The Origins of Depression and What to Do with your Bad Feelings

 Photo by Teddy Kelley on Unsplash

Photo by Teddy Kelley on Unsplash

Depression stats 

Did you know that according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Major Depressive Disorder affects as many as 16.1 million adults in our country? That’s 6.7% of our adult population. In fact, it is such a prevalent problem that the World Health Organization made a video about depression, giving it a personality as the Black Dog:

If it’s likely that someone at work, the mom at the soccer game, or the checker at the grocery store struggles with depression, then what do we know about its origin? Perhaps you’re wrestling with the black dog yourself and you want to learn how to live with this uninvited pet.

The thing is, depression didn’t come out of thin air; it isn’t our natural state. Depression has been linked to genetics, chemical imbalances, and environmental causes, making it hard to determine the exact cause of the condition in each person. The good news is that there are things you can do to manage it.

Depression and its origin 

Depression from genes 

Depression can be hereditary. A lot of research has gone into identifying biological factors that seem to coincide with this disorder. Anecdotal evidence also supports this: depressed people often seem to come from depressed families, in a way that can go back generations. This shows there must be some genetic component.

Depression from chemical imbalances 

Depression has also been linked to chemical imbalances. The idea of a "chemical imbalance" is a rather vague one. An imbalance between what and what? No one seems to know for sure. But many of us have heard about the role that too little of the neurotransmitter Serotonin is linked to depressive symptoms. Hence, various anti-depressants are used for alleviating depression, as most of these drugs raise serotonin levels in the brain.

Depression from environmental causes 

Depression can creep in due to difficult life circumstances. A history of abuse, family conflict, bullying, oppression, social isolation, etc. can weigh on anybody. A wise supervisor once said, “Every issue in counseling can be traced to some sense of grief and loss.” Indeed, when life doesn’t happen the way as expected, you’re wrestling with the gap between the life you want and the life you’re living.

We all want to feel good 

It’s a no-brainer that people like to feel good. We can all agree that feeling bad is something we want to avoid. Some people are better at the game of maximizing "good" over "bad" feelings, in a way that works for them their whole lives. They’re good at “feeling good” at “looking on the bright side,” at “letting problems wash over them like water over a duck’s back”. Maybe they hang around like-minded people. But regardless of how they do it, some people make it look easy.

It’s not easy for everyone.

Advances in the field 

Science and technology constantly make improvements upon our everyday lives, but these advances are limited when trying to help us understand how people can be good at the art of managing feelings. Sure, we can identify triggers to feelings, how it shows up in our bodies, and what urges we have to say or do in response to these feelings. However, there is much more to understanding an emotion than measuring how strong or frequent it is.

The intangibility of feelings 

What is the basic nature of feelings? You can't quantify them very well. You can't show me five pounds' worth. You can talk about how it feels to have a feeling, but you can’t objectively say what one is. It doesn't do it justice to use another word like "sensation" to describe it - that just replaces one vague word with another. Feelings are very real things, but they are also intangible.

Make depression go away! 

Modern culture dodges such a question, because feelings are such poor candidates for objective discussion, especially in scientific circles. Feelings are not "rational”. It seems easier to attribute the bad feelings of depression to something that runs in families that can be treated with the right medication. Indeed, many people who suffer from depression, at best, can only guess at where it came from. They just know that they have "it". You either have "it", or you don't. The most important thing is to make it go away.

Depression is like the black dog. A constant companion, depression is made up of a collection of feeling-loaded problems that, at a certain point, qualify you for the diagnosis. These symptoms include poor mood, lack of motivation, negative thinking, pessimism, inability to enjoy the things you once did, or low self-esteem. Like all other emotions, these bad feelings come from somewhere. For each person struggling with depression, there is a story of how the black dog got there and why he’s staying.

Get to know the black dog 

In order to treat depression on an individual level, we need to delve into the feelings - messy as they may be - and set aside our need to explain our behavior with science and research for a moment. Getting to know the black dog: that part is indeed subjective and hard to define. But those feelings that make up the black dog are a huge part of who you are, a huge part of your life story. If you want to grow as a person and make the most out of life, it would be important to bring the black dog into our therapy room.

Delve into messy feelings

Depression is problematic feelings that begin to take over your life. When you learn about these feelings and how they have fit in to your life story, it makes you more aware of who you are and how you are. As the stories about these feelings get unraveled, you will be equipped with "data" as to how to better handle them. You can end up becoming more and more like those people who are "good at" knowing and managing their feelings.

Emotional life is that way; you can't put numbers to it or objectively explain it. Yet, with practice, you can learn to acknowledge your feelings, get to know them better, understand why you feel the way you do, and what you can do about them. The black dog doesn’t take up as much space in your life; you can have him on a leash, rather than the other way around.

I want to help you with this process. When you're ready, I’ll be in my office.


People Bloom Counseling Redmond Bob Russell Teens Adolecents Gen Z Milliennials and Families (1).png

Bob Russell recently joined People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. He helps teens and their families thrive through the adolescent years. He also helps twenty somethings figure out their place in life. Having been through rough patches during his teen and young adult years, he knows what it’s like to delve into messy feelings and come out stronger on the other side.

5 Tips for Surviving the Overwhelm

 Photo by  nikko macaspac  on  Unsplash

A COMMON EXPERIENCE

In an earlier post, I wrote about helping my playmate Tammy and her son Trevor move. Well, last month, Trevor got sick at school and he was sent home for much of the week. Tammy, a single mom, could not afford to miss so much work. It so happened that Tammy’s family was out-of-town and she also started part-time school. Tammy was at her wits end, and as her good friend, I did not respond well.

Say, just because I’m a therapist doesn’t mean I'm always patient and stoic. Even I don't have my sh*t together all the time. But, that’s probably content for a different post.

As I debriefed the incident with Tammy, it reminded me that this is a common experience. The work project is due on the same week the in-laws are coming in, and the hot water tank failed while little Joey developed chicken pox. Some of the events were foreseeable; others were sprung on us and converged into the perfect storm. When all is said and done, one can probably laugh about it. But in the midst of the chaos, what are we to do to survive these moments?

5 Tips for the Overwhelmed

1. Ask for help yesterday

Okay, I don’t mean to sound facetious, but I am suggesting for you to ask for help before things are in dire straits. We live in a culture where people are prized for doing it all by themselves. To ask for help is to show that you don’t have it all together, that you’re not making the cut. But the thing is, we all lean on each other to get through life and others might not know that you’re drowning or might not understand the kind of help you need until you ask. Even if the ask is simply, “I don’t know what I need, but I can’t pull this off by myself!” That’s cuing the other person to problem solve with you when you don’t have the bandwidth to do so alone.

I want to emphasize asking for help early on because by the time you’re feeling desperate, any sign of rejection is taken as a slap in the face and you’re more likely to shut down and not reach out. That will often make things worse. When things haven’t hit rock bottom but you’re feeling the strain of the situation, you still have it in you to communicate about your needs and give the other person time to plan ahead. If that person is not available, others might still be.

You don’t have to wait until you’re at the end of your rope to say you need a little help along the way. Sometimes having people remove just a thing or two from your plate is enough to give you clarity about your next steps, rather than feeling stuck in the overwhelm.

2. Don’t think about the other person when asking for help

This is important enough to put in its own category. There’s a tendency to consider whether another person can give the help before we even ask. Oh, it’s the weekday, people have their lives. It’s the weekend, people are busy. I can’t ask; that person lives so far away. I know for sure they have soccer practice on Wednesday nights so I wouldn’t want to interrupt their schedule. Chances are you’re right. We’re all busy, or often times we look it because that’s another thing our society values. But, can you puh-lease let the other person decide whether they can help you, rather than deciding for them?

What if they want to help you and can bring over take-out, rather than cooking at home? What if Garret can step in to take the kids to soccer, freeing your friend up for laundry service? You don’t know what other people might decide to do when you present them with the need. By not asking or by asking during a crisis, it closes off the possibilities that are available to all of you.

3. Drop the ball on other things

I get it. I know you have a lifestyle to maintain; you still want to pack lunches, eat nutritious meals and do your exercises. You’re pissed off that expected and unexpected things are disrupting your routine. Listen: You can’t have it all. Not right now. There’s too much going on. Some things have got to give. I wouldn’t say this to you when you’re just going about your everyday predictable life. When things are not going as planned, it’s important to pivot and see what you can get off your plate, including the things that are already there before sh*t hit the fan.

This is not about giving up or giving in; it’s about being adaptable to your circumstances. If you eat frozen dinners, miss yoga and run a just good enough meeting, no one is going to die. When you’re no longer putting out fires and you have more in you, you can go back to doing you.

4. Take it a moment at a time*

So you have lots to do and you want everything to be fixed two days ago. You can’t possibly imagine how you’re going to get through the week because the more you anticipate what’s ahead, the more overwhelmed you feel. If you’re not already aware, your ability to make sound decisions goes out the window when there’s too much going on. Now is simply not the time to think about your final exam in two weeks, your kid’s birthday party in a month or your performance review coming up. There is enough on your plate you don’t need to pile on more. Now is only about how you can get through this moment without making things worse.

What do you need to do right here, right now to resolve the most pressing thing? What do you need to do the next hour to chip away at this other problem? What needs to happen tonight to plan for tomorrow morning? During periods of overwhelm, just focus on the immediate, putting one foot in front of the other. When you’re past this storm, you can look up again to see how you’ve pulled it off, hopefully with some help.

5. Do the opposite of what you want to do*

There’s a tendency to want to self-sabotage when we’re going through a hard time. Thoughts like What’s the point? No one cares. I can’t do this anymore! This is too hard. Why me? will frequent your mind at the most opportune time. Why this happens is a topic for a different post, but what’s more important is that you don’t entertain these thoughts or act on them. Instead, when you want to give up, lean in. When you don’t want to call a friend, call your friend. When you don’t want to get out of bed, get out of bed and start on whatever you know would help the situation.

Do the opposite of what you want to do so that by doing so, you might, though not guaranteed, bring on feelings of hope, relief and comfort, which is the opposite of despair, misery, and distress. Be active by acting the way you want to feel because if you wait until you feel better before you do something, that day may never come. Especially not during times of overwhelm.

EXPECT IT

All this to say, while we're still living and breathing, we'll go through rough patches. This is life. But, it doesn't mean we're helpless to our circumstances. Rather, in light of life's difficulties, how will we get through them and hopefully grow some wisdom along the way...

If you’re feeling the strain and need help, reach out. If you’re in the thick of it, now is a good time too. I specialize in couples and cancer patients and Bob works with teens and millennials. We’re here for you and we can help you get through this overwhelm.

*Borrowed from the traditions of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)


People Bloom Counseling Redmond Couples Cancer Ada Pang.png

Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. During times of overwhelm, she finds it most helpful to reach out to her husband, eat sushi, and ask for prayers from her favorite people. She’s about getting through that day, because the next day, will be a new day. It always is.

Words from a Mental Health Counselor: Why I Appreciate your Close Friends

 Photo by  rawpixel.com  on  Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

Friendships through the good and the bad

As I read and re-read Karen’s last post about self-care, what struck me the most is how much she and Emma have been there for each other. Their friendship spans almost half her lifetime and they’ve laughed through the sheer joy and silliness of being in each others’ presence, and they’ve cried through painful breakups and difficult medical diagnoses. Do you have a friend like that in your life? If so, they’re making my life as a therapist easier.

Let me tell you how.

Feeling disconnected in your friendships

Clients sometimes come into my office because, “I can’t talk to my friends about this.” Now, these are really close friends. Granted, like Karen has mentioned, some conversations are best left for the therapy office. However, the stuff that my clients bring up shows that they can really use some support in their community. My clients talk about feeling lonely, like they’re the only ones going through ABC when I know their experience is all too common. Or, worse yet, when they’ve finally mustered up the courage to say something to their tribe, it’s minimized, like, “Why is that such a big deal?! You should keep doing XYZ!”

It’s during those moments where you might feel both connected to yet disconnected from your tribe. Your friendships look close on the outside: you post lots of selfies on social media and you laugh like you’re having a grand old time, yet you leave these meetups feeling alone because you never talked about what really mattered.

Friendships that go deep

It’s easy in our Seattle freeze culture to keep to ourselves. And, when you try to get to know someone, it’s hard to go deep when you see each other only once a quarter. But, when you do talk about deeper issues, and you share about your struggle as a parent, your troubled marriage, or your difficulties at work, can you find some commonality in what you all are going through? Your circumstances might be different but those feelings of frustration, loneliness, or inadequacy are often a shared experience, if you’d only share them.

Your friendships are protective

My clients who have friends they can talk to have better outcomes in treatment. In moments of crisis, they have friends they can lean on and can call upon as a support person. During really difficult times, they know that they’re not alone in their suffering because they remember that Sarah had a miscarriage, Taylor was laid off, Eric is a single dad, and John and Becky are dealing with an affair. Their tribe knows suffering, and they’re doing life together.

Here’s the best part: when my clients learn new skills in sessions, some share with their friends and develop accountability for practicing those skills outside of therapy. If that doesn’t help with the therapeutic process, I don’t know what does.

Sharing in your friendships

Now I’m not asking you to go from shooting the breeze to sharing your deepest, darkest secrets. But the next time you’re hanging out with people you’d consider your close friends and you hesitate to share something, say something like this: “So, I’ve been meaning to say something but I didn’t know where to start. I don’t need any advice (unless you do), but I really need for you to take me seriously...” You might be surprised at how your sharing opens up more sharing and hopefully, closer friendships.

If you’re having trouble opening up in your friendships or you’re not sure how to best support your friend, you know where to find me.

Emma, if you’re reading this, I want to thank you for being in Karen’s life. I’m not her therapist but I can imagine she’s a better worker because of you and your influence on her life. For that I’m grateful.


People Bloom Counseling Redmond Couples Cancer Ada Pang.png

Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. She has a business idea to provide counseling services to friend groups so she can help build stronger, more resilient communities. More to come on that new endeavor.

There Is Such a Thing as Too Much Self Help

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Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

Self-help? No thanks!

The year I turned 30, the life path I thought I was on took a sharp turn and derailed. The end of a six-year relationship left me broken. I was diagnosed with a debilitating autoimmune disease.  A nice Welcome to your 30s! combo set.

At the same time, my friend Emma was going through her own massive life upheaval. She carried me through my post-break-up identity crisis and I offered her support through a messy divorce. Emma suggested I read Codependent No More, by Melody Beattie. There was a time I would have scoffed at those cheesy self-help books. I never would have considered that codependence could be my problem. But desperation set in and I flung open to page one. Here's the short version: opening that book opened my heart to the wisdom of strangers, and it saved my life.

As it turns out, Beattie knew my soul.

I then jumped on the self-help bandwagon. I read all the self-care guides, journaled daily, and was determined to heal - emotionally and physically. The guidance of experts in health and wellness became my enlightenment. If I hadn’t faced some truths about myself, I might still be living in those dark days. My Before Self Help Era (BSH).                   

...

Putting down the books

Fast forward four years. As I sat with Emma at a coffee shop recently, I realized we were doing it again. Swapping our latest self-help tips, divulging our deepest flaws and sharing the new tool we learned for coping with whatever challenge we were facing at that moment.

I couldn’t remember the last time I hung out with Emma without psychoanalyzing and dissecting our behaviors and motivations. As we grew and changed together, and as life continued to throw curve balls at us, it was like we’d become each other’s therapists. Our quest for healing had become our common ground and set the tone for our friendship.

Now don't get me wrong, it’s great to help each other when we're struggling! And it’s also easy to dwell on our problems when we catch up - our problems become a topic we know so well! But it’s not our job to treat each other’s emotional pain, especially without proper training.  I trust Emma with my struggles because she is a great listener and gives the best advice. I try to do the same for her. But after all these years, I don’t know if my advice has been helpful, no matter how good my intentions.  A trained therapist would know best how to handle our respective baggage. It was time to stop letting the quest for self-improvement and healing consume us. 

As much as Emma and I thrived on each other's support, we were both feeling the burden of playing counselor. 

Finding middle ground

I missed just being. Emma and I have been friends for 15 years. There was a time when we didn’t analyze our every thought or decision (long before BSH). We were care-free and spontaneous. I know we can’t bring back our free and breezy 20’s. Or, let’s be honest, the days of drunken shenanigans. But, we can try to remember who we were then, and channel that feeling - before obligations, heartbreaks, and mortgages took their toll. We don’t have to constantly obsess and worry about whether we’re doing life right. Self-doubt is at the root of many of our quests for self-improvement.

For a moment over coffee, I can stop trying to fix myself and others. 

So I experimented: I decided to hang out with Emma and do things that bring us joy. We ordered pie to go with our coffee (guilt-free!) and reminisced about things that make us laugh. We walked to the park and played on the swings, like a couple of kids. I think our friendship needed that jump-start. Nothing was broken at that moment, and nothing needed fixing. 

Going against my nature and trusting my instincts

I tend to delve deep when I get into a one-on-one conversation. Keeping things light-hearted is out of character for me, so just having fun is a much needed reprieve. Whenever the conversation over coffee got heavy, I suggested to Emma that she discuss the issue with her therapist. We no longer dwell or talk in circles like we used to.

Granted, I’m still on this journey and have much more to learn. But during that coffee break I gave myself a break from self-improvement, from healing and processing. To exist, free of worry or a need for order and perfection. Ironically, it's self-improvement books that have taught me to be more present and live in the moment.   Maybe I'm finally learning to trust my own instincts - not rely so completely on the guidance of others. Could it be, I'm actually applying what I have learned in my search for wisdom and wellness?

What's your nature?

If you’re reading this blog, I’m guessing you are open to self-improvement and to learning tools to cope with life’s challenges. Doing the work to better yourself can be life-changing. It takes guts to face yourself, flaws and all, and it’s noble work to aim to be the best version of you.

But, if you’ve been bogged down by too much processing, give yourself permission to take a break from overthinking. It’s okay to put down the books, for as long as you need. They’ll be there when you want to jump back in. But for the time being, do the thing that brings you joy. I’m off to play in clay and to see if I can still throw a mug or two. Maybe Emma and I can use it at our next coffee date. If my mug doesn't come out perfectly from the kiln, well, it'll have my fingerprints all over it.

Taking care of you and your Emma

Do you have an Emma in your life?  The next time the two of you end up going down the psychoanalysis rabbit hole, save your own issues for your session with your therapist. If your Emma doesn’t have a therapist and she's open to seeing someone, you can suggest that too. It’s ok to lean on friends for support, but having fun and letting go of it all sometimes can be just as therapeutic as the best self-help book. It can also do wonders for friendships.


 Karen Lenz  Executive Assistant

Karen Lenz
Executive Assistant

Hi, I want to introduce myself as People Bloom's Executive Assistant. I know you look to Ada’s  blogs for helpful messages and tips to get through life’s challenges. But running a small business is non-stop work, which means the blog sometimes gets pushed to the back burner. I mentioned to Ada that I like to write, and she kindly offered for me to contribute blogs during those busy times. I was thrilled!
I’m in the office business - not a therapist. I’ll share my experiences as a human navigating this world, a client sitting across from a therapist, much like you. Thank you for letting me share a part of myself. Maybe my journey will resonate with you, and we’ll get through this messy life together.

How to Fall Asleep When your Mind Just Won't Quit

 Photo by gbarkz on Unsplash

Photo by gbarkz on Unsplash

Have you ever laid in bed and your mind is racing, thinking about everything from that spreadsheet at work to a comprehensive list of your deepest regrets? Sleep deprivation affects your memory, mood, eating habits and your ability to function effectively. If you struggle to fall asleep or you wake up in the middle of the night and start planning and worrying, it can seem like nothing will get you to the sleep state you crave. And we all know that worrying about not being able to sleep is exactly what makes is impossible to fall asleep. Welcome to the sleep conundrum.

I am not a therapist, but a busy bee like you with a lot of practice tossing and turning at night. But because I struggle, I also want to share a compilation of methods I’ve tried that work for better sleep. I call it a lullaby for grown-ups. 

For better sleep, change habits first

  • Don’t eat or drink alcohol close to bedtime. Have your last meal a few hours before bed.
     
  • Put away your phone or devices while in bed. Electronics are making your mind overactive.
     
  • Avoid caffeine and stimulants after a certain point in the day. For coffee drinkers, the cut-off for your last cup will depend on your sensitivity to caffeine. But if you struggle to fall asleep, consider finishing your last cup by 4pm, brewing it a bit weaker, or replacing it with herbal tea.
     
  • Create a bedtime ritual. You don’t need to devote much time to it to feel the positive effects. Set aside 30 minutes for yourself before bed to decompress. Tuck the kids and put aside obligations, chores, and screens. Meditate, stretch, relax with tea or a hot toddy, listen to soothing music or all of the above!

Get comfortable

Being mindful of your surroundings at night can go a long way. At bedtime, you get to reward yourself with rest for getting through a hard day, and you want to feel good. Have you ever asked yourself if you’re actually comfortable? Before bed, eliminate any physical obstacles that you have control over:

  • Body aches can keep us awake. Do what helps your body to reduce the pain -  a cold or hot compress, or pain reducers if your body/doctor allows for that.
     
  • If you’re too hot or too cold, itchy or scratchy, adjust blankets and sleepwear accordingly.
     
  • Change your physical surroundings in ways that make you feel restful. If white noise is soothing to you, turn on a fan. If that sliver of light through the window bothers you, put up a light-blocking curtain.

Instead of counting sheep, count your inhales and exhales

Perhaps you’re lying in bed as alert as ever and considering just getting up and starting your day at 1 AM. Before you give up, try some of these tips.

  • Bring your attention to each body part touching the bed. Notice how your stomach rises and falls. How each arm makes contact with the bed. Notice how your neck feels on the pillow, considering the weight of your head. As you notice each joint, muscle and bone, you might feel the sensation that you’re sinking into the bed. Your body might let go more..
     
  • When thoughts start invading your mind and keeping you awake, redirect them and say “thanks mind.” Replace your thoughts with 5 second counts for each inhale and exhale. Breathe deeply, counting each breath in and out for a few minutes.

Thoughts will continue to come back, because the job of the mind is to generate thoughts. When that happens, “thank” your mind for doing its job and re-focus on your breathing and your body.

The wheels of our mind don’t always know when to quit. If your thoughts keeps creeping up on you, it’s time to reason with it.

Using logic to reason with your brain

Did you know the amygdala is the part of your brain responsible for emotional processing? In our hunting and gathering days, this region of our brain alerted us to predators and dangers. When our ancestors saw a mountain lion, they became hyper-alert, their heart would race, and breathing would speed up.

Today the amygdala continues to alert us to dangers that may not be real threats. Your brain doesn’t distinguish between the sight of a mountain lion and the deadline at work. The fear response is a residual protective mechanism to prepare you for fight or flight.

That said, here’s how to reason with your brain:  

  • Thank your brain for its service, and remember that the anxiety you feel because of your thoughts present no real danger: you will survive that presentation, family function, or interview. If guilt or past pain are the culprits of your emotional state of mind, remember they serve no purpose right now. Forgive yourself and others, even if just in this moment.
     
  • Ask yourself, “does thinking about this now solve any problems?” If not, your mind will find a way to deal with your source of worry during the day. Life will be there tomorrow. Thinking in terms of the best approach to solve problems, you can acknowledge that losing sleep won’t help anything. That said, don’t be too hard on yourself for having all these thoughts.  Remember, they are natural. Your brain is just doing its job.
     
  • If you absolutely must think about something at night that you don’t want to forget by the morning then keep a notepad by your bed and write it down. Don’t go looking for the Notes app on your phone; pen and paper work best here.

Once you’ve leveled with your brain, get back to breathing

Continue deep breathing and awareness of the sensations in your body.  Breathing with intention is a no-brainer solution to any stress, but it’s amazing how often we forget to do it (or sometimes how to do it). Focus on breathing deeply, and on how your physical body feels. When you feel heavier physically and a little groggier mentally, then you’re closer to being in a sleepier state.
                                                                         …

If sleeplessness is a recurring problem for you, consider talking to your doctor and addressing potential insomnia or other health concerns that can affect sleep. Melatonin can be helpful as an option before turning to pharmaceutical drugs.

We’re all on this journey to make the most out of life but that requires giving our brains and bodies good rest. Wishing you sweet dreams. You can use some peace and a good night’s rest. 


Karen Lenz People Bloom Counseling Redmond Executive Assistant.png

Running a small business is non-stop work, which means Ada’s blog sometimes gets pushed to the back burner. As the Executive Assistant here at People Bloom, I mentioned that I like to write, and Ada kindly offered for me to contribute blogs during busy times. I was thrilled! Now you know I like writing, but I also love to garden, cook, hike with my fiancé, and play on the pottery wheel.
I’m an office admin whiz - not a therapist. I write blog posts as a human navigating this world, a client sitting across from a therapist, much like you. Thank you for letting me share a part of myself. Maybe my journey will resonate with you, and we’ll get through this messy life together.
                                                                        - Karen Lenz

5 Tips to Help a Friend Move with Less Frustration

 lassedesignen/Adobe.com

lassedesignen/Adobe.com

My story with helping a friend move 

Recently, I helped my playmate Tammy move. Playmate. Yes, you heard it right. If kids can have playdates, then why can’t adults have playmates? Tammy and I are goofballs around each other. We go way back and we’ve seen it all. If I slipped on black ice and did a face plant, she’d be the first to know. Anyhow, I digressed.

Something you should know about Tammy is that she has a lot of stuff. She lives with her 7 year old son and as a family of two, they filled a mid-size moving truck. You see, Tammy is very creative. Throughout her life time, she has dabbled in snowboarding, cooking, gardening, crocheting and sewing. She’s an extrovert and she loves to throw parties. And of course Trevor has his own stuff too.

All that to say, I was overwhelmed. Even after many trips to Goodwill, it seems like boxes and bags were coming out of the woodwork. There must be organization in the disorganization, but not to an outsider. In my moments of agitation, I learned a few things about helping someone move.

Tip #1: Don’t argue too much 

There are some things you’re not going to understand or agree on. That’s okay. This is not your house after all. You can state an opinion about what could work better, but if your friend has a preference, go with theirs. They might already be going batsh*t crazy. The last they need is for you to insist on your ways.

Example: On the day of the move, Tammy wanted me to check all the sockets at the new house to see that they work. The inspector has already okayed the sockets. It didn’t matter. Tammy needed reassurance; I shouldn’t be an ass about it.

Tip #2: Keep it light

Moving is stressful. The steps in locating a new home, packing up the old place, and now finally making the move happen amount to a lot of work. Sure, it doesn’t equate to the stress of someone dying or getting married, but a “major change in living condition” ranks 28 on The Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory. That’s significant. Regardless of whether your friend elected to move or was involuntarily displaced, bring a little humor into the day.

Example: Tammy printed a lot of labels but she ran out of “Fragile” ones. I began drawing the broken glass symbol on boxes and called myself an artist. We had a pretty good laugh about it since it was obvious that between the two of us, she was the creative and artistic one. I’m just the heady therapist, so I'll stick to my day job.

Tip #3: Take care of your basic needs

If you’re going to stay over for a night or two, are the soap and towels packed? Is there a spare roll of TP lying around? Where are you going to sleep without moving in half of your stuff? What are you and everyone else going to eat when you’re in the thick of packing?

Example: I was put on a strict diet a week before the move. Tammy didn’t have any plans for breakfast the day of and I was hungry. I ended up eating out of her limited fridge and breaking my diet. I should’ve packed something from home. Now I know.

Tip #4: Listen to yourself when you’ve been working really hard

You might have been recruited to pack, clean the old house, keep an eye on the movers, clean the new house and unpack. Whatever the tasks, it doesn’t mean you have to do it all. Does it work better for you to pack or help unload at the new house so your whole day isn’t shot? Do you have a bad back and it’s best to let someone else do the heavy lifting? Check in with yourself when you’re pressed up against your limits. It’s okay to say no to requests.

Example: Tammy had a very good agent and he was very detailed, almost to a fault. He wanted the apartment to be meticulously cleaned. He went out and bought cleaning supplies and we were on all fours, scrubbing while Tammy and the movers caravaned to the new place. By the time I arrived at Tammy’s new home 30 miles away, I was hangry.

Tip #5: Take it easy afterwards

It has been a long weekend, a long day. What do you need? Do you need to veg out on your phone, grab some comfort food, take a nap? Do you need to stretch, get a massage, go to yoga? If your body needs some TLC, meet that need. You don’t have to push yourself so hard.

Example: As the move came to a close, I was done. It wasn’t that Tammy said I still had to do this and that, but I wanted to help her unpack her closet and bathroom. I did leave the laundry area a mess. Considering the long drive home, I now know not to schedule an early morning client the next day.

Thanks in advance

Thanks for being a good friend in helping someone move. We do better when we’re together.

And if you need more than moving tips, I'll be here.


People Bloom Counseling Redmond Couples Cancer Ada Pang.png

Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. When she and her husband moved a few years back, they were grateful for their good friends who made it happen, and Frog Boxes that eliminated cardboard boxes and sped up the unpacking process. She’s sure that if Tammy was reading this, she might say that Ada was an ass on the day of the move. Perhaps that’s just how playmates are.

One Simple Thing You can do for Yourself that’s Kind and a No-Brainer

 Source: Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash

Source: Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash

So Valentine’s Day is over. All the hype about roses, chocolate and jewelry is behind us, for now. If you’ve been following my work, you know how I feel about Valentine’s Day. I wish that we’d remember to love everyday, to be less predictable in our gift giving and to send chocolates whenever. And, if you received a lot of love and attention on Feb 14th, I hope that tenderness continues throughout the year.

We often look to another person for care and for watching out for each other and extending mutual support. However, how much thought do we put into caring for ourselves? Like, the things you do for another or expect another to do for you - what would it be like if you did some of those for yourself?

Here’s what I mean by that.

I don’t even remember the context of this but I had to wake up really early one morning and the night before, I laid out a small thing for myself to help me get ready. The thing was so small I have a hard time recalling what the item was, but the impact was great. I’m not a morning person and when I woke up to this delightful surprise which I’d forgotten about from the night before, I was very grateful, to myself.

It was as if my husband anticipated a need and met it, except it wasn’t my husband; I was watching out for me. I still remember feeling warm inside, that someone loved me and cared for me. Aww, how incredibly thoughtful of you, I thought. That was so sweet. Thank you. I love you too. It was certainly a me, myself and I moment, passing the love around.

If this sounds a little foreign, it is.

In the way that you’d show appreciation to your partner if they did something nice for you, how is that different from when you show kindness to yourself? You want to make you happy; you want to tell yourself, “I love you and you matter to me. Of course I’ll help you prepare for the day, make coffee for you, drive you places, take you to do the things you love doing.” That’s a no brainer, except we don’t tend to think like that.

It’s a chore to do things for ourselves and sometimes, it’s a chore to do for others as well. We think we have to get through the day with these many to-do’s and we take for granted the privilege of being able to do for others, for ourselves.

The next time you find yourself grudgingly getting through the routine of the day, especially when doing the tasks that you’re doing for you, would you take a moment to do this: Instead of saying, “I have to...” say, “I get to...” and notice what that does. I get to lay out my clothes, for meI get to do a load of laundry, for meI get to cook a Blue Apron meal, for me.

Let me know how that feels different, if at all. I'll be here if you need more tangible help with self-compassion.


People Bloom Counseling Redmond Couples Cancer Ada Pang.png

Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. One of the most loving things she had done for herself lately was to buy herself some replacement socks. She has been wearing the same 5.5 pairs of cotton socks for many years, their colors fading and the wear and tear is evident. And, she has needed to do laundry quite frequently, or otherwise go fishing in her laundry basket at times. She’s very grateful for these new socks.

Ditch New Year's Resolutions. Set Intentions Instead.

 Source: Pixabay

Source: Pixabay

The hype with new beginnings

A new year marks a new beginning, a new you, a new future. Or so you hope. This is especially the case when last year was a disappointment. You make excuses for why things didn’t happen, both within and outside of your control. Now that 2017 is behind you, you dig your heels in and you vow that this year would be different.

Be disappointed, again

So, what did you promise yourself at the beginning of the year? Chances are, you would’ve already broken it. According to research out of the University of Scranton, only 8% of people achieve their New Year’s goals. The U.S. News also noted that approximately 80% of resolutions fail by the second week of February.  No worries, if you’re reading this blog when it was first posted, you have about another week.

Same old, same old

The thing is, why keep beating your head against the wall but in slightly different spots? This year you wanted to eat healthier. Last year you vowed to exercise more. The year before that you wanted to save more money to pay off debt. They are all noteworthy goals, but they are hard to sustain beyond the middle of February.

What to do instead

Set intentions. I don’t mean this in a wishy-washy kind of way. Oh, I intend to cut down on time spent on Pinterest, but there goes another three hours! Oh well… What I do mean is putting your best foot forward and being serious about why you’re wanting to achieve this goal. If you’re not responding to every notification, then what would you be doing instead? How would your life be different? Why would you want that life instead of the one you're currently living?

When you’ve figured out “why” you want to do something, then plan for “how” you’re going to get there.

Caution: The “how” could take 500 steps.

Change takes investment

We don’t tend to think about how much is at stake when we’re trying to make a new change in our lives. Going with our previous example, in order to spend less time on social media, your devices need to be less accessible. You’ll likely need replacement activities for those three hours. You’ll need to notice the urge to pick up your devices and redirect your attention. It’ll help to notice when you’re most vulnerable to doing your old habit and addressing those deeper issues:

“When I get tired or bored, I use social media to wake or pick me up.”

“I just got into an argument with my partner and I went online to get some validation.”

“I felt lonely and Facebook provided some sense of community. Well, kinda, sorta.”

If the above were true, you’ll probably need to catch some snooze, fill your life with other meaningful activities, work things out with your partner and be in good company. Unless those things happen, your devices will be an easy go-to.

Ditch New Year’s resolutions

Given the complexities involved in setting and meeting a goal, it helps to ditch the expectation-filled New Year’s resolutions and set intentions instead. After all, if you haven’t gotten around to meeting and sustaining gains last year, what makes a new year any different? And, New Year’s resolutions sound like they can only happen at the beginning of the year. If you’ve lost momentum by now, does that mean you have to wait until 2019 to make new goals because the rest of the year is a lost cause? That hardly sounds rational. Finally, New Year’s resolutions sound like you have either kept them or failed them, which can feel very rigid.

Setting intentions, on the other hand, is quite the opposite.

What intentions do for us

Setting intentions is about putting forth your best for that moment, that day, and choosing to be one step closer to living the life you want. It implies that you’re a fluid individual with good days and not-so-good days and your best can really vary depending on what happened. However, you’re kinder to yourself when you deviated from your goal and you’re cognizant of what detoured you. The next moment you have, be it on February 6th or September 17th, you get back on track and you keep going.

Setting intentions is not about succeeding or failing. It’s about separating your last moment from the moment you’re about to have. What would you want to do with the things you can control?

May your year be filled with intentions that become nourishing habits over time. And if you need more help living fully each day, you know where to find me


People Bloom Counseling Redmond Couples Cancer Ada Pang.png

Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. One of her intentions for 2018 is to be early or on time to things. Tracing her 500 steps, this goal involves engaging in meaningful activities during the day and getting enough sleep. She succeeds some moments and not others and will keep at it again and again.

The Recipe for Keeping Love Alive in 2018 – Part II

 Brigitte Tohm/unsplash.com

Brigitte Tohm/unsplash.com

No one is perfect

In my last post, I wrote about recognizing your humanity being important for a close and vibrant relationship. You don’t have to be a perfect partner; rather, when (not if) moments of disconnection happen, come back and make up. You will strengthen your relationship when you speak to the impact you had on each other and how things could be different next time.

Today, I want to disclose another secret sauce for keeping your love alive. But before I do, let’s do an exercise together.

Memories of a safe person 

Close your eyes. Go on. I’m not going anywhere. Close your eyes and take in a couple of deep, cleansing breaths, in through the nose, out through the mouth. One more inhale; one more exhale.

Now imagine for a sec a very safe and comforting person in your life. This could be your granddad, an aunt, your mom, your dad, a friend, a coach, your partner, your child. This could be anybody. Bring up an image of this person in your mind. What is the warmest memory you have of this person? It’s okay if you need a moment to think through your interactions with this person.

How is this person being, or what are they doing or saying that makes you feel so safe and secure when you’re around them?

Once you have that memory, savor it for just a little longer. It’s okay to hang out there for moment; we’re in no hurry… Know that you can always come back to this place to capture this moment. Now take one more slow, cleansing breath through your nose and breath out through your mouth. When you feel ready, open your eyes.

I’m still here.

The average response

Often when I do this exercise, these are examples of responses I’d get back:

“I remember my mom tucking me in.”

“My cousin washed my car on our wedding day.”

“To this day, my granddad would walk all the way across the room to give me a hug.”

“My sister dropped off a latté at my work.”

“My wife left the porch light on when I was coming home late.”

“My son decorated my office with, “I love my mom.’’’

“My friend left me balloons at my door.”

“My dad cracked jokes when he dropped me off at school.”

“My nanna picked me up and we’d go for ice cream.”

“My husband and I would rub each others’ backs and hold hands until we fall asleep.”

And the list goes on.

Say, if I were to ask kids the same question, they might tell me stories of Christmas presents, a Disneyland vacation or a birthday party. From the mouths of adults, however, very seldom do I hear about the exotic getaways, the proposal, or the helicopter ride. No extravagance, no fanfare.

When I say the average response, I do mean you’re more likely to remember what happens on an average day. Another type of response is when someone shows you an incredible act of kindness during a rough patch in your life. Either way, these are small things, and thoughtful nonetheless.

Go ahead, be ordinary 

Love is in the mundane of everyday life. When you create small moments in your relationship, you give your partner a love bank to draw from. To further illustrate my point, consider the drawings by Pascal Campion, a French-American artist in Burbank, California. In his series, he invites us to take pleasure in the small things.

My invitation to you

Think of something sweet that has happened in your relationship, a memory that brings a slight smile to your face. Now, text your partner, letting them know how much that still means to you. Then, in the days ahead, pause to notice and delight in these small things. These memories will go a long way in keeping your love alive for years to come.

Of course, let me know if you need help creating ordinary moments!


People Bloom Counseling Redmond Couples Cancer Ada Pang.png

Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. A memorable moment during furniture shopping today was when her husband unexpectedly attacked her with tickles to help stop her hiccups. Sure, she could’ve stopped them on her own if she’d tried hard enough, but it wouldn’t be as fun.

The Recipe for Keeping Love Alive in 2018 – Part I

 Brigitte Tohm/unsplash.com

Brigitte Tohm/unsplash.com

It’s the New Year’s!

Resolutions or not, the beginning of the year often has us looking ahead. Whatever we did not get to last year, we vow to invest our time and energy into this year. While I’m a firm believer in setting goals and striving to meet them, there is nothing magical in the New Year’s that isn’t also there the other times of the year. That said, any tips I share are relevant to all times, the rest of life.

Moving on, let’s get something else straight: This post will NOT turn you into the perfect lover. I won’t be writing about what gift to get, the best sex positions to take or how often to do the dishes. Nor will I mention anything about showing appreciation for your partner, planning activities together or looking for the positives in your relationship.

I believe a BIG part of keeping love alive is being human in your relationship. Here’s what I mean.

Acknowledging your humanity

When you think about being a “good partner,” what qualities come to mind? Meeting a need before it’s made known? Remembering special occasions? Showing empathy after a crappy day? And in your busyness, how often can you live up to these qualities? Realistically, 80% of the time? 70% of the time? 50% of the time?

Sorry to disappoint you, but here are the stats.

Percentages to remember in relationships

40%

While these percentages were initially applied to parenting, they are relevant to intimate relationships as well. Some of the best partners attune to their relationships 40% of the time. Which means 40% of the time, you and your partner share moments and you feel connected to each other. You giggle when you text emojis️️ back and forth. You finish each other’s sentences. You laugh together and you lock eyes. You’re in synchrony. The two of you got this.

As wonderful as this might be, it’s not possible to stay here all the time because life happens.

30%

Another 30% of the time, couples feel disconnected from each other and out of sync. Say, you look to your partner for comfort and you got the cold shoulder instead. A response was interpreted as criticism or you did lash out in anger. Your partner was physically there but emotionally absent. You were hoping your partner could guess what you were needing but they guessed wrong. Truth be told, the day wore you down and neither of you have the bandwidth to reach out...

Normal day stuff. It’s a part of being human. And there’s hope.

The other 30%

The best couples spend the remaining 30% of the time repairing that disconnection. You come back and you talk about what just happened. What got triggered? Sure, it wasn’t as much about your partner as it was about the kids, but your partner’s nonchalant attitude made you feel alone. You share your interpretations, your intentions and what was really going on inside. You can see your impact on the other and a repair was made. You and your partner got through this difficult conversation and your connection deepened.

A repair is often a very beautiful thing. If anything, it makes your relationship stronger.

Here’s a visual:

Percentages in relationship success Ada Pang People Bloom Counseling Redmond.png

Staying connected and finding ways to come back together when disconnected are the things that will make your relationship this year and every year going forward. After all, if attunement and repair make up 70% of your relationship, that’s pretty darn good for two humans with busy lives trying to keep their love alive.

Lighten up

Don’t be so hard on yourself when you feel out of sync with your partner. The more important thing is to come back to connecting and making up, connecting and making up…

Stay tune for Part II where I walk you through an exercise to challenge what REALLY matters in relationships.

Until then, I'll be here if you need help attuning to and repairing your relationship. 


People Bloom Counseling Redmond Couples Cancer Ada Pang.png

Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. When she doesn’t see her husband much because they’re both busy, she loves connecting with him with short hello’s and goodbye’s. When they feel disconnected, a first step to bridging that gap is to share the couch together. Rocket science, I know.