Three Dating Myths That Can Damage your Relationships

Aren’t we all enamored with the power couples on Instagram, you know the ones that seem to be on a constant honeymoon? Yet we know that these picture-perfect moments probably don’t represent the true nature of these relationships. ven. Still,  when a friend tells you she and a guy she just met a few days ago have been talking “24/7,” or the couple dating only half the length of time you and your partner have been together are already engaged, it’s hard not to wonder if you are doing something wrong. Making comparisons can lead to us buying into some myths that can deprive us of meaningful connections. Here are three myths that come up time and time again with both friends and clients:

1. There needs to be an immediate spark

Couples examine whether they had that spark during all stages of a relationship, but it is particularly problematic when we rule out potential partners out before we get the chance to know them. We’ve all  met people who felt immediate butterflies when they met their significant other, or seen rhapsodizing poetically about love at first sight. You may have even had a first date like this at some point, so now when you date and aren’t immediately  smitten they get filed away as “no chemistry.”

An emotional connection is certainly exciting, but it is not a barometer as to whether  a person is a suitable long-term partner. If people don’t have similar values, goals, and  communication skills, sparks eventually fizzle out. On the flip side, someone who has similar interests, values, and a sense of humor may seem more attractive and appealing over time. Dating is hard enough without putting pressure on yourself to make sweeping decisions about someone in two hours. While there may be some dates where it is clear you do not jive well with a person, if your feelings are lukewarm ask yourself whether there is a disadvantage of agreeing to a second or third date. More time will all

2. “The one that got away”

It’s normal to miss an old relationship, or to wonder what would have happened if your high school crush and you were to reunite. You might be right that it was bad timing, poor judgment, or even geography that prevented you from being  together; however, viewing this personas the magical antidote to unhappiness is unlikely to serve you. I’m as happy as the next Friends fan that Ross and Rachel ended up together, but if Rachel was my client and Ross was getting married to someone else, I would have gently suggested she try and focus her attention elsewhere. When you daydream  about what a relationship with that person would look like in the present day, try not to view it through the viewpoint that you were meant to be together. Telling yourself it’s okay to feel sad about this past relationship, rather than seeing it as something you need to take action about, can allow you to make space for someone who is both available and compatible for you in the present.

3. You can’t move on until you get closure  

When grieving a relationship, it is important to take time to process what happened. Things like exercising, journaling, or talking with a therapist are likely to be helpful in this process. Telling yourself you need to feel an abstract sense of closure is a lot of pressure. Often times people think that if they hear their ex tell them exactly what went wrong or what was missing in the relationship, they will be able to let things go forever. Maybe this works sometimes, but it usually opens old wounds and does just do the opposite. If you end up missing your ex more after you see or speak to them you can end up convincing yourself that you should not date yet. This is why the idea of closure is an example of black and white thinking. It can lead one to conclude that you have to be 100% over an ex before even considering dating again.

It is perfectly normal to still feel affected and confused by a past relationship. So before you meet up with that ex for that drink, really consider why you are doing it. Ask yourself how you would know you were getting closure? Is there really a concrete thing the other person would say that would give you permission to move on? If there is, great. Go for it! However, you may think you are seeking information from another person, but in reality, you are seeking an answer that can only come from yourself. What if the piece of you that mourns your past relationship could co-exist with the part that is excited to meet someone new? While we often think that some kind of conversation with another person can provide us with closure, in reality sometimes this keeps us from accepting it is ok to hold a degree of ambiguity and to move on with our lives.


There are so many destructive tropes out there that are meant to help us find the right person but in reality end up keeping us apart. While none of these myths are inherently incorrect, they can still hold us back. . You might feel like you’re walking on air after the first date, or find a conversation with an ex very healing. The problem is that these myths support the idea that there is one “correct” way to be in a relationship. There is no objectively correct number of dates before you should sleep together, length of time to wait before you should meet each other’s family, ways a couple should split finances-the list goes on forever! Dating and relationships are hard enough without the expectations of others and outdated myths influencing our actions. Allowing oneself to approach the process with flexibility and openness can help make those less than picture perfect moments of the process worth it.


Therapist Spotlight: Ladi Agahiu, LMSW

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“Life is a series of decisions and we all have the right to make a new one when the last one didn’t turn out right” Adapted by Ladi Agahiu


What inspired your career as a therapist?

I spent years in the field as a Social Worker and found a great deal of joy in being able to help people navigate through very difficult situations. I discovered that I really enjoyed the process of listening to people and helping them sort through their current life challenges. I loved witnessing the ‘light bulb’ moment! Seeing someone dawn on an understanding that they have choices in the present situations and in the outcome of their lives. 

My own experience of self-exploration fueled a passion in me to help others by creating a safe place for people to find healing and wholeness.


What is your favorite thing about being a therapist? 

I love to help people connect the dots. Usually people go to therapy to work through an issue that they are currently facing, not realizing that one issue does not represent the whole picture. I approach therapy through a holistic lens. Often, we must dive deep to find out how all the pieces of life have brought us to our current state so that we can nurture healing and growth in the present. By connecting the events in life, instead of focusing on fragments, we can  connect the dots to bring clarity to the whole picture.

I love when people begin to realize they can be who they want to be and live a life that they love. The goal is to create a safe space for my clients. I also aim to equip them with resources to release pain, sadness, and help them embrace new life choices that they can be proud of.  

As a therapist, what are you most passionate about? 

I absolutely love learning about the ways in which our thoughts impact our lives. I’m constantly reading new books and collecting information to give my clients the necessary tools to thrive in their journeys. By bringing awareness to the value of understanding your core self and your inner voice, I am able to help others live a more balanced, healthy, and happy life.

What are you most passionate about in your personal life?

Spending quality time with my friends and loved ones is very important to me. Even when life is hectic, I find my balance through self-care and carving out time for the people I love most. I meet up with my friends on a regular basis to share a good meal, lots of laughs, and encouragement. It is also important to me to take time out for myself to watch my favorite shows.

What makes you unique as a therapist?

My cultural heritage has given me a wonderful foundation for being open to all backgrounds, identities, and sexual orientations. I have found that being multicultural, raised in America by Nigerian immigrant parents, has given me access to unique viewpoints. I have personally experienced the joys and trials of acculturation which allows me to not only empathize, but to bring unity to all that comes along with being multicultural in America today. I have worked with clients from all over the globe and I am so grateful to be able to help them bridge the traditions from their family of origin to who they are and how they wish to show up in the world today. 


What is a personal challenge you have overcome that makes you a better therapist?

Within the last year I have had someone in my life become very ill. Over time they have become stable, but going through the challenge of being a caretaker has taught me so much about myself. It has definitely increased the amount of empathy and understanding I bring into practice with my clients. This has made me a better therapist, in my opinion. 

I think it is most important to learn about who YOU are and that will help you make better decisions for your life.

What is your take on current social issues?

I’m very frustrated with our political climate and how those in government are not compassionate about everyone they represent. I have seen how the social and political issues of our day are having devastating affects on mental health. I understand and share common views with many of my clients which allows me to be supportive in their journey as they navigate the current climate.  

What are some of your passion projects or interests?

I would love to invest more time in advocating for therapy and outreach for people of color. I believe therapy is a resource that everyone should have access to and I would love to see the stigma around mental health alleviated, particularly for high functioning women of color. 

All people should have a safe space to process.


What is your dream vacation?

Lounging on the beach on the soft sand shores of Hawaii!

Do you have any hidden talents?

I love to sing. I used to sing background vocals in a band. I definitely need to sing more often. 

What do you hope your legacy will be?

I ultimately hope my children value themselves as people of color. I hope they know that they can be successful. I hope they cherish the love of their family and friends and always hold them close. 


This is such Fulfilling work, this is my passion. It is not easy work, but I love doing it.”

-Ladi Agahiu

Surround yourself with Self-Love this Valentine’s Day

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Do you breeze past engagement photos when you spot them on Instagram? Do you flip right by the rom-coms on cable? Did you decline yet another invitation to what is likely to be an all-couples soiree because you thought you might be the only single person there?

Even though the U.S. Census Bureau tells us that in 2016 there were 110 million unmarried people in America, there’s no shortage of seemingly blissfully happy couples in our social media feeds,  making us feel like we’re the only ones that don’t have a genuine connection with that special someone.

Today we’ll touch on some cognitive tips, tricks, and techniques that I’ve found to be helpful when coping with the loneliness and the negative thoughts that often accompany being single.

Tip #1: Give yourself compassion for your sadness, anger, or frustration.

Perhaps you’re getting over a breakup? Maybe you just can’t bring yourself to be truly vulnerable with someone you're interested in? Or, perhaps you’re just plain tired of an endless carousel of disappointing first dates. The single life can be rife with invalidating experiences, so why not give yourself the compassion and validation you truly need? Kristin Neff’s book “Self-Compassion” is an excellent resource for just this. Kristin describes a three-step process of sending ourselves compassion:

1 Acknowledge that you are suffering and what you are feeling; “I’m feeling lonely/frustrated/sad and I'm having a hard time."

2  Remember that almost everyone has been through some kind of similar suffering before. The reminder of the shared human experience is often an effective way to ward off loneliness. “I can’t be the only one this has ever happened to; everyone feels lonely sometimes".

3 Send yourself positive vibes; “May I find some peace today to get me through this; may there be some happiness sent my way today”.

Sitting with your feelings, especially painful ones, can feel intolerable at times. And yet, embracing all the negative emotions that come with life is so important. After all, without the lows of sadness and heartbreak, we wouldn’t be able to appreciate the highs of love and happiness. Check out the app, “Insight Timer” for some guided meditations that can lead you through this process.

Tip #2: Notice if there are unhelpful thought patterns getting in the way of your happiness.

When we find ourselves in unfortunate circumstances, it’s easy to get caught up in cycles of negative self-talk. In his book “Feeling Good,” Dr. David Burns describes several of the well-known negative thinking traps we can fall into:

Overgeneralizing

We conclude that something negative that happened once will continue to happen again and again. An example might be if you are rejected when you ask someone out on a date and have the thought “This always happens to me every time.” Is it really true that this happens every time? Challenge yourself by thinking of examples when your generalization has been false, telling yourself you have no proof that such a pattern will occur indefinitely. Take a step back and examine the actual nature of the event. Viewing it as an isolated incident can help keep your thoughts from spiraling.

Black and white thinking

Seeing an event, person or quality from a black-and-white viewpoint assumes there are only extremes.  “I don’t have a boyfriend so I’m a failure.” Get comfortable questioning the ‘grey’ area of your thinking. Leave room for doubt so the negative thoughts aren’t disproportionately represented. For example, “I have a great job and a wonderful group of friends... so I'm not a failure.”

‘Shoulds’

I should be engaged by now.

I shouldn’t have to go to a wedding alone.

They should text me first.

Although your goal may be to motivate yourself, these ‘should’ statements usually only leave us feeling resentful and frustrated towards ourselves or someone else. When you find yourself engaging in a ‘should’ statement, slip into the devil’s advocate role and try arguing against what your belief system is telling you. Would it be helpful to look at your 'should' in another more inclusive, less rigid way?

Personalization

Perhaps you get down on yourself when a date cancels, wondering what you did wrong. Assuming all of the blame for a negative event can be exhausting. Try adopting a neutral, non-blaming attitude; statements such as ‘things happen’ or ‘it wasn’t meant to be’ focus on the situation rather than you as a person. And for those times when you have been rejected, keep in mind that just because some people don’t prefer chocolate ice cream certainly doesn’t mean there’s anything inherently wrong with chocolate ice cream. The same is true about you.

Tip #3 Focus on what you are thankful for.

Gratitude is a powerful antidote for feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and anger. By practicing gratitude we actively train our minds to search for positivity rather than negativity. Gratitude is a great way to counter any of the thinking errors we just discussed. Here are some ways you can practice gratitude in your daily life:

1 Keep a gratitude journal noting all of the things you are thankful for. I recommend doing this at the same time every day for a few weeks to build a solid habit. Then, when you've got a consistent list, read it to yourself each day, really letting yourself feel the warmth and grateful feelings.

2 Don’t leave out seemingly small things i.e. running water; a comfortable pillow; a stranger opening the door for you.

3 Try a guided gratitude meditation practice - again, there are plenty of free ones that come with the “Insight Timer” app!

4 Share your gratitude list with someone; the positive feelings are contagious!

Looking at the single life through the lens of loneliness can be grey and murky. By practicing self-compassion, challenging our unhelpful thoughts, and focusing on gratitude, we can start to change our whole perspective. We can accept where we are, one moment, and one feeling at a time.


References

Burns, David D. (1980) Feeling Good. New York, NY: Harper.

Neff, Kristin. (2011) Self-Compassion. New York, NY: William Morrow.

United States Census Bureau. (2017, August 16). Unmarried and single Americans week: Sept 17-23, 2017. https://www.census.gov/newsroom/facts-for-features/2017/single-americans-week.html.



Which Meditation App is Right For You?

Final Post in a 3-Part Blog Series on Meditation

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Welcome back! I hope that since my last piece, which you can read here, you were able to hone in on a couple of types of mediation that are best suited for you. Throughout this series, you may have noticed I touched upon a variety of different apps and I’d like to expand on that today.

Meditation can easily be done without the assistance of technology simply by sitting in a quiet place with your eyes closed. However, many people find background sounds and the time-limited nature and gentle guidance of online sessions to be grounding. In this piece, I’ll provide a rundown of some of the most popular meditation apps along with the perks and pitfalls of each.

Insight Timer

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This app boasts a wide array of meditations, music tracks, talks, and lecture series all with varying lengths. Categories are broken down into issues such as depression, anxiety, relationships, and sleep. World renowned teachers such as Sharon Salzberg and Tara Brach lead some meditations found in the app. There is also a feature that allows you to bookmark your favorite meditations.

One great feature of Insight Timer is it’s namesake, the timer. This feature allows you to personalize your meditation by selecting a length of time, a soothing background noise, and optional bells or gongs, which serve as reminders to bring yourself back inward when your mind has wandered.

Insight Timer is a very interactive app with a busy interface that contains a newsfeed listing what different users are currently meditating to. There is also a social media feature that allows users to communicate with one another, which may be enticing or distracting depending on your personal preferences.

All of the meditations and features I just described are included in the free version of the app. So what are the down sides? The sheer volume and wide variety of meditations available may make it difficult to navigate the app. In the  free version, you won’t be able to listen to meditations offline, meaning you’ll need to stream data or connect to the Internet in order to use it. As we’ll see, this is the case for many of the meditation apps I review today.

The premium version of Insight Timer, which touts higher quality audio as well as repeat and fast forward options, costs $4.99 a month or $35.99 a year.


Stop, Breathe & Think

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There are quite a few features unique to this app that you won’t find in other apps. To start, there is a “check in” feature at the beginning and end of your session. The “check in” asks you in detail how you’re feeling and then the app uses your selections to generate the ideal meditation for you. The guidance in the meditations is well orchestrated and there are similar themes to those you’ll find across the board in all of the apps, although not quite as extensive. The app also contains a video section with clips leading the user through yoga and acupressure.

In addition to the check-in feature, there are sessions tailored to different issues such as stress, anxiety, sleep, and focus. These meditations tend to fall on the shorter side – around 10 minutes – which may please a busy meditator but might not be ideal for someone who wants a more in-depth retreat within. Also, the amount of meditations you have access to is limited in the free version.

Like many of the other apps, Stop, Breathe & Think tracks your progress and meditation streaks; it also offers you “stickers” as incentives based on your meditation history. Those who find it difficult to motivate themselves to meditate may find these features helpful.

The premium version of Stop, Breathe & Think gives you access to more meditations, unlimited journaling, and longer versions of the meditations offered. The cost is $58.99 annually or $9.99 monthly.



Calm

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Like the other apps, Calm has different categories with meditations tailored to specific foci. The free version offers a series of “7 days” on particular topics, which someone new to meditation may find helpful. You can select soothing background noises such as raindrops, ocean waves, or birds chirping. Like Insight Timer, the app has an option for a freestyle meditation with bells to signal the beginning and end.

The premium version of Calm offers more benefits, such as Emergency Calm for use during times of particularly high stress and emotional overwhelm. Premium users also have access to “masterclasses” which uses a course-like format to delve into topics such as “Discovering Happiness,”“Mindful Eating,” and “Rethinking Depression”. “The Daily Calm” is another great feature of premium; each day this feature offers a meditation geared towards a specific topic.  

One potential drawback for those who are not new to meditation may be the length of the meditations; on average they are each about 10 minutes, which may not feel long enough. There is a seven day free trial period. The cost is $12.99/month and $59.99 annually.

Headspace

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One of the more well-known apps, Headspace, offers 10 free days of meditation sessions which caters to beginners because it tackles the basics of meditation like bringing awareness to the breath, noticing thoughts, using your five senses, and feeling grounded. A free trial will also get you access to a sample of 10 meditations from their “packs,”which are meditations grouped into categories similar to Calm’s format. Headspace helps you get into the groove of making meditation a habit by offering a helpful reminder system, suggesting you meditate at the same time each day. It’s interface is very user-friendly, easy to navigate, and doesn’t feel overwhelming.

Headspace Premium allows full access to the packs of meditations and also has “singles” options including meditations for various scenarios including “rough day,” “SOS,” early mornings, sleep, and even working out. Unique to headspace are “minis,” which are short one to three minute meditations optimal for those with little room in their schedules to meditate but who would still like to check in with themselves. The app even has a kids section.

Unfortunately, without access to premium, Headspace can only offer you so much; it’s a great app for beginners who don’t need a plethora of options but  those looking for specific types of meditation will be disappointed with the free version. Premium will run you $12.99 a month, $94.99 for the year, or $399.99 for a lifetime subscription.

That concludes our meditation series! I hope you’ve found these posts enlightening and that you reference them as you incorporate this wonderful practice into your life. Namaste and good luck!












How to Manage the Holidays as a Couple

Part 5 of our Holiday Blog Series

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Holidays are supposed to be an exciting time filled with love and joy, a time to strengthen bonds in our relationships . The season revolves around seeing family and friends, sharing great food and good cheer.  Yet from budding relationships to the most veteran couples, it can be a time of great stress and conflict.


So You’ve Started a New Relationship

If you are in a new relationship, the holidays can bring excitement for the monumental “firsts” together.  However, those “firsts” can be accompanied by stress and uncertainty. John and Julie Gottman of the Gottman Institute have studied thousands of couples to determine the formula for success in committed relationships. They assert that it is important to discuss how you want to celebrate the holidays and what the holidays mean to you.  

The more intentional you are about your holiday rituals, the more meaningful your holidays (and your marriage) will be.  Creating rituals deepens your connection with your partner, and the Gottmans actively promote creating your own rituals as a couple or family. While each individual may have important family rituals they already follow, there are many  opportunities to create new ones together. Ultimately, these shared rituals will strengthen the bonds you share with your partner.

Where to Spend the Holidays?

It is essential to discuss which holidays are important to you both, is Thanksgiving the most important, or is it Independence Day, Christmas, or Hanukkah?  What are your expectations around celebrating these holidays? Discuss each of your priorities and find a way to equitably share the holidays together.

Is it possible to alternate where you celebrate every other year so it feels more fair? If distance isn’t an overriding factor, is it possible to split your time between both families on the actual holidays so everyone is happy? Or if Thanksgiving is more important to one family, and Christmas to another,  can you spend one with each? If you are an interfaith couple there may even be more options outside of the secular holidays. You also may want to start your own tradition and host your family and friends at your place!

Prepare Your Partner

Another area of concern can be preparing your partner to meet your family. Even if your partner has met your family only a few times, or has known them for years, celebrating with family  can be anxiety-provoking. It may be helpful to inform your partner of special family traditions and bring them up to speed on any family dynamics they may need to be aware of.

Preparing your partner can help reduce stress and pave the way for a frictionless celebration. However, if  visiting your family continues to be a source of angst, be mindful that it is only a few times a year, and even a few hours per visit at that, and  try to maintain a positive attitude going into the party.

Take it Easy

Gatherings can be nerve-wracking, but drinking too much to calm the nerves is never the answer. It’s helpful to monitor your drinking so you can always remain composed and in control. Later, you won’t regret remaining sober or limiting yourself to only one or two drinks, and the chances of a positive experience and outcome is so much greater.

Have Each Other’s Back

If conflict ensues between your partner and your family during the holiday festivities, it is important to be loyal to your partner.  David Burns’ “EAR Approach” can serve as a useful tool for navigating conflicts with each other.

EAR means:

Empathy:  Did I acknowledge what my partner was thinking and feeling or was I defensive?

Assertiveness,: Did I make “I feel” statements or blame my partner for the problem?

Respect, was I caring even if I was irritated?  

Consider “soft start-ups” meaning, when you present your need,  do so in a loving and caring way (versus launching into attack mode.)  Where can you be more flexible? Can you arrive at a compromise together?    

Enjoy Meaningful Time Together

There is no right or wrong way to celebrate the holidays together.  Holidays have a range of meaning to different people. It is paramount to discuss with your partner your hopes and dreams with respect to where you want to spend the holidays, what traditions are the most important to you, and what you are willing to compromise on.  The ideal scenario is to strike a balance so everyone is comfortable and satisfied.

Many couples divide and conquer with respect to the holidays and spend time apart visiting their respective families. Often they do this  because they couldn’t strike a balance between visiting their respective families, and instead of making a joint decision, moved forward independently with their own plans.  There could be other reasons, and this is not to be judged. It’s just that my hope is that because you are a couple, you continue to celebrate important holidays and family time together and find your own unique traditions and rituals!

Laura Goldstein, LMSW, is a therapist at A Good Place. To learn more about her, read her bio here.

’Tis the Season: It Is Okay To Feel ‘Blah’ Coping with Grief and Loss during the Holidays

Part 4 of our Holiday Blog Series

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When holiday music echoes through the halls of department stores and busy employees hustle to meet their year-end goals, you know the holiday season has begun. However, it can be hard to spread holiday cheer if you’re missing that someone special.

If you’ve experienced a loss recently,  or even if you miss someone who passed away decades ago, the holidays can be a difficult time. Here are some tips to help you cope with loss during this festive season. Using these tools, you may even begin to look forward to the holidays again!


Be Honest with yourself

The holidays are a great-time to engage in some self-reflection and to take stock of your true feelings. It’s okay if you don’t feel cheery about the holiday season. Everyone grieves differently, and it is important to he honest with yourself about what you need. Decide which festivities you wish to take part in, and which you prefer to skip. Express your wishes clearly to your loved ones. Setting expectations with family and planning ahead can reduce your stress later.

If you find yourself at a party,  it’s perfectly acceptable to take a moment and remove yourself from the crowd. Take a walk outside, focus on your breathing, or leave if you feel you’ve have had enough. Thinking ahead about your coping skills can help alleviate the stress of being in a social setting that may produce feelings of grief and sadness.

Take time to remember

Often we just go through the motions of performing holiday-related tasks to avoid what is actually on our minds. We may find ourselves buying gifts for loved ones and attending parties, seemingly swept up in the holiday spirit, but are we?  It is easy to be overwhelmed and lose track of your own grief when others around you may seem to be in the holiday spirit. Before you know it, another holiday has come and gone, but you remain immersed in feelings of sorrow. To make it worse, there are constant reminders at the holidays of moments you may have shared with the person you are grieving that may make it hard to forget.

Taking a few minutes to remember a loved one during the holidays can allow you the time to grieve. For example, my grandmother passed five years ago and she loved the holidays, so my family and I always take the time at Christmas dinner to talk about happy memories. We remember her singing her heart out in the church choir which always brought a smile to our faces. Taking a brief moment to remember allows us to openly express how we feel, rather than avoid her absence. Acknowledging the person you miss can make the holiday more meaningful, but it doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate with the other people you love.

Traditions

Whether you create new traditions or continue the traditions you had when a loved one was with you, it can be helpful to do things to make them feel like a part of the holidays. Decide which traditions you enjoyed with your loved one, as well as any new traditions you may want to start in memory of him or her. If your grandmother made the best apple pie, make it! Of course she will not be the one making it, and it may not taste as good as hers did, but she will have a seat at your holiday table and that will make it an even more memorable. My friend’s mother passed away last year and loved running at the beach, now her family has a new tradition of running on the beach every Thanksgiving. New traditions can help carry on the memory of those we love, and make the traditions you shared with the person more meaningful.

Take Time for You

Coping with the loss of a loved can feel overwhelming near the holidays. You may find yourself consoling others (a spouse, children, siblings, parent, etc.) when you need consoling yourself!  However, in order to grieve and find peace, it is most important to focus on ourselves. Continue with the things you like to do at the holidays, and don’t feel guilty for doing so. The person you miss would be happy you did.

As difficult as it may seem, do not shy away from friends and obligations, especially  if you are doing so just to avoid difficult conversations. Talking about your loved one can be therapeutic, and your friends and family will understand if you say you do not want to talk about it anymore. Another option is to seek professional help from a therapist. A therapist can offer a safe space to grieve and process your thoughts. Therapy allows us to express private or intimate thoughts we may not feel comfortable sharing with other people,

Although sleeping in and not getting dressed up for that Secret Santa dinner party may sound like a good idea, surrounding yourself with the people may be just the thing you need! Don’t get me wrong, if you need the occasional night at home near the holidays that’s OK, just make sure you understand why you are doing so, and try to avoid doing it habitually.

I hope you have found this helpful. You should understand that It’s OK if the holidays are not always cheerful to you. Often, when we don’t feel like talking about our grief that is the most important time to do so. Confide in the people closest to you (or a therapist) and try to not bottle up your emotions. That’s easier said than done--I know. It takes courage and trust, but over time you will feel better. Happy Holidays!

Alysha Perlman, LCSW is a therapist at A Good Place. To learn more about her, check out her bio here.


Maintaining Holiday Cheer While Queer

Part 3 of our Holiday Blog Series

The holidays can be a difficult time of year for anyone -- managing expectations, too much time spent with family members, avoiding politics like the plague and so on. In particular, it can be an extremely challenging period for individuals in LGBTQ communities. The holidays present a unique challenge of prolonged interaction with family members who may reject a significant part of your identity.

Some family members may be reluctant to accept, have trouble understanding, or even work to actively alienate queer identities. There tends to always be at least one aunt inquiring about when you will ‘find a husband,’ one uncle telling inappropriate jokes about you and your same-sex partner, and if you identify as gender non-binary or transgender, you can likely anticipate some underhanded comments about the way you are dressed. Deciding what to wear at all can be overwhelming -- do you wear the clothes to appease your family and maintain holiday equilibrium or wear what you feel comfortable and most like yourself in? The list of possibilities for stress can be daunting.

May I step in to assist you in your journey this holiday season? I would like to share some thoughts on what I have found helpful in maintaining balance during the holiday season.

Practice acceptance

Radical acceptance is a concept practiced in dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and it can be very useful when interacting with people or situations you find frustrating. You cannot control or change those around you -- you can only control yourself and your responses. By entering these situations with an attitude of acceptance, you relinquish the futile fight with reality that makes painful situations more difficult. There is a misconception commonly held about acceptance. Acceptance does not mean you support the microaggressions at the holiday dinner table. It means that you recognize they happened and are choosing not to engage in a battle with them. The energy required from refusing to accept the realities of painful situations with the people you care about ultimately leads to suffering. With the state of politics in America, suffering during family conversations is at capacity.

Take space

Don’t be afraid to excuse yourself or take a walk to catch a break from extended “extrovert” time. Not only does a 10-minute stroll allow you a small break from interaction-overload, it’s also known to alleviate anxiety and depression. A quick and mindful walk can serve to provide hours of stress-relief. If taking off for a stroll isn’t feasible, removing yourself for ten minutes for some deep, measured breathing can provide similar relief. Giving yourself time will make you a more engaged holiday party attendee in the long-run.

Process before responding (S.T.O.P.)

This is another handy DBT exercise. The acronym STOP stands for -- Stop, Take a breath, Observe, and Proceed mindfully. Do you feel tight in your chest after a difficult conversation? Is anxiety creeping up? Notice it, and respond accordingly. Before reacting impulsively and responding in a manner that may cause you more distress down the line, take a minute to breathe. So much can happen during that pause. You may decide your impulse to respond with venom may not be worth the trouble. You may become aware that perhaps your feelings have roots elsewhere and need to be explored outside of the current conversation. Allowing yourself a pause to explore where your feelings are coming from can help ground and center you in the moment.

Respect your limits

If you feel exhausted from seemingly futile debates about discrimination, offensive language, or just plain ignorance, you can always opt out. It is not your responsibility to be the all-knowing representative and educator for the entire LGBTQ community. Respecting your limits about what conversations you decide to engage in can help alleviate unnecessary stress.

Allow for self-compassion.

This is my most important point. If you find yourself engaging with thoughts of self-loathing, guilt, or shame, notice them and kindly ask them to step aside. Those parts of you are not needed right now. What if a friend were leveling some of these criticisms at you? Would you keep that friend around? It can often be so much easier to offer compassion to others before ourselves. No need to reprimand yourself for having these thoughts – acknowledge them, know there are reasons why they surface, and do your best to afford yourself kindness and caring, as you would a close friend.

I hope these pointers help you maintain some cheer while queer during this holiday season. At the very least, I hope they serve as a reminder that you are not alone. Bravery has been required of you every second in this life. I hope you will be soft with yourself this year and tend to your needs in the way you deserve.


Sally Scheidlinger, LMSW, specializes in working with the LGBTQ population as a therapist at A Good Place. To learn more about her, check out here bio here.


Preventing the Holiday Blues and Staying Sober

Part 2 of our Holiday Blog Series

The holiday season is sold as a time of celebration, good cheer and material wealth. As much as we want to embrace these tales, the expectations and experiences of the holiday season can create strong emotional ups and downs which often leads to  the holiday blues. For those in recovery, this can also bring about times of trepidation and temptation.

Why do the blues hit during this otherwise festive season? During the busiest time of the year, doing too much (or too little) can produce feelings of anxiety or a sense of not having enough. Being separated from loved ones or missing a lost someone can also bring about sadness during the holidays, Sadness is an emotion to embrace, but not always welcome with all the holiday cheer. Likewise, many in recovery might associate the holidays with mixed memories of overindulgence, an embarrassing episode, or a destructive big bender. Conflicting feelings of anxiety/depression, happy/sad, excited/sacred, plentiful/lonely are common emotions that may produce triggers or signals for relapse.

Developing a holiday plan to help prevent the blues can help defer and deter these feelings so we can, in fact, embrace and enjoy the festivities and celebrations of the season.

Here are a few suggestions to achieve a joyful and sober holiday season:

Enhance your support system. Holidays are a good time to reach out more frequently to your therapist, sponsor, spiritual advisor, and/or support group. Spend time with your fellow recovering people. Call your friends instead of texting. Reconnect with those far away. Find your strength and reach out to those you need and trust. Learn to say "no" in a way that is comfortable for you to best realize your personal limits.

Focus on your recovery program. This is an important time to focus on the specifics of your recovery program. Take a look at what exactly you are working on right now (a step, a reading, a process, etc.), what is not working, and what worked in the past. Discuss this with your counselor, friends or sponsor. Go to meetings. Do service work. Help others—It is the season of giving!

Release your resentments. Resentment allows a person or feeling you dislike to live in your head, rent-free. Resentments that gain steam during the holidays can be disastrous for recovering people. Again, find your source for ways to let go of anger, difficult people, and old thought patterns. Try to bring about the joy of the holidays with the adage of Forgive and Forget. Letting these resentments and toxic thoughts can open us up to see and feel the good the season brings about. We can often learn from our most difficult relationships. Try asking, how does this person, or this situation serve as my teacher?

Don't overindulge. Easy does it. Stick to your routines and plans. Monitor your intake of caffeine, sugar, and anything out of the ordinary. Watch out for the holiday sweets and maintain a balanced diet. Get plenty of rest, keep exercising, and maintain a schedule. In these busy days, it is best to plan ahead to avoid stress and keep yourself on track.

Party Tricks:

Bring Your Own: To ensure sure you have something non-alcoholic to drink, bring it yourself! Bring a non-alcoholic fizzy juice, your favorite seltzer, some specialty soda, or a festive punch. You may find yourself the hero for other adults who limit their consumption of alcohol. A tasty non-alcoholic beverage will give you something to hold and may prevent people from offering you an alcoholic drink.

Your Modus Operandi: For social situations that may be less familiar, or with peer pressure, it is helpful to have a quick response for why you are not drinking at this event: “I’m trying to lose some weight”, “Not drinking tonight—need a holiday party breather”, “I’m the designated driver tonight,” or, “Doesn’t fit into my exercise program” are some examples.  Whatever the retort, having one in mind will build your confidence which helps fend off any further questions.

Limit Yourself: Be choosy about the holiday events you attend and avoid people pleasing by saying “yes” to everything. Listen to yourself and learn to say “no," especially those parties that may be higher risk or that you don’t need/want to attend.

In and Out: Bring a sober friend, arrive late and leave early.

Find new ways to celebrate. Create some new symbols and rituals for YOU that redefine the holiday season. Host a holiday gathering for special friends and/or attend celebrations of your support group. Avoid isolation and spend time with people you like especially when you "don't really feel like it." Don't expose yourself to unnecessary temptations, such as gatherings where alcohol is the center of entertainment. If you can, avoid the people, place and things that have a negative influence on you.

You First. Slow. Down. No matter how busy, find some quiet time each day and work on an attitude of gratitude. Continue your self-care regiment whatever that might be: meditation, podcasts, walk around the block, journaling, alone time—just keep doing it, on a daily basis. Exercise regularly to help maintain your energy level amid a busier schedule. Relax your standards and reduce overwhelming demands and responsibilities to help prevent anxiety and stress levels as best you can.

Even if you struggle and find it tough going, know "This Too Shall Pass" and there is more life after the holidays.

Recovery is serious work and it is important to have fun. Laugh a little. And a little more. Embrace the season as best you can, bring new light, ideas, approaches and attitudes to your celebration. Look for the humor in those things around you, try to spot the joy of the children. Through sobriety and a strong program, enjoy the very best in your holiday season.


Douglas Brown, LMSW is a therapist at A Good Place. To learn more about him, check out his Bio here.


When It’s Not The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

The first installment in our Holiday Blog Series

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Happy Holidays! I haven’t even finished my Halloween candy, but stores are already playing Christmas music and my Starbucks cup is telling me I should be radiating joy. We are often told that this is the most wonderful time of the year.

Nevertheless, this season is sometimes one of the toughest times for many. Holidays have a way of creating social pressure, and bringing up tough memories. Pressures on finances, strained relationships, dwindling hours of sunlight (my personal least favorite), over-eating and drinking, and family disagreements over politics don’t always turn out to be merry and bright. Sometimes, they are bleak and sad.

If you’re not feeling jolly, you aren’t alone. This blog series is designed to help us cope with some common holiday stressors. For now, here are a few quick tips for how to deal when the holidays when you are not feeling cheerful.  


Take what you like, and leave the rest

Not liking certain things about the holiday season may make you feel like a Grinch, but you don’t have to write it off altogether just because you don’t love every day from Thanksgiving on through to the New Year. I love Thanksgiving, but find holiday shopping overwhelming and exhausting. On the other hand, I have one friend who can’t wait to finish the family meal so they can go shopping at midnight on Black Friday. Growing up Jewish I often felt left out on Christmas. While the 25th was not my favorite day, I loved walking around drinking cider and looking at the lights throughout December. You can have fun moments even if you don’t love the whole season.

Remember there’s no “right” way to celebrate

I got engaged this year, which lead to my fiancé and I talking about holiday traditions. I noticed my brain was telling me married people “should” spend all their holidays together. If we both want to spend Thanksgiving with our families of origin, and that means being separate, so what? If you want to spend the holiday with only your partner, that is also OK! If going out on New Years isn’t your scene, stay in! Even if it looks like everyone on your news feed is taking pictures under a ten-foot Christmas tree or is out partying all night on New Year’s Eve, you’re not alone in wanting to do something different. If you find yourself thinking in a lot of “I should” statements, try to push those aside and prioritize doing what will truly bring you the most joy.

Find room for Compromise:

It’s easy to say just don’t go to events when you don’t want to, but lots of us have occasions we are obligated to attend. However, this does not have to equal spending a week at home with family you do not get along with every holiday. Maybe you agree to go to your Mom’s house for Thanksgiving, but ask your family to travel to you for a Hanukkah dinner. If you’re making a trip back home but don’t feel comfortable staying there for a full week, it’s OK to only go for a night or two and stay in a local hotel or with a friend for part of the time. You might hear some grumbles from your grandma, but there is no requirement you have to stay for the four days after Thanksgiving or the whole week between Christmas and New Years.

Practice generosity:
The research on this is pretty clear; we get more from giving than from receiving. This doesn’t mean you have to spend a ton of money on gifts. It might mean Venmo-ing a friend who you might not be able to visit $5 for their morning coffee, or offering your seat on the subway to someone who looks like they are having a hard day. These little gestures don’t require going into debt, but can make someone’s day and make you feel good about yourself.

Don’t throw your routine to the wind:

After a long year, we often feel like we deserve to let loose during the holidays. And you do; however, treating yourself and your normal self care routine do not have to be mutually exclusive. If you usually wake up before 8, exercise four days a week, and eat pretty healthily, you’re not going to feel great if you let that all go for a week. Nobody expects you to give up your Thanksgiving meal or Hanukkah Gelt, but if you can get a few workouts in and get enough sleep, you’ll be able to cope with holiday stress better and it will be easier to return to your routine.


Practice self-compassion:

Anticipate that the holiday season will have some tough moments. I often see clients get mad at themselves when self-care doesn’t work or that they’re not over a difficult situation fast enough. However, it is not realistic to expect that taking a bubble bath or going to a yoga class is going to make you forget this is your first Thanksgiving without your grandpa. When you notice yourself having these emotions, take a moment to simply observe them without judgment. It can be helpful to say to yourself, “It’s understandable given (insert your situation) that I’m having a difficult time this year. I am going to try to be compassionate with myself.” Then place your hands on your chest, and take a moment to visualize sending yourself kindness. You might find that if you don’t beat yourself up over your emotions, they lose a little of their potency and pass more quickly.

If you already struggle with anxiety or depression, being told to be cheerful, merry, and bright can really feel like salt in a wound. I hope you’ll give some of these suggestions a try, and hope you find the rest of this series helpful as you navigate this tricky time of year. Happy Holidays!

Julia Lawrence, LMSW is a therapist at A Good Place. Find out more about what it’s like to work with her here.



Therapist Spotlight: Fernando Quigua, LMSW

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Meet Fernando Quigua, a therapist at A Good Place:


What inspired you to pursue a career as a therapist?

I’m not entirely sure.  For one, I lost a good friend to suicide. He was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder while studying at Oxford.  We had lived in different countries for a few years, so I didn't see it coming.  The emails between us were fewer and fewer, and I was actually hurt that he withdrew. It wasn't until after his memorial service that I learned of his diagnosis and what he privately went through.  So I may or may not have turned to psychological literature for answers. I don’t know.  But following his death, I began reading the works of the first depth psychologists, particularly those of Carl Jung. This lit a fire in me. At the time, I was pursuing a Master's in International Affairs at Columbia, so by day I went through the motions.  But by night, I couldn't read enough psychology, particularly where psychology intersected with spirituality and soul, and later, with social justice. Around this time, I had a wave of spiritual experiences as well, so these psychologies of the imagination really appealed to me. Practicing psychotherapy seemed like a calling.


What is your favorite thing about being a therapist?

I'm not one for chit-chat.  For me, it's talking to people about what matters to them. Going into the depths with people, fostering conditions for people to speak from the depths of their heart. People surprise themselves when they allow themselves to say and think what they feel.  Sometimes it's powerful, and sometimes it's not as frightening as it first seemed.  That and the dreams.  I love helping people work with their dreams.  I could work all day with the dreams, and good thing, because I do.


What is a personal challenge you've overcome that makes you a better therapist?
My personal challenges are the challenges that keep challenging, so I'm not sure I've overcome any personal challenges.  And certainly none that compare to the people who've really put their lives on the line for justice and dignity, for truth and beauty, for ecology and liberation.  Society doesn't make it easy for someone to lead a life committed to these values.

As a therapist, what are you most passionate about? 

I'm most passionate about the creative imagination.  The courage of my clients to seek help.  The genius of their dreams and their associations.  The workings of the psyche. The often uncanny arc of a therapy session, that if one gets out of the way and steers occasionally by curiosity and instinct, one can learn astounding things about oneself and the world. 

What are your specialties and what drew you to them?

Anxiety.  These days people are anxious.  Look around, the world is burning down and speeding up.  And, there's such intense pressure now for people to be productive and positive.  Well, I think people are positively anxious.  And, rightfully so. The next step is to get to talking, to figure out why--or the who, what, when, and how.  And then, to say things, perhaps things you’re not supposed to say. Or to articulate feelings just beyond the reach of words. That has a way of dispelling anxiety and empowering people to take the next step, be it to save to their marriage or to leave their marriage, to switch careers, join a political cause, even better, start a political cause.  Maybe it’s as simple as putting your phone down, or turning off the TV. But perhaps what's most important is developing the capacity and practice of listening to yourself, of caring for yourself, which is to say, to relate to your soul with compassion.... maybe so that you can listen and respond to others with a similar compassion.

And again, I like working the images of dreams, visions, and reverie. Entering a dream in a therapy session, I find, it’s like entering zero-gravity.  It’s as if the objects in the room and the furniture start to float a little.  I think it's fun, to lose yourself in a mode of imagining. That can be an important space to be in, your dreams, because they may seem “internal,” or "just in your head," but really, the dream is a place that extends far beyond that, and far beyond you.

What makes you unique as a therapist?

I'm not sure what makes me unique as a therapist. I'm not a 'fixer' or a 'problem solver.’  I'm not an 'interpreter' slinging my favorite concepts around. I try not to impose even my desire for the client to 'get better.' I'm not a 'healer.'  If anything, I just try to get out of the way. I use curiosity as an invitation. I open a space for people to trust and to speak their truth, and then I let their psychological process play out; I let their psyche manifest itself through speech and images. Something happens, something mysterious unfurls, so I respect it with a kind of reverent attention. I witness what's happening, what the client is saying, what the client is not saying, and what's going on with me, i.e., what kind of crazy thoughts am I having, what do I find curious, what do I find stultifying, etc.?  All of this entails an aesthetic attunement to the situation as well as a reverence, but an irreverence, too.  Maybe I drop more f-bombs than other therapists, depending on whom I'm with.  

I work with a combination of emotional investment and poetic detachment, an eye and an ear for the forms and flow and the qualities of the relationship experience.


How would you describe your therapeutic approach?

I take a deep interest.  I'm passionate about my client's experience. "I meet them where they're at," as is said.  And I sometimes see the poetry in their lives.


Everyone needs self-care. How do you practice self-care?
I spend time with my restorative community, most broadly defined.  This means I avoid social media and I talk with my friends. I talk to strangers.  I like to walk a lot.  I go to the woods--New York City's version anyway. I dance, not as much as I would like.  I write prose-poetry.  And as Freud once said, "Time spent with cats is never wasted."  


Cats and plants are really ‘in’ these days, for a reason.  You have to work harder to be attuned with cats.  Dogs are very social animals, very sensitive to cues, and they tend to be people-pleasers.  People tend to be cat-pleasers, some of us anyway, and there's value in that. To arrive on the plane of cat-consciousness, to connect with such strange and beautiful creatures can be very rewarding.


What are some of your favorite movies/books?


Ciro Guerra's The Embrace of the Serpent was the most powerful film I've seen in years. Alejandro Jodorowski's recent films, Endless Poetry and The Dance of Reality, based on his experiences as a young Jewish boy and as an artist in Chile, were also compelling.

My favorite authors over the past few years have been Robert Walser and Roberto Bolaño. The work of Robert Walser and of Wayne Koestenbaum, in particular, gave me the most unexpected and giddy courage to write.


What is one thing that is important for anyone to know? 


Whatever it is that's important to them. That's one, and it stands by itself. But I'd also say, whatever it is that turns them on.  Whatever it is that leads them to ecstasy--and agony--and the places where their values conflict.  For example, you may want to build sailboats when you grow up but your dad wants you to be a lawyer. Or you may want to kiss boys instead of girls, or girls and instead of boys, but your father wants you to kiss lawyers. But what if by ‘father’ we mean here a metaphor, one whose reality and power exceeds that of your actual father??  You see, it’s all very complicated, and so it’s better to leave it to the experts.


What's most important to you?

I'm not sure there's a word for it.  Some combination of truth and beauty, dignity, love, and psycho-political orientation. That, and the need for humor, for joking around. I worked with a teenager, long ago, who once told me, "I live for comedy."  Amen.


What is your take on a current social issue?

I am concerned about cultural and psychological conditions of democracy; I think ‘gaslighting’ is a social issue. There’s big money in gaslighting. I’m concerned with how big money and self-interest have infiltrated social justice causes.  If the revolution is merchandised, I’m pretty sure it’s not a revolution.


Do you have any passion projects or interests?

I like to write.  And there's a dissertation I could be writing.  Very top secret, but vaguely about the knowledge value of our dreams and visionary states.  The political import of the poetry in our lives….or the poetic import of our political lives. Or something like that. It’s cooking.


Which Type of Meditation is Right for You?

In part I of this series we covered some false yet commonly held beliefs about meditation. You may recall I also challenged readers to take part in the practice by committing to meditation for 5 minutes 3 times a week. Were you able to incorporate meditation into your routine? If so, take a few moments now to reflect on how well it worked for you. What did you like about it and what frustrated you? Do you still have questions? Hopefully this post will answer some of them!

As we discovered in our earlier post, choosing a meditation practice can be overwhelming; there are so many different varieties! So, how do we know which is the right one for us? Let’s explore this today as we examine how versatile mediation can be when it comes to addressing various forms of psychological distress.

If you’re struggling with…

Depression, try practicing gratitude and loving-kindness

Symptoms of depression like sadness, crying spells, and feelings of emptiness can leave us feeling helpless. We may also have recurring negative thoughts about others and ourselves. Often it can be hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel. For these difficult times, I recommend two types of guided meditations: gratitude-focused and loving-kindness.

The practice of gratitude centered mediations is an optimistic and soothing process. Most gratitude meditations invite us to list several things or people we are thankful for, and many will ask us to engage in visualization so we can engrain the positive feelings associated with them into our psyche. These meditations may ask us to consider seemingly small concepts, such as the notion of having a roof over our heads or air to breathe. The goal is to raise our awareness about just how amazing life is. The shift in thinking that happens during a gratitude meditation can be instrumental in countering negative thoughts and feelings of low self-worth.

Loving-kindness meditations provide a comforting antidote to the harsh self-criticism that accompanies depression. These meditations help us take a break from our inner critics and emphasize acceptance of ourselves, wherever and however we are in our lives. The practice usually involves reciting an internal mantra where we imagine ourselves as happy, healthy, and safe. We are invited to notice how the act of visualizing these changes makes us feel in our bodies. We can mentally extending warm feelings and wishes to family, friends, strangers, or even the whole world! A primary goal of each of these kinds of meditation is to regain the sense of connectedness that is often lost as a result of depression.  

If you’re struggling with…

Low self-esteem, try  affirmations

Everyone has struggled with negative thoughts or feelings about themselves at some point or another. Sometimes the thoughts are fleeting or situational and other times they can be chronic and recurring. They may be targeted towards our bodies, career achievements, or relationship status. In other cases, past negative situations or early childhood traumas have instilled faulty belief systems in us that cause us to feel inferior or unworthy.

Meditations with affirmations seek to promote the rooting of healthy,  strong, and positive messages in our subconscious to counteract our internalized bullies. Affirmations can be expressed silently or out loud,  but it’s recommended that we complete them with a firm and upright posture to further promote feelings of self-confidence. The affirmations may vary or might be repeated depending on the meditation we choose. Through affirmations, we can learn and pay attention to particular phrases that trigger the positive mindset we wish to possess.  

If you’re struggling with…

Anxiety, opt for a body scan or breathing exercises

The anxiety,  physical discomfort, and high levels of emotional distress that accompany anxiety can make us feel unwelcome in our own bodies. Often our thoughts focus on situations outside of our control and trigger a sense of dread. By engaging in body scan exercises,  we give our minds a break. We focus our care and attention on the often neglected physical self by inviting ourselves to check in with one muscle group at a time. We search our bodies for any signs of tension, tightness, or other unwelcome sensations. By giving ourselves permission to focus on our physical self, we can distract our psychological self from anxious thoughts and feelings.

Breath-focused exercises achieves the same goal when it comes to focusing on something outside of our thoughts. These exercises also provide an added benefit by stimulating our parasympathetic nervous system, the system responsible for bringing the body back to equilibrium after a perceived threat or state of distress. Breathing deeply and consistently sends the message “I am alright, I am safe” to your body, which is often just what we need when we find ourselves in the throes of an anxious episode. Breathing exercises vary widely and may include counting breath, holding the breath between the inhale and exhale, or placing one hand on your belly while your breathe.

If you’re struggling with…

Stress, let visualization be your guide, or check into yourself and your surroundings with mindfulness

I don’t believe anyone is a stranger to stress. Whether it’s a fast-approaching deadline at work or an unexpected life event, stress can permeate our minds and bodies. Stress can cloud your judgment and impair your ability to think clearly, leaving you more susceptible to negative coping patterns.

With mindfulness, we tap into the imaginative part of our mind and create visions or images, which affect the primary visual cortex in the same way it would if these visions were actually happening. In this way, visualization can be a healing retreat from the havoc that stress wreaks on our psyche. Common visualization meditations may involve imagining a beam of white light radiating from our chests, or standing beneath a waterfall as it washes our stressful thoughts away.

As I touched on in the previous post, mindfulness is also an excellent way to put stress in its place. Mindfulness is a great antidote to stress  when it comes in the form of ruminating thoughts or nagging physical symptoms. Mindfulness invites us to focus on the present moment and engage in something other than our worries. I like to practice what I call the 5-5-5 awareness; 5 minutes spent engaging the 5 senses, 5 times a day.

You can make this practice fun by being more specific about your sensory experiences. Try focusing on vision by picking a different color to focus on each time, like trying to identify all of the red objects in a room. Augment the practice by adding soothing music or taking note of any interesting noises around you.

If you’re struggling with

…sleep, try progressive muscle relaxation

Sleep is so vital to our health and yet it can be so elusive. It is as though the moment we tell ourselves we need to relax, our bodies and minds become even more hyperactive. Sleep becomes difficult when we are preoccupied with what already happened during the day or with what the next day holds for us.

Progressive muscle relaxation is a great way to put both our bodies and our minds at ease. You can opt for a guided recording that takes you through the exercise or simply narrate yourself; starting with your feet, tense your muscles as tight as they can go for 6-7 seconds and then release and let them relax. Complete this for each major muscle group, moving up your body through your calves, thighs, abdominal, hands, forearms, shoulders, neck, and face. The goal is to make your body feel heavier and ready for a restful sleep. Your mind will also feel calmer after focusing on your muscles for several minutes. Make sure you are breathing in and out as you relax your muscles. As a reminder, for restful sleep it’s also best to limit the use of electronics right before bed, so put away those iPhones at least two hours before you go to sleep

Even if you’re not struggling with any of these specific issues we covered today, the meditations listed are all wonderful ways to connect with yourself. If a particular type of meditation resonated with you, give it a try to see if it helps you! You may also find apps such as Calm, Headspace, “Stop, Breathe and Think”, or Insight Timer useful as you build your mediation practice.  Check back for my next post where I’ll provide a review of these apps in more detail complete with a list of pros and cons to help guide you in your ongoing meditation journey!

Kara Lissy LCSW, is a therapist at A Good Place. Find out more about her here!

Debunking the Myths of Meditation, Part 1

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“I can’t find the time.”

“I can’t sit still for that long.”

“I just can’t turn my mind off.”

“Silence drives me crazy”

These are just a few of the responses I hear when I recommend practicing meditation as a coping skill.  Anyone can benefit from meditation, because as human beings we are hardwired for anxiety.  And anxiety is the trait that alerts us when there is a threat to our equilibrium. And let’s face it - with busy jobs, stressful family situations,  illnesses, and ever-mounting bills, it’s very easy to feel threatened!

Mindfulness is a phenomenon that has taken the world by storm in recent years. It’s  been widely praised by the psychotherapy community for its ability to promote psychological awareness. Mindfulness help us recognize the emotions, thoughts, and feelings we bring into everyday situations and encounters with others. And mindfulness is just one technique in a wide  panorama of meditation techniques I’ll touch on in this series.

When I promote meditation I often cite some of the widespread research indicating its various health benefits. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health notes meditation may reduce blood pressure, ease symptoms of anxiety and depression, and help control pain. In recent years the reputation of meditation appears to have also been bolstered by technology; with apps such as Calm, Headspace, and Insight Timer all offering a respite from the chaotic hustle and bustle of modern life. Despite increased mainstream access to meditation,, I find many people still harbor a resistance towards it; they are reticent to begin  the practice! Below are some commonly held beliefs about meditation that I’ll seek to demystify.


Myth #1: Meditation requires a long period of dedicated time in your day.

For a beginner in meditation, the stereotypical image of someone sitting cross-legged on a mat with their palms facing upward and eyes closed for an hour may certainly seem daunting, especially for those with little time to spare.  But you need not hold yourself to this standard; the truth is that even just 5 minutes of meditation can help you feel better. Removing the pressure of meditating for an extended period of time also provides you with flexibility to practice almost anywhere.. With 5 minutes to spare, even the break room in your office or the train on your morning commute can become a calm resting place for you to turn inward. In my experience, 5-10 minutes of breath-focused meditation lowered my heart rate, helped me organize my thoughts, and decreased my anxiety. Not convinced? Try this 7 minute guided meditation  called “Relaxing Your Mind” by Lama Yeshe Rabgye. It helps bring focus to your breath and away from whatever is stressing you out. Not only is it easy, it’s incredibly grounding!


Myth #2: Successful meditation requires you to have a completely blank mind.

For many, the word ‘meditation’ seems to be synonymous with a clear mind, completely devoid of any thought or emotion. To completely turn off the mind sounds impossible and unrealistic, doesn’t it? The goal of mindfulness is to engage with the present moment while acknowledging that thoughts and feelings do come up during meditation. Mindfulness seeks to promote nonjudgmental acceptance of these physiological and psychological experiences without having strong emotional reactions to them, like trying to shoo them away.

Imagine that during your meditation session you think  of a task you must accomplish later at work. Mindfulness does not demand that you banish the thought and instead think of nothing; rather, it invites you with curiosity to say to yourself “I am having this thought; I accept this thought; I do not have to engage with it; it is what it is.” After, you can gently bring yourself back to the present moment and focus on something else, such as something in your environment or your breath. You might also experience emotions as sensations in your body, such as an anxious feeling in your stomach; in this case, the practice of mindfulness encourages you to sit with the feeling without trying to change it or label it positive or negative.  In this way, you are made aware of your uncomfortable internal experiences rather than ignoring them and thus become better equipped to tolerate and cope with them.

Myth #3: Meditation requires you to be completely still.

The idea of stillness can understandably be a huge deterrent from meditation, especially if you are a restless, always-on-the-go kind of person. Toss out the preconceived notion that you aren’t allowed to move,  because there are many ways to engage your body while still practicing mindfulness and meditation. For instance, with progressive muscle relaxation, you are guided through a gradual tensing up and releasing of each major muscle group in your body, from your feet all the way up to your face. Another way to get your move on while being mindful is through a walking meditation; this practice actually invites you to focus on your body and environment as a means of staying grounded in the present moment. Check out this example of walking meditation from mindful.org.

Myth #4: Meditation is a silent practice.  

The thought of sitting alone in silence can be less than appealing for many people.  especially if you are prone to racing or ruminating thoughts. While meditating in silence can be soothing for some, those of us who prefer to have something to listen to have plenty of options. There are apps such as Insight Timer and Calm, which play soothing repetitive sounds like chimes, raindrops, or ocean waves. Alternatively, you may opt for an app that has guided meditations leading you through breathing exercises, guiding you through repeating mantras or internal affirmations, or encouraging the use of visualization. There is a spectrum of meditators,  ranging from those who like a lot of guidance to those who prefer minimal talking in the background. Whichever you prefer, you are still doing what’s most important: getting in touch with YOU!

Like other forms of self-care, exercise, or even psychotherapy, meditation is not a quick fix. It is a skill that takes practice and a habit that requires consistent work to see results. Keeping this in mind, over the next week I’d like to challenge you to begin integrating meditation into your life. Try practicing at least 5 minutes three times a week. You can use the suggested meditations found in this post, check out some other examples on mindful.org, or give it a go on your own using only  your breath and a timer! If none of these work, don’t be discouraged. You might find our next post helpful, “Which meditation is right for you?”

Good luck and namaste.

Kara Lissy, LCSW is a therapist at A Good Place Therapy. If you are interested in working with her or another therapist on the team, please complete this scheduling form to get a quote and submit a scheduling request.

References

Goldstein, E. (2014, June 27). No time for meditation? Try this on-the-go walking meditation. [Web log post]. Retrieved August 23, 2018, from https://www.mindful.org/no-time-for-mindfulness-try-this-on-the-go-walking-meditation/

Lama Yeshe Rabgye. Relaxing your mind. On Insight Timer [Audio file]. Retrieved from https://insighttimer.com/lamayesherabgye/guided-meditations/relaxing-your-mind

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (April 2016). Meditation: In Depth. [Web log post]. Retrieved August 23, 2018, from https://nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm#hed6


Kara Lissy LCSW, is a therapist at A Good Place. Find out more about her here!

Therapist Spotlight: Douglas Brown, LMSW, CASAC-T

Meet Douglas Brown, LMSW, CASAC-T, of  A Good Place Therapy.

What inspired you to pursue a career as a therapist?

I had been working in digital technology media marketing for 15 years. At the end a project I would often say to myself that I didn’t really want to do this anymore but it was always too convenient to just take on more work project. Then I had a bit of career trauma. I had an amazing position at an amazing agency but my job was eliminated—along with 75 other peoples— and I took it as a sign and a time to make a serious career change.

I always enjoyed the management part of my job, the mentoring and coaching. I did an inventory of all the things that I liked or ever wanted to do. Then I thought about the three most influential people in my life and they were all therapists. As I investigated it became more and more obvious that this was the right choice for me, and I really know now. I am lucky to have a lot of resources in my life, including the recovery community, and wanted to share those with others. My choice was about finding something more in the world, giving back, and helping people to do the things they once thought they couldn’t do. It sounds a little cliché, but it really is a big part of it for me.

What is your favorite thing about being a therapist?

How fascinating people are as human beings. How both very complex and very simple we can be. The paradox of people and what we do and how we act, the things we tolerate and the things we don’t. The closeness of trauma and bravery, courage and fear, thinking and feeling – they all add up. I like having to be very present and focused with one person for 45 minutes at a time. Amazing things can happen, not every time and not every session but when that connection is made it is pretty incredible.

What is a personal challenge you've overcome that makes you a better therapist?

The death of my mom almost 10 years ago to Leukemia. She went through the 28-day chemo process and the cancer went away, and then four months later it came back and was rapid. She was gone in less than a week. The process of grieving and dealing with that made me a different person. It made me realize there is a lot of loss in life, almost on a continual and constant basis. We don’t recognize it enough and don’t address it; then it becomes really complicated. I have an instant connection and empathy for someone experiencing loss because I know really what it is like.

As a therapist, what are you most passionate about?

The learning and the process itself. I have a tremendous amount of faith that if I am present and available enough in a session…through that process of being there and being available and giving people a place to talk it is a tremendously powerful thing. If you do that over time and enough, people can let go of stuff and leave it in the room or “with me.” I hope to give them the place where they can construct what happens. I have seen it a few times and it is like “Whoa!.” I have so much passion to learn and invest and try and trust that process is going to work. It is almost magical sometimes. There will be healing and help and progress and change – I truly believe that, and it takes a lot to let go and to build an environment where that’s possible.

What are your specialties and what drew you to them?

Substance abuse, misuse, addiction and anxiety/depression are the main ones. I am fascinated by addiction as a whole. There is a ton of neuroscience about it and the 12 steps path is powerful for some and the many things we have tried and haven’t tried to resolve that void in ourselves. I have personal and professional experience with recovery and it has been pretty powerful in my life. Others include grief & loss, men’s issues, mindfulness and couples.

What makes you unique as a therapist?

I think being an older male, heterosexual therapist makes me unique. I hold that close and dear as many of my clients are men ages 25-40. I really honor the fact that they show up. To have two guys showing up and talking in a room about anything personal is really remarkable. For me, a big part of my work is being able to model and reflect that value and to show them you can be successful in being yourself and whatever you want to accomplish. I think it also helps that I am a father, not that I play a fatherly role but sometimes I am able to give them a kick in the butt and say “Dude, man up.” Most of the time it is pretty calm and mellow in the room and we are able to talk like “I want to run this by you, we can talk about it,” etc.

Also, I don’t talk about it much in therapy, but I have been continuously sober for 29 years. It can be intimidating for people just starting recovery as we stick to the “one day at a time” but sometimes it helps people to see that I understand possibility and find hope.

Another thing, I have lived in New York City for more than 20 years. Most people don’t live here that long. They are transient. Having that exposure and experience in the city itself helps to bring a full perspective to the work. I was here for the 9/11, The Blackout, Hurricane Sandy and I empathize with the hard, fast, crazy pace of life that is the city.

How would you describe your therapeutic approach?

It is a mix of strength-based social work and a psychodynamic approach. Many people come to me with a problem and want a solution. They point out the stressors of day to day, and the social work part of my work helps get to resources they need to get through that stress. But I also want to get into what is underneath all that, to the patterns and the messages. The psychodynamic part goes to root cause, especially for addiction and anxiety. Getting there can be tough, but once we get there we can heal and make progress. I think the true solution is a balance of both.

Everyone needs self-care. How do you practice self-care?

I run…a lot. I call it my mental health medicine. It helps me to work through things and other times helps to focus on the external versus the internal. I will look at the scenery, focus on my breathing, my body, etc. I also work hard to separate “therapist Douglas” from not-therapist Douglas. I try not to therapy my children, my wife, or my friends. I like to read and music is a big part of my life. I have played guitar for a while. I also like to find quiet time somehow, someway. Sometimes that is just lying in my bed at home, listening to an album. And with running, I get the package of massage treatments, acupuncture, and physical therapy. I also really like ice cream.

What is your favorite book?

I recently re-read 100 Years of Solitude. It is unbelievable. There is a transformative sense in the magical realism and how, in this chaos of events and individual lives, all things are possible. It also has a with a huge dose of romanticism which tickles a certain part of me. A great read and a nice distraction right now in these times.

What is one thing that is important for anyone to know?

It is going to be ok. Take your time but don’t stop. Just slow down.

Also, at another level—being honest matters. It is certainly evident in today’s world. We need to be more honest with ourselves and other people. I think that one act opens us up and frees up space for other things. I am a real believer that being a good, true person makes a difference. You shouldn’t try to hide yourself or be something different and I love the quote from Hamlet, “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

What's most important to you?

Honesty, family, my children, integrity, just being true and honest and thoughtful caring about something outside of yourself, giving back—whatever that means to you.

What is your take on a current social issue?

The one that really gets me is this return to the drug war. It has been proven the whole war on drugs idea doesn’t work other than to shame or isolate certain populations. We were making progress and that has completely stopped. I am also very interested and a little fearful of voter rights and accessibility. I help to volunteer at election time and try to find ways to help. Certain classes and groups of people are marginalized and don’t know it, or they are being disregarded or interfered and that, to me, threatens the core of our way of life. It is all very politicized and complicated.

 

Therapist Spotlight: Julia Lawrence, LMSW

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Meet Julia Lawrence, a licensed social worker at A Good Place: 

What inspired you to pursue a career as a therapist?

 I’m not someone who always knew what I wanted to do. My first few professional experiences were in politics. I was the Director of Operations for a New York City Councilman. This was an amazing experience, but change moves very slowly in politics. I found myself wondering how I might be able to see change in a more tangible form. Social work involves a mix of clinical classes and classes about policy, so it seemed like a good fit. At the end of your first year of social work school, you choose either a macro or clinical track - I chose to go clinical and I haven’t looked back!

 As a therapist, what are you most passionate about? 

I think it is important to balance optimism with pragmatism in order to set people up for success. I help show people some of the realistic areas in their life to make change, while helping them to practice acceptance in the areas where change is not possible. Seeing small successes helps motivate people to continue to then make positive changes in their lives.

 What are your specialties and what drew you to them?

I really like working with people who are faced with critical decisions in their lives—their job, their family. So many times people are preoccupied with the idea that they have to make the right decision. They need to find the perfect soul mate, the perfect career. I am a firm believer there is no such thing as a “right decision.” It is ok to not know what you want and to take it a step at a time. I also enjoy working with people with anxiety disorders or those having trouble in interpersonal relationships, as well as with parents.

What makes you unique as a therapist?

I believe the way I work allows people to see concrete change in their lives relatively quickly. I teach people that they can’t control the thoughts that come into their heads; however, they can control how much they latch onto those thoughts, and what behaviors those thoughts lead to.

 I also try to hold an unconditional and positive regard for clients, so that if people have done something they are not proud of they can feel safe to share it with me and know they will not be judged.

 How would you describe your therapeutic approach?

I work primarily from a Cognitive Behavioral and Solution Focused approach. While insight into your past is great, change in the present is better. I want people to see the change in their lives now.

 I also work from a relational perspective, in that the way we show up in therapy reflects the way we show up in the world. If someone laughs when they are uncomfortable or gets very defensive, there’s a good chance that’s how they show up in their other relationships. The therapeutic relationship is a great place to practice tweaking those relational behaviors we may not be thrilled about.

Everyone needs self-care. How do you practice self-care?

 A big piece of my day is spending time with my dog Winston. When I come home and see him it helps me to be more present. He is never fixated on what went wrong with the day, or what is going to happen in the future. Even on days I may not feel motivated to practice self-care, he needs to be walked and get his energy out and I know that I will never feel worse after taking him to the dog park. I spend most of the day talking to others, so at the end of the day it’s also nice to take time to be alone, just reading or watching TV.

 Do you have a favorite quote?

 Maya Angelou said “We find our path by walking it.” I like it because it speaks to the idea that we don’t have to have all the answers now.

What is one thing that is important for anyone to know? 

 It’s a bit of a cliché, but—you can’t change other people. You can only change the way you interact with others. A lot of people get stuck on the idea that if their boss only cared more about the project, or their significant other only cared more about the cleanliness of the apartment all their problems would go away. You can ask for change, but you can’t necessarily make that person value it in the same way.

 What is your favorite thing about being a therapist?

 When you see a client have a “light bulb” moment or say something like, “I never thought about it that way before, but that makes sense.” I find it most gratifying when clients are able to feel like they come to conclusions on their own. Sure, I could tell someone that they are falling into the same patterns in multiple romantic relationships, but I find they’re more likely to make a change if they’re the one who vocalizes the pattern or connection. 

What is a personal challenge you've overcome that makes you a better therapist?

I floundered around quite a bit in thinking about what I wanted to do for work. This has made me more empathetic as to how difficult big decisions can be for other people, and that it is ok to make a decision you’re not 100% certain about. In addition, my experience seeking my own therapy and having it be so helpful in guiding me in my confusion and decision-making process has made me a better therapist.

What is most important to you as a person?

 Empathy and kindness are crucial to me. I also value being a lifelong learner. Just because you finished school does not mean you are done learning. The moment you think you know everything, you’re in trouble!

What is your take on a current social issue?

 I consider myself very pro-gun control. It is very upsetting to me the way a school shooting stays in the news for two days and then it seems everybody forgets about it because it is so common. I do not believe anybody needs an assault rifle for personal use. Sometimes this feels like a particularly hopeless issue but my background in politics helped me realize now matter how dismal things seem it is always important to keep talking about these things.

 What are some of your passion projects or interests?

 I love cooking! I love trying new recipes and experimenting or cooking a few things I know will always be great. I picked this up from my dad who was always cooking something delicious. My dad and I always cook Thanksgiving dinner together for a huge group and it’s by far my favorite holiday since it’s just about family and food. Some days I feel like I just want to get take-out (and sometimes I do!) and I always feel better eating something I know I created.

 I also find being outdoors to be extremely therapeutic and love to go to the beach or hike with my dog whenever I get the chance. Taking a moment to notice how beautiful the world is helps me feel more present, and in turn more grounded.

Your Quarter Life Crisis Part II: Decisions, Decisions

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In my last post, I spoke about what makes young adulthood so difficult, and how hard it is to meet societal expectations as to what one is supposed to accomplish by this age. One reason we get so caught up by what we “should” be doing is because of how painful it is to sit with the unknown. What will happen if I end this long-term relationship? What will happen if I commit to this relationship- will I be settling? Will moving cities to work at a new job be worth leaving my friends behind? Unfortunately, we don’t have a crystal ball to know the outcome of any given choice. Sometimes, we just have to live with the choice to see how it turns out. When it comes to decision making we are often told to “go with our gut.” But what if there is no gut reaction? That is a normal response too! It is normal to make a decision and still have some doubt.

 

When I decided to go to social work school I got into schools in different parts of the country. People told me to go to whichever school gave me the best “feeling” but there were a lot of factors besides my gut to consider. I had my friends, my partner, finances, and a whole slew of other factors to consider. By recognizing there would be both good and bad components of any school I attended, I was able to learn to accept this uncertainty and really embrace my choice to move to a new city, even when I missed New York. While it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of choices, there is no such thing as the “right decision.” The goal is not to alleviate all doubt, but rather, to learn to tolerate feelings of uncertainty. Having some degree of doubt, like cold feet before a wedding or first day jitters at a new job, does not mean that our decision was the wrong one.

 

Embracing Uncertainty:

 

One of my friends regularly goes rock climbing, and she recently convinced me to come along. At first, I didn’t want to because I was scared of not knowing how it would be: would I embarrass myself? Would people judge me? Would I judge myself? I went anyway because I knew that no matter what I was attached to equipment that would keep me safe. Therefore, while being unable to get to the top of a particular wall was frustrating, it was tolerable. When I did make it to the top, it was the fact I wasn’t sure if I could do it that made it all the more rewarding.

 

This got me thinking that the same can be true of making bigger difficult decisions. Not knowing how a new relationship or job will go can be very exciting; however, if you only focus on the idea things have to go a certain way, uncertainty will feel intolerable. But if you remember that no matter the outcome, you have the equipment (in this case, your resilience or support system) to keep yourself safe, uncertainty can become a thrilling motivator instead of something holding you back.

 

Ruminating vs. Reflecting:

 

It is normal to think a lot about difficult decisions. It may seem counterintuitive to hear a therapist tell you to reflect less, but there’s a fine line between reflecting and rumination. We aren’t going to be happy with all of our decisions and it is normal to have regrets. Sometimes we think that by continuously analyzing our mistakes, we are doing some sort of positive reflection that will ensure we don’t make those same errors again. That is great in theory, but when reflection morphs into rumination, we end up in Quarter Life Crisis territory!

 

Reflection leads to constructive solutions, whereas rumination involves not just thinking about the negatives experiences, but continuously reliving corresponding emotions. Whether it be quitting a job or an awkward interaction on the subway, continuously replaying the situation ensures that you not only obsess about these moments of weakness, but also that you are likely to internalize that you are a weak person.

 

Don’t start ruminating on your rumination just yet. Some degree of reflection is necessary; however, when you are fighting a mistake that you can’t undo or change, you are now in rumination land.  To figure out whether your thoughts are healthy ask yourself:  Are you figuring out ways to avoid bad experiences in the future, or just reliving negative ones? Are you allowing negative self-talk to lead you to compare yourself to others? When you notice that you are engaging in negative thinking patterns it’s always good to ask: How are these thoughts serving me? If they’re just making you feel down on yourself, you deserve to let those thoughts go.

 

 

Practicing Acceptance: 

 

A major component of navigating this tricky stage of life means practicing acceptance. If you find yourself saying things like “I can’t take this,” or “How could this happen to me?” these might be signs you’re fighting against the reality of your life as it is now. Sometimes we have to work with what we have in the present moment and recognize that our emotions are not permanent. This may feel like someone is telling you to be passive or ignore an aspect of your life you don’t like; however, practicing acceptance works more readily to dial down your stress level. Once you are calmer, you’ll be better able to think about things from a more rational, logical perspective.

 

One way to practice acceptance is with a quick, easy exercise. Take a slow breath, try to relax any tension in your muscles, and check for an “open” body posture: shoulders back, chin up, spine straight. Continue to breath slowly and fully. As you inhale, say to yourself “everything is” and as you exhale, “as it should be.”

 

 

Above all, Be Kind to Yourself:

 

It can be tough not to question your choices when your great Aunt asks “Why aren’t you engaged yet?” or “What on earth are you going to do with a degree in writing?”

Still, try not to take it too personally. Your inability to provide adequate small talk at Thanksgiving is not representative of the big picture. This time of life is hard enough without letting the opinions of others feed your inner critic. At any age, we are all works in progress. As Maya Angelou wisely put it, “We find our path by walking it.”