coping

Goal Setting in 2019: Increasing your Motivation for Change

Photo by Luis Quintero on Unsplash

Photo by Luis Quintero on Unsplash

It’s the first week of New Year’s and a lot of people like you are thinking about New Year’s resolutions, goal setting, and life hacking in 2019. There’s something about a new year that hits the restart button for us. It’s 1st quarter again, the challenges of 2018 are behind us, and the hope for a new beginning ahead.

Last year, I rained on your New Year’s parade by reminding you of the realities of setting new year’s resolutions. This year I’ll share with you my struggles, how I keep at it, and urge you to move towards your goals for a better health, relationship, and life.

My burden to bear

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when my shoulder pain started. Has it been there for six or nine months? Mostly definitely after the two fender benders. Being in front of the computer most days doesn’t help. Leaning towards my clients during emotionally intense moments doesn’t either. I wake up everyday sensing the pain in my right shoulder. I make every effort to sleep only on my back. Nonetheless, I couldn’t lift my arm in the morning without significant strain.

Not a very good patient

You see, I get PT and massage every two weeks. The problem is, I don’t always follow through with recommendations. PT exercises will only take 10-15 min to complete each day, but I’m not a very good patient.*

*took a break to do one of six exercises

They’re not fun, quite boring actually, and I need to rest in between exercises before starting over. Sometimes I go off to do something else in between, leaving the TheraBands wedged between closed doors. It wasn’t until I tried to go to the bathroom and wondered why the door was shut did I realize, “Oh, PT exercises…”

The costs of staying the same

Aside from the significant pain I feel when I first open my eyes, I feel like a crab fumbling around as I dress myself. I need help getting the bed ready for house guests because my arm tires easily from pulling and lifting. I feel the strain when I do meal prep, carry heavy things, and reach for longer than 10 seconds. During yoga, I couldn’t lower myself all the way down from plank pose without my knees also coming down. I hesitate starting Orangetheory not knowing if my body will get upset with me the next day.

What I’ve tried

So I’ve read everything under the sun about setting SMARTER goals*, goals that are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Risky, Time-stamped, Exciting and Relevant. I even note PT exercises on my quarterly planner as a recurring goal. I tried to carry a TheraBand with me to work so I can do these exercises where I spend the most time, only to bring it home, untouched. I tried to set aside time in the morning before breakfast or right when I come home, but when that time passes, I’d tell myself, “I guess I’ll have to wait until tomorrow...”

The worst of it was when I tried to tie it to something that I routinely do, like, “If I don’t do my exercises, then I can’t floss either.” Yes, very strange indeed. Other people might have flossing as one of their goals; for me, I can’t go to bed without flossing. It just feels wrong. And yet, I did it one time because that was how much I didn’t want to do my exercises. I swiftly separated the associations between these two activities.

It just wasn’t working.

Why this matters

I don’t have an epic tale to tell you, one filled with a triumphant overcome, of a body free of pain and discomfort. What I will tell you is a daily reminder of why it’s important to do my exercises and why it matters that I experience less pain.

I want to spend less time commuting to this or that appointment. I want to be able to carry a Camelbak with 2 liters of water and to do so with ease when I hike in New Zealand next month. I want to start Orangetheory and see that my body is capable of healing from what has developed into more of a chronic problem. I want to put my arm around my husband’s waist like he does mine when we’re walking side-by-side.

The truth of the matter is, this shoulder pain has really limited me and I don’t want to live like this.

What’s working

I no longer set a definite time for when I need to do my exercises. My TheraBands are readily available and you don’t know this but I actually completed all my exercises for the day in between writing this blog. Every time I pass up an opportunity to do my exercises, I ask myself, “Why not now?” and use that minute to do a prep. I vary the order of the exercises so they feel fresh to me. Over time, I notice less pain, greater range of motion and that encourages me to keep going.

I still fall back into my old ways but I know it’s never too late to pick it back up. And, I don’t have to wait until it’s the beginning of a new year, the beginning of a new quarter, or the beginning of a new anything to do so. It can happen right here, right now.

But, that’s me. So, what about you?

Let’s talk change

I’d encourage you to reflect on the following questions** as you set goals for 2019:

  1. Why do you want to make this change?

  2. Are you capable of this change?

  3. How might this benefit you?

  4. Why does this change matter to you?

Can you remember why you’d be willing to disrupt your routine to make this change, even when it’s inconvenient, boring, uncomfortable, or even painful? What are the costs of things staying exactly the same? What might you gain if you put one foot in front of the other? If you give up soon after the new year’s, who is there to support you to get you back on track?

When you ponder these questions and answer truthfully, it’ll firm up your “why” for making this change. When you’re invested in the process and the outcome, it’ll increase your motivation to see your goals to the end. But don’t stop there: While you can read and think about goal setting all day long, the most important step is still taking actions towards the things that matter to you. As you eat, live and breathe the change you want for your life, ask yourself, “How do I like this new normal?”

You can always tweak and adjust as you go.

Change is slow

No one likes to take it slow. Everyone, to some degree, want things to happen yesterday, with lasting effects and little effort. Sorry to break it to you, but Rebecca Solnit, an American writer, says it best -

“Even earthquakes are the consequences of tensions built up over long spans of time, imperceptibly, incrementally. You don’t notice the buildup, just the release. You see a sick person, an old person, a dying person, the sight sinks in, and somewhere down the road you change your life. In movies and novels, people change suddenly and permanently, which is convenient and dramatic but not much like life, where you gain distance on something, relapse, resolve, try again, and move along in stops, starts, and stutters. Change is mostly slow.”

If you want to make sustainable changes that will last throughout the year, we’re here to help. We’ll be truly human, seeing you through your “stops, starts and stutters” without judgment, while moving you closer to the life you want to live. Give us a call today.

* Borrowed from The Full Focus Planner
** Borrowed from Motivational Interviewing


People-Bloom-Counseling-Redmond-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 day after writing this blog, she went to her first Orangetheory class. For the next few days, she walked around the office like a crab. She will go back. “You’re not out of shape,” says Jake who checked her in, “We just need to get you feeling stronger.” So it is.


A Case For Doing Less This Holiday Season

Photo by Andy Chilton on Unsplash

Photo by Andy Chilton on Unsplash

I’m declaring “holiday stress” a national mental health crisis. I just read one of those 5 tips to reduce holiday stress articles, and one suggestion for letting off steam was to go to a private place to scream out all your pent-up rage. Really, Cosmo? This is solid advice for a med student about to take their board exams…but the holidays should never reach this level of stress!

The pressure we put on ourselves to make the holidays magical is massive. For many of us, it comes from a place of caring; let’s make it special for the kids, create memories, carry on a sense of tradition and obligation, impress others, and strive for perfection. The holidays are a people-pleaser’s dream come true and a perfectionist’s worst nightmare.

Manage expectations

I want you to try something. I want you to visualize how you hope your holiday dinner with the family will go. Do you have it? Good. Do you feel all warm and safe, picturing joy and peace, the kids caroling in the snow and the smell of gingerbread wafting through the house? Good news, you’re an optimist.

Or on the other hand, does the thought of the holidays fill you with a sense of dread, worrying about getting it all done in time, how to handle Uncle Bill’s political rants, or the kids throwing tantrums in front of the guests? Well, I guess you’re more of a realist.  

Ada, one of our therapists here at People Bloom once had a client who talked about Thanksgiving going “exactly as planned.” The turkey came out just right, everyone had a great time and no one argued. He was retirement age and that was the first time it has ever happened. Ada’s advice to him was, “You need to mark that on the calendar because that’s not going to be a common occurrence!”

At any rate, regardless of how you visualized your holiday this year, now I want you to erase it! Yes, you heard me; erase the expectation. Things never go quite as we imagine they will. Going into holiday festivities with no expectation, and with no anticipation of the worst will clear your mind of the worries. All you can do is face the next few weeks with an open heart. Have a plan, but be willing to hold onto the plan loosely and do your best. This brings us to the next question: how do you do your best without burning yourself out? 

Managing emotional labor

When it’s time to plan for the holidays, you know that if you don’t do it, it won’t get done. So you take it on yourself to do it all, and do it right.  I know there’s a part of you that enjoys the adrenaline rush, and the thrill of bringing joy and delight to your family. But there’s another part too: the tired part, the part that doesn’t always feel appreciated for going above and beyond, the disappointed part when things often do not turn out as planned.

If you’re running the household, things are busy enough. The holidays take busy to the next level, which can leave you feeling stretched too thin and wondering if it’s worth the effort you tirelessly put in.

Questioning traditions

If the holiday hustle and bustle leaves you tired and worn out, ask yourself…

Who am I doing all this for?
Do these people matter? If it’s distant relatives and acquaintances you only see once a year, can you imagine taking some pressure off yourself to impress?

Why am doing this?
Focus on what makes the holidays meaningful to you. When you really delve deep, it’s not about anything external. The holidays are about faith for some, as well as family time, gratitude and a sense of community. All the consumerism and chaos that go beyond this is societal, self-imposed and likely unnecessary/slightly awful.

What will happen if I DON’T do everything on the list?
So, there will be two pies instead of three, there won’t be a handcrafted wreath on the door, Aunt Gloria won’t get a Christmas card, and the kids won’t get 28 presents each. And everyone will survive. I promise the world won’t end.

Drop unnecessary rituals. I know you always made 17 varieties of toffee brittle to give to every member of the extended family. They treasure it when they receive it, but nothing in the world order is changed if they don’t get their sugar fix. Ask yourself why you feel compelled to do so much for others. Is it because you have boundless energy and it brings you joy? Or is it a sense of obligation? If it’s the latter, you know what to do. Or not to do, in this case.

A relaxed host is a happy host

 If you’re hosting the big dinner, take on what you can and let the rest fall by the wayside. You could tear your hair out making sure every traditional dish makes it to the table, but your guests will be more impressed by a simple meal with a relaxed and happy you than a decadent six-course meal with a stressed out, frantic and exhausted you.

If your holiday dinner is not already a potluck, consider making it a potluck. No, really. And don’t worry if a dish doesn’t get made or there is an uneven and ungodly amount of candied yams. Food is food! For too long we’ve worried ourselves silly balancing out the meal with obsessive precision! Even if things have been that way for years past, who’s to say it has to stay that way for this holiday onward?

No one expects perfection but you. Few people notice the lengths you went to for that perfect cornucopia centerpiece. Being known as the Martha Stewart of the clan just makes people take your attention to detail for granted. If they do notice that you’ve stopped doing something, that is an opportunity for you to explain new traditions and to focus on the things that matter more: relationships.

If you do less, the truth is, the holidays won’t look like they usually do, but the person who notices this most is you, and others will be forgiving - a lack of décor or mismatched silverware is the last thing on their minds.  Who knows, if your holiday guests notice that you are too tired to go the extra mile this year, there’s a good chance they’ll pick up the slack. And even if they don’t - the key is to know that’s ok too.

Asking for help

As the hostess with the mostess, you make it look easy, but gathering everyone together can be overwhelming, even for you. Make your life easier by asking for help.  It doesn’t make you helpless - on the contrary, it’s empowering to assert yourself and request a favor here and there.

You don’t have to do it all. Delegate tasks that others can do. People at family gatherings often feel like lumps on a log - restless and eager to help. Keep them busy with tasks that don’t need you - let them take drink orders, add festive music to the playlist, greet guests at the door and take coats.

Feeling present

When you do less, you notice more. I noticed how much more centered I feel when I can just…be among people who I cherish, without planning, controlling and feeling responsible for their fun. Gathering as a family is hard enough in itself - you already checked the box. You celebrated the holidays. Whatever happens, happens.

So take a little off your plate this year. No, don’t literally take food off your plate. Go ahead and eat that third helping of turkey. And if no one stepped up to cook a turkey - a store bought rotisserie isn’t the worst thing that can happen to your family. You’ll see things turn out just fine even when you let it go.

This holiday season, make this your new mantra: simplicity is key, and good enough is good enough.


Karen Lenz People Bloom Counseling Redmond Executive Assistant.png

 Karen Lenz is the Executive Assistant at People Bloom Counseling. She’s the office admin whiz - not a therapist. She writes blog posts as a human navigating this world, a client sitting across from a therapist, much like you. She is thankful to get to share her experiences with you, and she’s starting to realize that when things go all wrong at Thanksgiving, that’s part of the fun because it makes a great story to re-tell at every family dinner for generations to come.

A Life Worth Living: What to Do When Faced with Thoughts of Suicide

Photo by Larisa Birta on Unsplash

Photo by Larisa Birta on Unsplash

Death by suicide

Social media blew up two weeks ago when fashion icon Kate Spade and culinary expert Anthony Bourdain died by suicide days of each other. After all, who doesn’t know the brand Kate Spade, hasn’t walked past one of her stores, or perhaps own one of her purses? Foodie or not, who hasn’t heard of Anthony Bourdain and his culinary storytelling that sparks interest and delight in food and cultures all around the world?

News like this often get the immediacy of the press and then slowly fade away. However, if you are familiar with the feelings of suicide or have lost family, friends and role models to suicide, you do not just recover and move on. These thoughts, feelings and images still consume your mind even when the news has moved to national crises like the horror of separating immigrant children from their families.

Suicide unfortunately happens amongst everyday folks, and this rarely makes the news or causes a social media uproar. While Spade and Bourdain may have been inspiring role models, their deaths didn’t spur this strong reaction because they matter more than the rest of us. It is because high profile celebrity suicides affect our collective consciousness and bring awareness to a problem people face in their small communities. We want to open the discussion about suicide and what we can do to prevent it.

Soapbox about suicide language

As a healthcare professional in the state of Washington, I am required to take a suicide prevention training every six years. One of the most significant takeaways from the last training was changing the way we talk about suicide. We often talk about someone having “committed suicide.” If we really stop to think about it, the closest association of someone having “committed” something is a crime.

While we would never say that someone “committed cancer” or “committed heart disease,” let’s start by saying that it was death by suicide. I understand that suicide implies a choice whereas medical illnesses does not, but it doesn’t help for us to talk about our struggles if we’re loading on the stigma.

Thoughts about ending the pain: a common experience

Recently, I took another suicide and self-harm training. This time, it was with Jack Klott, a suicide prevention consultant. There, I learned that the thoughts of suicide is actually a common experience. Difficult or sometimes chronic life circumstances can create a felt sense of unbearable pain. This then challenges our capacity to cope, and thinking about death is an effort to get rid of this intolerable pain.

The thing is, as a society, we freak out when someone talks about thoughts of suicide. We are quick to talk them off the ledge, which in imminent situations, we need to. But in cases where it took a lot of courage to even admit to having these thoughts, it doesn’t help to be told to not think or feel this way. Rather, we need a be willing to learn about each others’ pain and to encourage the person with suicidal thoughts to get help.

Additional factors to protect against suicide

Indeed, having a support network is a protective factor in preventing suicide. Jack Klott also mentioned the importance of the following factors:

  • Resilience. This is about the process of adapting and recovering from significant stress or hardships. In a separate training, I learned and shared about stress-resilience habits.
     
  • Hope. Remind yourself how you got through difficult circumstances in the past, because you have. When it’s hard to hold hope, allow and trust others to hold that with you and for you.
     
  • Tolerate stress and distress. In moments of despair, it’s about surviving that moment without making matters worse. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a pioneer in teaching you how to tolerate, rather than avoid, distress. Here’s an overview on distress tolerance.
     
  • Regulate emotions.  In the face of unbearable pain, emotions are strong and overwhelming. This often prevents your pre-frontal cortex from thinking rationally. Learning DBT skills can help you label and regulate your emotions, so you don’t feel so crazy inside.
     
  • Social support.  I mentioned it above, but I see it’s such a necessity to mention it again. Suicidal thoughts are a common experience. The only way we can feel less alone about it is if we give it a collective voice. Much like the #metoo movement, don’t suffer in silence. Reach out if you’re having a hard time. Reach in if you know someone is struggling. We are each others’ safety net.
     
  • A reason for living.  Did you know that a lot of amazing things needed to occur for you to be born? The odds of you being born to the parents you were born to required a lot of “coincidences” in the history that preceded them. And I’m not even talking about how babies are made. That math is 1 in 400,000,000,000. You’re uniquely you. While you might not be a Kate Spade or an Anthony Bourdain, this world is not the same without you. You are changing the world by being in it and doing you.

Life is hard; get help

If you’re struggling with thoughts about suicide, share these thoughts with a trusted friend or healthcare professional. Text CONNECT to 741741 in the United States. Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) 273-TALK (8255). Visit Now Matters Now to learn helpful ways to deal with your suicidal thoughts.

You don’t have to go about this alone. Get help.


People Bloom Counseling Redmond Couples Cancer Ada Pang.png

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.

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 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” and “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 Bob Russell Teens Working Professionals Redmond I.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.

Break Up Haircut

Relationship ended? Making some drastic changes, to include a hairstyle change? I recently contributed materials to Simplemost as to why women cut their hair after a break up. I have some additional thoughts...

Alex Holyoake/unsplash.com

Alex Holyoake/unsplash.com

A break up, whether planned or a shock, cordial or full of conflict, is a significant event. It's not uncommon for men and women to make radical changes following a heartbreak. For some women, they cut their hair. Why?

Here are my speculations: 

1) Stereotypically, men like women with long hair. If there's a desire to dissociate yourself from your ex and his preferences, chopping off your hair will make the statement, both to him and yourself.

2) Perhaps you've always wanted a new look but it wasn't preferred by your partner. Now you get to make the decision for yourself. 

3) Look at yourself in the mirror. Short of changing out your wardrobe, your hair is an easy thing you can doing something about. A new hairstyle is not going to solve all of your problems, but it does give you some very visible control over your circumstances.

4) I'm often amazed at how fast my hair grows without me realizing. While that's not always the case for everyone, seeing new growth is also a reminder of the life possible after a break-up. Your hair will grow back, so your heart will also mend. If you keep the same style, growth is less noticeable.

If a new look is not enough to help you move on, let me know!