no difference that you are at home; going through the steps of your day as though you were going to work will help to keep you energized, focused and healthy.

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A Thought From M. Scott Peck

In his famous book “The Road Less Traveled,” M. Scott Peck has this to say about the work of attention:

“The principal form that the work of love takes is attention. When we love another we give him or her our attention; we attend to that person’s growth. When we love ourselves we attend to our own growth. When we attend to someone, we are caring for that person. The act of attending requires that we make the effort to set aside our existing preoccupations and actively shift our consciousness. Attention is an act of will.”

One of the greatest gifts we can give to our loved ones is to attend – to be able to listen to understand, to be able to set aside quality time together, to be able to be mindful of their needs and act in forethought to show them love. One of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves is to attend – to our own needs, to what brings us joy, to what feeds our comfort system, to that which makes us whole.

As Mary Oliver reminds us “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” 

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Teaching Empathy

In an article entitled “In Denmark, Empathy is Taught As a School Subject That Kids Must Learn From a Very Young Age” and featured on Thinking Minds, we read about the Danish belief that teaching empathy to children in school is just as important a life lesson as math or science.

From the article:

  • In 1993, empathy classes became mandatory; children aged 6 to 16 are taught how to cultivate kindness in themselves.
  • The children during the empathy classes are asked to share any problems or issues they are going through. The entire class pitches in to help find a solution. Kids grow up to become confident, emotionally intelligent adults, who will know not to judge people for their struggles.
  • One such program is called the CAT-kit. In this program, the aim is to improve emotional awareness and empathy by focusing on how to articulate experiences, thoughts, feelings, and senses. There are picture cards of faces, measuring sticks to gauge the intensity of emotions, and pictures of the body, included in the CAT-kit so kids can understand the emotions being exhibited while also learning to conceptualize their own and others’ feelings. In the classroom setting, along with the facilitator, the children are taught not to be judgmental but acknowledge and respect these sentiments.

What a lovely and proactive approach to cultivating emotional intelligence in children. With Denmark ranking high in the UN’s World Happiness Report, it would seem we have much to learn about how valuable it proves to be when we focus on empathy skills and understanding in our littles.

To read the full article: https://edu.thinking-minds.net/schools-in-denmark-conduct-empathy-classes-as-part-of-the-school-curriculum-from-a-very-young-age

To visit the Thinking Minds website (which has lots of interesting articles): https://edu.thinking-minds.net/

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You Are the Medicine

I love this passage from Maria Sabina, a Mexican healer and poet:

Heal yourself with the light of the sun and the rays of the moon.

With the sound of the river and the waterfall. 

With the swaying of the sea and the fluttering of birds.

Heal yourself with mint, neem and eucalyptus.

Sweeten with lavender, rosemary and chamomile.

Hug yourself with the cocoa bean and a hint of cinnamon.

Put love in tea instead of sugar and drink it looking at the stars.

Heal yourself with the kisses that the wind gives you and the hugs of the rain.

Stand strong with your bare feet on the ground and with everything that comes from it.

Be smarter every day by listening to your intuition, looking at the world with your forehead.

Jump, dance, sing, so that you live happier.

Heal yourself, with beautiful love, and always remember – 

you are the medicine.

– Maria Sabina

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Friendship as Self-Care

There are nuances to our healthy relationships that often affect their reciprocity. With parents, for example, there is a power differential. Present from our childhoods, the shift of power increases in equality when we become adults; however, one wrong look from Dad or a reproachful word from Mom and we are back to feeling like a four year old kid again. 🙂 With our children, we lead the relationship and ultimately just do more of the work; and that’s okay. And when it comes to our partners, although we can both feel generally satisfied with the way we mutually care for each other, there is a greater dance to the exchange.

Friendships; however, have the greatest potential for reciprocity and are what I consider to be a wonderful part of our self-care routine. When friendships are healthy, there is an element of unconditional positive regard for the other that rests in authenticity and genuine concern. There is an element of freedom and healthy escape in our friends, as almost inevitably, there is fun, laughter, and memories created in our shared experiences. Not to mention that they “just get it.”

When our self-care sits on the back burner so potentially can our friendships; it becomes an important part of building our time to make sure we have coffee dates, play dates, good old fashioned, laugh-til-you’re-snorting dates with our friends. You will be happy you did.

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Why Can’t I Forgive You?

Betrayal is one of the toughest emotions to process. Betrayal as defined in the Webster’s dictionary: to act treacherously towards//to reveal treacherously//to fail to justify. And in my Dictionary of Emotions by Patrick Michael Ryan, betrayal is defined as violation of confidence; disloyalty. 

When we are betrayed by someone, there is an element of the act not being justified. We struggle to understand how they could have acted in such a way towards us as would merit the deception. Without this understanding we are left with a hollowness to the experience; with tenacious feelings of anger, disbelief, and underneath it all, profound sadness. The act of betrayal creates an even deeper wound because we had put our faith in them; we gave them the task of being a guardian to our vulnerability.

Perhaps the act of betrayal was never about us. Perhaps it was about their own inability to face their insecurities, to own their shortcomings, to face their truths. The first step to forgiveness, I suppose, is to begin the process of understanding that betrayal is owned by the betrayer, not the betrayed. There is always another choice before acting. When this realization begins, we can begin to move to acceptance; not to approval or resignation, but simply to accept that it happened. In turn, this allows us to take a path in which we allow ourselves to make decisions; moving us slowly towards empowerment, strength and resilience.

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Self-Reflection Question 18

Our next question in our self-reflection series is:

How do I want my life to look versus how do I want it to feel?

This is an interesting question as it lands smack down in the middle of our consumer-driven, keep-up-with-the-Jones’ societal messages. Our instinct might bring us to think about the house we live in or the car we drive, the brand names on our clothes or having ‘the best’ of something. This is how our life looks to others.

And yet how it feels is a better indicator of our own level of contentment. As the old saying goes, we can have all the money in the world, and more things than we can shake a stick at, and yet still be unhappy. When I think about how I want my life to feel, it includes:

  • Simplicity. I like my house and car to be neat. It feels good to have things in their place, to not feel cluttered or scattered. I like being able to look outside and see trees and the river. My day always feels complete when I have walked in the forest.
  • Colourful. When someone enters my space (whether at home or at my office), I want them to be able to get a sense of who I am. This includes the places that I have travelled which always includes colour. When I include trips as part of my yearly goal, my life feels colourful, adventurous.
  • Whole. This comes from the quality time I spent with my loved ones. Family suppers, phone chats with treasured friends, quiet time with Kurt, strolls with Cricket, family time with the kids.
  • Interesting. I want my life to feel interesting. This is where I try new things such as my virtual mission challenges, doing something creative or crafty, reading and learning.

Do I want my life to look a certain way? Sure; I think that our natural instinct is to care how it looks. But let’s not stay there too long, or give that too much time and space. Instead, let us focus on how we want our life to feel. Doing so will bring us the peace and contentedness that our soul is designed to draw us to.

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Photo credit: Me! This is a pic from the cottage we rented this summer.