Empowerment Through the Holidays

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This year, I’ve been creating EmPOWering playlists to help you get through tough times. (Click here and here for the others!) For some, their tough time is the spring. (Hello anxiety-inducing expectations of frolicking through fields of joy!) For others, the December/January holidays bring a sense of dread. There are SO MANY reasons why this might ring true for you - parties (all of them), family pressures, expectations of cheer (and more frolicking), life changes, winter blahs, gift giving blech, resolution pressures. It can be a whole lot of UCH. U C H !!!

This is my way of offering an extra outlet of support, because I believe that therapy can come in the form of a well-chosen song.

So if the holidays are a tough time of year for you, then this playlist is for you!

If Spring is Not Your Season, This Playlist is for You!

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It's May and things are feeling relatively Spring-tastic around here, so I'm back with the second installment in the series of EmPOWerment Playlists. Designed to help you kick butt throughout the year! 

As a therapist, I've noticed that each season can bring its own set of bleh-inducing moments. The colloquial idea of, "The winter blahs," comes to mind. (On a related note, click here for a link to my upbeat, booty shaking winter playlist.) Spring brings along images of flowers blooming, birds chirping, and people frolicking. While it can be a glorious time for some, for others it can be a season of heightened anxiety, pressures to create change, pollen-induced brain fog, and overwhelming moments of AHHH!!!! (Think: upcoming graduations, half the year is over, what am I doing with my life?) 

If Spring is not your favorite time of year (or this particular spring is sucking), this playlist is for you. 

Let's do this!

Meet Neena Buxani, Visual Artist Living Her Best Life

Everyone! Meet Neena Buxani, creator of vibrant, bold, beautiful art. She has had a nontraditional journey to becoming a professional, full time artist, and her love for this moment in her life shines through in her interview. Neena is definitely living her best life, and she has graciously shared her passion with us all. Hell. Yes! 

Tell me about yourself and what you do:

I am a visual artist. I attempt to create paintings that uplift the soul.  My artwork is an expression of a world I want to live in, where joy is a part of every moment. My portfolio is a combination of work that I create to satisfy my need for self-expression in addition to paintings created specifically for people’s homes and offices, interweaving their vision with mine.

What motivates you to do what you do?

It has been a lifelong dream of mine to be a professional artist, and I am truly lucky to have the opportunity to do just that.  My art’s purpose is to remind people to enjoy life and to be themselves. Life is too short to deny ourselves what makes us happy. In my experience, we are happiest when we are our true selves.

Tell me about a moment when you felt empowered:

I go through many moments when I don’t think I’m good enough, or when I feel like I might not be able to pull off a painting for a client. But when I hear the words, “Do what you feel is best, I trust you, you’re the artist”, then all of a sudden I feel like I can create anything. To me, when people believe in my craft, that’s empowering.

How do you get through periods of self-doubt?

I paint. I call my sister or my husband. I cry it out, and then I paint. Putting your artwork out there, whether it be at a show or on social media, is a scary thing to do. You’re essentially putting a piece of yourself on open display.  It’s easy to get caught up in people’s responses to your work and to compare yourself with the successes of other artists. Unfortunately, rejection is a part of everyday life for an artist. You need to stay focused on your goals and create, create, create. You can’t stop creating because you don’t feel good enough, because then you’ll never create. And isn’t it the whole point to do just that.

Who are the people that you look to for inspiration? What makes them stand out to you?

Strong women, like artists Ashley Longshore and Frida Kahlo, who are comfortable in their own skin. The women who don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks. The women who wear what they want and say what they think and who are forever growing in their own way. The women who make the people around them comfortable to be themselves too.

What do you want other women to know about self-acceptance and self-celebration?

It’s important to live an authentic life. Confidence is beautiful, and we should always celebrate who we are because we are all unique in our own way. We all have something special about us that we bring to the world. We all have the power to change people’s lives for the better if we are just strong enough to be ourselves.

Neena’s enthusiasm for creating is inspiring, and I’m so glad that I got to interview her! There were many great takeaways from this interview. It’s hard to pick one! Mine might be her idea to push through the moments of self-doubt and continue with your work. That is a REALLY tough thing to do, and it’s a great way to prove the negative self-chatter wrong. Uch, so good! Check out her work here. (I’m partial to her floral series, but far be it from me to limit your perusing! :))  

-  Lauren, HHT

An Upbeat, Booty Shaking, Empowering Playlist to Fight the Winter Blahs

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Damn, y'all. We are DEEP into winter, and the short, cold, gray, yucky days are starting to wear on me. I can feel my energy and motivation wane as the temperature drops. (How am I supposed to make things happen when I am freaking freezing? UGH!) That's why I curated this upbeat, booty-shaking, blah-fighting, energy-restoring, enthusiasm-building, empowering playlist, and I am listening to it on repeat. I thought y'all might appreciate it too, so I'm passing it along! 

Support comes in all forms.

What songs get you moving? They might end up on the Spring playlist, because empowerment is a year-round effort! (Thanks to those who offered their song suggestions for this playlist!)

An Interview with Jessica Luther, freelance writer, author, and social justice spotlighter

Photo taken by Janelle Renee Matous

Photo taken by Janelle Renee Matous

This month, I was fortunate enough to interview Jessica Luther, freelance writer and social justice spotlighter. She is doing truly powerful, transformative work around sports and violence, a topic that many sports professionals and fans would like to ignore but shouldn't. Luckily, Jessica won't let us. 

Tell me about yourself and what you do: 

I am a freelance writer and journalist who most often covers the intersection of sport and violence. I have a book coming out in September titled, Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape. I'm perhaps most known for co-reporting with Dan Solomon about Baylor almost a year ago and breaking that story wide open. 

I am also a mother to a nearly eight year old. I've been with my partner for over seventeen years and married to him for thirteen. I bench press, I make good biscuits, and I read a lot of romance novels. 

What motivates you to do what you do?

It feels cliche to say it but a sense of justice (or, maybe, the feeling of constant injustice) motivates me. I want the world to be a better place and I believe it can be. I believe each of us, in small actions in our everyday lives, can do that. The work I do is an extensions of this, perhaps on a larger scale. I demand care and empathy and precision in my work so I expect it of my peers, as well, which is why I find myself not just reporting but also doing media criticism. That all stems from this motivation to correct injustice as much as I can, given the limits of this world, society, and my own abilities and time. 

Tell me about a moment when you felt truly awesome:

Every single time my son, on his own without prompting, extends empathy to a friend or even just someone he has heard about, I feel like I have succeeded in life. Whenever he recognizes other people's right to bodily autonomy and expresses the importance of consent, especially in regards to other children his own age, I feel truly awesome. 

Professionally, seeing the results of our work on the Baylor story, the consequences that are still unfolding from our initial reporting, is intensely gratifying. 

How do you get through periods of self-doubt?

I have intense self-doubt that is often layered with extreme anxiety; the two feed each other. I find that the best way for e to deal with these moments is to withdraw from the work for a bit, let it simmer, and wait until I am feeling more confident. Sometimes this can take an hour, sometimes three days. And more than anything, I have to give myself permission to do this. I can't get angry that this is the best way for me to handle it or I only feed the anxiety, which then continues to fuel the self doubt. 

What do you want other women to know about self-acceptance and self-celebration?

That it's necessary and more than okay to have self-acceptance and to practice self-celebration. This doesn't make you selfish or egotistical. In a world where women so rarely are awarded those feelings and actions, providing them for yourself is critical. 

I love that Jessica points out the importance of taking time to grow in confidence. In a fast-paced, immediate-gratification society, it can be easy to forget that we need time to simmer. This is especially true in social justice work that can leave us feeling vulnerable and raw. That permission to simmer and self-compassion around the process is key. If you would like to learn more about Jessica's work, you can check out her website here. You can also pre-order her upcoming book, Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape, by clicking here

 If you would like to learn how to grow in your self-acceptance, check out my offerings for individual therapy and therapy boot camp.

Why I named my practice Hope and Humor Therapy

Over the past few months, several people have asked me why I named my practice Hope and Humor Therapy. Oftentimes others are taken aback by the name; they will ask me to repeat it once or twice. I am guessing that they expected it to be more straightforward or speak just to the pain and suffering of clients. Those things just don’t happen to fit my perspective on therapy. 

I chose Hope and Humor, because I think that those are the things that get us through the rough stuff, and they create space for joy in the therapeutic work. To me, hope is your belief that things can change. Perhaps you need me to hold the hope for you every once in awhile. Maybe you don’t know how or what needs to change in the moment, but you believe that a shift can happen. You know that your soul wants to sing a different tune.

Humor is your ability to see the lighter side of the darker moments. You won’t see it all of the time; otherwise, it wouldn’t be a tough time. Perhaps just for a second you can catch a glimpse of the lighter side. Something unexpectedly catches you as funny, or you specifically take a moment to watch a hilarious cat video. Whatever it may be, these moments break up the “blech” feeling that can envelop you during a hard time.

Both of these are key to therapeutic work. You have to believe that you can change, and you have to hold onto light moments while you change. Trying new things, creating new ways of thinking, letting go of old patterns, all of these are required in therapy, and all of these can really suck sometimes. These skills are brand new to you, and you aren’t going to be good at them at first. In fact, you might be downright horrible at them. That’s okay! Your hope, your humor, your resiliency, and our work together will get you through.

The name Hope and Humor also creates space for joy in therapeutic work. As you move through the tough stuff and learn new ways of handling it, you can have really ecstatic moments. I have them with clients all of the time, then they ask me if we are really, “Doing therapy,” since they are having fun. The answer is: Hell yes! All feelings and experiences are welcome here; this is your space to feel however you feel and experience whatever you need to experience, hope, joy and humor included.

If you are ready to experience a different way of doing therapy, connect with me here

- Lauren, HHT 

An Interview with Valerie Nies and Regina Soto, hilarious Help Wanted co-podcasters and bravely honest women

Everyone, meet Valerie Nies and Regina Soto, the two hilarious women behind the weekly podcast Help Wanted, where they interview experts on self-help topics. From first listen, their funny and heartfelt exploration of each subject stands out. They truly want to learn more about living differently, and they bring listeners along for the journey. 

Tell me about yourself and what you do:

Valerie - I write marketing communications during the day. My evenings are filled with creative projects: writing, performing, and watching comedy (I host a regular stand-up showcase at The Institution Theater) and producing and co-hosting Help Wanted. 

Regina - I'm an improviser and a podcaster living in Austin, Texas. I work for the wonderful state of Texas for my day job and enjoy being a part of the thriving Austin improv community at night along with recording Help Wanted. I have two of the sweetest dogs anyone could ask for and I cook a mean steak. 

What motivates you to do what you do?

V - Validation, usually in the form of laughter, from other people. 

R - I enjoy making people laugh, I have since I was a kid. Improv and podcasting allows me to do that and collaborate with some amazingly talented people at the same time. My end goal is to leave the world better than I found it. My hope with our podcast, Help Wanted, is that people will be able to relate to our honesty and ourselves and get some helpful life tips at the same time. 

Tell me about a moment when you felt truly awesome:

V - I felt truly awesome when I first published a piece in McSweeney's -- a humor website I've loved since college but didn't have the guts to submit anything until over a decade later. That lasted about a day. In the 6th grade I took first place in the school-wide geography bee, which surprised even me. The prize was a book on natural disasters from National Geographic, which is super funny to me. "Congratulations on knowing about European mountain ranges! Now read this book about wind speed destruction during tornadoes!" I think this might in part explain why I enjoy success for about a second before I'm overcome with dread and anxiety.  

R - I was a radio DJ many years ago. I had an idea for a half hour talk show. I wanted to talk about self-improvement topics and how to live a better life. I decided to pitch it to the President of the radio station, I so I asked him for an hour of his time, drafted up a plan to pitch to him and summoned every bit of confidence that I could find to tell him my dream. He said, "Yes, do it!" I walked out of there amazed that I had the guts to do it and that I was heard and that I got what I wanted. I felt truly awesome. 

How do you get through periods of self-doubt?

V - This is a fascinating question. I experience a lot of self-doubt with writing. The path out of it for me usually involves reveling in it first. I feel doubtful, I procrastinate and distract myself with things of varying degrees of self-destruction. I'll wast time comparing myself to others on social media, binge-watching critically acclaimed comedy, shopping, Tinder, involving myself with someone else's problems, lately I've been into small-batch artisanal ice cream. Eventually something shakes me out of it; I think I get tired of listening to myself and isolating, and I start desiring connection with other people who are doing what I do.

R - Self-doubt is tough. It'll stop you from even trying anything new, because you can talk yourself out of it so easily. I still allow myself to have thoughts of self-doubt, but I push forward and past them. When I was younger, I read a book called, Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway. It changed my life. It's okay to have doubt and fear, but you have to do things anyway. Oftentimes you have to do them while you're feeling scared. I realized that the more I did things I did think that I could do, the more confidence I gained. Even if I didn't succeed, I learned something either about myself or how to do it the next time I tried.

What do you want other women to know about self-acceptance and self-celebration?

V - Self-acceptance and celebration feel unnatural and challenging to cultivate. I'm super fortunate in that I'm surrounded by an army to remind me to do this: my therapist, friends, strong women mentors, massage therapist and self-help resources... So I think what I want other women to know is that it's our role to help other people remember to accept and celebrate themselves, because no one is going to remember to tell herself that on her own, all the time. Also, Louise Hay has a bunch of books and audio on affirmations, which sound cheesy, but I think help. 

R - I want women to know that not accepting yourself as you are is really an attack on your spirit. It makes life harder and sadder and takes joy away from the moments that could be wonderful. Life is hard enough. We don't need to add no accepting ourselves into the mix. Once you accept and celebrate who you are and what you bring to the table, life becomes easier because it's one less thing to obsess about and worry about and be sad about. We're not perfect. Our bodies aren't perfect, but who cares? We need to cherish ourselves and be grateful for what we have and not focus on what we don't have. The older I get, the more I realize how much time I've wasted putting myself down or comparing myself to others. I want to be comfortable with myself because it makes life so much more fun.

See what I mean about honesty and hilarity? I love that Valerie and Regina speak to the struggles with self-doubt. Those feelings and real, and you can also work through them. We can forget that sometimes. It takes effort, but it is possible! I also appreciate the tips of surrounding yourself with supportive people and cherishing ourselves for who we are. So great! If you want to learn more about their work, you can check out Help Wanted here

If you want to learn new ways to accept yourself, check out my offering for therapy boot camp. In five sessions, you will walk away with a new sense of self-acceptance and new ways to fight your self-doubt.

- HHT