Just Do It

When working with people who are struggling to meet goals, I often hear the statement, “I just don’t have any motivation.” I always provide the same response: that action precedes motivation, not the other way around. Waiting until we are in the mood to do something will often result in our never doing it.

I like to exercise, but I don’t always feel motivated to do it. However, within minutes of getting back on the treadmill (after a month or so of excuses), I will find myself thinking, “I really do enjoy how this makes me feel. What was I waiting for?” That is part of the problem. You would assume that insight translates into action (“I enjoy how exercising feels, therefore I should do it.”), but that is not usually the case.  

So, whether you are just trying to get out of bed, start that diet, complete a project or follow through on a bucket list item, remember to avoid the procrastination that comes from waiting for motivation.

A few key points to remember when feeling stuck:

  • Remember that it is okay (and necessary) to acknowledge and then accept whatever emotions seem to be zapping you of your energy, but do not allow these to stop you from taking actions.
  • Don’t wait for inspiration before taking action. Taking action first will help to create the inspiration needed to keep moving toward your goal.
  • There is no need to overwhelm (or sabotage) yourself by insisting on immediate or perfect results. Small steps build motivation more effectively.
  • Schedule time for activities that you are aware would be beneficial to you without giving into the thought, “but I don’t want to right now.” Remember that you do not have to want to do something to be willing to do it.

Not motivated?  Take action. Depressed?  Take action. Un-inspired? Take action. 

Grounding Yourself with Mindfulness to Beat Daily Stress

Imagine you are driving home from work. You are replaying the day, as usual. You think about that conversation that you had with your boss, a project you hurried to finish at work, an argument you had with your spouse through text. You think about what happened last week, last month or years ago and you make judgements about all of it. You think to yourself, “I didn’t handle that well. I didn’t do my best. I should have… I could have…”

Or you are thinking about all of the things you need to accomplish when you get home. You think about the dishes that need done, the laundry that has piled up, what to prepare for dinner, or how you will address that argument with your spouse when you see them. And of course, you make more judgements. “I’ll probably not get it all done. Why did I let this pile up? I’m such a procrastinator. I’m a bad partner.” All of this causes one thing: stress. Suddenly you get home and it dawns on you… you don’t remember the drive. (Or worse, you’ve driven to the wrong place!)

Have you ever been on autopilot before?

Sound familiar? Why does this happen to so many of us? It’s called being an “autopilot.” For those who practice something called mindfulness meditation, it’s something you can strive to avoid by being more present within your day. Being more present within the day can give our minds a break from all worrying about all those future and past events, when in reality those things aren’t even real, and they certainly aren’t here now!

How does mindfulness work?

So how do we practice being present?  One of the easiest ways to practice mindfulness is to “check in” with your five senses or “ground yourself” throughout the day. Zoning out while you’re in the shower?  Think about how the water feels, how the soaps smell, how the rushing water sounds and tastes, and how a loofah feels on your skin. Suddenly you can take a mundane task, where you typically might feel more stressed afterwards, and make that task a more genuinely relaxing experience.

Give your busy mind a much-needed break. Try this technique a few times a day, or better yet, specifically when you are doing tasks on “autopilot.” This strategy is a great way to incorporate self-care into your busy day. So sit back and enjoy the ride!

 

Anxiety as a Friend

A frequent first response for dealing with anxiety is to try to get rid of it.  This resistance, however, will often lead to someone simply being anxious about being anxious. What if rather than trying to immediately eliminate our anxiety, we were to first look at anxiety as a messenger, prodding us to look at something that needs our attention? 

Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard explained anxiety as a natural condition: “a cognitive emotion that reveals truths that we would prefer to hide, but that we need for our greater health.” 

Confirming this idea, clinical psychologist Dr. Leslie Carr defines anxiety as “ thoughts and feelings that we are not paying attention to, refusing to be ignored.” She points out that the best explanation she has ever heard of for a panic attack is that it is a “ton of suppressed feelings rising to the surface of our experience, simultaneously and in full force.” 

What are the first steps to treating anxiety as a friend?

When we are struggling with anxiety, it can be helpful to at first simply admit to and then accept the fact that we are anxious. In some cases, this is all we can do, for example when facing a dental procedure or another uncomfortable situation. This acceptance alone will often decrease the anxiety a bit.

But during times that we cannot pinpoint the reason for our anxiety, the next step would be to ask what the anxiety is trying to point out. This can be difficult, especially if we are at all avoiding the issue needing to be addressed.

Questions to approach anxiety

Here are some things to consider when experiencing anxiety or panic attacks seemingly out of nowhere:

  • Am I procrastinating or outright avoiding some action I should be taking? Have I been avoiding this for a long period of time?
  • Am I ignoring my feelings? Have I made this a habit?
  • Am I taking on more than I am able to handle? Again, has this become a habit?
  • Am I resisting a needed confrontation or refusing to see my part in a conflict?

Anxiety doesn’t need to be the enemy

These are only a few possibilities, but the main idea is to ask ourselves what we are resisting. As the old saying goes, “What we resist, persists.” Once we are able to spot the source of our anxiety, it then becomes possible to address it.

Anxiety does not arrive with the solution to the problem though. It is only there to direct our focus to the problem, such as when pain lets you know that you have overexerted or when a headache is pointing out that you have gone too long without eating. The rest is up to us.

So, what is your anxiety trying to tell you?

Enjoy a Happy New Year!

New Year’s is a time where many people make resolutions.  “I’m going to lose weight,” or “I’m going to quit smoking” are two of the popular resolutions, but what about mental health?  Less commonly do people make resolutions for their mental health beyond a simple phrase such as “be happier.”  But, if you are one of the 43.8 million adults in the United States who experiences mental illness (NAMI, 1999), you might benefit from some resolutions toward improving your mental health. 

Mental illness is a difficult challenge for many people, but the New Year is a great time to make positive changes.

Here are some possible changes to pursue:

  1. Make sleep, diet, and exercise a priority.  Snickers has a popular series of commercials where a celebrity is acting in an angry, irritated, or frustrated manner until they are given a Snickers because they become emotional when they are hungry.  After taking a bite of the Snicker bar, the person returns to his or her typical self.  While I (and I’m sure our dietitians) would agree that sugar isn’t the answer, these commercials do have a point: our physical health impacts our mental health.  When we are tired, hungry, fatigued, or inactive, our mental health suffers.  Resolve to make simple changes to your habits this year: get more sleep, eat more fruits and vegetables, go on more walks.  Try to build on choices you make that are already healthy.
  2. Think positive.  This sounds cliché, but there is evidence to suggest that optimism improves our life.  The Mayo Clinic reports on their website that optimism has been connected to longer life span, decreased depression, decreased distress, reduced cardiovascular disease, and improved coping skills.  Unsure of how to start thinking in a positive manner?  Begin with creating a daily affirmation for yourself.  Waking up and saying “Today is going to be a good day,” can lead you to viewing the day in a more positive light.  If you have a specific stressor you are worried about, trying envisioning how that problem will go well instead of how it can go wrong.
  3. Seek help.  In 2012, ABC News reported that only about 60% of people with mental illness received professional help.  Professional help is available in a variety of ways, from counseling to medication to support groups.  If you are unsure where to go or what method is best for you, start with speaking with your doctor about the issue.      

Mental illness is a difficult challenge for many people, but the New Year is a great time to make positive changes.  Even if you aren’t dealing with mental illness, perhaps pursuing one of the above resolutions can make your 2017 a more positive and enjoyable year.

 

Dealing with Holiday Grief

For many people, the holidays are a season of happiness, celebration, and family gatherings.  For those who have experienced loss, the glimmer of holiday lights and decorations can evoke feelings of loneliness and sadness, reflecting on memories of past times. How can we celebrate a holiday while also mourning the loss of someone close to us?  Here are some tips for getting through the season for facing grief during the holiday season.

For those who have experienced loss, the glimmer of holiday lights and decorations can evoke feelings of loneliness and sadness, reflecting on memories of past times.

 

Plan ahead:

Typically during the holidays, we can predict the days that will be most difficult for us.  Do your best to plan ahead; set aside some time alone if necessary or schedule your trip to the cemetery.  If you know certain parts of the holiday won’t be the same, create new traditions or incorporate times of remembrance.

Externalize your grief:

Grief.com has some positive ideas about how to mark the loss of a loved one.  Some of these ideas include lighting a candle or saying a prayer for the loved one before the holiday meal.  You may also choose to include others by having everyone share a positive memory or funny story about the person.

Take a break: 

Grief.com also suggests cancelling the holiday.  The beauty of holidays is that they come back every year, so if you decide you need a year off from hosting Thanksgiving dinner or you are just not up for traveling this December, take some time off.  It is important to remember that any feeling shouldn’t remain stored up inside.  Choosing to cancel or postpone a holiday celebration is not selfish but rather a positive form of self-care.

It is important to remember that the holidays are a time of celebration but can also be a time of difficulty.  Be aware of your own feelings and also the feelings of others.  Don’t be afraid to reach out to a loved one who may be struggling this holiday season and be sure to take care of yourself.

Happy Holidays!

Brian Gazdziak, LCSW

Resource http://grief.com/grief-the-holidays

 

 

Do you have an anxiety disorder?

Everyone gets nervous, anxious or worried from time to time by things like public speaking, major life changes, financial issues, and difficulties with work or home life. For some people, these worries become so bothersome and intrusive that they can take over their lives.

So how do you know if your worries have crossed the line into an anxiety disorder? The distinction between what is normal anxiety and what constitutes a diagnosis isn't always clear.

So how do you know if your worries have crossed the line into an anxiety disorder? The distinction between what is normal anxiety and what constitutes a diagnosis isn’t always clear. Take a look at 9 common symptoms below. If you experience any of them on a regular basis, it may be worth having a conversation with you primary care physician or make an appointment with someone you can speak to.

  1. Excessive Worry
    Worrying too much about everyday things, both large and small.
  2. Sleep Problems
    Trouble getting and/or staying asleep. Chronically lying awake with racing thoughts about something specific or nothing at all.
  3. Irrational Fears
    Fear becomes overwhelming, disruptive, and/or disproportionate to the actual threat.
  4. Muscle Tension
    Clenching your jaw, balling up your fists, constant tension in neck and shoulders.
  5. Digestive Issues
    Stomachaches, cramping, gas, constipation and/or diarrhea.
  6. Self-Consciousness
    Feeling as if all eyes are on you, difficulties eating/drinking around others.
  7. Panic
    Experiencing sudden feelings of helplessness, pounding heart, sweating, difficulty breathing, tingling or numbness in hands, feelings of being choked.
  8. Perfectionism
    Constantly judging yourself, worrying about making mistakes or falling short of expectations or standards.
  9. Self-Doubt
    Constantly second guessing oneself, problems making decisions asking “What if?”.

Mercedes L. Kent, LCSW