The Life of Grief

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It’s Memorial Day weekend.  There will be many people who are remembering comrades, spouses, siblings, and parents lost in service to their country.  At least half-dozen precious faces of soldiers pass through my mind as I recall my own experience with this mark on the calendar.  Throughout a particularly tough 4 years during OEF (the war in Afghanistan), I attended a lion’s share of memorial services to honor fallen soldiers.  To this day, hearing a single trumpet playing TAPS, the chilling “roll call” tradition, or hearing the honor guard team sound off with their rifles causes my mind and body to pay attention.  I once heard a civilian pastor, during a Memorial Day sermon, suggest that “memorializing” an event or a person gave that event or person too much importance and that we should stay away from memorializing anything earthly.  He suggested that if we give our painful memories that power it would mean we were giving a backseat to our faith in God.  My seat on the pew squeaked as I squirmed in discomfort at the idea that any tears shed on Memorial Day might be a sin.  To the contrary, I believe there is positive power in sitting with the acknowledgments and memories that come with the day.  Remembering the love we’ve felt for the lost is good.  Finding that good, especially in the face of egregious and painful loss, may actually be a sign of faith.  Intentionally spending time with those memories and that loss, to me, is a sign of healthy reflection and strength.  Sadly, after I heard that sermon, I questioned the upheaval of my own emotions as this weekend rolled around.  It gave me cause to reflect on what I’ve learned about grief.  We can only truly learn a thing intimately if we’re willing to spend time with it.  I’ve had many people trust the therapy space in my office while they became familiar with their grief.  Here are a few those things I’ve learned about grief from watching so many people pass through its tunnel.

It might be helpful to think of grief as a signal that our life is changing in momentous ways.  Grief is a normal process, in part designed for helping us acknowledge and understand those changes by nudging us to pay close attention and even honor the precious people and moments that have shaped our lives. 

  • Grief allows a pace that matches each grieving person’s needs.  Not everyone grieves the same.  For some, grief comes loud and swift, cloaking the grieving in a shroud of despair while they drown in seemingly unending tears.  Others detach, and if you didn’t know about their loss you would be hard-pressed to see evidence that grief is there.  For them, the grief waits or moves at such a slow and quiet pace that it’s hardly detectable.  For the former, the shroud eventually lifts and darkness is replaced with the light of new normal that slips in subtly, as if not wanting to topple the cart.  For the latter, grief may decide it can no longer wait for the much-needed attention it requires, growing into an overwhelming presence that seems so random and ill-timed it confuses even the person who has the right to grieve.
  • Grief demands its due time and attention.  Grief is a strong and powerful emotional experience for anyone.  While all persons grieve differently, there is one constant with grief.  It demands its voice be heard.  Grief must be acknowledged, processed, and expressed in some form.  If a person tries to minimize grief, it will show itself in a variety of distressing ways.  From physical illness to severe mental health conditions, grief can morph and take over until it is properly notice for what it is – the pain of loss. 
  • Grief has no expiration date.  Many of us are familiar with the “5 stages of grief” – denial, anger, bargaining, anger, and acceptance.  The stages, penned by Swiss-American psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross were used to describe the progression of emotions experienced by terminally ill patients before their own death.  The original way the stages were presented made it seem like a journey that had a distinct beginning, middle, and end.   While grief is a journey,  it is not one marked by the distinction of a finish line (acceptance).  In grief’s way, it ends up camping out with a person for eternity.  It’s really more of an adjustment – albeit a painful one.  It’s a threshold over which a person steps as they walk into a new life without the person they’ve lost.
  • Grief can help you grow.  Learning your own grief intimately – how it feels, what it sounds like in your mind, how your body carries it – can lead to increased self-awareness.  Grief causes us to ask important questions about our lives, about our faith, what we believe about our mortality.  It can take us on a search for our most significant why and lead us back to a mindfulness that makes each day count.  Grief is not the enemy.  If allowed, it can serve as a guide through darker times when aloneness is so heavy we can’t breathe.  When we feel we’ve lost our way wrongly believing that, without our lost loved one, we can never be found again, grief can guide us home. 
  • Grief requires nothing more than to be spoken and witnessed by respectful presence.  Grief doesn’t require that the blanks be filled in with explanation or reasoning for loss. While we are tempted to try and make sense of loss, especially if sudden (as is the case when a loved one dies in war or an accident), grief is not concerned with those details. If not blocked by avoidance, grief knows how to navigate its way through the ups and downs of our daily life with little urging on our part.  In support of any person who is suffering loss, grief requires only that we be respectful of the unique way it shows up in the grieving person and that we offer quiet, reassuring presence. 

Grief……..can take us on a search for our most significant why and lead us back to a mindfulness that makes each day count. 

Loss of a loved one through death is not the only loss that creates grief.  Important loss of any kind can prompt grief to flow.  However, losing someone you love to death may be the most painful grief of all. It might be helpful to think of grief as a signal that our life is changing in momentous ways.  Grief is a normal process, in part designed for helping us acknowledge and understand those changes by nudging us to pay close attention and even honor the precious people and moments that have shaped our lives.  Rather than avoid or minimize grief when it comes, we can learn to embrace it as a rite of passage – a passageway that is filled with evidence that we’ve cared for someone deeply and that our life has had, and will continue to have, significant meaning.

Note: This information is not intended to replace the medical advice or treatment of a trained professional.  If you feel your needs are creating an unsafe situation for you or someone else, seek emergent care through your primary care physician or local emergency room.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of self-harm, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255

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Lifting the Burden of Shame

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Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels

“I made a mistake” vs. “I am a mistake”.  There’s a powerful distinction between those two statements.  The first is fueled by healthy guilt which can help us keep tabs on our own behavior and motivate us to being our best self.   The latter is a dangerous self-directed message that, if left unaddressed, can lead to disabling patterns of function, not to mention having the potential to lead us down a path of self-destruction.  Guilt is typically created by a person’s behaviors.  It is the internal gauge by which we monitor our own intentions.  Unfortunately, shame isn’t necessarily connected to a person making mistakes, or connected to any of their behaviors for that matter.  Shame can be imposed on us by others as they project a litany of their own internal struggles onto us.  At times, it shows up as a symptom of the mental illnesses we call clinical depression or anxiety.  It can seep into one’s thought-life and attach itself to a person’s belief about their worth, leaving them in a state of self-loathing.

Shame is heavy and traps a person in despair. 

So what’s the difference in how guilt and shame feel?  Healthy guilt usually leads to sincere apologies, authentic changes, and improved behaviors.  While guilt can weigh on us until we make said changes, it is typically relieved once we take positive steps forward.  Shame is more burdensome.  Shame is heavy and traps a person in despair.  Even if suicidal thoughts never come, the person feels hopeless that life can get better.  The heaviness of it might have us believing that healing isn’t that simple.  However, it is simple.  It’s just that simple doesn’t always mean easy and the path to healing from shame is rarely travelled well alone.

Fortunately, there is hope and people can heal from shame.  In recent years, studies on shame have proven it to be an unfortunate prevalence for many.  This has led to a movement among mental healthcare professionals to find best practices in helping a person recover from it.  So, what does that healing look like?  In a nutshell, the remedy is self-compassion.  Whether our shame is self-inflicted or dealt on us by someone else’s brokenness, time spent with a skilled therapist can help us flush the damaging self-talk that has permeated our thought-life.  If the shame was created by guilt that was allowed to settle in rather than be used for positive change, we may have to learn the practice of self-forgiveness.

Self-forgiveness requires that we be vulnerable, accepting our imperfect nature, allowing for improvement.  If we can accept that we’re doing the best we can until we know better, it allows for our mistakes while encouraging our growth.  It’s normal to feel regret for our mistakes, yet regret from past choices can either be repurposed into life-changing lessons or allowed to remain as lingering mental anguish.  If we grab hold of the lessons, the changes we make become a natural part of our response to life.  This new way of responding brings mental and emotional relief as we are freed from the ruins of shame.  Otherwise, we join the vicious cycle of those who desperately turn a blind eye to the introspection needed to heal and choose instead to pour their shame-turned-rage onto others.

Another major step in growth that leads to healing from shame is self-compassion.  While this has become a buzzword in the world of self-help, it is not meant as a politically correct way of endorsing self-indulgence.  Believing such can cause people to shy away from the idea of having compassion towards oneself.  Yet, without this emotionally intelligent practice, we are incomplete.  Compassion for oneself happens when we shift our focus from the past to our present and future.  It is propelled by our courage to look inward with an honest and self-caring lens.  Whether we learn how to avoid absorbing the shaming messages administered by others or recover from the self-inflicted kind, healing is possible and life-altering.

Shame has its own kryptonite – disclosure and connection.  Finding a trusted person with whom we can talk openly about how our shame feels and how it sounds in our mind is the most powerful tool in fighting against it.  Whether that’s a friend, a chaplain, or a psychotherapist, disclosing our shame can shrink it.  The connection we find in allowing someone to sit with us while we work through shame’s devastating effects can reduce the isolation it causes and lets us see we’re not alone in our struggle.  Regardless the origin, shame has a crippling effect on one’s life.  If you suspect you are weighed down under a burden of shame, be encouraged to seek relief.

Note: This information is not intended to replace the medical advice or treatment of a trained professional.  If you feel your needs are creating an unsafe situation for you or someone else, seek emergent care through your primary care physician or local emergency room.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of self-harm, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255

To learn more on how we can stamp out the stigma surrounding mental health, join me as I partner with #ImPsychEd at: https://psychhub.com/partners/l-chris-cannida

Posted in Counseling, Counseling and Mental Health, Psychotherapy, Self-Acceptance | Leave a comment

The Healing Agent of Talking

Female psychologist consulting male patient, job interview, business meeting

As some people consider seeking a psychotherapist or counselor (often used interchangeably), they may question how “just talking” to a professional might be helpful. Many of my clients have told me that they believed talking with someone who was not closely connected to their personal situation, and who could remain non-biased, was what led them to make the call. Others are drawn to therapy because of the confidentiality it offers. But what makes “just talking” helpful? If you’re considering therapy, though are unsure it would be any more helpful than venting to a friend, consider the following:

  1. A therapist is trained to listen. What is it about listening that would require a person be trained? Therapists are educated to manage their own biases in order to focus on the client’s needs. In fact, it is highly recommended that even seasoned therapists seek consultation from peers in the field so they can ensure they are listening and considering the client’s needs with complete objectivity.
  2. Therapists aren’t “just listening”. While a safe space to vent may feel great to the client, the therapist is doing more than just listening until the client has emptied themselves from distressing thoughts and emotions. A therapist can listen for any long-standing patterns of thinking that may be getting in the way of you living the life you want to live.
  3. Therapists aren’t afraid to lose your friendship. That’s because your relationship with a therapist isn’t a friendship. It is professional. The boundaries set in place for you by this professional connection protect you and allow the therapist to be honest with you about what they observe. Because of the safety in this well-structured relationship, the therapist can help you confront difficult aspects of your life and self in ways that foster healing and growth. Since it isn’t a friendship, there is no assumption that you are responsible for how your therapist feels. Having an entire hour in your life where the only person you are responsible for is you can be a powerful way to change.
  4. Therapists know the thought-feeling connection. Many therapists, especially those who practice cognitive therapies, understand how to help you change unwanted feelings by challenging thought patterns that may be keeping you stuck in an unwanted emotional place.
  5. Therapists understand how the mind and body work together. Some therapists are well-versed in somatic-based treatment. This means they can empower you by teaching you to better manage some aspects of your nervous system. By doing so, you can experience positive results in managing anxiety, the effects of traumatic events on your life, and a depressed mood. Although some of our body’s neurological and physiological responses may also require treatment by a medical doctor who can prescribe medications, having the support of a well-trained therapist can enhance your healing.

Therapists typically aren’t finished with their training after graduate school. Throughout their careers, they are required to continue that education annually and some even begin to carve out specialty skills. This professional development doesn’t preclude them from sincerely caring about your well-being. Many therapists enter the field because they believe they are called to care for others while using specific gifts in helping people transform their lives. In fact, many therapists are well-trained in not only the science of psychotherapy, but also the art of it.  So while you are doing all this talking in their office, it can feel as comfortable and authentic as if you were just sitting down with that trusted friend. The exception is that you have the undivided attention of a trained professional who is focused on only you.

If you wonder if working with a therapist or counselor might be a good fit for you, I recommend you research those in your area. You have every right to make sure the one you choose is skilled in the area of your need and is trained to give you the best possible care. The healing agent of talking might be what you need.

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Why Am I Here? Where Am I Going? (Navigating the Therapy Process)

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“The purpose of psychotherapy is to set people free”. – Rollo May

Some clients know exactly what issues they want to address when entering therapy.  They know how they feel and that they want to change that feeling.  Still others struggle to identify the uncomfortable negative emotions weighing them down.  The latter of these will start their initial session with statements similar to “I’m not sure why I’m here”.  Even others know deep down that they need to “process” their story, yet run from the feelings behind the words.  When asked what progress will look like or how they’ll know when the therapy process is complete, they fumble with creating a clear picture of life as they’d desire it to be.  For the first few sessions, it may seem as if there’s no point in sitting down with a professional to talk things out.  In this grey area, without seemingly clear goals for healing or growth, there is a risk of clients dropping out of the process before realizing benefit.  If the process is effective in helping put their distress into words, and if this happens too suddenly, it’s not unusual for a client to “ghost” the therapist (discontinue therapy without closure). This risk intensifies if there is difficulty finding the words to tell their story.  Sometimes even therapy feels like too much.  And that’s okay.  The timing and necessity for therapy is unique for everyone.  While a person’s blind spots may prevent them from seeking help sooner than later, seasoned therapists give clients a respectful and safe space to make the decision for themselves, without judgement and blame.  Admittedly, many therapists feel a twinge of sadness when they watch a client prematurely deny the help for which they’d finally mustered strength and courage to ask.  For me, I always wonder if there was some conversation we might have had that would have helped them bond with the process that could be most helpful.

The timing and necessity for therapy is unique for everyone.

If you find yourself stranded in murky waters and can’t quite pinpoint your source of distress, or setting the course for positive change in therapy leaves you feeling lost, consider a look at your value system.  Quite possibly, you may see that a part of your unrest is caused by not living a life consistent with what’s truly important to you.  Being misaligned with your values can create an emotional disturbance, a sense of disorganized living, and an irritability toward life.  Left unattended this can lead to anxiety and/or depression.  Navigating the therapy process becomes easier when using your value system as a reference.  It’s about asking “Who Am I, Really?” and “Who do I want to be?”  Use this simple guide to locate your truest self and your therapeutic journey can begin and end with a clarified destination.

Consider your whole self – Bring structure to your search by recognizing the major ways in which you express yourself in life.  In addition to our physical self (our health), we have a relational, vocational, and even spiritual self that needs expression and our mindful attention.

Measure Your Spending – Make note of where you’re spending your time, money, focus, and energy.  What you find in this measure may include regrets, a need to forgive others or even yourself, and possibly lead to grief about losses (some uninvited and some necessary). Reflect on both positive and negative times in your life to recognize when you’ve been depleting yourself without good cause and when you’ve felt a greater sense of well-being and wholeness.

Be honest – When taking inventory of who you are and how you’re living this life, be totally transparent with yourself.  This honest consideration will include a look at what you belief about yourself, others in your life, and the world in general.  It will most certainly bring rise to any feelings about all you discover.  Don’t run from the emotions that surface.  Learn from them and use them to guide your efforts in change.

Shift with intention – Once you have a realistic view of where you’ve been, use your therapy space to proactively step into any readjustments needed.

Navigating the therapy process becomes easier when using your value system as a reference.  It’s about asking “Who am I, really?” and “Who do I want to be?” 

Therapy can be daunting.  Your therapist has the flashlight of her (his) training, experience, and intuition as a help on the journey.  It’s okay to ask your therapist to ensure you aren’t lost along the way, even if you feel lost.  I frequently ask my clients’ feedback on whether they believe we’re on the right path for them.  If not, we can consider changing directions.  You may enter therapy unsure of why you started.  Joining together with a trusted professional in the therapy space can ensure you are free to walk out your path toward a clear and positive destination.

Note: This information is not intended to replace the medical advice or treatment of a trained professional.  If you feel your needs are creating an unsafe situation for you or someone else, seek emergent care through your primary care physician or local emergency room.

 

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Considering Couples Therapy? 5 Things to Know

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“Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.” – Brene’ Brown
 
Couples who enter therapy to strengthen or repair their marriage are courageous by virtue of that choice. Relationships can be challenging. Factor in trust issues or attachment wounds pre-existing to the marriage and the relationship may be in for a difficult journey. Many couples withstand these challenges with little to no apparent scathing. For others, the time and energy each spouse uses to defend against the ensuing battles can create years of emotional pain leading each person to feel ultimately alone and helpless to change the situation. For those that find their way into a therapist’s office there is hope, and healing can be realized. The work that begins in that therapy space is, initially, uncomfortable for many. However, for those that withstand this beginning phase it is well worth the investment. Couples therapy is an investment of not only money, but also time and trust. The most expensive of these may be the trust. Trusting a therapist who will expect you to become transparent and forthcoming is one thing. Learning to trust your partner on new levels is a risk that makes some people squirm to retreat even further. The therapist will encourage you to become vulnerable. The healthier marriage you seek requires that vulnerability. **
 
If you and your partner long for a strong marriage and are thinking of entering couples therapy, consider the following:
 
1. Trust is a decision, not a feeling. Countless spouses have said to me, “I don’t feel like I can trust him (or her)”. They frequently believe they must hold out for some positive emotional experience that will signal it’s okay to move forward in working on a relationship. Trust is not an emotion. If you’ve made the choice to trust someone in your life and that person betrayed you, the decision to trust again will not initially be accompanied by warm, fuzzy feelings. In fact, making the decision to trust will often feel uncomfortable. You’ll feel vulnerable and may believe it’s intolerable.
 
2. Trust and vulnerability go hand in hand. They are really two sides of the same coin. If you want your partner to trust you, you must be comfortable showing all of you. This means your true self, not the self that has been cloaked in your defenses. Showing our true self happens with full disclosure of emotions, thoughts, fears, dreams, and so on. By your willingness to be vulnerable, you’re letting your partner know the relationship is a safe space for that level of openness. This, in turn, may encourage them to be more open and authentic with you.  Once this open exchange begins between you, you’ll find yourself trusting with more ease. It can soon become a dance of connection that seems effortless.
 
3. Healthy relationships require vulnerability. This is one of the reasons infidelity becomes a choice for some spouses. For certain people, it seems easier to enter a series of new relationships where we continue to show only our superficial selves rather than allow the opening up of true self that is required to build a life with just one person. Even in marriages where betrayal is not an issue, the fear of vulnerability can lead to a painful distance between two people and this emotional distance can last a lifetime.
 
4. You’ll be asked to lay aside your defenses. It’s natural to protect ourselves when we feel threatened. As humans, we have as many ways of shielding ourselves from perceived emotional threats as we do ways to defend from actual physical danger. However, these shields are often unhealthy and serve to separate us from our partner, keeping us from the safety of that secure attachment we crave. With the help of a couples’ therapist, it can take little time to identify these unhealthy coping tactics and create more adaptive ways to feel emotionally safe in your relationship.
 
5. Yep, it’s scary and there are no guarantees. The absence of guarantees is what makes vulnerability and trust such difficult steps. Not everyone is selfless and not everyone enters into marriage with the same goals. In any relationship, there is always the risk of putting ourselves out there, only to be left alone and without. But, if you and your spouse choose to trust a therapist to explore the landscape of your marriage and motivations, you’re one step closer to moving from that scary spot to the sweet spot of a meaningful bond.
 
** Vulnerability in a loving relationship does not include allowing oneself to be physically or emotionally abused. If you are being abused in any way, please search for a professional who can help you develop a safety plan for exiting the situation.
In the Tulsa County area, you can call the 24-hour Information and Crisis Line at 918.743.5763.
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The Resilience Resolution

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Resilience – The capacity to recover from difficult times; regaining our ability to thrive after having been through something.  

The holiday season is complete and I confess to a grief I feel at the end of each Christmas. While I have my share of melancholy during the season, I hold tight to any goodness I find in each year’s celebration. My faith (a focus of the season for me) is important, I treasure the extra time with family, and see extra portions of goodwill all around. After this surge of joy, there’s a sense of loss when it’s over. The grief is followed by a bracing for what’s to come. Another year. Even without a pessimistic outlook, reality dictates that life can have its ups and downs. That’s why resilience becomes a focal point in my efforts toward mindful living.

I am always briefly breathless from the roller coaster ride of thoughts and feelings that carry the end of one year into the next. As a therapist I have the inside track on emotion regulation, though am not insulated from the waves of feeling that come with being human. It also doesn’t stop life from happening. My only resolve is to remain resilient. In fact, I gave up setting other New Year’s resolutions long ago. It can be growth-stunting to hold positive change hostage to a calendar. To forego the burden of setting resolutions only at the New Year creates a relief. Bringing balance to the expectations for our life frees us up to strengthen our core self – the wellspring from which our resilience flows.

How do we develop a resilient self? While traits existing at birth make a contribution to resilience, we know it can be developed in most everyone. Cultivating such fortitude can seem a complicated task, but is certainly doable.

Bringing balance to the expectations for our life frees us up to strengthen our core self – the wellspring from which our resilience flows.

Try building a foundation with the following steps:

1): Develop the mindset: Decide that you want for yourself the strength and tenacity to overcome. Choose resilience. Intention can be the cornerstone of psychological survival. If you’re reading this, you’ve taken a step toward shaping your mindset for thriving on  life’s journey. Make it a daily habit to speak the intent of resilience each morning.

2): Forgive yourself: If you perceive failing at resilience, don’t hold a grudge. Have the crying spell, spend the Sunday afternoon wrapped up in a blanket doing absolutely nothing, allow yourself to feel all the painful emotions that arise from challenging events. None of this means you aren’t resilient. It just means you’re human. After such collapse as comes with a breaking point, pick yourself up and try again. One of the most important features of learning to walk when we were young was the developed skill of getting back up when we would fall.

3): Determination: Disallow the belief that you are forever defined or permanently damaged by any adversity or trauma you’ve experienced. Remind yourself that the positive traits you possessed before the struggles are not erased by the stress presented in the difficult situation. Look for reminders of your best self – a self that has been purposefully developed – one of hopefulness and determination. If this has been a challenge for you, begin now to identify those skills and principles you desire.

4): Seek examples: Make it a habit to seek out examples of others practicing the resilience you crave. Take time each week to seek out inspiring news stories, read about someone who has overcome the odds, or journal memories of your own victories (even the small ones) and recall them when tough times return.

5): Emotion Regulation: Keep it in check. Letting your emotions dictate the intensity of your actions can have both psychological and physical repercussions. Try calibrating your perspective. Use the “kitten or tiger” lens to view situations. If it’s a kitten, use only the amount of physical and emotional energy needed to rebuke its effects. If it is indeed a tiger of a situation, seek support from others to help you in the battle. Whenever possible, shift your focus to more positive connections (friends, church groups, community organizations that inspire positivity). Use perspective to temper emotions.

6): Value the stillness: There is power in the quiet times of our lives. Do your best to find a moment of stillness every day. Spend 15 minutes each day if you can, quiet and still. Be determined about this one valuable act of self-care. Find a place of solitary – under a tree, on the porch, anywhere you can – and close your eyes. Let the chaos of your life wash through you and float away. Imagine yourself being filled with the strength and determination you seek. Notice the quiet. Replenish.

My profession has allowed me to witness people overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. I’m convinced the human spirit is mostly veiled in the power to overcome. Give your spirit the chance to flex its strength. In the coming year, give yourself the gift of remaining resolute in your resilience.

This information is not intended to replace the medical advice or treatment of a trained professional.  If you find yourself struggling to manage challenging thoughts or moods during this time of year, contact your primary care physician or seek the support of a licensed mental health professional.

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‘Tis the Season for Joy and Gratitude – Using Gratitude to Unlock Joy

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If only feelings of joy and gratitude were synced to a calendar. That would certainly make the holiday season an easier experience, at least for some. Constant messages all around us suggesting we must feel joy and be grateful can seem pressured, leaving us feeling inauthentic in our efforts to make our lives look like a Norman Rockwell picture.
It might help to consider that any feelings (even joy) stem from our thought-life. We can change how we feel by changing the way we think!  Re-training our brain to think differently can take some time. The good news is we can move closer to a healthy thought-life by practicing the behaviors that are associated with feelings like joy.  In fact, there is evidence that practicing gratitude can unlock our joy!  No prerequisite feeling needed! The feeling will follow the intent and action.
So how do we practice gratitude? Consider the following actions you can take. Begin during this holiday season and carry these new rituals into the new year!
  1. Begin a gratitude journal – I know it may sound cliche’, but the research is showing us that significant positive changes in our brain chemistry take place when we just think about what we might be grateful for! Try it for a month. At the end of each day, spend 15 minutes thinking about 3 things for which you are truly grateful.
  2. Voice your appreciation for something – Even the smallest of compliments to someone else, or voicing how grateful you are that a much needed rain fell last night can begin to re-shape how we think and shifts our perspective about our world.
  3. Eliminate complaining – What a challenge! I encourage you to try it! Commit to going one day, or even a whole week, without voicing complaints and see how you feel!
  4. Look for the lesson in an otherwise annoying situation – Since we can’t control what situations or toxic people come our way, we can strive to change how we experience that event or person. Always look for what you can learn in any given scenario. It shifts your thoughts from the negative to the positive.
  5. Make gratitude a habit – Because gratitude is a choice of thought and not an emotion, we can make the practice of it a daily routine in our lives. Creating a healthy habit of practicing grateful thoughts can sustain us through difficult times.  Because it’s not a feeling, we don’t have to wait for it to rise up in us randomly or spontaneously. We can summon the habit of gratitude by practicing some form of it each day.

Remember that gratitude is an attitude rather than an emotion. Stressful events can certainly steal our joy for a time, though an intentional shift of our attitude back to gratefulness can help us regain or retain that joy, despite our circumstances. Victor Frankl, a well-known psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor thrived during one of the most egregious seasons of his life (and in our world’s history) by realizing that the Nazis could take away everything from him – including his life – everything but one thing. That one thing was his attitude.  Our attitude is our way of thinking about a situation. Regardless of what’s happening around us, we get to choose it. This awareness helped Dr. Frankl hold on when there was no concrete hope on which to hold. We can do the same.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”    ― Viktor E. FranklMan’s Search for Meaning

Finding joy is a unique journey for each of us since a person’s joy is created by very personal experience. However, there are common steps we can each take on our journey that can help us reach the desired destination of feeling more joy. While joy is never a permanent state of being, taking these steps can ensure it comes more than it goes. I certainly wish you peace and strength on your journey – and of course, joy and gratitude in this season and for many seasons to come!

 

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