Holiday Anxieties


Noises from Inside the Anxiety Closet: The Holidays are here!

Christmas! New Years! Hanukkah! Kwanza!

Holidays are supposed to be many things: fun, family, warmth, togetherness, celebration.  Everyone who is living a Hallmark commercial like this, raise your hands.  Not so many. Not meeting our expectations? Another let down?

The holidays can be troublesome: frustrations erupt, tempers flare, feelings of sadness and being alone in this misery.  Comparisons in our anxious minds about all the perfect picture postcard families with whom we compare ourselves. Mental energy goes into overdrive: so many “shoulds:” shopping cleaning, cooking, hosting duties.  Or the opposite – insensitive family members, family conflict, or being alone.

What Can You Do to Help Yourself?

– not just survive the season – but actually enjoy it?    Even if just a bit.  Start here: reflect on giving yourself permission to adjust and adapt according to your needs.   (If it seems impossible that you can choose to make your needs a priority, then consider it’s not just the holiday stress; it’s a life satisfaction concern.)

  1. Acknowledge your feelings. If you have suffered a loss or are separated from loved ones, feeling sad and grieving is normal, to be expected. Take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force happiness.
  2. Don’t micromanage anything or anyone. You have the right to say no to anything that will take the joy out of the season for you.  Allow yourself to respectfully decline invitations for uncomfortable situations.  Create new traditions that bring you joy. Protect your own peace of mind during the season of peace. You are entitled to peace.
  3. Instead of being overwhelmed by what seems to be lacking in your life, ask yourself, “What do I have right now?” We tend to worry about the future and neglect appreciation of the moment. Reflect on the food you are eating, a good friend or family member you appreciate, and the small comforts in your life.  Shift the way you look at things.
  4. See family members for who they are, not as they “should” be. You can’t control others. You can learn to control yourself. Choose your reaction or choose to let it go.  Who says you have to spend all day with your family when you can only tolerate two hours with them.   Call a truce on your differences for today.    There are actually few families in which everyone gets along with no friction between some members.
  5. Be realistic. Families do change and do grow. Traditions and rituals need to accommodate those changes. Hold on to the ones that make sense for you, and consider creating new ones. Find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos. Bring the family together to celebrate at a less intense and stressful time.
  6. Reach out. Focus on what you can do and who you know that would appreciate your attention. Volunteering your time to help others is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships

More Kindness Please!



Bullies are a hot topic these days. Cyber bullies! School bullies! Political bullies! We have all known one, seen one, maybe been on the receiving end of one. Images pop easily into our minds. But the most insidious and lethal bully of all – the one that lives in your head.

Stop being so mean to yourself!

Come on now. You know how you talk to yourself when no one is listening or even when they are.  I can’t believe I did that again. I never get it right. What a slacker I am. I’m so fat I’m disgusting. I’m a horrible mother/father/son/friend! Every day is a bad hair day for me.

Those brains, our brains, just go on and on, punishing us, insulting us, taunting us. The judgements and put-downs that we would never do to someone we love or respect.  Our brains sometimes hijack our good mood, sometimes lay traps, and often ambush us.

What’s wrong with us and what to do about it.

It’s the misguided child of survival. This negativity is the descendant, the great-great-great-great grandchild, of a life and death survival strategy. Who survived when we lived in caves and hunted the bison and gathered the berries? Not the jolly carefree fellow who never looked over his shoulder to see the approaching saber-tooth tiger. Not the mother who disregarded the snake among the berries. Vigilance and hyperawareness allowed our cave moms and cave dads to see another sunrise. Their legacy is our internal dialogue and search for possible pitfalls.

But how can we be happy, or even just ok, in present time when our eyes are always focused on the shadows and never the sunshine?  It is time to learn refocusing, self-soothing. Start today. Start practicing.

Self-Soothing Activities: get out of your head and into your senses. Also, this means putting down your phone, looking up from your computer, turning off the TV to be present with these.

  • Touch – rub your fingers over your pet’s fur or a soft blanket or a hard rock, squeeze a stress ball, soak your feet in warm water, rub on scented lotion. Drum with wooden spoons. Massage the back of your neck. Splash cold water on your face. Take a hot shower.
  • Smell – a ripe piece of fruit, bubblegum, your cup of coffee, a scented candle, a warm piece of bread, vanilla.
  • Listen – music from your teen years, birds singing, the rhythm of a fan, a book on tape.
  • Taste – a piece of chocolate, a salty chip, a piece of gum, a cup of spicy hot tea
  • Experience – make your favorite meal, reach out to a caring friend, watch a sunset, perform an act of kindness for someone, organize your closet or a drawer, notice the intake of a full, deep breath and your slow exhale.

Some may be best soothed by focusing on a specific sense.  Some people are more visual than others and some are more auditory. Experiment with the different senses to see what works best for you. You may want to create a self-soothing box full of options that you know are effective for you. Put a list of your self-soothing activities in the box along with some of the objects you might need.

And start practicing kindness with yourself. Send the inner bully to a time-out.

Finally, remember: Every day is a new opportunity to start anew. Your past does not define you. Your future cannot hurt you. Only your present matters. Take a moment, and feel it.



Taking the Long View: Psychotherapy


My daughter asked me what I was thinking about as we both sat at the kitchen table on a Sunday afternoon. I stared out the window. “Taking the long view” I said.

“And what does that mean?” she rightfully asked.

A year ago this month, I was contemplating my mortality after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Same month, a year later, I am struggling with a mobility problem after an area rug ambushed me, leaving me with a swollen, painful, non-functioning foot. Obviously a much better problem to have than cancer, yes?!

Except that my new independent psychotherapy practice is just getting started. This ambulatory issue forced me to cancel 7 appointments last week. Does that suggest a mental picture of money blowing out the window? Yes, but, more importantly, it’s a pothole on my road to success. Success involves building relationships and trust with clients and with my referral sources. At least that is how I initially considered it.

But then I considered where I want my practice to be in three years.   I am not here to scoop up every possible client looking for a therapy home. Rethinking my current situation, I realized this is about crafting and shaping a practice which works for me, because only then can I provide the quality service which every client seeking help deserves.

Therapy is not or should not be built on a fast-food-drive-through model. MacDonald’s may have a bit of everything to meet the flavor profiles of the masses, but where is their area of expertise? Hamburgers and fries. Every therapist does not have expertise with every client population and each type of issue.

Some therapists love working with kids. Some trained specifically to work with couples. Some, having soooo much patience, work with substance abuse. You should really find those professionals for those specific issues. I’ll help you find them! But I don’t have the background or the training to provide best service for each and every issue. And I won’t pretend – or try to learn on the job – just to add another client to my caseload.

I know where I want to be in three years. That’s taking the long view. Where are you going to be in 2019?

Where’s My Magic Wand?!

therapy is


What comes to mind when you hear  someone is told, “go get professional help” or if your doctor suggests that “you should see someone”?  Maybe you have a picture in your head, born from a TV show or a movie of what therapy is.  The professional sits behind a desk. The client lays on a couch (if it’s an old movie) or squirms in a chair. Usually, somewhere along the way, magic happens. The client is fixed. Must be that Magic Wand that the professional keeps in his big desk drawer.

If you are ready to make that phone call and “see someone,” it’s only because all the ways you have tried to make yourself feel better have failed, or failed to make your life go the way it is supposed to, and you have had it with feeling so miserable.

So you pull out the insurance card and wait for the appearance of the Magic Wand which will fix you or fix that person in your life who is causing you trouble. Sad to say that is all out of Magic Wands and graduate school does not teach any incantations.

Our job is not to fix people; it is to support people who want to heal by using the best tools to find their strengths.  Having friends to talk to is so important, but a therapist is trained to offer more than just good advice. Life gets messy and complicated and a co-pilot may be in order to navigate through and beyond the current situation.  Therapy is not about blaming parents or staying stuck in the past. It’s about an increasing awareness of how these previous life circumstances impact you right now and with regard to the issue at hand.

Therapy is often about learning to cope better with all the usual stuff: relationship frustration, losses, anger, uncertainty over the future, transitioning from one situation to another, etc.    Therapy can help you navigate these rocks in the road more smoothly and set you up for success on the other side of it.

It is about building trust and safety by talking to someone else about your problems, someone who provides unconditional positive regard and support.  You come to see that a.) you aren’t insane b.) lots of other people share your issues and c.) things can be better. One of the things that a good therapist can offer is a way of changing the way you see a problem. Sometimes, doing that will allow you to find other solutions to a problem you previously thought was insurmountable.