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.

Fake It ‘Til You Make It

laughingoldman-stencilYour brain gets feedback from your face—so if you force yourself to smile, you may actually feel better. There’s lots of research showing that smiling (even fake smiling) actually causes a happier mood.

Anxiety and worry causes lots of frowning which creates tension in the face, neck and jaw. Smiling lightens things up as it takes less muscles to smile than to frown, plus smiling uses different muscles which reduces tension.

Learning from a Dog about Anxiety

cosmokarenMy friend Karen Gill (Personal Chef, Owner of Down to Earth Chef) went to special dog training classes with her rescue dog, Cosmo. Karen believes Cosmo had some bad experiences before being rescued and now he has anxiety. When Cosmo gets anxious, he barks a lot at many different things and gets himself agitated.

When Cosmo barks at something he sees outside the living room window, Karen says in a very calm tone: “Not your business, Cosmo.” Through this training, Cosmo has learned to turn away and goes back to his own business.

Keeping his attention on his own business helps Cosmo reduce his anxiety and stay calm.

Where is Your Attention?

Is your focus on you, your life, your desires/wants, your choices, what makes you happy?

Or do you focus more on others and what they think, what they want, what they’re doing, what they want you to do, what they think of you?

What You Can Learn from Cosmo

Focusing on yourself (your own business) really can help reduce anxiety.

When you focus too much on other people and other people’s business, some dangerous things can happen (all of which cause anxiety):

1. You can start comparing yourself to others, feeling not good enough, feeling like you’re not keeping up with the Joneses, or feeling bad about yourself.

2. You judge others more. She “shouldn’t” be doing that. He “should” be doing that. It’s easy to get caught up in what you think other people should or shouldn’t be doing. Then you can lose focus on yourself and doing what is right for you.

3. You can get caught up in the need to be right, which results in you using your precious energy to prove another is wrong. The need to be right creates black and white thinking, which usually causes upset and increases stress and anxiety because life is actually full of shades of gray.

4. You can get easily overwhelmed focusing on other people. Who made it your responsibility to get involved with their business? Do you have people in your life who try to lure you into their problems or their drama? People who want you to solve their problems for them?

5. You can get caught up in trying to control other people, or control situations. This always increases anxiety because it’s impossible!

“Not Your Business, Di”

Let me give you a personal example. When I went to my first Vipassana 10-day silent meditation course, I had a roommate who didn’t follow all the rules. She showered or napped during our designated meditation time. She closed the door when we were instructed to leave the door open, and disregarded many other rules.

I got quite upset about this. I was quite irritated and kept thinking:

Di Philippi, Wellness Counseling Milwaukee; Busy creates overwhelm and anxiety• “She should be following these rules!”
• “She shouldn’t be doing that!”
• “Why won’t she do this the “right” way?!?!”

I was very bothered. She was not. In fact, I don’t think she was upset at all.

My focusing on her business only got ME worked up. It only harmed ME.

Finally, I realized that my only business was to do my best with my own meditation and my own following of the rules. I had to remind myself “Not your business, Di.” Only then did my stress, anxiety, and upset subside. Then I could really do my best with my own meditation.

How to Be More Like Cosmo

Be aware of your thoughts and where you putting your attention. When your focus is more on YOU than on other people, you will feel calmer and have less stress and anxiety.

Ask yourself some questions:

• What is really my business in this situation? What isn’t my business?
• Am I worrying about what other are saying, doing, or thinking?
• Right now, is my thinking or talking about other people’s business causing me more or less anxiety?
• What is one thing I can do right now to stay focused on ME?

Ponder This…

button Relax (image can be used for printing or web)

Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it never gets you anywhere.

Floatation Therapy for Anxiety and Stress

If you’re as old as me, you may remember old TV commercials with the slogan “Calgon, take me away” as someone is floating along in a bubble bath. I loved that slogan. I could imagine all my stress floating away.

floatingawayIn 2016, floating now has a whole new meaning. Floatation therapy is an emerging relaxation treatment, with research supporting its effectiveness for stress, anxiety, sleeplessness, depression, muscle tension and more.

Float centers are popping up like hotcakes all over the US. We now have three in the metro Milwaukee area. I love floating and I float at A Better Me Spa in Menomonee Falls (more about my float experience below).

Your Senses Deserve a Break Today (R.E.S.T.)

Another old commercial slogan used to say “You deserve a break today.” What we all really need these days is to give our senses a break.

Our busy, 7*24, technology-filled world gives us constant stimulation of our senses of sight, sound, and touch. Constant sensory stimulation negatively affects the nervous system and contributes to anxiety.

Floating gives your nervous system 60 minutes of R.E.S.T. (Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique), sometimes referred to as sensory deprivation. In the most positive way, floating creates a very peaceful, sensory-limited experience.

The Float Room

Your senses of sound, sight, and touch are calmed by a warm, quiet, dark floating environment. Some float centers have float tanks or pods, while others have float rooms (which I love).

float_poolA float room (I think of it as a float pool) is approximately 8 feet long * 5 feet wide. It holds about 10 inches of water with about 1000 lbs. of dissolved Epsom Salt, which enables you to float automatically. Epsom salt is made of magnesium which has many health benefits as well. 

Water is heated to an average skin temperature (93.5F) which reduces the sensation between body and water. All light and sound can be eliminated to allow your brain and body to relax completely. Often there is ambient light and/or relaxing music available if you prefer.

Backed by Scientific Research

In the 1970s, Peter Suedfeld and Roderick Borrie began to explore the therapeutic benefits of floating. A study in the late 1990s found that more than 90 percent of people experienced feelings of relaxation. A 2014 study found that twelve 45-minute float sessions over seven weeks reduced anxiety, stress, and depression.

brainwaves-theta-stateResearch suggests the effects of a one hour float session are equivalent to eight hours of sleep! Floating quiets your brainwaves from the active beta and alpha waves, to theta brainwaves which are more calming, meditative, and restorative. 

Brain imaging shows calming effects in the brain (the amygdala calms down – that’s the fight or flight part of the brain). Blood testing shows reduced levels of cortisol (one of the primary and problematic stress hormones).

In addition to all of the above findings which show how floating can be great to help reduce stress and anxiety, floating is also good for pain, muscles, blood pressure, circulation and more!

Check out this Time Magazine article about floating and find a lot more floating research HERE .

My Floating Experience

floatingabettermeI float at A Better Me Spa in Menomonee Falls, the only float center in the area which has float rooms.  There’s a very comfortable, private suite that includes a changing area, shower and the float pool itself.  

 

floatsuite

From the shower, you open a door and step right into the float pool. Lay down and you will automatically float because of all the Epsom salt. Adjust (or turn off) the lights and music, and float for 60 minutes.

During my first float, I found it “strangely relaxing.” Strange because it is such a unique experience, and also because I wouldn’t have expected it to be as relaxing as it actually is.

My husband said it was the most relaxing thing he ever did!

Finally, a break from all the stimuli, multi-tasking, to-do lists, and interruptions of a typical day! Permission to relax…

At first I found myself full of thoughts about the float itself: how do I move around and what is most comfortable, do I like the music or not, do I like the neck pillow or not, what am I supposed to do now, how many minutes have passed, etc…

After a short time, my brain slowed down and I reminded myself to relax. I focused on my breathing, let go of body tension, and became meditative. At the end of 60 minutes, a dim light goes on to signal completion. Then you step right into the shower. Ahhh… I felt amazingly relaxed.

Floating is like pressing a “Reset” button for both mind and body. Another calming, self-care tool to add to your wellness toolbox!

Write Down All Possible Silver Linings

Cats always land on their feet when they fall (even big, unexpected falls). When you are anxious or worried about a situation in your life, imagine you are the same way.  Tell yourself you will land on your feet – you will be okay in the big picture of life.

writing-stencilTo help you step back from the problem, sit down with a paper and pen and don’t get up until you have written down at least 3 possible silver linings that might possibly come out of the difficult situation. 

Three is minimum – more is better.

Example: if you have anxiety or worry about losing your job, what possible silver linings that might possibly come out of that? 

 

1. Maybe you’d be happy to be rid of stress from that overly stressful job…

2. Maybe you’d end up finding a job you like equally well or maybe even more.

3. Maybe it presents the chance to go back to school… maybe you’d decide to follow your dream of starting your own business…

Maybe…

What’s Up with the Adult Coloring Book Craze?

Mindfulness, Relaxation, and Stress Reduction! Good stuff!

coloringbook-stencilAdult coloring is actually a mindfulness-based activity that is good for quieting a busy mind, calming down, and refocusing.

The repetitive motion of coloring, the limited space of the page, and the small lines/shapes all help your mind to focus on doing one thing at a time – a relief in our multi-tasking world. I love books with patterns, which are especially helpful in creating a locus point around which thoughts can revolve and let go.

It may sound silly, but my clients consistently surprise themselves with how much they enjoy it. Try it!