Mindfulness / Self-Compassion to Calm Anxiety

loveyourselfmore-stencilSelf-compassion is part of Mindfulness, and it helps to reduce negative thinking and rumination (obsessive or repetitive thinking) while activating the self-soothing states of the brain.

A core component of self-compassion is the understanding that you are not alone in what you are experiencing.

Put both hands on your stomach and remind yourself that anxiety is actually a common part of the human experience.  You are not alone in what you are feeling and struggling with right now. In this very moment, there are thousands if not millions of people who are experiencing the same or very similar feelings. You are not alone.

(*Adapted from and thanks to Elisha Goldstein, PhD)

“Just Think Positive” Doesn’t Work

Negative thinking is a big problem with both anxiety and depression. It’s so easy for the mind to get stuck in habitual patterns of seeing the negative.  The mind can dwell, or even obsess, on worst case scenarios.  In fact, the fight-or-flight mechanism in your brain is programmed to do just that.

Have you ever been stuck in negative thinking only to have a friend or family member say “just think more positive!”  

Well…duh.  If you could do that, you would have already done it.

newmindset-dreamstime_xs_52555226It is possible to transform negative thinking, but you need to learn HOW to turn your thoughts around to get a new mindset. That doesn’t just happen automatically.  And it doesn’t happen by merely telling yourself to think more positive.

It’s pretty impossible to “just think positive” without learning some specific ways to reframe your thinking.  (This is the whole basis of CBT – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy).

Bottles: Half Empty or Half Full?

My Vipassana meditation teacher told a story of a mother in India with three sons…

She asked her first son to take an empty bottle to the market and have it filled with oil and she gave him three rupees to do so. Her son had the bottle filled and on his way home, he stumbled and half of the oil spilled out of the bottle. He became very upset and ran home crying.  Because he thought he was a failure, he felt shame and guilt and he was afraid to tell his mother what had happened.

Next the mother asked her second son to take an empty bottle to the market and have it filled with oil and gave him three rupees also. This son also had his bottle filled, but the same thing happened. He fell on the way home and spilled half the oil. But this second son was so happy that there was still half of the oil left in the bottle that he ran all the way home smiling.  He told his mother: “Look what happened – I stumbled but I was able to save half of the oil!”

Finally, the mother asked her third son to do the same thing. Unfortunately, the same thing happened to the third son. He ran all the way home very excited. He told his mother: “Look what happened – I stumbled but I was able to save half the oil! Now I can just get an odd job tomorrow and earn enough money to refill the whole jar!”

halfemptyhalffull-stencilThinking: Half Empty or Half Full?

Were the bottles of these 3 boys half empty or half full?

Was their thinking half empty or half full?

The human mind is wired to see the negative first – the bottle is half empty.  But you can train yourself to also see something good in your situation.

• Gratitude is one way to shift out of a negative mindset.

The third son was surely upset about spilling some of the oil.  But he quickly found something to be grateful for in his situation.

Negative thinking keeps you stuck.  Gratitude opens doors to a new mindset. A new mindset is necessary to make change and to get new results in your life.

• Taking positive action is another effective way to turn negative thinking around.

By adding positive action (getting an odd job tomorrow) to a seemingly negative situation, the third son did not get stuck in half empty thinking.  He was able to turn his thinking around and move on with a new mindset.

Next time you find yourself dwelling on a half empty situation, ask yourself:

What is one positive action I could take any way?

One small action can create enough shift for you to start turning those thoughts around, so you can start seeing your glass getting fuller by the minute.

• Imagine a Silver Lining

Close your eyes and ask yourself:

• If I could dare to hope for just one positive thing in this situation, what would it be?
• If I had one wish that could be granted in this situation, what is one positive outcome, or positive aspect, that I would wish for?

Let yourself imagine it even if you can’t see how that one positive thing could actually become possible.  Imagination changes the way the neural pathways in your brain fire up, making way for new thoughts.

Stop Negative Thinking with CBT

cbtthinkingprocess-dreamstime_xs_36181364The best long term strategy for getting rid of negative thinking patterns is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). 

With CBT, you learn to:

1) correctly identify distorted, negative “stinking thinking”
2) shift negative thinking by refuting it with more accurate, logical thoughts
3) learn very specific tools and strategies to turn negative thinking around and lessen its power over you

By refuting negative thinking over and over again, the neural pathways in your brain literally change and the negative pattern diminishes over time.  Read more about CBT for Negative Thinking

Write Down Your Great Things

worry-stencil-default-1Worries are thoughts about negative things that may or may not happen in the future.

To combat worry, write down the positive things that are actually happening in your life now.

Research at the University of Chicago shows that writing down your positive feelings for a few minutes had these results:

• significantly lowered worry
• reduced harmful cortisol levels
• raised performance on tests on memory and critical thinking skills

Secret Ways Technology Hurts Relationships

Most of you will know intuitively the types of problems that technology can cause in relationships. Your own experience has taught you this.

My experience with clients proves this also, and scientific research studies also confirm that technology has as many downsides as upsides when it comes to relationships.

Feeling Connected or Neglected?

I love visiting my daughter but we just don’t talk like we used to. I wonder why?

Smartphones and other portable devices often get in the way of face-to-face, meaningful interactions. How many times have you been sitting with someone, and then in the middle of conversation, they start using their cell phone for something?

Perhaps the email, text or phone call they just got is more important than you? Perhaps the job/career that is beckoning on the smartphone is more important than you? We have all felt this way.

And perhaps you have even fallen into the same trap yourself, and made other people feel that way when they are sitting with you. My husband called me on it the other day. It happens.

Even though we are sitting across from each other, technology enables the interruptions and attention to other priorities that prevents us from really being present. The body is present but the mind goes elsewhere, so it is difficult to feel real connection.

The iPhone Effect

Research studies show that smartphones actually change the interpersonal connection process (often referred to as the iPhone effect).

A famous 2014 study at Virginia Tech found that the mere presence of a smartphone made partners less likely to talk about their feelings.

The mere presence of a smartphone made connections less meaningful, and partners were less understanding of each other.

But here’s the kicker…

These negative consequences occurred even if the phone was not actually in use, but just sitting as an object in the background!

Does Your Partner Have Secrets?

Ever wonder what your partner is spending so much time doing on his or her phone?

The phone provides a private portal to private conversations and private activities. Passwords on phones send a message that there is something private to be kept hidden. Secrets.

Partners have always been able to keep secrets from each other, but the technology makes it so much easier, more tempting, and more prevalent. Even if no secrets are actually being kept, the phone itself and our phone habits present new worries about the possibility.

Here’s a common scenario I see with my clients:

tech-adultry-dreamstime_xs_13830684Partner #1 is texting very regularly with a “friend” of the opposite sex from the gym, or someplace where Partner #2 is not involved.

Partner #2 finds out about this and asks questions.

Partner #1 says this is an “innocent and appropriate friendship.”

But this “innocent” friendship starts to interfere in the partners’ relationship.

Partner #2 wonders about the appropriateness of the friendship.

Partner #1 starts to hide or delete text messages. Secrets.

Hiding often turns into lies. All of this leads to trust issues, and arguments.

If this is just an appropriate friendship, then why does Partner #1 continue with hiding, deleting texts, putting passwords on their phone? Because technology makes it so easy to do so.

Before the popularity of smartphones, Partner #1 would have had to make a phone call or setup a meeting with the “friend.”  Often, these steps probably would not have been taken. But the smartphone makes it so easy.

And the line between appropriate and inappropriate friendships can get very blurry.

After That?

The availability of that instant connection with someone else also makes it easier to have an emotional affair .  It can even help facilitate logistics for a sexual affair.  Obviously, technology does not cause these things, but it is being used as a tool to make these things more accessible and easier and therefore more prevalent.

Technology and the internet at your fingertips, has also created the phenomenon called sexting, and increased the accessibility and prevalence of pornography.

All of these things affect the dynamics and communication within a relationship.  Technology  has created some new problems within relationships.

This makes it more important than ever for couples to connect and communicate face-to-face, and to talk about how technology may be impacting their lives and their relationship.

Take Micro-Breaks

In all the busyness and doingness of your day, stress and anxiety continually build up. Your mind and body need more breaks.

Try taking micro-breaks many times a day, perhaps even many times an hour. Micro-breaks can last for just 5-60 seconds at a time. You can try many different things on your micro-breaks.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:cloud-stencil

• Stand up and stretch
• Stare out a window
• Close your eyes
• Breathe in through your nose and out forcefully through your mouth
• Step outside and look at the clouds
• Give yourself a quick hand massage
• Drink a glass of water
• Visualize the best part of your last vacation
• Imagine a peaceful nature scene – by mountain, lake, river, forest


Here’s what NOT to do on your micro-breaks:to-do-buster-stencil-default

• Do not multi-task
• Do not use any electronics
• Do not look at your To Do List
• Do not make a mental To Do List
• Do not eat junk food
• Do not talk to someone else

10 Great Ways to Love Yourself – Be Your Own Valentine

iloveme-stencilI talk a lot about loving yourself. Often times, my clients aren’t sure what that really means.


Many people resist the idea of loving yourself because it feels “selfish” and people have a lot of negative connotations about the word “selfish.”

Taking good care of yourself, valuing yourself, and giving yourself the respect you deserve is not selfish. It’s more like putting your own oxygen mask on first.

Gifts that Say I Love You to Yourself

1. Date Night with The Most Important Person in Your Life. (YOU!) Put one on the calendar right now and make it just as important (or more so!) as all your other appointments. Don’t cancel on yourself.

2. Be Thankful for Everything. One of the best ways to combat negative thinking, gratitude is a gift to yourself. It’s just about guaranteed to help you feel happier.

3. Take a Bath. People don’t take the time for a bath anymore. This is a gift of time and calming for your nervous system and muscles. Try this Ultrabath.

4. Accept That Some People Won’t Like You. So what? It’s inevitable. Put an end to people-pleasing and you will have more time and energy to do what pleases you.

5. Sleep. Is this the first think you cut out when your life gets inevitably busy? Your investment in sleep means you feel better, have a more positive attitude, and have more energy to take good care of yourself and your loved ones. Sleep equals more love all around!

6. Eat One Healthy Thing Each Day. Feeding yourself well is a concrete way to tell yourself that you are worth being treating well.

7. Let Yourself Off the Hook. Forgive yourself for past mistakes, choices, for not being perfect… in other words, for being a human being like everyone else. Holding on only harms yourself, while letting go will make you lighter, happier, and more loving of yourself and others.

8. Digital Detox. Constant connection can be exhausting. The other day I forgot my phone when I left home for yoga class followed by meeting a friend at a coffee shop. After momentary withdrawal symptoms, I found it so freeing. Take a little break.

valentine-bemyown-stencil9. See Yourself as an Innocent Child. Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to an innocent child (or loved one). The self-talk in your head can be so harsh. Strive to be nicer to yourself in your head.

10. Allow Yourself Some Down Time. I like to tell myself that I can do it all – I just can’t do it all at once! You deserve a break from all the “doing.” Allow yourself the gift of some space in your schedule.


Look in the Mirror. This can be the hardest one of all for some people. Look in the mirror and tell yourself out loud “I love you.” Keep looking at your unique and amazing self for 1 minute without looking away.

You are incredible and perfect exactly the way you are.

Write Down Your Deepest Thoughts and Feelings

writing-stencilJournaling a few times a week has been linked to increased health and overall wellness.

Research study participants who were assigned to write about meaningful things – their deepest thoughts and feelings – showed these results for several months after the study:

• reductions in physician visits
• improvements in immune function
• increases in psychological well-being

I suggest setting aside 15-30 minutes a day to write for a couple days each week. In addition to the benefits above, I always feel better right in the moment when I finish putting my thoughts and feelings onto paper.

5 Unexpected Ways to Make Lasting Change

How many times have you tried to make a change and it just doesn’t stick? It might stick for a while, but then you fall back into old habits.

News Years Resolution Statistics Data
Percent of Americans who usually make New Year’s Resolutions 45%
Percent of people who are successful in achieving their resolution 8%
Percent who never succeed and fail on their resolution each year 24%
People who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make resolutions

*Source: http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/

neural-pathways-istock_000006935562xsmallYour brain is designed to go back to old habits. Neural pathways form in the brain and get very ingrained, making change difficult.

So if you want to make lasting change, you have to use some brain-based strategies to create new neural pathways. That translates into new thoughts and beliefs, and ultimately into change and creation of new behaviors.

1. Do Less and Talk to Yourself More

Don’t get caught in the misconception that you have to DO more to reach your goals.  Doing matters much less than thinking.   Stop focusing so much on the action itself, and focus more on what you are saying to yourself in your mind.

How you talk to yourself before, during, and after the process of change is critical!  

We often sabotage ourselves with negative thinking or limited beliefs about our ability to succeed at our goals. If you set a goal to walk 5 times a week and then your thoughts are about how many times you have failed in the past at walking five times a week, then you are setting yourself up to fail again.

pausebutton-stencilInstead, catch yourself thinking those thoughts and then hit the pause button. Choose a new thought. One possible thought: “even though I’ve tried to walk more in the past, I’m going to give it my best shot now because it’s healthy for me, and I enjoy it and the exercise is a good stress reliever.”

Your new thought makes a new neural pathway – this is exactly what is needed to create change, or create a new habit. This is the whole basis of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

2. Act As If You Are Confident

To help your brain make the changes necessary to actually do something different or create a new habit, Act As If you are completely confident.  Act As If it has already happened.

The “fake it ‘till you make it” mentality really works.

If you are confident and tell yourself you can do it, you likely will be able to do it. So even when you don’t feel particularly confident, Act As If you’re confident.

Act As If you know the change is already happening and you expect it to be manifest completely.   

“Whether you think you can,or think you can’t, you’re right!”

~ Henry Ford 
Creator of the first Model T automobile in 1908

We often stop ourselves from the change we want by fear that we won’t succeed.  This fear can be conscious or subconscious.

Confidence about your success is what will translate into real success.

So acting as if you are confident will turn into real confidence which will turn into real results/change.

3. The Imagination Experiment

• Exactly what would it be like if you reached your goal?
• What would it be like to be the person who walks 5 times a week?
• How would you feel? What would you be thinking?
• What small (or big) things would you be doing differently in your day-to-day life?

Write down all of your answers to these questions.

Now experiment, and start doing those things now. Start thinking those things now. Notice what happens and how you feel.

The key here is using your powerful imagination to line up your thoughts, feelings, actions and energy congruently in the direction of your goal.

4. See With Your Eyes Closed

The human brain cannot tell the difference between an experience that is happening in reality right now, and one that is vividly imagined.

Studies with Olympic athletes and NASA astronauts show that the same parts of the brain are firing when they are imagining their next race/mission, or when they are actually doing it. The muscles of athletes actually fire even when they are sitting down in a chair just vividly imagining.

Spend at least five minutes every single day visualizing yourself and your life after you have reached your goal. Make the visualization very vivid, with as many details as you can picture.

What can you vividly see, here, taste or smell in your visualization?

Enjoy the visualization feel the good feelings associated with your success. Try to let your mind and body feel what it will really feel like after you have attained your goal.

5. Love Yourself the Whole Way

render fractal model - red heart

Last but not least, be kind and self-nurturing as you focus on your goal. Change is usually difficult. The human brain is literally wired to maintain the same habits and to resist change. So give yourself credit for your desire and motivation to make a positive change for yourself.

Honor yourself when you have little successes toward your goal. And it’s just important to honor yourself when you encounter challenges on the way to your goal. Expect that to happen and be prepared to be gentle with yourself and remind yourself that it is all part of the process. Then just recommit yourself to your goal.

Do one nice thing for yourself each day as a way of loving yourself, and thanking yourself for working toward this positive change!


Give to Yourself First to Reduce Holiday Stress

christmasornament-stencilLast December I wrote about the importance of giving to yourself — and giving to yourself FIRST. This is so contrary to how most of us operate during the holidays. If you give to yourself first, you will be more energized and positive and the normal holiday stressors will be easier to handle.

Click HERE to learn how to give yourself the gift of permission and the gift of “not doing.” Learn how to make your own holiday wish list!

4 Steps to the Perfect Holiday

perfectionismsign-stencilStriving to create the perfect holiday this season? Let me suggest a different approach.

Let’s start with 4 simple mantras:

Repeat after me:
1. There is no perfect holiday
2. There is no perfect holiday meal
3. There is no perfect gift
4. There is no perfect family

Permission to Let Go of Holiday Perfectionism

The theme here is to let yourself off the hook this holiday season. So many people (women especially) feel stress and pressure to create some idyllic holiday for their families.

Having a lovely, fun, enjoyable holiday is a great goal, but this goal goes awry when it leans to the extreme.

Everything really does NOT have to be perfect to enjoy the holiday season.

1. There is no perfect holiday

It seems so obvious but there is no such thing as a perfect holiday. Let go of the Norman Rockwell or the June Cleaver holiday. After all, they ARE fiction.

You (or others) may reminisce about “perfect holidays” of the past, but you are probably using selective memory. Since there is no such thing as a perfect holiday, there undoubtedly were imperfections but they are forgotten. In the big scope of things, they weren’t important enough to register in your memory.

The details are not as important as you think, and imperfections are expected and are forgettable.

2. There is no perfect holiday meal

The meal really isn’t the reason for the season, right? Then why do many of us focus so much on having the perfect meal? Sharing a meal can be a great time of community and connection. But it’s really the community and connection that matters.

Sure, having the favorite holiday dishes is fun. Could the holiday be fun without the cheesy crab puff appetizer or the chilled shrimp or 15 different kinds of cookies?

At my house, if the mashed potatoes are lumpy (i.e. not perfect) someone will complain. Complainers can turn a meal holiday into a drag if you let them. Don’t let them. Just expect a complaint, and then choose to not take it personally. Chalk it up to a predictable complaining complainer and nothing else. Then choose to let that roll off your back.

3. There is no perfect gift

giftswhite-dreamstimefree_3679200One of my clients created anxiety for herself starting in November, worrying about picking out the right gifts and spending excessive (and unhappy) time shopping for those “perfect gifts.”

She felt pressure to get it right, and guilty if she didn’t. Where is the joy in that? That kind of pressure and emphasis on the “perfect gift” deprives yourself of the joy of giving.

One way I’ve made gift-giving easier and more joyful for me is to request a specific gift list. My niece even sends me web links to items she likes, including size and color. My family knows that if they don’t provide a list, they may not get a gift. So…they give me lists!

I love the joy of easier shopping, and knowing I will be giving something they want. And if they need to return or exchange it, I give them the receipt and I don’t take it personally. All is well.

P.S. Don’t forget the most important person on your gift list: YOU! http://wellnesscounselingmilwaukee.com/gift-yourself/

4. There is no perfect family

familystickdrawing-dreamstimefree_4342789While holidays traditionally are family times, family dynamics often cause stress. You are not the only one who does not have a perfect family. Is there such a thing? The version of “perfect” that most of us dream of is probably not realistic.

You are who you are, and your family is what your family is. A “perfect” holiday or meal or gift isn’t going to change that. Finding some peace and acceptance of that allows more joy into your holiday. Resisting what is, or wishing your family was different, only creates more angst for you.

Perfect Imperfection

The best holiday de-stressor is to let go of any conscious or subconscious pressure to create a picture-perfect holiday. Let it be what it will be. Look for the places you can find joy. And peace. Do your best to focus on what is really important to YOU. Do your best to let the rest roll off your back.

The “perfect” holiday is actually the one where you embrace and allow imperfection.