Survival Skills for Women Lawyers: Managing Everyday Stress & Anxiety to Stay Balanced



Presentation at Women's Bar Assoc

This morning at the Women’s Bar Association of  Erie County New York I had the real pleasure of presenting with my friend Dan Lukasik of Lawyers With Depression.

Click here and you will find links to some great resources, books, videos, articles and apps that accompany my talk.

Resources for Survival Skills For Women

Choose Discomfort



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This quote (one of my favorites) is all about avoidance and procrastination. Avoidance and procrastination, the twin demons of my psyche, generate anxiety and guilt. Dr. Brown offers the antidote to anxiety driven by guilt in her concise, direct way. If I were a tattoo kind of girl I’d tattoo that quote into the palm of my hand so I could see it everyday.  Choose discomfort over resentment.

“But I don’t want to be uncomfortable!” I whine. Uncomfortable sucks. Is it really better than resentment?

Yeah. I’m afraid so. Discomfort is a moment to work through. Resentment is forever. Discomfort is like a sleepless night before confronting a task at work or presenting a report to the boss or picking up the phone to say “No” to the latest request from a friend, the kids’ school, a cause you really believe in. Oh my God, my heart is beating faster just imaging this! Does yours?

When we push through the guilt and nerves, we make the phone call and keep our promise to ourselves to say “No”, we feel relief, maybe even pride. No resentment; anxiety gone. What’s left is an eye blinking moment when we admit to ourselves that that wasn’t so bad. We sleep like babies.

What if the stakes are higher? Starting a new business, taking the first step in breaking up a relationship, facing those monstrous obstacles that get in the way of our happiness… The higher the stakes the greater the discomfort and the potential resentment.

We all know people who have “If only” syndrome. “If only I did this when I was younger,” or “if only I did that when I had the chance.” If we’re lucky we know a few people who did choose discomfort over resentment. They say, “Yup, I quit that soul sucking job, one of hardest things I ever did, and then I did something I’d been wanting to do all my life.” Or…”When I finally left him I was scared to death, but here I am free to make my own way and I’m so excited for the adventure of it all.” Often they are the same person, which can be very cool.

The Explore What’s Next logo represents a hill which itself represents a well-loved metaphor about confronting anxiety. The thing we avoid is at the top of the hill. The hardest part is putting one foot in front of the other, believing in your worthiness and strength  even when every cell in our body wants to turn around and run back down. Therapy is often about learning that you’ve got what it takes to lean into that discomfort, get to the top of the hill and enjoy the view.

Being Content to Be Okay: A Guide to Surviving Thanksgiving 2016



“He is a wise man

who does not grieve for the things which he has not,

but rejoices for those which he has.”

~Epictetus, Greek philosopher and a very wise guy

There are lots of reasons not to be crazy about this holiday. Putting up with kids that aren’t yours, in-laws who have an uncanny ability to push all your buttons, license to over-eat and over-drink, conversations that are either too intense or too boring and, my personal favorite, a lot of tongue-biting just to get through the day in one piece.

I can only imagine that for many of us this post-election 2016 Thanksgiving may rise to new heights of stressful. The confusion, grieving, fear and anger are still raw. For the sake of the children, and our own state of mind, let’s refocus. Thanksgiving is a time of healing, bringing together and above all love.

Give yourself permission to feel OK. Allowing yourself to be happy does not mean that you’ve accepted a situation you do not like, or that you are done trying to figure out your place in a changed world.

Processing the PTSD (Post-Trump Stress Disorder), figuring out what to do next will take time. For today please take the opportunity to be OK.

Here are some articles for you because there may be people who aren’t as wise as you are and won’t know when to shut up…

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!

5 Tips For Therapists When PTSD* Strikes



Van Gogh*Post-Trump Stress Disorder

In therapy, when a disaster strikes it’s usually not my disaster. Usually it’s my patient’s crisis that we address. Usually I exercise my empathic superpowers to identify with them so that they are assured I understand what they’re going through. Therapeutic empathy means identifying feelings in oneself (the therapist) that nurture the working relationship while keeping clear boundaries. Your feelings are yours, not mine. The ‘Not Mine’ part keeps me emotionally detached enough to help you.

In graduate school, professors drilled into us how important it was to keep a proper clinical distance from our patients, the same way a surgeon learns to cut in and muck around in a person’s insides without feeling that person’s pain. If we don’t, our ability to do our best job to help people with their distress is compromised.

This election of 2016 made many of us feel as if we were hit by a huge Mack truck; the same Mack truck many of our patients were hit with. What do we do then?  What does a therapist do when there is little if any distinction between the trauma their patient is experiencing and their own?

First, we do not bring up any Mack truck trauma unless our client does. That’s important. If our client does not suffer from *PTSD and is feeling perfectly comfortable and satisfied with the state of the world we focus on what is important to them. But if they do, and you are having a hard time yourself, try this:

1. Be human. A little self-disclosure can be a gift to the patient, a way of saying I get it because I’m there. The therapist has to be skilled to do this with just the right touch, not too much, not too little; but when does right it can be powerful. After she disclosed her panic, I told one patient that my brain was running away with me, leaping from “this is going to happen, then this, then that, until nuclear holocaust.” She opened her arms to me in a gesture of inclusion and said with a grateful exhale, “Yes! Thank you for saying that! That’s exactly what happens to me.”

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5 Steps For An Election 2016 Recovery Plan



The ScreamHow can a mood change so radically in twenty-four hours? Mine tanked like the Dow Jones Futures as I watched election returns with my friends, mouth agape. Imagine Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream.

Therapists are loath to publicly disclose their political leanings. Tradition from Freudian times has held us to the blank slate standard. Generally we see it as unprofessional to let show anything that smacks of personal opinion. It’s key to give people the opportunity to trust us not to be judgmental. Non-judgment is a fundamental platform of a good, trusting, working, therapeutic relationship. Therapy is about you not me.

The presidential election season of 2016 turned that standard on its head. Many well-respected psychotherapists across the country and the world felt they had to say something. This election was like no other in so many ways; this was on of them. Therapists spoke their truth out-loud due to their sense of civic duty.

I did this quietly one person at a time. If someone asked me a question directly, “Who are you voting for?” I told them. Hillary. Often the talk, regardless of which candidate my patient was for, quickly turned to anxiety. Everyone expressed worry of the outcome. There were plenty of stories in the news media about anxiety being the dominant mood in the electorate. So much, in fact, that I chose not to write about it here, on this blog.

I’m sorry about that. I feel like I let you down.

No more. We need to live on. We have people who depend on us. We need to take care of our kids. We need to work. We need to take care of our homes and parents, our clients and businesses.

To do this under the weight of the unbelievable becoming real, we need to take care of ourselves, too. I want to help. So I will share with you my recovery plan which I am sort of making up on the fly.

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Don’t Boo, Panic or Despair – Vote!



IMG_3032This morning I went to vote.

The New York weather was perfect. The autumn sun back-lit the golden leaves, the air just cool enough for a sweater. I’ve never seen so many people crowding the church hall. The positive energy in the air made me hopeful.

It was the antidote to election stress and anxiety I needed.

I love my polling place. The people who run it are wonderful, efficient, well-organized and so nice! This is where I’ve always voted ever since moving to Western New York. It’s where my children learned about voting. They would crowd into the voting booth with me, help me click in my choices and pull the lever together with one final satisfying ka-chunk!

My neighborhood is suburban so you might be surprised to hear it is also amazingly diverse. My neighbors are African American, East Indian, Christian, Jewish,  Muslim, Daughters of the American Revolution, hunters and gun owners. They are parents, grand-parents, care-givers, teachers, doctors and business owners. We are Democrats and Republicans. We all get along and we all love our country.

fullsizeoutput_be0So when I entered my polling place to see the crowd I was so happy to feel the excitement, the sense of unity and goodness in together doing our civic duty. I pray it is this way across the country.

Afterward, I went to the bake sale in the room next door. The church where I vote always has a bake sale going on Election Day. What better or more American way to treat yo’self after voting than with some cookies and an apple pie?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Nice Attack: Be Careful What You Watch



So many times, too frequently to count, I strongly advise people to give themselves permission to stay away from media  after terrorist attacks. In reference to the attack in Nice on Bastille Day, my colleague and friend, Shane Owens,Ph.D., A.B.P.P.,  wrote this:

“The footage from this attack is unusually graphic, and it is raw and widely available. I logged into social media and was hit immediately with it without clicking the GIFs.

Seriously, this stuff is different. Be very careful about what you watch and what you click on when around those of tender age or sensibilities.

One last bit of advice, if I may: please limit your exposure to any media over the next couple of days. I have noticed that people who are usually unshaken by events like those we’ve seen in the past week or so are starting to let it get to them.”

It is extremely important that we protect ourselves and our loved ones, especially our children, from being indirect, but still very real victims, of any terrorist attack. I will heed Shane’s advice and I hope you, my dear friends, will do so, too.

Dr. Owens is a psychologist based in Suffolk County, New York, Board Certified in Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology. Follow him on Twitter @drshaneowens

Soothe Your Brain With A Mindful Walk



With the recent shootings in Florida, bombings in Turkey, the Brexit vote and the consistent daily stream of stressful news it is important to find ways to quiet the mind, handle the stress and find peacefulness. But how do you do this when there is so much negativity surrounding us?

Here’s an idea! It can be as simple as going for a walk in nature. Find a bit of greenery! Simply strolling through a quiet tree-lined path in a city park or heading out to a nearby hiking trail can help you let go of dwelling on the dark side of everyday life and find some inner light. In a world that needs each and everyone one of us to be more positive and compassionate, you can impact global change by starting with yourself!

Nicole Chumksy LMHC, CASAC is an associate at Explore What’s Next and is currently welcoming people to join her on a mindful walk in nature. Click here to find out more information!

Fight Terrorism. Take Care Of Yourself.



It makes me so sick. Another gathering of innocents. Another shooting. Another massacre. More desperate phone calls. More screams. More grief so sharp it cuts through bone.

When things like this happen I give myself allowance to avoid the media. It’s too gut-wrenching. The Paris attacks, Belgium, now this. My imagination and empathy take me to such dark places it’s unbearable. So I spare myself as much as I can in order to function.

Is this selfish? I hope not. I think of it more as necessary, healthy self-care. To be able to provide empathy and compassion I need to be able to think straight. That’s hard to do when I’m overwhelmed by the utterly overwhelming reports of what happened in that nightclub.

There’s a kind of re-traumatizing that happens with too much information all at once, over and over again. The brain just isn’t built to process the fire-hose delivery of information and it literally burns out. In my case burn out means full blown panic. In others it might mean a sadness so profound it leads to despair. This is how the terrorists win. This is how they rend the fabric of our society. We must do what we can to not allow this to happen.

So I stay away from the 24 hour news outlets, especially the individual personal accounts they seem to revel in. My news moratorium does not mean I don’t get information. You can’t avoid it completely without very strong effort. Snippets come through, a headline here, an interview over the radio, just enough to be horrified but not too much to be able to handle. At least that’s what I like to tell myself.

I know the victims are people with mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, lovers, friends. Young people with the pulse of life dancing through them, simply enjoying their Saturday night. I know each and every one precious life has their own story of hope and struggle. I do not need the details force-fed to me by an all too eager reporter.

Sidebar: Do they hear themselves? Do they ever turn off the video and just listen to their breathless voices? To how excited they sound shouting out really awful things? I would be so ashamed.

As we grieve, our family, our friends, our community all need us to take care. Do what you need to do to titrate your exposure to the tragedy. Balance the exposure with walks in nature, listening to music you love, reading an escapist novel, laughing at an episode of a favorite sit-com. This does not make us insensitive. It is because we are so sensitive that we need need to be careful.

Try this Self-Care Exercise. Take a break in as quiet a spot as you can manage. Close the office door, turn down the lights. Sit or lie down as comfortably as possible. Breathe in deeply slowly, and out deeply, slowly through your nose if you can. (If not, don’t sweat it) three times. Then just breathe easily. Bring to mind the place, person or thing that gives you refuge from the storm. A place where you always feel safe and nurtured, a person who never judges, who only has love for you, a thing that reminds you of a time or place that was wonderful. Visualize your refuge with as much sensual color as you can. Smells, sights, sounds, textures and tastes all come together to create a real sanctuary where you can breathe easily, plug into your source of positive energy and recharge your battery. Give yourself a minute, ten, twenty, however long you wish to be in this place of peace.

Happy Leap Day! Time to Take A Chance!



Leap and the net will appear. ~Buddhist proverb

What you probably already know about Leap Year:

Feb. 29 is more like a catch-up day than a leap day, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson told NYT columnist, James Barron.

…the earth takes 365¼ days to orbit the sun, so a day is added to the Gregorian calendar every four years.

… leap years… have also given Ireland its tradition of the so-called Ladies’ Privilege. That is, women proposing to men. (Whether it’s a privilege is debatable.)

Of course it’s not a privilege! There’s no debate about it. It’s archaic. A cute idea for a Hollywood rom-com, but way past its use-by date.

Over thirty years ago I proposed to my husband after knowing him for four months. It wasn’t a Leap Year. I loved him, I wanted to spend my life with him. Nothing exceptional about this story except that he turned me down. I took a risk and he said no.

Was I hurt? Yes. Did I have to take a moment and rethink my plan? You bet. So what’s the point?

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