anxiety

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.

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 for Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder

 Alisa Anton/unsplash.com

Alisa Anton/unsplash.com

'Tis the season to be sad

While I don’t wish this upon you, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a thing around here. Especially with the end of daylight saving time, we’re feeling the effects of brighter mornings and less evening light. Given how much we love our Seattle summers, the shift into chilly, rainy weather, bare trees and gloomy skies is enough to make many of us want to crawl into bed and stay there.

If you are already struggling with depression, you might feel the effects of it more. If your mood is often weather-dependent or you’re a transplant from a sunnier climate, chances are it’ll affect you too. While winter solstice is less than seven weeks away, let’s help you figure out how to get through this long stretch of fall and winter months.

Before we talk about what to do, let’s address the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

SAD defined

SAD mirrors symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder, also commonly known as Depression. You might have SAD if you:

  • feel depressed
  • don’t want to do the things you used to enjoy
  • have low energy
  • have trouble sleeping, often times oversleeping
  • experience changes in your appetite, often times crave unhealthy comfort foods and experience subsequent weight gain
  • feel agitated or sluggish
  • have difficulty concentrating
  • feel hopeless, worthless or guilty
  • have frequent thoughts of death or suicide

If you have thoughts of wanting to hurt or kill yourself, you need to stop reading this and call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) 273­-TALK (8255). If you have a milder form of SAD but you’re feeling down, struggling to get out of bed, overeating, gaining weight and saying no to social engagements, then here are some recommendations for you.

5 ways to move through SAD

1. Light therapy

You know that it’s a common purchase when they sell it at Costco. Therapy lamps provide bright, artificial white light during months of diminished sunshine. Keep it in a well-trafficked area and follow instructions for use between 20-60 min. Depending on your circadian rhythm, you might find the light exposure helpful in the morning or the evening. Remember to choose a light box that emits 10,000 lux, which is equivalent to 20x that of usual indoor lighting. With lesser lux units, you might need to use the lamp for longer to get the same effect.

2. Physical activities

I don’t mean exercise. The gym is not for everybody. Rather, there are a lot of fall and winter activities that can get your heart pumping and your brain releasing happy hormones. It can be indoor climbing, yoga, laps in the pool, racquet ball, even housework. Outdoors you have a walk around your office or neighborhood, winter hikes, and snow sports.

Now I understand the fact that you feel SAD means you don’t want to move very much. However, if you wait until you want to do something before you do it, you might never do it! Instead, act the way you want to feel. That said…

3. Positive activities

What activities used to bring you alive? What did you use to enjoy? Or, what is something new you’d like to try? It can be a physical activity listed above or it can be art walks, concerts, a meetup, a good novel, a weekend away. You can be with strangers, close friends or be by yourself. Given the tendency to socially withdraw, I’d recommend doing some activities with others and developing accountability to increase follow-throughs. While there’s no guarantee that you’d feel better afterwards, it’d help you in the long run to stay active and engaged in life.

4. Medication

I don’t know how you feel about taking meds, but sometimes an anti-depressant is necessary to get you past this hump. It doesn’t mean you have to stay on this medication forever; only until you have more tools under your belt to be without it. Also, if you’re currently on an anti-depressant and you’re questioning whether it’s working properly, it’s probably time to visit your prescriber again. Remember that it can take up to 6-8 weeks for the medication’s benefits to kick in, while you might feel the side effects more immediately.

5. Take it in

While this is not the most exciting time of the year for you, can there be any beauty in taking in the vibrant colors of the leaves, the rustling of leaves against the wind, or the crunching of leaves under your feet? What about the beating of rain on pavement, the dancing flame from a crackling fireplace, and the warmth of peppermint tea against your lips?

This will pass

This season is here and it will pass. Since there’s no ushering it away, I hope there’s a part of you that can find it a friend, rather than a foe.

And if you need a therapist to help you ride out this season, 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. This fall, she noticed the changing colors of the leaves more. Her favorite food group this season is all things squash and her favorite activity is baking.

What 9-11 has to Teach us about Human Connection

 Tim Marshall/unsplash.com

Tim Marshall/unsplash.com

We all remember

I venture to guess that we all remember where we were on Sept 11, 2011. I had recently moved to Seattle and I was living with my aunt. I got up to get ready for work and turned on the radio for background noise. Then I heard the news. It was surreal. While we were still sleeping in Seattle time, all four planes have crashed and the twin towers have collapsed. I quickly woke up my aunt and we raced downstairs to watch the news. Our hearts sank. As a Chinese Canadian new to living on American soil, “Is this what happens in America?” It was unbelievable.

I have another aunt who lives in Long Island, NY and her husband works in Manhattan. We promptly made calls to all their numbers. Busy tone. We might have made other calls to family members; I no longer remember. Seeing that there was little we could do, I was late, but headed into work. My aunt left work early that day. We got in touch with Aunt Noelle later on that night. The rest was a blur.

What people did that day

It made sense that the phone lines were busy. The cell phone network was overloaded as most people called somebody they knew in NYC. Family, friends, colleagues, past nanny. Somebody.

And the interesting thing is, we did not just call people in NYC. We also called and spoke with others who didn’t live there. I spoke with my parents that night and they live in Vancouver, BC, Canada. We called my Aunt Lisa who lives in town. Where they resided was irrelevant. When we sense fear, and a terrorist attack would do that to us, we reach for connection with the people closest to us. We reach for them because they matter to us and they bring us comfort. If people we know are not around, we reach for strangers because any human connection is better than no human connection.

A culture of self-reliance

But, aren’t we an individualistic society? We’re often self-sufficient and capable and many of us go about our everyday lives with little help from others. Even if we have a need, we might hesitate to speak it. If we ask and don’t get a response, we might decide to do without the help. We pride ourselves in being independent.

Could it be that we need each other more than we’re willing to admit? Could it be that our desire for closeness and connection in times of threat speaks to that need?

Coming together

16 years ago, we sought comfort and connection from each other following one of the worse terrorist attacks in American history. Similar stories follow when we go through other crises: an increase in political unrests bans us together against the many “isms” in our society; the wake of Hurricane Harvey prompted Houston and nearby residents in rescue efforts using boats, stand up paddle boards, or just wading through chest deep water.

And it’s not over yet. Hurricanes Irma and Jose are happening as I type this. There will be many more natural and man-made disasters to come. But, we will have each other. Coming together and seeing the value in being with each other will help buffer us through the storms of life.


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 can be reached at ada@peoplebloomcounseling.com.

When Depression & Anxiety Come with Cancer

 pixelheadsphoto/stock.adobe.com

pixelheadsphoto/stock.adobe.com

Let's face it. It's enough to go through cancer diagnosis and treatment, let alone the emotional ups and downs that often come with it.

Questions that might trouble you

As a result of your cancer, sometimes you have questions about the past: "Did I do something wrong to cause this cancer? Could I have prevented it?" "What if I had __________________ before it got to be too stressful? Would that have made a difference?"

Other times you might have questions about the future: "My neck hurts. Is that cancer?" Will I be able to see my granddaughter graduate from 2nd grade?" "How will my family be without me?"

While it's normal to ask these questions, often times there really isn't a way to answer them. These questions might linger if you struggle with depression and anxiety. 

Depression and anxiety post cancer

What we know from cancer research is that depression and anxiety are common symptoms during and post cancer treatment. While depression might dissipate with time, anxiety lingers as you're reminded of your cancer everyday. 

Some of these symptoms might be treatment related, but could this be you? 

You might be struggling with depression if you experience the following: 

  • feeling down, depressed or hopeless
  • having little interests in things you used to enjoy
  • sleeping too much or too little or have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • having low energy 
  • having little appetite or want to empty the fridge
  • feeling irritable 
  • experiencing mood swings 
  • having trouble concentrating 
  • withdrawing from friends and family 
  • feeling hopeless, guilty and/or angry
  • having thoughts about being better off dead or hurting yourself 

You might be struggling with anxiety if you experience the following: 

  • feeling nervous, anxious or on edge
  • feeling like you cannot stop or control your worries
  • finding yourself worrying too much about different things
  • having trouble relaxing
  • feeling restless and it's difficult to sit still
  • feeling easily annoyed or irritable 
  • anticipating worse case scenarios

Sometimes anxiety is felt in your body. You might be struggling with panic symptoms if you experience the following: 

  • pounding heart 
  • sweating 
  • trembling or shaking
  • shortness of breath 
  • feelings of choking
  • chest pain or discomfort
  • nausea or abdominal distress
  • dizziness/light headed
  • chills or heat sensations
  • muscle tension 
  • feel out of control 
  • fear of going crazy
  • fear of dying

Life after cancer

If you identify with these symptoms that go beyond an occasional sad day or feeling stressed out about something, there is hope! You don't have to settle and let cancer drag your down. Rather than cancer driving your life, you can make meaning choices in the face of cancer. That way, depression and anxiety symptoms, even when they arise, won't bother you as much. 

If you need help putting cancer in the passenger seat, I'll be here


People Bloom Counseling Redmond Ada Pang

Ada Pang, MS, LMFT is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples and cancer patients. That can also mean couples distressed by a partner’s cancer diagnosis, or couples wishing to use their marriage as a resource during their cancer journey. When she’s not thinking about couples and cancer, she is cognizant about choices that make for a meaningful life. This often involves food. 

Two Approaches to Dealing with your Fears

 gretalarosa/stock.adobe.com

gretalarosa/stock.adobe.com

I was born a little skittish. I get startled easily when I see and hear something I don’t expect. I had to tell my husband early on in our marriage to make noises as he enters the room. Otherwise, I’d scream bloody murder, which would freak him out. Oh, and I don’t like scary movies. Husband got into a kick recently and watched the three original Alien movies while I was out-of-town. Good, cuz it ain’t happening when I’m home.

The thing is, we’re all wired a certain way, along the continuum of higher versus lower threshold for fear. It’s not a right or wrong, good or bad. It just is. But, what’s the point of fear? Is it even necessary? Ever wondered where fear came from?

The origin of fear

Too many million years ago during the age of saber-tooth tigers, wonderful men hunted and awesome women gathered. Whether they were out in the fields or back at the shelter, they had to be on hyper alert for wildlife. They were either going to have lunch or be lunch. With that hard-wired alert for danger, those who were careful and watchful procreated and lived on. Those who had a low radar for fear and lived a carefree life did not.

What does this mean for us in 2017?

Real threats

Though we’re no longer living amongst saber-tooth tigers, some threats in our lives are very real. It could be a life threatening illness, an accident, any other traumatic events or threats to our dignity as people. During these moments, our fears make sense and fit the facts of the situation. These threats ought to make us have the automatic reactions of fight, flight or freeze. When our fears are justified, we should take action to effect change where we can. This is for our survival and the survival of people we care deeply about.

Perceived threats

There are real threats and then there are perceived threats. Perceived threats are when you’re no longer in the car accident, in the abusive relationship, in the situation that made you feel so threatened and yet, you live as though you’re still in that life-threatening event. Or, your fears are not tied to something that has happened, but a fear that something might happen. You then avoid places, people and activities that might remind you of your fears, examples being you do less because you fear failing or embarrassing yourself in public. When checking the facts of the situation, you realize the probability of something bad happening is very low, or your fears may be unpleasant, but they’re not life-threatening. What are you to do?

Facing perceived threats one of two ways

When your fears are not justified, it is important that you learn to face your fears. I share two approaches here:

  1. Whatever you’re afraid of doing, do it over and over again.* Not kidding you. When there is little evidence for why you should be afraid of something that has occurred in the past or might occur in the future, the way to overcome that fear is to face it head on. Do the very things you want to avoid with consistency. Is it public speaking? Getting behind the steering wheel? Watching certain shows that might be triggering? Take baby steps to overcome your fears by approaching, rather than withdrawing. Overtime, you’ll feel more in control over your fears.
  2. Harry Potter shows us another way to face our fears during a boggart lesson:

We can have a different relationship with our fears.** Put in its original context, Ron’s afraid of spiders, Harry Dementors, and Professor Lupin a full moon. When they cast the spell Riddikulus and envision something humorous, the shape-shifting boggart assumes a comical form. Followed by outright laughter, they had the power to make the boggart disappear!

While we don’t have this power at our disposal during current times, Professor Lupin’s lesson is for all of us. Can we see our fears differently, and therefore, relate with them differently? What if a natural disaster turned into a ribbon twirling performance, social humiliation took the form of people high fiving you, and the car accident transformed into a scene from Fantasia?

Facing your fears together

Don’t let the fears of your fears hold you back! If you need help facing your fears or otherwise make them ridiculous, well, you know where to find me.

* Borrowed from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavior Therapy
** Borrowed from Acceptance Commitment Therapy


Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She mostly helps unhappy couples and breast cancer patients. She also loves helping people address fears that hold them back in life. Her favorite Harry Potter films are the Order of the Phoenix and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. Her worse fears are, well, she can identify with Ron. 

The Great Divide. I’m not having it.

 maria_savenko/stock.adobe.com

maria_savenko/stock.adobe.com

Way to start the New Year’s

I woke up on Sat Jan 28, 2017 to the start of Jan 1, 2017 on the Chinese lunar calendar. I happened to be in Vancouver, BC, Canada for a two-day training prior to the festivities and stayed with my folks. I had a rather slow morning and came downstairs to my Mama’s homemade CNY brunch. My aunt came over, my sister and niece have spent the night and all was well until I got a text from my husband.

He was asking when I’d be home. Later in the eve, I conveyed, not knowing what’s the hurry. He then mentioned some executive order that Trump has signed that morning. I looked it up and it was f*cking unbelievable.

I am a Hong Kong-born Canadian citizen green card holder living in America and I was shocked. I cannot imagine what it is like for refugees and Muslim brothers and sisters around the world.

I felt very uneasy and after a late lunch, left for the border. For the first time, I didn’t know what to expect. While Canada and the US are allies and I have all my documentation, a “Muslim ban” from selective Muslim-majority countries has me wondering what’s next.

Back on US soil

The border was uneventful, as if nothing has happened. I almost wish that something was different because this is NOT okay. I’m now back on US soil. And for the first time in my 15.5 years of living in the US, I felt different, like I don’t belong here. My countries of origin and naturalization aren’t even on the blacklist. I’m not even Muslim. But to exclude immigrants and non-citizens is to exclude me and to exclude people like me. I realize to make America great again is make America white again.

Pulling away

During my 2-hour drive home, I became increasingly aware of my “other-ness”. I feel threatened by the future possibility of not being welcomed in this country. I find myself emotionally pulling away from my white community. I picture the faces of these people I have come to know and like, and already, I feel further from them.

Suddenly, I realize what was happening. There is a great divide in our country and around the world and to pull away is to concede. In Trump’s promotion of all people white, male, straight, Christian, middle and upper class, able bodied and Euro American, he is shutting down those who don’t fit the bill.

I’m not having it.

Leaning into America

When I realized this, I made a conscious decision to lean in, instead of pull away. It helped that when I got home, my husband, who is 4th-generation Japanese American, hugged me for a long time. It helped that protests rose up at airports and city streets around the country as we stand with each other. It helped that I connected with my community the next day and saw how they were also affected by this news.

It helped that this is not the end; rather, the beginning.

We CAN find safety and shelter in each other. Notice where this was filmed:


Ada Pang, MS, LMFT is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond therapy practice in WA. At the heart of what she does, she’s about helping people flourish and live compassionate and vital lives. She can be found at PeopleBloomCounseling.com.

How to be with the 2016 US Election Results

 Ezio Gutzemberg/stock.adobe.com

Ezio Gutzemberg/stock.adobe.com

Unexpected results

Wow! What a week and it’s not over yet. Tuesday seems like eons ago. The election results shocked the whole world, leaving some celebrating, others protesting. On the one hand, as an immigrant and a woman of color, I hear and identify with the concerned voices of my fellow brothers and sisters as they face an amplified fear to the already prevalent racism, xenophobia, islamophobia, homophobia and sexism in our society. On the other hand, republican voters speak to the hopelessness and oppression they felt under the Obama administration. Each has a story to tell.

Narrowing the great divide

Our country is facing unprecedented polarization. That leaves a “we” versus “them” mentality with little room to hear the other. Whether you are a distraught Clinton voter who has taken to the streets, a victorious Trump supporter beaming with pride or a secretive Republican supporter afraid to come out of the closet, here are some ways to be post election.

  1. Come together – be with those who share your viewpoint. Find company. Look around you and know that you’re not alone.
  2. Express yourself – silence is dangerous. Speak to your hopes, fears, frustration and disappointment. Use words, art, music, anything.
  3. Let your feelings come and go, come again and go again – if you’re experiencing shock, denial, anguish, sadness, fear, anxiety, anger, joy, thrill or whatever else, acknowledge them. Pushing away unpleasant feelings will only make them stronger; prolonging pleasant feelings will make you miss out on the here and now.
  4. Revisit your values – remind yourself what you’re about and how you want life to be for you, your family, your neighbors, your community, the environment, animal life, and human kind.
  5. Know your impact – your beliefs and thoughts carried out in words and actions will affect another. Your choices have consequences, positive or negative. Imagine the effect of those same choices when done to YOUR father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter, best friend and those your love.
  6. Listen closely – you come with your worldviews, life experiences and biases as you encounter another’s worldviews, life experiences and biases. Listen and understand another’s perspective even though that has and might never be your reality.
  7. Stand up for justice – give voice to those who are silenced or are afraid to speak up. Stand with those who are treated less than because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, class, abilities, looks or ethnicity. Pause to reflect on what each of these even mean. 
  8. Teach the next generation – when your children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews inherit this earth, what do you want them to know about caring for ourselves and each other?
  9. See our humanity – we are first human beings BEFORE our differences divided us. Strip us to the core, we have the same needs for safety, love and connection:

I might not know your story, but let me hear it


Ada Pang, MS, LMFT is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond therapy practice in WA. At the heart of what she does, she’s about helping people flourish and live compassionate and vital lives. She can be found at PeopleBloomCounseling.com.

Living with the Fear of Cancer Recurrence

 stephm2506/stock.adobe.com

stephm2506/stock.adobe.com

In my last post, I talked about the complex feelings of cancer diagnosis and treatment. I wanted a separate post to specifically target the fear around cancer recurrence.

Whether you’re still going through cancer treatment or it has been years since you were treated, the fear of cancer coming back is very real. You’re attuned to every ache and pain in your body and instead of thinking that these discomforts stem from sore muscles or the beginning of a cold, you think cancer. Perhaps you secure message your doctor’s office for reassurance or you talk yourself down from feeling anxious. Nonetheless, the thought of cancer is ever looming.

Anxiety about cancer recurrence is normal

While most cancer patients who initially reported depression at the time of diagnosis experienced little to no depressive symptoms 10-years post treatment, the anxiety stemming from cancer is still there. After all, to have a cancer history is to face realities that cannot be fully changed or influenced. Sure, you might decide to eat healthier, stay physically active, manage stress better and maintain supportive relationships around you. While these are all good lifestyle habits to have and nurture, nothing you do can guarantee a cancer-free future.

What to do with healthy anxiety

First of all, if you feel something unusual during a breast exam (and the best time to do a breast exam is at day seven of your menstrual cycle), please do contact your oncology clinic. Similarly, if your body is exhibiting symptoms you don’t recognize or common symptoms are lingering, it is wise to seek medical advice. It is important to listen to your body and care for it; otherwise to ignore these symptoms is to deny that something is wrong. Burying your head in the sand only increases the likelihood of you getting your ass kicked.

What is constant anxiety

There is a difference between caring for your body and smothering it. You know your anxiety is in the driver’s seat when you’re constantly thinking about cancer, Googling every body discomfort known to man, and seeing your providers above and beyond normal follow-up appointments. You might be very rigid about the lifestyle choices you make. For example, you can’t miss a day at the gym, there is little to no flexibility in your dietary choices (unrelated to allergies), or you get easily agitated when you perceive that others are critical of how you’re managing your cancer. In other words, your world evolves around your cancer.

What to do with constant anxiety

Your body responds with anxiety when there’s a perceived threat. After all, cancer was and still is a huge threat to your existence. Doesn’t it make sense that you be constantly watchful of it? Knowing that, it’s important to realize that fear is your friend, not your foe. It is there to protect you; to preserve you. The key here is to befriend your body and to acknowledge your fear while putting it in the passenger seat.

Anxiety management techniques

What to do with your thoughts

Just because you think something does not mean it’s happening or that it’s true. Try it: think of a pot of gold. Think super, uber hard. What happened? Did you get rich from conjuring up images of gold? If you did, please come to my office and have those same thoughts. Okay, so you know I’m being facetious here. What I mean is that when your mind thinks something, that’s all it’s doing: a string of words came and went. You can entertain these words and attach a lot of meaning to them, or you can let them come and let them go.

Put simply, thoughts are either helpful or unhelpful. Helpful thoughts can be, "How do I make the most of what I have?" or "These things are meaningful to me and I'm going to do them!" When these thoughts come, listen to them and act accordingly. These thoughts are serving you. 

On the other hand, with thoughts like, "I can't enjoy my life because of my cancer!" or "Cancer is just going to come back; I know it!" acknowledge them and let them go. Like the pot of gold, just because you think it does not mean anything. In learning to have a different relationship with your thoughts, you’re essentially saying, “I hear you thoughts and I won’t be minding you so much. Here, why don’t you sit in the back? I’m still the one driving.”

What to do with your feelings

Similarly, when feelings of anxiety come, let them be there. Don’t push them away; they will only come back stronger. Acknowledge them; sit with them; talk to someone about them. While these feelings are scary, you can make space for them. What do they feel like? Does your heart pound? Do you get sweaty palms? Is your stomach churning? Know that these sensations will pass. As you ride through the waves of these feelings and body sensations, you can still be in the driver's seat, making the most out of life. 

Staying present

The fear of cancer recurrence has you looking into the future. It is thus hard to focus on the present and what’s going on right now. What have you been missing out on? Is it the changing colors of the leaves? Conversations with your loved ones where you’re only half listening? Finished a meal and you don't remember what you ate? When you find your mind focused repeatedly on your worries, acknowledge your mind, and come back to the present moment. Right now is the only moment you can do something about. Don’t miss out.

Need more?

Often times it helps to have someone come alongside you as you learn how to put cancer in the passenger seat. At the very least, because you’ll still have follow-up diagnostic tests and exams, you know the thoughts of cancer recurring are not going away. However, it doesn’t have to dictate your life. Let me know how I can help!


Ada Pang, MS, LMFT is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps distressed couples and breast cancer patients. That could also mean couples distressed by a partner’s cancer diagnosis, or couples wishing to use their marriage as a resource during their cancer journey. When she’s not thinking about work, she loves spending time with her hubby, eating good food and more recently, watching Harry Potter. 

“I was Diagnosed with Breast Cancer. What am I to Feel?”

 Laurin Rinder/stock.adobe.com

Laurin Rinder/stock.adobe.com

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I’m putting on hold my blog post on trauma to address the emotional needs facing breast cancer patients. Granted, cancer patients often talk about their experience of cancer to be traumatic, even though many do not meet full criteria of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.

To hear that, “You’ve got cancer” is enough to unravel any brave soul. The urgency of the news leaves little room for reflection, for contemplation. You’re scheduled with the surgeon, followed by the radiation oncologist and likely the oncologist. Some medical facilities fit all three appointments into a four-hour meeting; others schedule them one at a time. Either way, your head is full and it’s hard to digest information about the stage, tumor size and grade, if it’s hormone dependent and whatever else you’re supposed to know.

All this knowledge; all these next steps, but how are you feelin’?

Facing a loss

Being diagnosed and treated for breast cancer is to face your own mortality. Your vision for what your life would be like is called into question. You thought you would live to hike the Annapurna Circuit, see your kids graduate and hold your grandkids in your arms. All these plans are now up in the air. Even if you were told the type of cancer you have is highly treatable, you’re starting to envision a very different future.

The pendulum through the messiness of grief

Being diagnosed with cancer or other chronic illness is to grieve a loss. Sure, you’re used to your body having some aches and pains, but you’re definitely not as healthy as you had thought. Thus, it makes sense that women going through breast cancer would face different stages of grief in no linear fashion.

Denial

Also known as non-acceptance, denial happens because you’re in shock and overwhelmed by the news of cancer. “Were those really my test results? Did the doctor make a mistake?” You might weep and you might also feel numb. You might wake up in the middle of the night wondering if it was all a dream. It is common for you to feel out of touch with the rest of the world because quite frankly, you would much prefer a life without cancer, thank you very much.

Bargaining

Your mind races through choices that could have detoured cancer. “What if I had lived a healthier lifestyle? What if I had gotten a second opinion? What if I had reconciled that relationship rather than let it eat at me all these years?” There are no answers to these questions but it doesn’t stop you from asking them. Conscious or not, when you consider how you could’ve affected the outcome, it’s a way to take back the control you feel like you’ve lost. Similarly, you might bargain with God or a higher power to give you another chance at a life without cancer. Or, at least not now, though there really isn’t a good time.

Depression

While not all breast cancer patients meet criteria for clinical depression, sadness is very much a part of the grieving process. When you think about how your body is sick, the possible side effects of treatment and how cancer might affect your quality and quantity of life, you understandably would feel sad. Women have often talked about treatment leaving them feeling “disfigured” or “damaged.” This might lead to feelings of shame and negative self-worth and the tendency to isolate and push people away.

Anger

“Why is this happening? Why me? What have I done to deserve this?” are some of the questions that breast cancer patients might ask. Implied in these questions is a sense of unjust, that this shouldn’t be happening. Sometimes, you might feel anger towards yourself, if you think you could’ve somehow prevented cancer. Other times, you might be angry at God or a higher power from “allowing it to happen,” or at your healthcare providers for not doing more to help. Unfortunately, your loved ones might get the blunt of your anger, simply because they’re the closest to you.

Acceptance

If denial is synonymous with non-acceptance, then acceptance is to face the reality of what is: “You have cancer.” It’s hard to read those words and to face them head on, but to keep on denying that fact is to say, “Cancer has you.” To accept something does not mean you have to like it, or that you approve of it; it only means you’re not fighting the reality of cancer diagnosis, treatment and prognosis. You’re more willing to look it in the eye, and say, “Okay, let’s do this.”

The actual stages of grief

The five stages of grief originally coined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross is actually in the order of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I mixed up the order to show that there really isn’t a right or wrong way to go through grief because mourning a loss is meant to be messy.

You could be accepting the side effects of chemo one moment and then be very angry that you missed the toilet and barfed all over the floor the next. You could have a good cry and feel at peace, and the next crying episode could make you very angry at God. You might want to cancel your MRI and be in denial about what your doctors would want to say to you and the next day, invite a friend to come along to your imaging appointment.

It’s okay

The Kübler-Ross model likely does not encompass the emotional complexity of your cancer journey. Nonetheless, your cancer experience is your experience. It is okay to feel the way you do; all of your feelings are valid and normal. Allow yourself to go to these places; it’s a part of the healing process.

If you need help navigating through the messiness of these feelings, I’m here.


Ada Pang, MS, LMFT is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps distressed couples and breast cancer patients. That could also mean couples distressed by a partner’s cancer diagnosis, or couples wishing to use their marriage as a resource during their cancer journey. When she’s not thinking about work, she loves spending time with her hubby, eating good food and more recently, watching Harry Potter.