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Summer Stress: How to reclaim your summer of family fun

Summer is known for long lazy days by the pool, family vacays, and endless neighborhood bbq’s. Unfortunately, sometimes the days are too long, the vacays are more stressful than relaxing, and bar-b-que hosting becomes overwhelming. Sometimes our expectations of how great summer will be just aren’t met.

Those last few weeks of school have most parents begging for a reprieve from the early mornings and hurried afternoons. We crave a break from the routine of everyday life. The first few weeks of summer often meet our needs, giving us exactly what we have been hoping for, but by mid July our mind begins to change. Any number of reasons can have us counting the days until school starts back up. We miss having a routine, our kids overwhelm us, childcare is complicated to find everyday, if someone has even one more melt down because of Fortnite you will lose it., and I mean lose it. The list is long when it comes to why we start counting down the days until school starts.

Beyond the everyday struggles there is an even bigger, and more difficult issue that can creep into our summer fun…it’s not as fun as we thought it would be. Frequently, we have grand ideas for this season. Outings with kids, fun family time spent bonding around campfires, and vacations that everyone enjoys are what we envision. We imagine having time to do all the things we can’t get to during the usual hustle and bustle of the school year, but somehow that time hasn’t materialized. No one appreciated the carefully planned vacation you put together. The kids would rather play video games with their friends than roast s’mores. The expectations we had, even the unconscious ones, aren’t met and we can end up feeling agitated and disappointed.

If you’re feeling less than impressed with how summer is going, here are a few tips to get you through this second half of the season.

Know your expectations
I mentioned that some expectations are unconscious. This is because logically we know everyday won’t be one big family fun party. We know vacays are stressful, and we know our kids value their screen time above all else. We know this–logically. Emotionally, however, we wish for the best. We want things to go smoothly. We want all the great moments life has to offer, even when we know it’s unlikely. It’s okay to have expectations, and it’s healthy to dream big. But own it. Know what you’re expecting and communicate that to your family as often as possible. No, not all of those expectations will be met. However, you have a much greater chance of achieving them when you know what you’re hoping for and everyone around you does too.
Have clarity about why you want this so badly. Ask yourself why this is so important to you. You may find that a pattern emerges that can help you adjust your priorities not just in the summer but all year.
Grab some perspective and appreciate the moments.
It’s easy to get lost in disappointment. Wishing things were different can take up a lot of time and energy that could have been spent brainstorming how to make things better. Rather than falling down the rabbit hole of how you wanted your summer to go, seek out a new perspective and focus on the moments that are meeting your expectations. Let yourself sink into the feelings of joy and connectedness that you experience, even if they aren’t as regular as you hoped.
Prioritize
What things bring you joy? What moments are the most fulfilling? What line items are the most important to you? Make those things a priority, and make those priorities non-negotiable. This may require you to let some things go, and accept they aren’t going to happen. That’s okay. You’re trading something less important for something more valuable.
Relentlessly remind yourself of your top goals. If your goal is to be relaxed and happy with your summer, remember that when you start feeling otherwise. This can help you refocus and let go of those stressful thoughts as you look for ways to be joyful.
Stay away from comparison
Expectations often come from comparing what others are doing to our own daily life. As you know, social media makes this all too easy. Remind yourself that social media is the highlight reel, while your life is the behind the scenes footage. The two can’t be accurately compared. Don’t let yourself get caught up in “shoulds” that you gain from comparing your summer to that of other people’s.

Summer time may not be as glorious as we dreamed it to be when we were begging for it in winter. Luckily it doesn’t have to be. We can still enjoy this season, with all the struggles that accompany every season. Too often we believe all our problems will go away ”when” — When school’s out, when you have more free time, when you get out of town, when it’s warmer. It can be shocking to realize this is not the case. This summer take control of your thinking and make the most of every day!

If you feel like this is impossible, or the summer blues are hitting harder this year, give us a call. Noyau’s therapists are experts in their field and can help you move through this and every season.

Fierce Lab

I was recently invited to speak at the first ever Fierce Lab convention in Dallas.  Tara Wilson, the convention mastermind, had a vision of women lifting one another up while inspiring and educating the next generation of ladies as they rise through the ranks.  In essence, what do you know now that you wish you had known in your 20s? Loaded question, right? Thankfully, Tara and her team had a direction to help us focus our message. She included experts in self-care, fitness, finance, marketing, entrepreneurship, and mental health (that’s me).  While I learned a great deal more than I taught, the subject of that knowledge was a surprise to me. I learned how to be inspired by my fellow females, both speakers and attendees, on a level that had not previously existed.

 

There is power in numbers, there is power in emotions, and there’s great power in a room full of like minded, motivated women.  I have always been honored to work with my female clients on their issues. I get a glimpse into their minds and help them see situations from different perspectives.  I help them understand their circumstances and how those are influenced by gender differences. I work on their ability to create confidence within themselves, and heal the wounds of living in a world where gender inequality has taken its toll.  But I’m not sure I have ever inspired them as much I was inspired by this weekend. Don’t get me wrong, many of my clients have left my couch with feelings of inspiration to make change, excited to know they hold the power to change their lives. But in my room, it’s just the two of us.  No matter how energetic I may be, I could never replicate what it is like to stand shoulder to shoulder with a large group of women and feel that sense of sisterhood. Honestly, it’s a unique experience.

 

We are so very good at pulling our fellow females down.  We compete with one another over jobs, money, attention, body shape, and personal accomplishments.  We do this as if there is a finite amount of success in the world and we can’t all have it, lest there be none left.  Mean girl behavior doesn’t disappear in high school, it just transforms into something we find more “adult,” but no less hurtful.  Thankfully there is an antidote for the mean girl BS… it’s us.

 

Most mature adult women know how to connect with one another on a deeply personal level, we just rarely do it.  We pretend nothing bothers us and we are chalked full of knowing confidence. We post beautiful, curated versions of ourselves and go on pretending that our lives are really as good as they look online.  What we really need to be doing is being honest with each other. Fierce Lab was a space where the pretense of perfection was completely dropped, thereby allowing connection through honest conversations.

 

We talked to one another about our failures, our fears, our insecurities, and our very real struggles.  Not one time did I hear someone criticize or shame another person. There was too much heartfelt understanding in those stories and too much validation for the difficulties we face as females for judgment to be present.  As a group, we attacked those hard truths on a personal and professional level. We discovered ways we each discovered success through failure, healing through pain, and peace through chaos. It was moving and profound to hear and feel this tribe of strong and resilient women rally the next generation as they embark upon their own paths.       

 

Female relationships are often wrought with struggle.  We too often steal ideas, boyfriends, girlfriends, confidence and joy from each other.  We compare ourselves to each other instead of inspiring each other. We dismiss one another and disparage one another too freely.  In doing this, we rob ourselves of that connection.

 

This is why an event like Fierce Lab is so vital.  It reminds us that being ourselves is more important than being “better” than our sisters.  We become reinvigorated by our shared community of females, and inspired by their incredible stories.  It teaches us to be brave and take risks, to be unique and create our path, and to be fierce in our determination and support of one another.

 

If you ever get a chance to go to a Fierce Lab or another female driven conference, I highly recommend you go!  Your sisters are waiting!

Growth Through Spring Cleaning (Your Home AND Your Mind)

Spring is known as a season of new beginnings, new life and a fresh start.  For many of us, it is also a time for spring cleaning. Ridding ourselves of outgrown clothes, out of date pantry items, and opening up our windows for the first time in months to let out the stale winter air.  We plant new seeds in our gardens, gear up for summer days, and welcome more sunlight into our evening routines. It’s a wonderful season for change that can include decluttering our minds as well as our homes. I always want this time of year to last, and I usually end up asking myself, “How can I make the most of this season of rebirth?”  You may have your own spring traditions and ways of making these first few weeks of the new season last, and I applaud you!  For those who are looking for a few more ideas on how to incorporate personal growth, here are a few of my favorite tips that may help you start thinking about the internal along with the external:

 

  • Out with the old!
    • This is a great time to purge all of the out of date items or unnecessary clutter around your home.  To accomplish this task create three piles (or boxes) labeled “trash it,” “donate it,” and “keep it” Haven’t used it in a year?  Into the boxes it goes. Haven’t worn it in a year? Off to the donation box. Doesn’t work anymore? Trash it. Just realized you still had it?  Keep it!
    • Give yourself some guidelines.  Hard and fast rules for determining which box to utilize can help you avoid pack-ratting and prevent this task from making matters worse.  Ask yourself these questions for each item you uncover:
      • Do I use it or have I used it in the last year?
      • Does this item bring me joy?
      • Does this item add anything to my life?
      • Would someone else find this item more useful or find more joy in it than I do?

 

  • Go Slow
    • Don’t overwhelm yourself with the idea that everything has to happen all at once.  Not every closet has to be cleaned out in a day nor does that junk drawer have to get organized right away.
    • Pick one area to start with, then break that down into smaller areas.  For example: The master closet. Break that into starting with one shelf, making that the only goal.   
    • Focus only on that one piece, and when that piece is done, pick one more (the next shelf).  Make sure you celebrate your hard work after each task!

 

  • Time matters
    • For larger projects, (say the great garage clean out of 2019,) set time limits on your work.  For example: Clean out sections of the area for 30 minutes at a time, and take a break in between.  Celebrate the process rather than the result because some tasks are larger than others. If we don’t stop and focus on the positive, we are likely to give up quickly.  

 

This exact same process can be applied to all aspects of your life, not just your home organization.  Think about how you feel when you’ve finally completed the task of cleaning out the closet or can finally park your car in the garage.  It can be empowering to have taken control of your surroundings and doing what you had been longing to do. The same is true for changing yourself.  When we make changes we have been wanting to make in our lives, we feel emboldened to continue down that path–taking control of our lives and our thoughts.  Here is how to utilize these same techniques for decluttering your life.

 

  • Out with the old!
    • Purge negative thoughts, expectations of others, fears, and unhealthy habits from your life.  Create 3 lists: “Things I like about my life and thinking,” “Things I don’t like about my life and thinking,” and, “How I want my life and thinking to be.”
    • Ask yourself these questions about the various aspects of your daily life, thoughts, or expectations:
      • Does this thought, activity, or expectation bring me joy?
      • Does this thought, activity, or expectation fit with my personal value system?
      • Where did I learn this thought, activity, or expectation?
      • Would my life improve if I changed this thought, activity, or expectation?
      • How would I like those things to change, and what do I expect to happen when they do?

 

  • Go Slow
    • Thinking about sweeping changes to your life can easily start to feel overwhelming and seem impossible when you are looking at multiple changes you want to make at once.
    • Pick one area and start there.  Set realistic, measurable goals for yourself in that one area, and begin to track your progress.
    • Celebrate the wins!  You won’t get it right every time, so celebrate the moments when you do.  
    • Example 1: “I want to be healthier.  I will set a goal of taking a multivitamin daily.  I will set a reminder on my phone for 8 AM to help me remember to do that.  I will put a mark on my calendar every day that I take my vitamins.”
    • Example 2: “I don’t want to feel responsible for everyone’s happiness.  I will create a mantra to remind me to let others take responsibility for their joy.  I will put a mark in my journal every time I remember to say my mantra and give up the control of their happiness.”

 

  • Time Matters
    • Changing one’s lifestyle is a slow and methodical process.  Breaking old habits and creating new ones takes time. Let yourself enjoy the process of getting it right and getting it wrong.  You have to mess it up along the way to make the change stick.  There is simply no other way. Cut yourself some slack and muster forward along your chosen path!

 

Enjoy this season of change and new beginnings.  Let yourself lean into the feelings of joy as you take control over your environment, externally as well as internally.  Your opportunity for growth exists in every moment. Remember to trust the journey and stay present to keep yourself focused on the changes you want to make rather than just the outcome that sometimes seems far away.  This is your season of becoming! If you need help with this growth process or feel so stuck that even the idea of un-junking the junk drawer leaves you paralyzed with self doubt, we would be honored to help you find your path towards change, and create the lifestyle you deserve!

Growth through Gratitude

Growth through Gratitude

By Charity Hagains MA, LPC-S

 

Thinking about personal growth by way of gratitude honestly sounds so cliche. “Be grateful for what you have,” was a phrase I heard regularly as a kid.  This was usually followed by “children in Africa don’t have….” fill in the blank. I grew up so worried for the children of Africa who had nothing, and yet I still ate my vegetables with disgust while trying to figure out how to mail them across the ocean.  

 

For many of us, gratitude often comes with a feeling of guilt.  Perhaps the reason for this looks something like my example, where an authority figure taught you that you were obligated to feel grateful for what you have.  Maybe we feel undeserving of what we have or are confused about why others are less fortunate. This feeling of guilt may lead you further from the mental headspace of acknowledging your gratefulness, if only to avoid feeling badly.  This is totally and completely understandable because no one wants to invite negativity into their day.

 

Now that I am an adult, and not being shamed into eating my veggies, I see gratitude in a whole new way.  Released from obligation, I see acknowledging the good things in my life as a way to train my brain to see the joyful moments of daily living, rather than the trials I encounter each day.  We sometimes wonder why some people are so easily pleased. How do they always find the silver lining in a situation or are always in such a good mood? How do some people let the negative go so quickly, while others can’t seem to see past it?  The answer is gratitude.

 

Yes, some people are predisposed to be more pleasant because their personality is slanted to see more good than bad, but mostly, the happier group works to see the good instead of the bad.  They don’t let themselves swim in self-deprecation, blaming, victimhood, or pity.  Instead, they actively look for something positive from their circumstances. They risk being called a dreamer or naive, as if their work is somehow effortless.  At the same time, the “realists” seek out the pitfalls, reject gratitude, and lean on cynicism to keep disappointment at bay. Unfortunately, what they are really keeping out of their grasp is happiness and joy.

 

I work with so many people who ask me how they can let go of stuff, be more positive, have more happiness, and feel more love.  The answer I have given every single time has been “be more grateful.” I’m not talking about fake gratitude like, “I should be grateful I missed my bus.” No one is grateful for being inconvenienced, and pretending we are is bullshit.  

 

Authentic gratefulness may require a bit of creativity and reframing a situation.  “I am grateful I have an extra hour to sit and read while I wait for my bus.” This doesn’t negate the fact that you would have rather caught the bus and went about your day uninterrupted.  You are not thrilled that your schedule is now rearranged or that you may have disappointed someone in your tardiness. All of that may still be present in your mind, but now so is a positive.  In this example, you had to really look for something good about this moment, and now that it has been identified you can come back to that thought every time the negative pops in reminding you of what a pain the situation is.  “At least I got an hour of “me time” out of this.”

 

The practice of being grateful takes time, but please believe me when I say it is worth the effort.  You don’t have to take my word for it because this topic has been researched and reviewed thousands of times and has been proven to increase happiness and positivity.  Here are a few ways you can increase your gratitude and practice finding positivity.

 

  • Gratitude Journal
    • Nothing fancy necessary here.  Grab a journal or use the notes app on your phone and jot down 3 things you are grateful for in your day.  Be simple. My list often looks like this: morning coffee, warm clothes from the dryer, hug from my friend.  
  • In the moment SOS
    • When you feel yourself getting agitated or heated, take a mental break and find one thing that you can appreciate.  Example: You are stuck in traffic with awful and rage-filled drivers. You feel yourself ready to blow your top and lay on your horn.  Take a moment to breath and find one thing you are grateful for around you. Maybe it’s a good song is on the radio, maybe you have a nice view of the city, maybe you have a moment of acceptance.  Find anything your brain can hang onto in order to gain restful positivity.
  • Meditation
    • A meditation routine can be so incredibly helpful in changing brain patterns.  To increase your gratitude and positivity, try letting yourself meditate on this phrase: “What am I most grateful for?”  Then, don’t answer. The answer isn’t important, but the question is. It sets your brain up for the expectation to answer that question throughout the entire day.  You can visualize asking yourself in a mirror or standing outside of yourself and gently asking, “Who or what are you grateful for?”
    • If meditation is difficult for you, I recommend the Headspace App, for guidance and inspiration in the practice of meditation.  To be honest (and no one at headspace has ever heard of me or knows how often I recommend this app), I could not and would not have a meditation practice in my own life without the guidance of this app.  I encourage you to find something that helps–even if it is not this particular app.

 

Gratitude is not about feeling guilty.  Gratitude is about finding ways to appreciate your world in your own way.  The more you look for the good, positive moments, the less you will fixate on the harder, more painful moments.  Being grateful is a gift we can give ourselves and should strive to work towards as we grow into the best version of ourselves.

Growth Through Empathy by Charity Hagains MA, LPC-S

I have been obsessed with personal growth for years.  This statement probably isn’t all that shocking being that I am a therapist, and growth is kind of our thing.  Being the self starter, type A personality that I am, I seek out ways to improve myself through my own actions.  I monitor my thinking, surround myself with inspiration and encouragement, read everything I can about self improvement, and then put that learning into action daily.  I develop routines for my self care, have a special space in my home that is dedicated to it, and I use all my tools in an effort to be my best self so I can live my best life.  But here’s the thing, all of that, it’s all about ME. Me, me, me, me, me. Don’t get me wrong I love me some me, but if my growth was 100% focused on me, I would probably explode.  

 

For our growth to happen, we must mature–physically, socially, and most importantly, emotionally.  Emotional maturity demands we think outside of ourselves, inviting others and their own emotions into our journey.  When we step outside of ourselves and our own needs, lending a piece of ourselves to another, we open up an opportunity for growth through that connection.  Acknowledging another’s validity as a human being is powerful, not only for them but for you as well. It is easier to believe other people see you as valid when you are doing the same to them.  The opposite is also true. If you view others through a critical lens, it is easier for you to imagine they too are seeing you critically and judging you as harshly as you have judged them. The growth mindset is based on a secure sense of self.  This security allows you to explore new ways of thinking, being, behaving, and connecting. The greatest way we can connect with another person is through empathy and validation.

 

Empathy may not come naturally for you, and that’s okay.  Thankfully, empathy skills can be taught and improved upon.  We can intentionally increase our empathy levels for other people and in doing so we grow personally.  We feel more connected not only to those around us but to ourselves as well. If you feel that being empathetic isn’t really in your wheelhouse, here are a few ways you can increase your empathy and validation skill set.

 

  • Imagine yourself in the same situation
    • For example, if a friend says they have been having difficulties with their spouse and tells you about one of their recent arguments, try imagining what that was like for him or her in that moment.  
  • Don’t try to fix the situation
    • There is no quicker way to shut a person down than offering unsolicited advice.  Allow yourself to imagine what being in that situation would feel like, but do so without trying to fix the problem.  Waiting until a person asks for your opinion on what to do shows that you trust them to know what they need to do to make this better, and you respect their choices and emotions.  
  • Don’t try to change their feelings about the situation
    • Like trying to fix something for another person, trying to change someone’s emotions will leave them feeling invalidated and detached. This can also create a false belief within you that you aren’t allowed to feel uncomfortable emotions or express negativity. Instead, allow the person to lean into their feelings without you having to save them from negative or uncomfortable emotions.  Remember they won’t feel bad forever. If that’s how they feel at the moment, trying to cheer them up will only drive them further away. You don’t have to agree with their reaction, simply allow it.
  • Use a generous hypothesis  
    • In any circumstance, we can practice giving others a generous hypothesis regarding their motives, background, reasoning, etc.  It can be so easy to do the opposite. “That homeless man isn’t even trying to get a job.” “You wouldn’t be in this bad relationship if you would just have a backbone and leave.”  “He’s always late for work because he is lazy and doesn’t have any work ethic.” These negative narratives we recite about other people can damage us internally, not to mention fracture any chance of a healthy and happy relationship with others.  Practicing generosity in our thoughts opens us up to more connected and positive relationships, not to mention we begin to believe others are also doing the same for us. “That homeless man looks kind even though he is clearly going through what has to be a difficult time in his life.” “She wants her relationship to be healthy and fulfilling so deeply that she is willing to stick with it even when it’s hard.” “He probably has a lot going on in his home life since he is late everyday.  It must be so stressful for him.” Changing how we look at others changes our own perspectives of ourselves–allowing continued growth.

 

I know it seems counterintuitive to use caring for other people as a personal growth tool.  It is kind of like the argument that there is no selfless good deed because doing something good for others benefits us as well.  But honestly, who cares? Being empathic and validating has benefits for us as well as others, and some of the best things in life are designed to help the many rather than the few.  Personal growth can not happen in a vacuum. Likewise, it won’t happen to us, personal growth has to be intentional, meaning we have to work for it. Change and maturity is not always comfortable or easy, but it is always worth it!

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