Back from Vacation & Rarin’ to Go! 5 Reasons Why I Can’t Wait to Get Back to Work

1. Vacation isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Do you ever find yourself needing time to recover from your vacation? I mean, air travel alone is enough to exhaust the most serene person in the Universe. Do NOT get me wrong, I would not trade my vacation time for a Prada hand bag (I don’t think…) and there is nothing, no thing, that can replace precious gobs of time with my young adult son and daughter. Even so I needed a full week back home to “recover” from my vacation.

2. Rest=Energy. Despite my crankiness over the imperfection of my vacation I did get some much needed rest. The Colorado family house where we stayed, is two times zones West of us. That means I could sleep in to say 9:00AM  and feel completely indulged like a teenager on break. That’s 11:00AM New York time! My usual wake up time is around 5:30! Plus, fortunately for me and our budget, I have a husband and those two wonderful young adult kids who actually like to cook and understand the need to share in the joy of cleaning up. (Teach them early and consistently, my friends!)

3. Got off the grid. For two solid weeks I did not look at Facebook, I tweeted only once, and sent maybe three emails. Blog posts for EWN were written beforehand and put on a timer to be released while I was gone. I worked really hard before going on vacation to make sure, as much as I could, that I gave myself that gift. What did I do instead? I read a ton, had great conversations with family, got outside, took in the beauty. Social media is not evil. I love it. But stepping away now and then keeps the heart engaged, don’t you think?

4. Explore What’s Next is Growing!!!  I am so excited that my dream to expand EWN services is coming true! EWN is in the process now of hiring more qualified, terrific therapists. If you or someone you know fits what we are looking for and is interested in starting or developing a psychotherapy private practice please CALL ME! We need to talk! For more information click here!

5. New Bigger Offices!!! Hiring more therapists means Explore What’s Next needs more space! The new space is in the same building as the current suite, handy for moving and for current clients. My landlords have been building out the space to our specifications. Every time I walk through I get jazzed! We will be moving into our bigger suite at the end of September, doubling the space we have now.

Choosing colors and shopping for furniture isn’t the easiest thing in the world for me. I tend to obsess driving everyone around me crazy until I make a decision and then I succumb to a horrible case of buyer’s remorse. But I’ll save that story for another time.

My goal is to create an inviting, comfy, safe place for you to visit, just like the little office space is. If you have any ideas for me to achieve this please share!

The new space, new therapists and getting back to talking with you here on this blog has me totally chomping at the bit, ready to plunge in the deep end with commitment and energy!

Overwhelmed? Stop & Take Your Mood Temperature

When we get overwhelmed we tend to see things in black and white. Depressed, sad, angry, anxious, take your pick of mood, when the going gets tough, it can feel like a heavy wet blanket of yuck. We feel helpless to do anything about it, it is too consuming, a blinding fog, and feeling hopeless isn’t too far behind.

Instead of giving into the dark feeling, stop and take a closer look. Take your mood temperature.

Using a 0-10 scale, assign the extremes first because they are easiest. Think of an old-fashioned thermometer: 0 is totally relaxed, happy, content, free of strife, however you want to describe bliss, that’s 0. The temperature rises as the stress level and the negative mood rises so 10 is the extreme version of whatever your particular bugaboo is: panic, out of control rage or depression so oppressive you are thinking self-destructive thoughts.

Five might be having moderate stress to deal with but feeling like you have it in control, in balance. Now describe the numbers in between 0-5 and 5-10. Under 5 you may experience increasing stress but still maintain a sense of control. On my scale for anxiety, even up to 6, I feel like I still have enough of a grip that I can easily apply coping techniques to get the temp down.

Seven and above is when the negative mood may be getting out of control and intervention is called for, like taking a mental time-out, conscientiously addressing negative thoughts with more reasonable thoughts, calling a friend for support, or your therapist, if your temperature is rapidly heading for higher numbers.

The idea behind the mood thermometer, developed originally by child psychologists to help children learn how to describe what they were feeling, is to become more sensitive to the nuances of mood. In other words, we can be more effective in dealing with our mood if we can see the different degrees of color in between the black and white. If I only see 10, I am overwhelmed. Also, it is easier to do things to keep from boiling over if you catch the bad mood before it gets too hot. If I stop and note that my mood is more like an eight, or a 7, I can do something about that. Improving my mood suddenly seems attainable.

What We Can Learn From Dumbo’s Feather

Remember Dumbo? It was an animated film by the Walt Disney Studios released in 1941, recently re-released in DVD. Let me tell you the heart of the Dumbo story. I think it has a significant take-home message that we could all use.

It’s typical Disney: A cuter than cute infant elephant is born to a circus performing Mom. Mom adores her baby despite his fatal flaw – really ugly, gi-huge-ic ears.

Mom is torn away from Dumbo (tear jerker!) leaving the abandonded baby a virtual orphan with no means of support. He is forced to become a clown elephant, poor little guy. A helpful circus mouse (Disney, remember?) points out that if he opened up his giant ears he could fly and thus become a big star. Dumbo, being no dummy, disagrees, until the mouse says he’s got a magic feather. If Dumbo would just hold the magic feather in his trunk, open up his wings and jump off the high-dive platform, he would fly.


Confessions of An Easy Crier

Have you ever had anyone tell you to stop crying? That just drives me nuts. Too often when people see tears they assume you are out of control. Not true. Actually when people say ‘Don’t cry’ (especially men, let’s face it) it’s because they are uncomfortable with your tears, not necessarily to comfort you.

This used to happen to me a lot until I learned that there was no good reason for me to feel bad about crying. I’m an easy crier, and proud of it! It took a long time for me to be comfortable with my low tearfulness threshold but once I did it was liberating. Finally instead of worrying about bursting into tears I could just concentrate on what was going on to cause the swell of emotion.

Anything could bring on the lump in the throat and stinging eyes, from a sappy movie trailer to a heartbreaking story about children violently orphaned to a genuine hurt from someone I cared about. Happiness, anger, remorse… basically I’m an open book kind of person.

I read somewhere that there are people who are born with ‘porous auras’. They feel things easily. Not to be confused with ESP, it’s just a heightened sense of empathy. I think this sensitivity is in part what makes me a good therapist but not a good companion at slasher movies.

If you’d like to read more about the self-discovery and science of crying, go to my post on PsychCentral, “…I’ll Cry If I Want To”, and let me know what you think.

Illustration courtesy of The|G|TM via Flickr

What Makes a Family Functional vs Dysfunctional?


The other day I was responding to someone who was dreading the holidays with her ‘dysfunctional family’ (her words). It got me thinking about that word, dysfunctional, and how it implies that there is an opposite, functional, family somewhere. What does that look like? Is it a Perfect Family? Some Stepford-like pod of people who never fight, are always neat and smiling? Yeesh! That sounds horrible. In fact it sounds downright dysfunctional!

So what is a functional family? How do we know if we have one? How would you define a functional family?

I don’t have all the answers. Family dynamics and treatment are complex and a whole field of study of psychology all by itself. These impressions come as much from my experience as from education and training. No family is perfect, even the functioning ones. My family of origin was what I’d call dysfunctionally functional. From them I learned as much what not to do in creating my own family as the opposite, what to emulate as I rear my kids and forge my marriage. In my work with couples and counseling parents I’ve also seen what works and what doesn’t.

So here’s my personal brain dump of qualities that make up a family that functions. It’s unscientific, but it’s as good a place to start the discussion as any:

R-E-S-P-E-C-T  Respect is the Holy Grail of functional families. All people in the family, brothers to sisters, mothers to fathers, parents to kids must be respectful as consistently as possible. Being considerate of each other is the tie that binds, even more than love. I think too much emphasis is put on love in general. I’ve heard of many atrocities done within families in the name of love but never in the name of respect. Just about all the things on the list come out of respect first.

An Emotionally Safe Environment. All members of the family can state their opinions, thoughts, wants, dreams, desires and feelings without fear of being slammed, shamed, belittled or dismissed.

A Resilient Foundation. When relationships between and amongst people in a family are healthy they can withstand stress, even trauma, and, if not bounce back, at least recover. Resilience starts with encouraging sound health, eating and sleeping well, and physical activity.

Allow privacy. Privacy of space, of body and of thought. Knock and ask permission to enter before going through a closed door. All family members are sensitive regarding personal space and aren’t insulted if someone needs a wide berth.

Accountable. Being accountable is not the same as planting a homing device on your kid or abusing the cell phone to track her whereabouts 24/7. That’s not much better than stalking. No, being accountable is (again with the respect thing) respectfully and reasonably informing people in the family where you are and what you are doing so they can grow trust and not worry.

Apologize. It’s sad when people hold out for an apology on a point of pride, never acknowledging their part in a dispute. How many times have you heard of rifts in families that last for years because someone feels they are ‘owed an apology’?

A functional family has conflict. It’s very cool when we can have an argument and get to the other side of it still friendly and satisfied with the outcome. But let’s face it, that’s not always the case. Sometimes we say things that we regret. If we can feel and show remorse for our part, quickly apologize, ask for and receive forgiveness, no harm is done. You may even become closer for it.

Allow reasonable expression of emotions. When I was growing up I wasn’t allowed to be angry at my parents. I was determined to not do that to my kids. It hasn’t been easy. The main thing for me was to teach them to state their anger in a managed manner and to teach myself not to fly off the handle when they did. I had to learn that their telling me they weren’t happy with something I did or said could be done with respect. And, very importantly, vice versa.

Gentle on teasing and sarcasm. Teasing can be OK as long as the teased is in on the joke. Same with sarcasm. A functional family won’t use either as a poorly masked put down.

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