How to Build Your Imaginary Brain Trust Through Books

Have I ever mentioned that I’m a bibliophile? For me, learning to read was exactly like being given a free lifetime supply of the best, most potent psychedelic drugs known to humanity. If you’ve never hallucinated yourself into the pages of particularly vivid story or poem, then you have missed out of on the most basic pleasures of an intellectual life. Go read something right now–vampire novels or  superhero comics or someone’s diary. Don’t come back until you find writing that makes you forget time is a relevant metric.

When I look at my bookshelf or Audible library, I see a whole team of star players who can give me advice about whatever existential crisis the universe has dropped into my lap that day. If you don’t have a brain trust in real life that can help figure you out how to get out of your own way, there is always one available to you between the covers of a book. I, and other therapists and life coaches, are awesome resources. But let’s face it, we’re expensive guns hired by the hour to do very targeted work. Great books, particularly electronic ones that you can listen to while doing dishes, driving, nursing babies or making baba ghannouj allow for a pretty consistent immersive experience into life-changing big ideas. I look at it this way: change your background noise, change your life.

At some point, all of us feel stuck at best and trapped at worst. Who can draw a finer point on it than Rilke? He says, “For if we imagine this being of the individual as a larger or smaller room, it is obvious that most people come to know only one corner of their room, one spot near the window, one narrow strip on which they keep walking back and forth.”  I think all of us have that one corner of our intellectual/spiritual/emotional room that we keep pacing without appreciating the vastness of our choices. Seeing that you’ve gotten yourself into that corner is the first step to pacing the whole of the room.

So here, without further ado, are the books that have been most impactful for me this year. Some of them are explorations of social science that are salient to my career as a therapist. Others are volumes of poetry or essays that are salient to my life as a human.

  1. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
  2. Cape, Spandex, Briefcase: Leadership Lessons from Superheros by Dave Kahn
  3. No Mud No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering by Thich Nhat Hahn
  4. You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero
  5. We Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider
  6. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
  7. Super Rich: A Guide to Having it All by Russell Simmons
  8. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
  9. The Motivation Manifesto by Brendan Burchard
  10. Tribes by Seth Godin
  11. Build the Fort by Chris Heivly
  12. The Pleasures of the Damned by Charles Bukowski (Skip this one if you don’t like both poetry and salty language. But, I got so much enjoyment out of it that I included it anyway.)
  13. The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron, Ph.D.
  14.  The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
  15. Mindset by Carol Dweck
  16. F*uck Feelings by Michael Bennett MD and Sarah Bennet (Written by a Harvard Shrink and his comedy-writer daughter–legit, I promise.)
  17. Bodies in Motion and at Rest: On Metaphor and Mortality by Thomas Lynch
  18. Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
  19. What I’ve Learned: The Meaning of Life According to 65 Artists, Athletes, Leaders and Legends complied by Esquire Magazine
  20. The Power of Ambition by Jim Rohn
  21. Presence by Amy Cuddy
  22. Mindfulness for Beginners by Jon Kabbat-Zinn
  23. Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabbat-Zinn

What books are making waves in your mind at the moment? Why don’t you come on in so that we can talk about it.

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

Are you looking for individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a consultation to learn how counseling can help you. Please contact me at (919) 714-7455 or email me at holly@lotustherapycenter.com. Visit me on the web at www.lotustherapycenter.com or:

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On Having a Good Cry and a Great 2016

When was the last time you had a really good cry? You know the ones that make you feel a little wrung out inside…slightly weary and perhaps kind of light-headed?

I’m an exceptionally easy crier. I cry when I am too happy, too miserable or too anything at all (for which I seem to have a low threshold). I cry at those diaper commercials with the brand new babies air nursing in their sleep and at the ones with Sarah McLachlan balefully yodeling over sad pictures of pound puppies. I cried when I got married and my children were born and my dad told me he was going to retire. I cried because my wonderful friend, Katrin, did an amazing fund raiser for Syrian refugees and then I cried thinking of the plight of Syrian refugees. Today, I cried because my wonderful ophthalmologist, who never minds when I cry during my appointments, is moving to New Jersey. It was a double cry fest up in his office today.

I think this particular quirk of mine is a foundational explanation for why I am so comfortable doing a job in which most of my day is spent with crying people. Usually, the most immediate thing a new client does when crying in front of me for the first time is apologize. And, I tell them that it’s alright–because it really is alright. Being with someone while they cry is a sacred thing. I am always grateful for the opportunity to be present in those sessions. The intersection of the sometimes terrible now with the desperate hope for a different, better future is powerful–even if it comes dressed up as tears.

I hope that as 2016 gets underway we all work to be more in touch with our emotions rather than less. I hope we stop feeling ashamed of genuine displays of feelings and instead find constructive, meaningful ways to roar them out to the world like the badass lions we all are. And mostly, I hope we support one another in shows of vulnerability and honesty because those are the cornerstones of emotional health and spiritual flexibility.

Would you like to make this year the one in which your accelerated evolution brings you to happy tears? Are you ready to transform into the person you deserve to be? Why don’t you come on in so we can talk about it.

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

Are you looking for individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a consultation to learn how counseling can help you. Please contact me at (919) 714-7455 or email me at holly@lotustherapycenter.com. Visit me on the web at www.lotustherapycenter.com or:

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Surviving the Holidays: A Treatise on Rockwell, Wine and Service

The tinsel is up and the tree is trimmed. And, as usual, I have done precisely none of my Christmas shopping. I’m not sure what happens exactly. Is it the rush of holiday parties and end of year business responsibilities? Or, is this just me shirking the equivalent of grownup homework? The world may never know. But, the net result seems to be that I am the biggest bah humbug out on the stroll today. The one and only thing I took pleasure in shopping for is a set of those funky reindeer antlers that attach to your car. And, wouldn’t you know I couldn’t find them? So, if you know where I can get them, drop me a line. Bastian tells me we would prefer the ones with lights.

Do the holidays bring out the best in you? Are you cheerfully blazing a trail through Pinterest making pretzel nativity scenes or quietly dreading the complex warfare that family visits can invite? Probably, we’re all doing a bit of both. And, I’m here to tell you that it’s alright. Yes, gentle reader, nobody is a warm, sweet cup of hot cocoa every minute of the season. Sometimes, you’re the fruitcake in the corner. Here’s a few tips to make it through the festivities, be they tame or tumultuous:

1) Everyone’s Families are Mixed Nuts: When I was a kid, my grandmother Helen had a set of plates with Norman Rockwell paintings on them that she pulled out for every Christmas. Washing them at the sink after the meals, I often pictured Rockewell himself living out each of the idyllic scenes he painted. Turns out that his own childhood was not particularly happy and he often felt bullied and alone. Sad, right? But, he created that warmth he longed for through his work and you can have a hand in painting a happier life too. You are entitled to feel complex emotions about your family gatherings and to set boundaries around how and when you’ll interact with folks who make your life difficult.

2) Sneak Off: One of the most standard pieces of advice I give couples around the holidays (and all the time, really) is that you and your partner should sneak away to a hotel by yourselves. If your house is anything like mine, there are children, dogs and laundry underfoot all the time. Honestly, if you have on two matching socks right now you’re ahead of me. Priceline was made for folks who could do with a cheap bottle of wine and some clean sheets for a few hours. You know you’d spend about the same amount at dinner eating that crappy blooming onion monstrosity anyway. You don’t have to stay all night to have a great time and the babysitter won’t know the difference. You deserve it, your partner deserves it and you can leave the hotel maid any wine you don’t finish.

3) Serve as a Family: One of the best gifts you can give your kiddos and yourself is to take a break from shopping for the latest electronic wizardry and help others. There are a million ways you can serve both in person and with your pocketbook. Sing carols to the elderly, bring cookies to your kid’s school, pick an angel off the angel tree and buy gifts or serve at your local homeless shelter. Remind yourself that you are not only an awesome person, but also one who is connected to his/her community via bonds of compassion and love.

Do you have some pre-holiday jitters you’d like to work out? Do you know where I can buy my automobile reindeer antlers? Why don’t you come on in so we can talk about it.

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

Are you looking for individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a consultation to learn how counseling can help you. Please contact me at (919) 714-7455 or email me at holly@lotustherapycenter.com. Visit me on the web at www.lotustherapycenter.com or:

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Your Anxiety and I are in Cahoots: Why Slowing Down Can Sharpen Your Saw

anger managementMany of my new client sessions start the same way these days:

“Doc, I need you to help me with my anxiety. I don’t know why this is happening, but lately I have been jumpy. I just feel dizzy and sort of disconnected from my body. I’m worried I’m going to have a panic attack or lose my cool in public. I just can’t have that.” I can’t say I blame them; the idea of having the body process go one way and the thinking self go another is pretty terrifying. We always expect our mental mandates to be Boss Hog, right? Body, fall in line, damn it.

My office is populated by the worried well–really busy, accomplished success stories with time for everything but themselves. What they want, they tell me, is for me to fix the unpleasant physical sensations that they are enduring so that they can continue on a million miles a minute at the current pace. The racing heart, racing thoughts, sweating, panting, insomnia and dizziness are kind of a drag. Hey, I’ve experienced them myself. Fair enough.

But, since I like all you good people, I’m going to do you a solid and not help you sell out your body. Nope. Not. Gonna. Do. It.

Think about the logic of this for a moment: If I were to instruct you to doggedly ignore your intuition with your clients, colleagues, partner or friends, you would think I was a doctoral level fruit cake. That’s mostly because nobody sees much of a win in not gathering as much information as possible in those important relational spaces. And, they’re a million percent right. So, why then do we think our body is rebelling against our best and highest ambitions when it desperately telegraphs out the information that something isn’t kosher at the ol’ ranch? Your body doesn’t have it in for you when it produces feelings of anxiety. As a matter of fact, your body’s main goal in life is to keep on surviving. With that in mind, we will begin to take a look at why it sabotages your busyness with that specific kind of speed bump. And, we will then set about partnering with your unique physiology to harness all that great body data rather than obliterating it.

You and I both know that we live in a culture that increasingly demands more outbound connectivity to our electronics and less inbound connectivity to our own wellbeing. While I could write a really long and pedantic diatribe about why that is, the main point I want to drive home is that your perfectly normal, well-intentioned body is trying to rescue you from yourself. Please let it.  We can work on how to maintain and sharpen your saw while taking the pressure off your body process and using it for what it is–information. When all your horses are pulling in the same direction you’re really in the race for the joy of the speed and the advancement–not because you’re frantically trying to catch up.

Are you ready to stop pathologizing yourself for your sensitivities? Would you like to learn a few new tricks about how to use those super powers for good? Why don’t you come on in so that we can talk about it.

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

Are you looking for individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a consultation to learn how counseling can help you. Please contact me at (919) 714-7455 or email me at holly@lotustherapycenter.com. Visit me on the web at www.lotustherapycenter.com or:

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The Tao of Dishwashers and Creating Marital Rituals

I have discovered that if there is a literal and metaphorical ground zero for marital discord it is the dishwasher. Track with me here:

Apparently there is an idiosyncratic logic to the loading of a dishwasher that is entirely reminiscent of how one approaches life in general. It is, if you will, a concrete demonstration of your philosophy of everything.

Do you wait until the last minute and then cram too much in and hope it all comes out alright in wash?

Are you spartan and rigid in how the dishes “must” go in in order to come out clean?

I’m not overstating it when I tell you that I have presided over more arguments about the rituals of this boring kitchen gadgetry than any other. People take their kitchen zen pretty freakin’ seriously.

I wonder, when I’m in dishwasher argument 5 of my therapy day, what it is about the operation of this ubiquitous appliance that sets people’s teeth on edge. And, I’ve come up with several theories about it. Here they are for your amusement:

1) You want everything to be your way: Shared chores and shared lives don’t work if you try to manipulate them down to the last detail. Though it would be nice if everyone did everything perfectly (your way, of course) holding your partner hostage to your whims and then saying, “you knew I was this way when you married me” doesn’t work. You are responsible for creating mindfulness and reasonableness within yourself. At the heart of collaboration is both people moving a little bit to the center. In order for the dishes get clean, literally and metaphorically, choose your battles.

2) You don’t take responsibility for anything: Hey, it would be cool if the dishwasher loaded itself. Maybe it’s sort of easy to rationalize that your partner likes loading the dishwasher if he or she always does it when you don’t. But, it’s more often the case that your spouse is worn out and tired of shouldering all the burden, but has lost hope that you’ll pitch in and help. And, when you want him/her to engage with you around things that are more fun–sex, snuggling or family outings–they won’t have the energy or goodwill to do so. In order for the dishes to get clean, literally or metaphorically, do your part without being begged.

3) You both ignore that the dishes are dirty: Sometimes, everyone is tired and life has taken it out of you. Both of you see the dishes piling up in the sink. The house is beginning to smell. But, neither one of you wants to tackle the mess. Silently, you both agree that the dishes are getting to be too much of a mess to clean up anymore. In order for the dishes to get clean, literally or metaphorically, pay attention to your marriage and call for change, even when it’s scary.

Would you like to come figure out how to get your marital house in order? Why don’t you come on in so that we can talk about it.

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

Are you looking for individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a consultation to learn how counseling can help you. Please contact me at (919) 714-7455 or email me at holly@lotustherapycenter.com. Visit me on the web at www.lotustherapycenter.com or:

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How to be a Conversational Designated Driver

Every now and again I get an abusive email. It’s never from someone I actually know. My real clients are amazing people–sensitive, kind and resilient. They value my time and their own and we don’t have any issues with keeping respect for one another really high. But, before someone becomes an actual client, there is a certain amount of calling or emailing back and forth to discuss our schedules, the fee and other particulars. Last week, a fellow disagreed with the fact that I charge at all (because hey, my children like to eat and stuff) and decided to let me know that through several vitriolic and extremely personal emails that covered everything from how I look to his perception of my moral compass. I wondered to myself as I read them, “Does this guy ever really think about what is going on in anyone else’s life?” If he had been sitting there with me in person, would he have dared to be this unkind?

When I have an interaction like this that riles me up, I always try to visualize the person doing something vulnerable. For instance, I picture their mothers holding them when they were babies or how the person might look in a quiet moment of doubt. This helps me realign myself to the fact that we’re all mostly just playing a big game of bumper cars with life–bouncing off of people and experiences that give us the feels and trying, with sometimes limited skill sets, to figure out what to do with all that. I have discovered in couples therapy, that when partners can step back and have sympathy for (not agreement with) what is going on with their spouses, they can make decisions that are more clear and intuitively guided.

Stuck conversations happen when you’re not sure if an issue can even be resolved or when you are afraid to tell your partner what you really think. If you suspect that you and your significant other are trapped in a quagmire like this, what should you do?

Offer to be the designated drive in that conversation.

This means that you will ask really good, open-ended questions without interjecting a lot of judgements or advice. You will purposefully steer the other person towards developing his or her own deeper understanding of a topic. It always helps you if your partner can get more clear about his or her motivations and desired outcomes, especially if you think you won’t like what those things are. It’s essential to be speaking the same language based on the same evaluative system. And, when you really understand, you can be more empathetic.

So, what does an open-ended question look like? Here are a few to get you started:

1) Tell me more about how you feel about___?

2) What scares you the most about the situation we’re/you’re facing?

3) How will you know we’re/you’re resolving this?

4) What is the best possible outcome to this conversation/event?

5) What do you think you need to begin to see ___clearly?

As the designated driver, you agree to provide not just a sounding board, but to actively take the keys and bravely give it a little gas. I think deeply meditative conversations like this in which the DD pushes for details and nuance take more patience and greater conversational skill than simply jumping in with suggestions.

Do you and your partner need a tune up? Would you like to learn more about how to really get your relationship engine humming? Why don’t you come on in so that we can talk about it.

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

Are you looking for individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a consultation to learn how counseling can help you. Please contact me at (919) 714-7455 or email me at holly@lotustherapycenter.com. Visit me on the web at www.lotustherapycenter.com or:

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Paying Attention and Other Relationship Super Powers

I’m busy today, are you busy today? Sometimes it just seems as though life presents me with a a sheer vertical wall of responsibilities. During those times, my intention is to buckle down, develop a laser-like focus and knock it all out with style. But you know what actually seems to happen? I get totally overwhelmed with deciding where to start and instead play Candy Crush for seven hours. Seriously, let the irony of that sink in for a bit. The more I have to do, the absolute less I actually set about accomplishing. Sigh.

I am convinced that the endemic busyness of modern life is one of the direct reasons we are all on our phones and computers rather than connecting to others in real-time. I may not be able to get all my paperwork done, but I can engage in the rather parallel busyness of leveling up at my video game or liking all my friends’ Facebook pictures. We are so buried under feelings that we should be accomplishing something, we choose things to do at which we can get a win…even if they’re not the things we “should” be focusing on at the moment.

I think that’s just sad. Super, super sad.

This is affecting our relationships in the worst way it possibly could–by starving them of the moment-by-moment unadulterated attention they deserve. If you are present in body only your spouse will feel it. Sometimes, we are asked to multitask, and to put up with multitasking in our conversational partners so much that we accept it as the norm. And that, my friends is a crying shame. It’s the fast food version of care taking for one another rather than a nutritionally dense infusion of love and connection. Sure, McDonald’s will keep you alive. But you’ll feel gross.

Lately I have been asking my clients to take note of how they tune into one another when they are talking. I’m stubborn as a mule, so we’re really sticking on this topic for a good long while. Are you paying adequate attention to your partner in conversation? Here’s how you’ll know:

1)  There is strong eye contact.

2) You’re asking questions that directly relate to the conversation at hand and that keep information circulating. This is true especially if you think you know what your partner should do. Sometimes, people just want to talk. They aren’t ready for you to solve it yet. They will take your attempt to solve it as evidence that you are sick of listening to them. Don’t be that guy/gal that can’t just sit and listen.

3) You are listening not just for what the other person is saying but also what they mean. If    you’re not sure what he or she means you’re asking.

4) You are asking how you can help/know more/help move the body if that’s necessary. Just  kidding. Mostly.

Do you need some help learning how to attend to your partner’s needs in conversation? Are you ready to develop your communication X-man skills? Why don’t you come on in so that we can talk about it.

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

Are you looking for individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a consultation to learn how counseling can help you. Please contact me at (919) 714-7455 or email me at holly@lotustherapycenter.com. Visit me on the web at www.lotustherapycenter.com or:

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How to Create a Theory of Change and Rewire Your Ambition

Back when I was in my doctoral program we all had to do something called a clinical defense. This is a memorable time in every clinician’s graduate career when you and your classmates huddle in the video lab like terrified refugees, poring over tapes of yourselves doing therapy, and hoping you’ll be able to mine out of those recorded hours demonstrable evidence of your clinical skill. Or, at least that you’re not a danger to the public. Then, you get the pleasure of standing before a panel of your professors and a roomful of your peers, pointing out the finer moments of your recorded life as a therapist, while saying lots of fancy terms like “homeostasis” and “paradoxical intervention.” Yes, it is absolutely as dreadful as it sounds.

Anyway, the point of this whole rigamarole was simply to demonstrate that you understood how to use a particular model of therapy appropriately, and more importantly, could articulate how you believe change happens for clients. We call that a clinician’s “theory of change.” For instance, my theory of change back then (and now too, actually) was that people are constantly in the act of writing stories about themselves and their lives in their heads. Some of these stories are socially constructed in tandem with the people we interact with and others we pen quietly inside ourselves. I think good therapy happens when we are able to get our hands on those stories and rewrite just enough of the plot so that you still recognize yourself, yet are decidedly stronger, happier and more effective.

Lately, I have been thinking that if that’s how massive, lasting change happens in therapy, is that how it happens in the regular world as well? What changes could people make if they woke up to the hidden scripts that govern how they live their lives and instead got some transparency on those storylines?

I’m willing to bet that if we did some mental archaeology around the things you are most proud of, we’d discover that there was something different about the way you tackled those problems than the manner in which you attack your daily, garden variety concerns. Remember that time you did the best presentation of your life? Recall when you lost 50 pounds? Pull out a pen and make note of at least 3 things you did differently while in the pursuit of those goals. Perhaps you got up an hour earlier to work out when you were peeling off those pounds. Maybe you psyched yourself up by reading inspirational quotes when you were pursuing you last promotion. Embedded in the architecture of those successes is your very own Theory of Change.

To figure out my own formula for transformation, I made a list of the variables that seem to be consistently different when I feel really good about my fire and productivity. Eureka! It turns out I do several things differently when I am working on making BIG changes in my life. These are, of course, idiosyncratic to my goals, but here they are so you know what I’m talking about when I ask you to break it down for yourself.

1) I Listen to Lots of Inspirational Books on Tape: When I am really jamming, it’s usually because I am feeding my brain all the time. I consider this priming the pump with others’ wisdom, so that when my own jewels pop up I recognize them. Though listening to Beyonce in the car is a pleasant distraction, when I’m trying to get intensely creative and directed, I need to be in a bubble of inspired thinking. In case you work this way too, my favorite book of the moment is Super Rich: A Guide to Having it All by Russell Simmons. The name of this book is deceptive–it’s really about living a robust, well-examined and kind life. If you need a bit of push in the direction of your dreams, give it a whirl.

2) I Keep Idea Journals: I think a lot. I think a lot about lots of different kinds of things. I’m probably like many super creative people; when ideas bubble up, I entertain them for a moment and then move on quickly to the next thing. Often, later in the day, I’m left trying to remember what that good idea for a book or website was. So, I always keep a pen and a notebook around to jot down these little half-formed bits and bobs. I have them in my purse, on my nightstand, scattered around my office and even in my car.

3) I Stay Up a Bit Later Than my Family: Now, I’m not saying this is healthy. Probably, I could use a hell of a lot more sleep. But, when everyone is awake, my quiet hours to meditate, write and think are in short supply. Since I’m a night owl, and my husband is kind enough to get our oldest son on the bus at the crack of dawn without waking me up, this schedule works for us. I find that when I don’t take this extra time to chase the muse my intellectual life stagnates and I become unhappy.

So, there you have it–an abbreviated list of the behaviors that support my own Theory of Personal Change. Want to figure out how to harness your skills to rocket forward? Why don’t you come on in so that we can talk about it.

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

Are you looking for individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a consultation to learn how counseling can help you. Please contact me at (919) 714-7455 or email me at holly@lotustherapycenter.com. Visit me on the web at www.lotustherapycenter.com or:

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How to Cope When Anxiety and Perfectionism Become “Overkill”

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I’m more than a little bit of music nut. And, when I really sink my teeth into an artist that I love, I can become something of a super fan. Take, for instance, my multi-decade abiding affection for Colin Hay. He used to be the lead singer of Men at Work back in the 80s. As an aside, if that’s news to you: 1) Slap yourself around a little bit for missing out on lots of good tunes 2) Go download all his solo albums on Itunes. For Pete’s sake–I can help you with your mental health, but you’re responsible for developing a decent taste in music on your own.

Me and Colin HayJust because I need a public venue to share this photo, here is a picture of me and Colin Hay my long-suffering husband took a few years ago at a concert Colin did in Orlando. I *may* have waited outside the stage door like a psycho stalker in the hopes that he would come out and sign my CDs. And look at that, he did. Doesn’t he appear to be thrilled about it too? Just kidding. He was actually super, duper nice–the sort of person you hope your musical idols will be.

A few blog posts back, I mentioned that I secretly have mix tapes (or whatever the youngsters are calling them now–mixed MP3 lists?) in my head for various topics I address in therapy. At the top of my anxiety mix tape is a song Colin Hay first did with Men at Work titled “Overkill.” You can listen to it here in case this topic is of intimate concern to you:

In the interests of total disclosure, I can be an anxious person myself. When I was in graduate school, I had gnarly panic attacks that seriously threatened the thing I enjoy very most in the world–learning new stuff. A professor of mine called the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge “nerd joy.” I am a total captive to nerd joy on the daily. But, back then, I didn’t have any good tools for balancing my anxiety about the rigors of school with my single-minded drive to be the very best anyone can ever be at everything. I have been guilty of being a perfectionist of the first order.

The thing that anxious people seem to feel most about their anxiety (other than physically unwell because the body process of it sucks) is embarrassed. I know I was. A well-meaning instructor decided that I would become the class project in my doctoral hypnosis class. They were going to “fix” my social anxiety by focusing on me. Yeah, let me tell you about how well that worked. I considered dropping out after 8 years of college just to escape from those kind ministrations. And, the more upset I became that my anxiety was visible to others, the more my anxiety began to eat me alive and the more visible it really was. See how that works? Wishing it away with the utmost fervor you can muster only serves to make it more entrenched. Ugh.

When I see clients presenting with anxiety now, I can empathize with how helpless they feel to address their concerns. Most of the folks that end up in my office complaining about panic attacks and ruminations are extremely high-functioning people. They are smart, capable and have more than a little bit of a sense of humor about their anxiety. However, the more they try to apply the same fixes to their anxiety that they have used in other parts of their lives (study, attack and white-knuckling) the more they struggle. Hey, I’ve been there.

So, what do we do instead?

1) Quit Hating on Yourself: Seriously, it’s not helpful. Research has found that people who are socially anxious actually have increased empathic abilities and an elevated ability to correctly attribute other people’s emotions. That super power can shoot you in the foot big time if you get raw and overstimulated. There is some wisdom to learning that just because you observe something, you don’t have to attend to that thing. Maybe someone in the back of the room is bored by your presentation. Maybe Aunt Vicky doesn’t like your crab salad. Your energies are precious. Give yourself permission to ignore some stimuli and focus on the ones that are salient to your life.

2) Challenge Perfectionism: Perfectionism is not really about having higher standards than the rest of the world, though that may be a part of it, sure. Really, it’s an intrinsic terror of making mistakes and looking silly. Moreover, perfectionism is the thief of spontaneity because it is a form of rigid thinking that drives you like a little motor. When things “have” to be a certain way in order for you to function, you can no longer take joy in what you are doing and experiencing. And, you will make the folks around you miserable as well. Challenge your worst fears about what will become completely unmanageable if you aren’t perfect. And, please, don’t encourage perfectionism in your kiddos. Eventually, they will need to be able to choose their battles and process which things are more important than others. If they really can’t progress through the day unless their partners load the dishwasher a certain way, have you increased their happiness in life?

3) Meditate: There is no possible way that I can emphasize to you enough how important meditation has been in my life. I practice Transcendental Meditation and think it’s one of the absolute best ways for anxious people (well, and everyone really) to manage their health differently. You can learn more about that here: http://www.tm.org/. If that training is out of reach, you can come in, and I’ll teach you a similar technique. I know you don’t want to have to do something every day. I know you already have more than enough to keep you busy. But, do you have time to feel crappy? How much more could you accomplish if you devoted just 20 minutes to good mental health hygiene? Most folks don’t expect that they can work out once a month and have that suffice. So, as much as we would all like to be watching reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (is that just me?) it behooves us to set aside time to take good care of anxiety–a place where our emotional and physical lives intersect spectacularly.

Are you concerned that you’re not handling things as well as you have in the past? Would you like to develop new skills to evolve even more? Why don’t you come on in so we can talk about it.

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

Are you looking for individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a consultation to learn how counseling can help you. Please contact me at (919) 714-7455 or email me at holly@lotustherapycenter.com. Visit me on the web at www.lotustherapycenter.com or:

Twitter: HollyCoxLMFT

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Texting, Facebook and Infidelity in the Internet Age

I’m really disappointed. The Jetsons promised me that by now I would be much closer to zooming out of my driveway in the sky and flying around in a fancy space car. Instead, on my way here today, I spent a tedious 30 minutes sighing and fretting in my decidedly non-airborne vehicle. Science needs to step it up a bit. But, while we’re waiting, lets talk a bit about the very real ways in which technology impacts our relational lives.

These days, most people who find their way into my office to address cheating have a good deal to say about how Facebook and their smart phones have aided and abetted their affairs. In fact, I can’t think of any couple that I have seen for infidelity in the past five years who were not left sorting out how  gadgets and social media acted as silent partners on the slippery slope towards becoming inappropriate. Why is it that when we’re staring at that screen, we may allow ourselves liberties we wouldn’t in person? Read on for some things to ponder as you decide if you’re getting yourself in deep waters with someone who isn’t your main squeeze. Here are the elements of dangerous electronic communications:

1) Immediacy: In days of yore, cheating was harder. If you wanted to contact the object of your forbidden desire in the evening, you had to call his or her home and risk the partner answering. In order to do that, one had to have made a really conscious, evaluated decision to step around boundaries. These days, it’s easy to fire off a message under the guise of a work-related (or volunteer-related, or child-related–insert how you know the person here) inquiry, while kind of wanting that conversation to continue to develop organically. If you are doing this, be honest with yourself about the type of communication you are hoping will result. Folks tell me all the time that their affairs “just happen.” However, when we deconstruct the history of that relationship, we are able to pinpoint a series of small choices that architected the connection rather intentionally. That doesn’t mean you’re a terrible person. People who cheat rarely are. Instead they are, like all of us, complex people with complex motivations who could stand to develop some transparency between their intentions and their actions. As a matter of fact, telling a betrayed partner that you have no idea how the affair occurred is one of the very worst things you can say. If you are completely in the dark about how you began to stray, how could you possibly hope to reassure your partner that it won’t happen again?

2) Privacy: Imagine a husband and wife sitting beside one another on the couch. Each person has in her or her hand a marvel of technology–a microcosm of personal information and communication. You could be playing Candy Crush or posting pictures of your latest vacation. But, you could also be messaging your old flame from high school, “just to see what he’s up to these days.” Your partner would never know there’s something he should be objecting to, therefore there are fewer brakes otextn the momentum. Picture a boss giving a presentation. Employees are tapping away on their laptops. They could be taking notes on her third quarter plan. Alternatively, they could be texting a coworker inside jokes and planning to have an intimate lunch. Could the message you’re sending be interpreted as flirtatious or overly personal? Suppose either of your partners read the missives between you. Would you be upset or embarrassed? If you think that anything you’re sharing would be unsettling in the light of day (or a partner’s eyes) it’s time to reconsider the nature of the relationship you’re cultivating with that outside interest.

3) No Rough Drafts: When you are communicating in person, there are abundant opportunities to feel weird–things come out awkwardly and body language can be off-putting. But, when one is connecting electronically, you have a chance to reread and edit what you send, crafting it perfectly. Conversations had this way are often a best-case scenario, not the way either person participates in real life. Carefully curated communications can give the impression of a perfect fit between the two people talking. But, these moments in the affair bubble probably aren’t representative of what an open relationship with that person would be like.

Do you need some help untangling yourself from that invisible phone cord? Are social media and texting in danger of dismantling a relationship that you care about? I can help you get clarity and figure out what to do next. Why don’t you come on in so that we can talk about it?

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

Are you looking for individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a consultation to learn how counseling can help you. Please contact me at (919) 714-7455 or email me at holly@lotustherapycenter.com. Visit me on the web at www.lotustherapycenter.com or:

Twitter: HollyCoxLMFT

Pinterest:DrHollyCox

Facebook: Lotus Therapy Center

Google +: Holly Cox