Kay Simmeth Counseling Group

Individual and Relational Counseling, EMDR Therapy and Consulting

Make Your Worry Work for You

Worrying may have a bad rep, but worrying, if it’s done right, can actually be helpful. Effective worrying can anticipate problems, devise artful solutions and expand creative possibilities. On the other hand, ineffective worrying is what keeps us awake at night, distracts us during the day and gives our physical systems a workout they don’t need. According to Dr. Edward Hollowell of the Harvard Medical School, worry is nature’s way of helping us anticipate — and avoid — danger. Good worry leads to constructive action.

Make Worry work

When you find yourself in bed at night, tossing and turning, plowing the same field again and again, you’re in the midst of worry of the worst kind: self-perpetuating. The more you worry, the more stress chemicals feed back to the brain, telling it to worry more.

When you find yourself mired in this worry bog, there are a few things you can do. One of the best options is to imagine letting all your worries go into a container. Imagine a strong container with a lid and a latch that can hold your worries for a while so you can rest. When you’re ready, you can take them out one at a time and deal with them.

In addition to your container, a great daytime option is to get physical. Get up and move around. Action will temporarily relieve the worrying. Who knows, when you come back to the problem, you may have a better perspective on it!

Taking a walk, working out, going for a bike ride or a run can help relieve worry. Exercise increases blood flow, meaning more oxygen to the brain. Exercising regularly means you will probably worry less.

Try writing down your worries in a journal.

Simply writing your fears and concerns down takes some of the power out of them and gives you a sense of control. Writing your worries also gives you an opportunity to write possible solutions. Try this: write down the worry and — without thought to how workable or realistic the solutions are — write them down as fast as they come to mind. Don’t stop to think, just write idea after idea. Given this creative outlet, the same brain that was nagging you with worries, can offer ingenious — and often elegant — solutions.

Create a gratitude list.

It doesn’t have to be long or well thought out, just jot down ideas as they come up. They don’t have to be big deals — the way the sun falls on the roses in the morning is just fine, if that’s what you thought of.

Another way to put your worries to work for you: tell a friend. Ask for feedback, another perspective or someone to simply listen. Giving voice to your worries can take some of the wind out of their bedraggled sails.

Turn your worry into action by getting outside yourself. Whether you find community through family, work, friends, church, neighborhood projects, groups or organizations, being a part of something bigger than yourself can give you a sense of safety and connectedness. Turning the focus from inside to out means there’s no place for worry to abide.

At times the counsel, advice and listening ear of a professional is called for — don’t hesitate to ask! No worry or concern is too small.

It’s certainly not as simple as that song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” makes it sound, but somewhere underneath its whining, nagging voice, worry might have something important to tell you.

Author’s content used with permission, © Claire Communications

Next Steps to deal with worry

For further reading on anxiety and worrying, I recommend When Panic Attacks: The New, Drug-Free Anxiety Therapy That Can Change Your Life by David D. Burns.

Tending the Fences: Setting Healthy Boundaries

Setting healthy boundariesClear boundaries define us. Physical, mental and emotional boundaries allow us to see the difference between our own physical space, thoughts and emotions, and those of others. Boundaries give us the freedom to live by choice, not “shoulds.” Blurred boundaries cause confusion and pain. It’s challenging and disorientating to live on the whims and conditions of others. Are you experiencing the freedom of clear boundaries?

“Good fences make good neighbors.”

So goes the old proverb from the well-loved Robert Frost poem.

Likewise, good personal boundaries make for good relationships. Boundaries are those invisible lines of protection you draw around yourself. They let people know your limits on what they can say or do around you. Healthy boundaries give you freedom in relating to others. Make them too solid and you build walls, too weak and you allow other’s actions to harm you.

It’s not always clear where our boundaries are or need to be. Recognizing and studying the signs of ignored or ineffective boundaries is a good place to start, as these “symptoms” give clues to the needed boundary. See if any of the following ring true for you.

  • Aloofness and distance. When you are unwilling or fearful of opening your space to others, or when you build walls to insure that others don’t invade your emotional or physical space, this may be a defense against cruel behavior, abuse or neglect that you allowed to happen. A person with healthy boundaries draws a line over which they will not allow anyone to cross. They recognize their right to say, “No!”
  • Chip on the shoulder. This kind of attitude declares, “I dare you to come too close!” and is often the result of anger over a past violation or ignoring of your physical or emotional space by others. Healthy boundaries mean you are able to speak up when your space has been violated, leaving you free to trust that you can assertively protect yourself to ensure you are not hurt.
  • Over-enmeshment. In this game, the rule is that everyone must do everything together, and everyone must think, feel and act in the same way, without deviation from group norms. Healthy boundaries acknowledge that you have the right to explore your own interests, hobbies and outlets.
  • Invisibility. The goal here is not to be seen or heard so that your boundaries are not violated. Healthy boundaries are in effect when you stand up for yourself — be visible, be heard — so that others can learn to respect your rights, needs and personal space.
  • Dissociation. If you “blank out” or “go away” during stressful emotional events, it results in your being out of touch with your feelings and unable to assert your limits. Healthy boundaries allow you to assertively protect yourself from further violation or hurt, and to choose to end relationships with those who will not respect them. With healthy boundaries, you can begin to feel your feelings again.
  • Smothering and lack of privacy. When another is overly concerned about your needs and interests, or when nothing you think, feel or do is your own business, it can be intrusive into your emotional and physical space, leaving you feeling overwhelmed or like you are being strangled. Healthy boundaries ask that others respect your uniqueness, your choices, your autonomy.

Applying Boundaries

Once we see where our limits need to be clarified or put into place, we can begin to install fence posts or patch holes, to keep unwanted critters out. Here are some strategies for applying limits when your boundaries are intruded upon:

  • Calm yourself and take deep breaths.
  • Remind yourself of your right to set limits.
  • In a firm and composed manner, tell the other person how you feel.
  • Communicate clearly what your limits are, especially when you are extending a new boundary.
  • Ask the other person to respect your boundaries.
  • Make decisions about the relationship according to how the other person responds to your request.

Author’s content used with permission, © Claire Communications

Next Steps

For further reading on setting healthy boundaries, codependency and healing the hurts that cause challenges in these areas, I suggest Facing Codependance by Pia Mellody and Boundaries, by Drs. Henry Cloud & John Townsend.

The Road to Forgiveness is a Journey Toward Freedom

Forgiveness isn’t something we do for someone else; it’s a process for healing ourselves.

When people get hurt, they often react with resentment, anger, rage, even hatred. While some of these feelings may be appropriate responses, holding on to them can cause emotional pain and stress. Nurturing old wounds and resentments is like tending weeds in a garden. The more care you give them, the more they take over until there’s no room for the feelings that can nourish you.

walls-sea

Forgiveness doesn’t mean condoning inappropriate behavior and excusing personal violations. It doesn’t mean giving up or hiding or denying what was done. To forgive someone of something doesn’t necessarily mean turning the other cheek so that you can be hurt again. To forgive doesn’t mean you forget that you were harmed. Or that you felt the way you did as a result.

What it does mean is letting go of the feelings of anger or resentment, so that you can get on with your life. Forgiving is a process — sometimes slow — that heals wounds and returns our power to us. So long as we hold onto old feelings, we give control of our lives over to those who have hurt us. Forgiveness sets us free.

Ways to Forgive

It’s not as though you can simply decide to forgive someone and it is done. Forgiving is an active process. To get from here to there is a journey to be traveled. But you don’t have to take it alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way.

Acknowledge all the feelings. Though anger and resentment might be on top, beneath may lie feelings of hurt, betrayal, loss and grief. Uncovering these more tender emotions may be painful, but, like curves in the road, it is part of the journey to be traveled.

Stop blaming. So long as you hold someone else responsible for your feelings or circumstances, you don’t own your own life. You stop blaming by accepting total responsibility for your life.

Release the desire for revenge. The wish to inflict suffering or pain on the person who hurt us keeps us in a place of suffering and pain. We cannot experience the freedom of forgiveness until we are willing to move away from the need to punish.

Learn to accept. It’s virtually impossible to stop judging; however, the fewer negative judgments we make, the easier it is to accept. And, according to author Wayne Dyer, “Acceptance is forgiveness in action.” Think of how useless negative judgments are: does it affect the weather because we say it’s awful? Imagine complaining to God about the quality of a sunset. Judgments say very little about the judged, but communicate lots about the one who is doing the judging.

Decide to confront or not. Talking with the person who has harmed you may or may not be the best action to take. Professional counseling can help you in making this decision.

Let go. Only through releasing all feelings of anger, resentment, or animosity can forgiveness be unconditional. “Sweet forgiveness cannot hold any taste of bitterness,” says Brian Luke Seaward. “When feelings of anger are released, the spirit once held captive by the encumbrance of anger is free to journey again.”

Self-forgiveness

Forgiveness is not just an outward expression toward others. Turning the open hand of forgiveness inward is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves. When we forgive ourselves we acknowledge our human limitations, release ourselves from our own judgments and practice self-acceptance. These actions are essential for a life of freedom and joy.

Through action or inaction, out of fear, pain or confusion, we may harm ourselves or others. But when we say, “I’ll never forgive myself,” we sentence ourselves to a life of guilt and shame.

Practice self-forgiveness through:

  • accepting yourself rather than judging yourself
  • honoring yourself rather than blaming yourself
  • nurturing yourself rather than criticizing yourself
  • releasing the past rather than holding onto it

Forgiveness, even self-forgiveness cannot be forced. And it may not come easily. Like many other skills we must learn, self-forgiveness takes practice. If you are unable to immediately release the past and move on, be forgiving of yourself and continue the practice.

Author’s content used with permission, © Claire Communications 

Additional Resources

If you’d like to read more on the topic of forgiveness, refer to: Forgiveness Is a Choice: A Step-By-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope, by Robert D. Enright.

Top 10 Ways to Get Through Tense Family Gatherings

Let’s face it. Family gatherings are not always roses and cotton candy. For some families, they’re masked balls, with everyone straining to maintain a façade of harmony. For others, they’re Wild West shootouts. Try some of these tips.

  1. Make a pro-and-con list. Clear your head, find a calm moment and decide whether it is best for you to go.
  2. Consider smaller portions. Plan to visit only for appetizers or dessert.
  3. Educate yourself. Seek information on the issues or dynamics that tend to come up in your family.
  4. Dig deeper. How do you contribute to the tension? Can you adjust your understanding of other points of view?
  5. Seek to understand. Get to the heart of things by asking questions in a relaxed, open, non-defensive way. Read Sharon Ellison’s Taking the War Out of Our Words or Non-Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg.
  6. Be prepared. Holiday-related emotions may arrive early. Recognizing the source can help you deal with them more effectively.
  7. Take care of yourself. If the atmosphere isn’t safe, leave. Gather with friends, do volunteer work or pamper yourself.
  8. Call a friend. Debrief after the visit with someone you trust.
  9. Be patient. Real change — in you and in your family — takes time.
  10. Be gracious. Aim for maturity and compassion in dealing with family situations.

Also helpful for managing holiday stress are these “Mindful Meditations.“. If you can, spend a few minutes each day taking the time to practice one of these.

Enough Not Being Enough!

Not smart enough, not pretty enough, not strong enough, not talented enough, not loving enough, not disciplined enough, not brave enough…

If you’re caught in the “not enough” trap, nothing about you ever seems quite good enough. Standards by which you measure yourself become inhumane. Successes are rarely enjoyed, for you always feel as if you must do better. Perceived failures are magnified. Life becomes a quest for utter perfection — like the carrot dangling in front of a horse, it is chased but never truly experienced.

“If I’m 98% perfect in anything I do, it’s the 2% I’ve messed up I’ll remember when I’m through,” begins a little ditty. The problem begins when we allow others — family members, our spouse, friends, a boss, popular culture — to define who we are or are not. Unfortunately, these roots of self-image often stretch far back into childhood, when negative messages we received from parents and others imprinted us with a feeling of being stupid, fat, lazy, weak or otherwise inadequate.

But as adults, we can choose to truly accept ourselves — with all our strivings, quirks, faults and shortcomings — as being enough right now. The more we do that, the less vulnerable we are to the opinions of others.

Go Ahead, Compare Yourself

Perfection makes liberal use of comparisons. The next time you get that feeling of not being enough, stop to examine the standard you are using to gauge yourself.
A playful way to look at the power of comparisons is this: Compare your own physical measurements to those of a person who embodies ideal physical beauty by contemporary media standards. Dwell on the differences.

Then list all the achievements you’ve accomplished up to your current age. Be extra thorough. Now compare your list to that of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at age 12. By that time, Mozart spoke 15 languages and had composed numerous major pieces of music, including an opera. Dwell on the differences.

If you’re perfectly miserable at this point, your job is to notice how negative comparisons affect your available energy for work, family, relationships — and for yourself. How do they block the real you from showing up?

Did You Ever Wonder…?

Here are some more questions to ponder:

  • How is it that if something is not perfect, then it is nothing?
  • Is it possible to accept myself and treat myself in a loving and caring manner regardless of my accomplishments or lack of them?
  • Why must I be outstanding or special?
  • Why does failing at something transform me into being a failure?
  • What would my life be like with more humane standards?
  • Can I be satisfied with progress, not perfection?

Life is a never-ending process of learning and growing in skills, experience, wisdom and compassion. Most of us are not spectacular in any category of life. And yet each one of us is worthy, lovable, competent, effective, attractive and smart enough to live lives of contribution, caring and value.

Author’s content used with permission, © Claire Communications

How Well Do You Handle Anxiety?

Anxiety is different than fear but it is related to it. Fear is a feeling of tension that is associated with a known source of danger. Anxiety is also a feeling of tension, but in this case, the danger or the threat of danger is unknown. Anxiety is often anticipatory — worrying about the future. Without apparent reason, a person may worry about the success of their business or fret over the health and well-being of a child or feel apprehensive about their own health.

Anxiety is the culprit that wakes us in the night and won’t let us go back to sleep. It distracts us and makes us irritable and forgetful. Physical symptoms can include trembling or shakiness, clammy hands, dry mouth, sweating, headaches, neck pain, frequent urination and heart palpitations.

Mild anxiety is normal in our daily lives and can be eased with some basic tools. Answer the following questions to find out how well you use some of these tools.

  • When I feel anxious, I take deep breaths to ground myself and calm myself down.
  • To ease some of the tension, I relax my body and physically release the tightness in my shoulders, neck, arms and chest.
  • I vent my feelings of anxiety by writing or talking to someone. This helps get the strong emotions off my chest and out of my body.
  • I channel the tension into some kind of physical activity like walking or sweeping the floor or doing the dishes, watering the yard.
  • I get a reality check by talking to someone I trust about my reasoning or thinking or the conclusions I’ve come to.
  • If I know I’m going to be in an anxiety-producing situation, I plan through how I will handle it; I get myself ready.
  • I watch how others get through stressful situations and model them; I ask questions about the best way to handle situations or events or people.
  • When the same anxiety comes up over and over, I log and assess possible causes and solutions.
  • When it doesn’t interfere with my normal life, I generally try to avoid people, places and events that I know will produce anxiety.
  • Sometimes, when I have to face a situation that I know will cause anxiety, I take someone with me.
  • I face and take responsibility for problems and commit to a plan of action, rather than avoiding, denying, minimizing or blaming.
  • I nurture a positive attitude.
  • I seek support from friends, counselors, self-help groups, etc.

Anxiety is a normal emotion that most people experience during the course of their daily lives. Some of it is healthy and can motivate us to get the hard things done. However, more intense feelings of anxiety are emotionally painful and can interfere with a person’s daily functioning. If you’re concerned about your feelings of fear and anxiety, don’t hesitate to call me.

Author’s content used with permission, © Claire Communications