Tag Archives: anxiety

The Forgotten Part

The overwhelming majority of clients in my clinical practice are black women. Often they come in with similar stories. They have forgotten how to enjoy their lives, or they have a sense that they are simply not sure what they are doing with themselves. Many times they report feeling completely overwhelmed, having sleepless nights, feeling stressed out at work, and feeling disconnected in relationships. While they certainly wouldn’t think of themselves as having anxiety or depression, many of these women struggle with symptoms of these disorders on a daily basis. They have been socialized to push through; to keep going no matter what happens; to be whatever is needed for their families. The danger of this for so many women is that they might tend to lose themselves in the process of caring for others. For more information on this experience, sometimes called strong black woman syndrome , come see my previous post.

One of the standard questions I ask in an initial meeting with a client is simple:

What do you do for fun?

It pains me to say how difficult this question is for some people to answer. Sometimes, people actually laugh out loud! Sometimes they roll their eyes or shake their heads. Sometimes, they look down and tears fall down their cheeks. It’s a simple question, but it’s a quick way to assess whether or not a person is attending to themselves and their own needs. Sometimes, we become so caught up in all the things we SHOULD be doing, that we have difficulty maintaining balance in our lives. For me, ultimately, this is an issue of priorities. When we make decisions about what becomes important in our lives, our attention and behaviors are directed toward those things. So, the simple question is: Are you a priority in your own life?

Recently, my devotional time led me to Matthew 11: 28-30. It’s a familiar passage:

“Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest. For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I will put on you is light.” (GNT)

If you’ve ever stepped foot in a church, you’ve probably heard this passage. It is usually presented as a message of hope for the weary and overwhelmed. It’s a favorite! But this time, when I read it, something struck me. The first verse talks about God giving us rest. Then, the next verse talks about taking God’s yoke up. If you’re not familiar with that term, it typically refers to a wooden structure that is used to attach work animals to a cart or other vehicle of some kind so that they can pull it. So, God is going to give me rest….by giving me something to pull? (Insert puzzled face here)

Then, it hit me: God gives us rest when we are freed from heavy loads that we have no business carrying! The invitation to rest is not an invitation to an existence that is free from responsibility- that’s not realistic. It’s an invitation to carrying the loads God assigns to us and putting down the ones we have decided to pick up along the way, that perhaps were’t even ours to carry. This rest is an invitation to put down the unimportant, burdensome responsibilities of life, and pick up only the things that matter. This rest is an invitation to make good choices about how we commit ourselves.

Many of us could benefit from heeding this wonderful invitation. How many things are you doing just because you feel like you SHOULD be doing them, or because if you stop, someone will be upset with you. Have you stopped to ask yourself if there is purpose and fulfillment in those things? Have you prayed about whether God is calling you to these activities? And, here’s the critical question: What parts of yourself have you forgotten in the process?

Have you forgotten to laugh and play?

Have you forgotten to connect with dear friends?

Have you forgotten how to actually enjoy your family in an effort to “take care of them”?

Have you forgotten to take care of your body?

Have you forgotten to spend meaningful time with God?

Have you forgotten to ask for what you need or to make space for rest and rejuvenation?

I want to issue a challenge: Take a look at the forgotten part! Do an inventory and answer honestly whether there are pieces of you that you have lost in the process of living your life. If the answer is yes, that’s ok, because God’s promise is clear: “Come to me, all you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.” Let God reorganize your priorities and your life. Get the rest you need! Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

So you think you want to go to therapy?

One of the things I intentionally do is talk about therapy and how helpful it can be. In faith communities and especially in black faith communities, mental illness and it’s treatment are still highly stigmatized. We tend to try to pray away our emotional concerns, or go to pastors and other faith leaders for a quick fix. While these are good steps, some issues also require the attention of a professional. So how do you know when it’s time to seek out a professional? Here’s a list of signs it might be time:
– if you’ve been tired, sad, nervous, overwhelmed, or “off” for more than a couple weeks and nothing seems to help
-if you notice you have difficulty sleeping, headaches, stomach issues, or problems with concentration that can’t be explained
– if you are feeling unhappy or unfulfilled in your relationships
– if you are having difficulty managing the different tasks in your life
– if you have frequent crying spells, find your self lashing out at others, or have noticed an increase in substance use in an attempt to cope

These are just a few; the reasons I hear most often. But I should probably provide a disclaimer here: I THINK EVERYONE SHOULD GO TO THERAPY. Everyone. EVERYONE! Whether your concerns are mild, moderate, or severe, therapy can be helpful for you. One of the great gifts of therapy is that it is an invitation to take a brief hiatus from the hustle and bustle of your life and dedicate an hour of time totally to yourself. You get the opportunity to sit with a person who cares about you, but who won’t share their opinions, tell your business, or insert their own desires in the way they provide support. I can’t think of another place in life where all those things come together. It’s a peculiar and wonderful space! Yet, I understand how scary it is to enter a room with a stranger and bare your soul in such a way. So, I honor that it is a big decision and thought it might be helpful to demystify the process.

First, do some introspective work.

Why do you want to go to therapy? What do you want to get out of it? Ask yourself: If I woke up tomorrow and things were all better, what would be different? What would be the signs that my life had taken a shift?

Your answer to this question is the beginning of your goals for counseling. It’s ok if it’s not crystal clear, but it’s important to have at least a sense of where you want to go. Once you have at least a vague goal in mind, it’s time to begin to search for a therapist. Some logistical questions to consider:

– if you have health insurance, does it cover mental health (behavioral health)? Do you have a deductible that requires out of pocket payments before sessions will be covered? How much is your copay per session? Call your insurance company (or check online) for a list of therapists who accept your insurance. This gives you a place to start.

– if you don’t have insurance, how much can you afford to pay? Frequency of therapy is variable- you can go weekly, bi-weekly, or even monthly, depending on what you need and how much you can afford.

– what characteristics of a therapist would help you to feel ready? Similarities in gender, race, or religious affiliation? Maybe you can check with a pastor or a friend to ask for a referral

-Do your research: Just like dating, or finding the right furniture, or buying a new car, it’s helpful to get some information before you make a decision. One of my favorite websites is PsychologyToday.com because you can search by a myriad of characteristics and specialty areas, as well as insurance provider. In addition, you can hear, in the therapist’s own words, what they believe about therapy and how they like to help people get better.

Once you decide on a therapist, take a deep breath, and give them a call. You may have to call multiple people- sometimes people aren’t accepting new patients, or maybe your schedules don’t align. That’s ok! Keep making calls until you find someone. Most clinicians will be happy to answer a couple of questions over the phone- how the process will go, what the first session will be like, how you can pay, or something of the sort.

At your first appointment, you will have paperwork to fill out, just like when you go to your medical doctor. Give yourself a few extra minutes to get all that done and arrive a little early to your appoinment. Generally the first session is focused on information gathering- there will be LOTS of questions- your therapist is just trying to get to know you! They may take notes, or have some papers they go through as you explain what’s going on with you. The goal is to get a good picture of how you’re functioning right now and where you want to go. This is also an opportunity for you to ask questions about how the process will go, how your therapist does treatment, and what you should expect. At the beginning, you and the therapist are getting to know each other and getting comfortable with each other. The role of a client will be different than any other relationship you’ve had, because you won’t really know a lot about your therapist. While this may seem odd at first, it’s actually a good thing, because it keeps the sessions focused on you!

A note: At the beginning (and often throughout the process), therapy can bring up a lot of emotions. It’s normal for you to feel nervous, sad, or overwhelmed. We therapists have a special tool for if those feelings come up: TISSUES!! We are not scared of your emotions, you will not be “too much” for us, and we can handle it. That’s why we went to school! Remind yourself that discomfort can be a part of the process, and that it can produce change if you stick with it.

Therapy can be scary, but working with the right therapist is so worth it! If you’ve been wondering about it or considering a visit, take the plunge and make the call! It is a great step to take for you and your mental health. You deserve it!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

When the Path Isn’t Straight

I hear a common sentiment in my clinical and vocational work that goes something like:

I didn’t do things the “right” way so I was delayed getting to the point I’m at now.

I really struggle with this sentiment for a number of reasons. First, I have heard SO MANY people say this! Almost every single person I know has at some point felt this way about our journey. If all of us feel this way, is there a possibility that there simply isn’t a right way?? I think a big pice of this is the issue we have with social comparison. We often compare ourselves to others in ways that aren’t helpful. A wise person once said “comparison is the thief of joy.” For me, that sentiment reveals a truth about the way we make evaluations about our own lives. We often compare what is happening in our lives to what we see of the lives of others. The difference is, we know our WHOLE lives- all of our shortcomings, mistakes, etc. However, when we look at the lives of others, all we see is the curated version of them they want us to see. I hate to jump on the bandwagon of blaming social media, but social media. Most folks don’t share about their bad moments to the extent they share about good ones. It’s human nature to actively present ourselves in positive ways. The danger of using only what people tell us as a method of comparison is that we inevitably end up viewing ourselves as less than, based on what is at best a half-truth! Someone posts about a new job they’ve received, and we don’t hear about the 15 or 20 rejection letters they got before that one yes. A friend shares wedding photos, but not mugshots of the breakups that came before. A new mother shares pictures of her maternity photo shoot, but may not have shared about a miscarriage that came a year before. Let me be clear; this is NOT a criticism of a positive-only social media presence. That is each person’s prerogative and right. However, I am suggesting that we should keep this reality in mind and work against not comparing ourselves to another’s social media avatar. Perception is not real life!

Second, who decides what is the “right” way? Are you actually talking about the expectations of the people around you? Is someone telling you that you “should” have done it one way or another? Psychologist Albert Ellis was famous for telling his clients that they were “should-ing all over” themselves (pun intended). If we were to critically evaluate the “shoulds” in our lives, many of us would find that they are really implicit and explicit messages we’ve received from others about how they believe we should do life. And, just because someone else told us to do something, doesn’t mean we have to! One of the responsibilities and privileges of adulthood is that we have the opportunity to make our own decisions. We get to decide how much influence other people we have in our lives. Sometimes, that we means we block out the opinions of people we love and care about when those opinions are not in our best interest. They cannot walk in your shoes. They do not live your experience. They do not live with the consequences of your choices- you do! You deserve to create a life for yourself that matches YOUR wants and desires, not those of another person, regardless of how much you might love and admire that person. Does that mean you might make some mistakes along the way? Absolutely. But does that mean that, if you pay attention to yourself, you might stumble upon something that only you could have discovered about yourself and for yourself? Absolutely. Run your own life. Don’t give away your power to anyone else!

Lastly, consider that the “straight” path might not be the most fulfilling path. Sometimes, there simply isn’t one right answer. Most of us, without much work, can think of a time when we experienced an unexpected surprise; something we didn’t know was coming, maybe didn’t even want, but it ended up being exactly what we needed. I am a firm believe that even those things that seem like detours can have a powerful purpose in our lives. This is not the cookie cutter “everything has a reason” response. Sometimes, we have to work to find the purpose in detours and distractions. Every time you hit a wall, make a mistake, or feel frustrated, stop and ask yourself a simple question:

What is there for me to learn in this situation?

You might find that what best positions you for your end goal is the lessons you gleaned from the experiences you thought you weren’t supposed to have. You have an opportunity to make the most of the long road, and even celebrate it, rather than viewing it as a failure. A familiar scripture is a clear reminder remember that something can be gained form any situation:

“ And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”Romans 8:28

So, when you are tempted to think less of yourself because you didn’t have a direct route, consider what you learned along the way. Consider that most of us are figuring out this windy path together. Consider that no matter what you have experienced, you still have the opportunity to live the life God crafted just for you!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

When it’s Hard to See the Why

Recently I’ve been dealing with a situation that is stressful and very frustrating for me. My expectations for what I thought was supposed to happen aren’t being met, and I feel as though my hands are tied– I can’t really do much to change what’s happening. Admittedly, I’m a control freak. Sometimes, I get into these types of situations because I have inappropriate expectations in an environment, or I’m being too rigid. But, I’m about 95% sure I’m being reasonable in this situation (my husband thinks so too, and he’s usually the first one to check me! 🙂 Anyway, I have all this frustration that I really can’t fix, so I decided to seek out the Serenity Prayer. I’ve been focusing on my prayer life anyway and I thought it would be a good practice for me to meditate on it for the week. Now, I can recite the beginning of the Serenity Prayer by heart. However, I recently realized there’s more to it! Here’s the whole thing:

Serenity Prayer
Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Amen.

I read it a couple of times, and instantly felt myself calm. The scripture from Romans 8:28 came to my mind: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Even when things don’t seem ok, they will be ok. Woo- Sah.

Then, the next day, I ran into this article: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/no-everything-does-not-happen-reason. The author states that “No, everything doesn’t happen for a reason” and makes this argument about our insistence on using this language:

It serves as an emotional distraction, one that cheats us out of the full measure of our real-time grief and outrage. We stutter and stop to try and find the whys of all of the suffering, instead of just letting ourselves admit that perhaps this all simply sucks on a grand scale.

In our profound distress, this idea forces us to run down dark, twisted rabbit trails, looking for the specific part of the greater plan that this suffering all fits into.

Even if somewhere beneath all of it; far below all the dizzying trauma that we experience here there is a fixed, redemptive reason for it all, it’s one that will likely remain well beyond our understanding so long as we inhabit flesh and blood.

Well, now I’m confused. Both of these things really do make sense to me. I want to believe that there is a purpose for my frustration and suffering, but I also want to feel justified in being angry, or upset, or saddened by what happens in my life. The therapist in me craves the validation of my human reactions to things, and I’ll admit that sometimes it seems our religious mindset does attempt to minimize or do away with our humanness. The author cited above goes on to say that while he doesn’t believe hard times are caused by God. He does believe there is something to be learned in the sacredness of suffering. I have to agree.

What I’m not ok with, is our using Romans 8:28 as a tool for shutting people up when they’re expressing frustration, or placating those who suffer rather than showing them our love and support. I also hope we can honestly admit at times, “I don’t know why this is happening. It doesn’t make sense. It feels unfair” and still believe in the omnipotence of God and our ability to withstand struggle. I haven’t found any scripture that says we aren’t allowed to feel sadness, anger, or frustration, even if those emotions are directed at God. If you don’t believe me, check out Psalms. Talk about honesty!

So, when I face these times, I’ll try to focus on how I can learn or grow, and something new I can learn about God. It won’t be easy, and I can’t even honestly say I look forward to the challenge. But, I do think it will be rewarding. Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

Why Wait for Tommorrow?

Ever wondered why people procrastinate? Certainly some of us are more “experienced” at procrastinating than others. Maybe some of us are just not great at time management.Often, for chronic procrastinators, this process is about avoidance. The thing we need to do is so intimidating, frustrating, or maybe even boring, that these folks just can’t bring themselves to complete the task. They might find things to distract themselves, tell themselves the task isn’t important, or save it for the last minute with the rationalization that “I work better under pressure.” Sound familiar?

I recently came across a blog post which suggests that procrastination is actually likely to occur with two other phenomena: self doubt, and anxiety. So, people who exhibit a lack of confidence or are unsure of their ability, are likely to feel anxious about upcoming tasks or demands, particularly difficult ones. In turn, those folks might engage in procrastination as a way to avoid the negative feelings they have about possibly failing at an important task. This is a dangerous cycle. Procrastination is ultimately about difficulty with self-control. It’s about an inability to delay immediate gratification (or withstand immediate difficulty) in order to do something that in the end will work in our favor.

Now, let’s add the spiritual to the equation. How many of us experience self-doubt that is totally contrary to what God says about us? How many of us worry, in situations where we already have a promise of protection and provision? How many of us avoid doing something we might feel called or directed to do because we are unsure of our ability to be successful. You don’t have to admit it, I will. For many of us, procrastination isn’t just about paying bills late, or just barely making a deadline at work. Some of us procrastinate on big things, important things– God things. Maybe you’ve gotten explicit direction from God about something, but your human brain can’t make the situation work, so you save it for later. You might bargain with God for more time, clearer direction, or even make excuses. You might think to yourself:

– “I need some more confirmation.”

– “I’m not ready. That’s for someone else to do.”

– “I won’t go there because I don’t want to mess it up.”

These kinds of things happen when our human understanding is left to its own devices. I think of Jonah as the ultimate procrastinator. I mean, you have to be serious about avoiding to go get on a boat! However, even getting on a boat and getting swallowed by a great fish didn’t keep him from doing what he was supposed to. So, basically, all your procrastinating is delaying the inevitable. What if you faced your fears and went for it? What wait for tomorrow when you could be living in your calling today?

Here are some tips:

  • Acknowledge your fear (it’s real. it’s ok), but don’t let it control you. Your fear is human, but it is not God’s will for us to live in and make decisions based on fear. Remember: “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (1 Timothy 1:7).
  • Pass on the self-criticism. There is no requirement that you be a Saint in order to do work for the kingdom. Maybe that thing that you feel makes you unusable is the exact reason you’ve been given such a mission! (Remember Esther?)
  • Remember that you’re not in it alone. If God told you to do it, then the promise that God will be with you while you do it is understood!  What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

It’s not easy to do it sometimes, but when you do, God gets the glory. Stop putting off what only you can do!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices.

The Power of Relationship

I recently came across an article describing a Baylor University study on the effects of prayer on mental health outcomes. They found that the extent to which people experience positive outcomes from prayer is related to their perception of their relationship with God. People who had a secure attachment  (my words, not theirs) with God were more likely to experience positive outcomes than those who didn’t. “Secure attachment” is a psychological term that describes a care giving relationship where one expects (counts on, believes in) support and protection from the other. This term is often used to describe parental relationships but can be used for other types of relationships at well. So, the bottom line was that people who didn’t believe God would be there in times of need, didn’t feel better when they prayed regularly. Well that makes perfect sense! How many of us pray about something, all the time working on a “plan B” because we don’t really trust that God will act in our situation. We take our burdens to the altar, and then pick them right back up after the “amen.”   I’m guilty of this too, so no accusation here. During these times, doubt and uncertainty (and maybe control issues!) get in the way of our faith walk.  This pattern causes us stress and distress and it doesn’t match God’s promises to us. Stress is the cause of so many of the mental and emotional challenges we face. As a believer, not trusting your relationship with God can lead to loneliness, hopelessness,  anxiety, and depression. None of us wants to feel that we are in it alone.

You know that best friend that you can tell anything to and you know will always be there for you? That’s the kind of relationship God desires with you- and guess what- it’s reciprocal! Imagine what would happen if you actually STOPPED stressing about the stuff you prayed about. Now that’s freedom! That is also the Power of Relationship. When you trust the promise of God’s protection and provision,  you are free to do what you’ve been called to do without the burden of worldly stressors. Here’s a reminder of what we’ve been promised:

Matthew 6:25- Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life ?

Psalm 55:2- Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.

Proverbs 3:5-6- Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;  in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

Hebrews 13:5b- God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

1 John 5:14-15- Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.

Here’s the bottom line- relationship is essential! We can’t truly live in the promises if we aren’t close to the One who makes them!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!