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!

Self-Love: We Pay it A Lot of Lip Service, But What Is It Really?

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Lately, I've been thinking about the idea of self-love. As a concept, self-love comes up a lot in my work and in my life. It's freaking everywhere! Our society is full of inspirational quotes about it, uplifting Instagram posts related to it, serene art images inspired by it. By the look of it, one would think that the US is fully of savvy self-love wizards who know exactly what it means to them and how to practice it in their lives. (If you are one of those savvy self-love wizards, I salute you!) 

In my work, when I ask clients what self-love means to them, their automatic response is that self-love is showing yourself love. Technically, that is 100% true. Self-love is showing yourself love. When I ask them what that means to them, they look at me like I'm being ridiculous. That's fair. I'm asking them to delve deeper into a concept that we all just supposed to know. 

At its root, what this reflexive answer says to me is that the mental health and wellness communities are not doing a good job of actually helping people explore their own ideas about self-love. We have the same shrug response that everyone else does, so we're perpetuating the myth that self-love is just this thing that we do, like breathing or thinking.

Well, tsk tsk to us.

Like most things, each person is going to have their own understanding of self-love. Some believe that it is a way for you to reconnect to who you were before you learned who you, "Should be." Others believe that self-love is showing yourself appreciation through actions. Still others believe that self-love is more akin to self-compassion. The important thing is to discover what you think! 

But how?

Let's break this down a bit further. 

In order to offer you a starting point, here's a definition that I've put together based on my work with women over the past few years:

Self-love is offering yourself the feelings that you deeply need in order to embrace your authentic self. 

Now, this may still seem floofy for people. 

(Cue the eye roll and the refrain: Feelings? Embracing your true self? Lauren, you are such a therapist.To which I say, fuck yes, I am.)

So here's a writing exercise to help you examine your idea of self-love:

Gather the materials you need to capture your ideas and find a space where you can be reflective. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Question to ask yourself: What are the feelings that I wish were most present in my life?(Alternatively: What are the feelings that I most deeply wish to feel about myself? What are the feelings that I see others embrace that I most wish I could?)
    • Example: Maybe you’re someone who has a hard time sharing your feelings with others. You definitely feel them. You meditate on them; you think a lot about them, but the idea of telling others about them makes you want to crawl into a hole. This protective reflex makes sense and can also be limiting and frustrating at times, so trust might be a feeling that you wish you had more of in your life. Generosity or grace might be others.
      • Action step: Take a moment to think more deeply about what these terms mean to you.
        • How will you know when these feelings are more present in your life?
        • Who is a person in your life who embodies one of these feelings? How do they do so?
  • Question to ask yourself: How do others already offer these feelings to me?
    • Example: Maybe you’re a confidante for others. You know their deepest wishes and struggles. They tell you that they’re so lucky to have a trustworthy and caring friend like you.
  • Question to ask yourself: How do I already offer these feelings to myself?
    • Example: Perhaps you’re someone who trusts yourself. You explore and know how you feel and why. You consistently show up for yourself by meeting your own needs and instituting boundaries as you wish to.    
  • Question to ask yourself: How can I feel these feelings more often?
    • Example: Maybe you need to stop telling yourself that others don’t want to hear your struggles, and you need to start telling yourself that seeking support doesn’t make you weak. Perhaps you need to stop feeding the, “I’m fine,” reflex and start telling people how your life is really going.
      • Action step: Take a moment to dig more deeply into this idea.
        • What is one thing that I need to stop telling myself in order to do so?
        • What is one thing that I need to start telling myself in order to do so?
        • What is one thing that I need to stop doing in order to make that happen?
        • What is one thing that I need to start doing in order to make that happen?
  • Question to ask yourself: What is one way that I can access one of these feelings over the next week?
    • Example: Over the next week, you could make it a point to answer honestly when one closer friend asks you how your day is. If you’re struggling with something, wishing that something were different, or just having a meh day, then you share that instead of answering with a general, “Good.”
      • Action step: Create a specific plan for following through.
        • Ways to do so: Make sure that your goal is realistic, schedule a time for it to happen, enlist a commitment buddy, limit the scope and amount of time needed for trying, purchase the things you need to make it happen, remind yourself that this is your first try and you will learn from the experience.
      • Action step: At the end of the week, check in with yourself:
        • What differences am I noticing?
        • How is my plan going?
        • What do I need to tweak in order to be even more successful?

I know that this looks nice and tidy in this blog post. Is self-love actually a simple thing to explore? No! This is a beginning point. Offer yourself multiple opportunities to engage with the activity. It is not a quick fix or an automatic shift. As you explore, you’ll have your own ideas and find ways that work better for you! What it does provide is the chance to really dig in and show ourselves some true acceptance, support, trust, and even love.

-          Lauren, HHT 

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!

Cultivating the Subtle Side of Self-Care. Yes, It Is a Real Thing!

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Beth Barnett-Boebel and Jessica Pearson, the dietitian and food coach team behind Path Nutrition, asked me to share my thoughts on the subtle side of self-care. Oftentimes, we equate self-care with spa days, weekends away, and grand gestures that require a lot of time, money, and effort. These endeavors become so cumbersome in our minds that we don't do them.

Self-care doesn't have to be that way!

It can be a smaller practice that you incorporate into your daily routine. (Yes, it can!) Find out how by reading the full post here

Meet Leah Shadwick, Owner of Birds Nest Acupuncture and Wonderful Human

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Everyone! Meet Leah Shadwick LAc, the warm, welcoming, engaging practitioner and owner of Birds Nest Acupuncture! Before becoming an amazing Austin acupuncturist, she was a New York City clothing stylist. We are SO lucky that she decided to make the transition. Her care for women is evident in her demeanor and her mission to help them address health issues is ever-present in her work. Makes my women’s-health-heart go pitter patter.  

Tell me about yourself and what you do?

I’m an acupuncturist, small business owner, wife, and mother.   I live with my sweet family in East Austin and my practice is Birds Nest Acupuncture, which  is centrally located in Austin.  In my acupuncture practice I specialize in treating mental health and women’s health issues.  My style of acupuncture is called alchemical, which means that I work with my clients to create transformation in their lives, that help them overcome obstacles to their optimal health and well being.  I use acupuncture to guide them through a process of healing that fosters self awareness, body awareness, and makes space for new possibilities to arise.  Acupuncture is a holistic medicine which balances body, mind, and soul.  It shifts our energy, also known as Qi,  and it is amazing what can happen when we do that… we almost always feel better!

What motivates you to do what you do?

I love the feeling I get when I start to see people look and feel better.  The day they walk into my office and I can just tell that they are changing and their health and vitality is improving.  I feel like too many people are walking around stressed, depressed, anxious, unsure of themselves, and not feeling well. This is not how we are supposed to feel!  All of these emotions and feelings have an impact on our physical health and can create disharmony, pain, and disease.  I genuinely love to help people, connect with them, and empower them to become the best version of themselves so they can follow their path in this lifetime.  Fortunately, my  job also fuels my passion for psychology, women’s health issues, mindfulness, and holistic medicine. Acupuncture can dramatically change a person’s life and I’m committed to spreading awareness about it's benefits.

Tell me about a moment when you felt truly awesome:

I feel pretty awesome these days because I’m cleansing and I’ve taken my home cooking to  a new level in my newly renovated kitchen.  

But if I think about my past, I would have to say it was right around the time I met my husband.  I had reached a really good point in my life. I was in my early thirties, in grad school for acupuncture, and on a big time path to self discovery and self love.  I dove deep into my studies and personal  growth.  I was doing tons of yoga, reading, reflecting, and learning about myself and my place in the world.  I had given up on my attachment to meeting “the one” I would marry.  Instead I was trying to focus on all the positive aspects of being a single and independent woman.  In that moment I just decided to trust that what was meant to be would be.   Then all of a sudden… when I truly let go… I met my husband. Ha! That was awesome!  It just felt like a time period when everything was just falling into place and I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

How do you get through periods of self doubt?

I meditate, I pray, or I call my mom.  Sometimes I just need to stop my over-thinking mind and try to listen to that voice inside me that knows best.  Sometimes I need a reminder that I’m okay and some reflection back that my thoughts are irrational- my mom is good at that.  There is a part of myself that tries to bully me and tell me that everything needs to be perfect, and that is just not true.  I don’t have to be perfect. I just have to be MYSELF.  I try to remind myself to do the things that “feel good” as opposed to what I think I should be doing.  I think that if you continue to do what feels right for you, then you naturally live into the places that foster self confidence.

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

Trust in yourself!  Learn to trust your inner voice and guidance.  It is there, I promise!  

If we all take some time to stop the mental chatter and listen for a moment, we would be amazed at what we heard.  I believe we all have a path and purpose in this world.  We should all learn to follow our own path and stop worrying about what others are doing.  We can absolutely be inspired by others, but we should always remember that we are own individual person and we have something unique to offer this world.  My son has this children’s book that talks about this exact sentiment and I have always liked it.  It’s titled On The Night You Were Born and my favorite line is “Life will never be the same.  Because there had never been anyone like you...ever in the world.”  Kids can naturally feel how special they are and we should learn from them and try to feel the same way.

See what I mean? Leah is so cool. I am going to take away many things from this interview, especially the ideas of creating the life you want, doing what feels right for you, and recognizing what makes you feel special. YES! Check out her work at Birds Nest Acupuncture by clicking here.

If you want emotional guidance in creating the life that you want and embracing your unique qualities, email me to schedule an individual therapy consultation!

- Lauren, HHT

 

An Ode to Not Knowing It All

Everyday, I have clients who come into my office, and they are UPSET. They throw their arms into the air and cry, "I don't know it all. I don't have it all figured out. Everyone else knows what they are doing, and I don't. This makes me feel crappy, and I hate it." I imagine that you might feel that way too. 

I have news for you: NONE OF US HAVE IT ALL FIGURED OUT!

Everyone has their issues (E V E R Y O N E), and none of us know what the heck we are doing all of the time. It's true that some of us are better at faking it than others. It is also true that some people are more plan-oriented than others. However, you are not a bad person if you haven't figured out which life path you want to take, what life goals you want to achieve, and when exactly you want to accomplish them. This is a highly perpetuated myth that social pressures (see also: social media) and our anxious/perfectionist brains have brought upon us, and it's bullshit.  

In fact, I hear these exasperated feelings from so many people, so often that I wrote an ode to not-knowing-it-all. I figure that this concept could use a spotlight in order to fight this shame-inducing hell spiral. 

An Ode to Not Knowing It All

We feel like we must know it all
We must have our lives planned from birth
If we don't, we've dropped the ball
Our selves no longer having worth
People will know
We're frauds, fakes, and fiends
Everyone will run away, leaving us alone
We will toil through life with nothing to show
Never having reached our dreams
Our life never really being our own

Believing everyone else has it figured out
Our friends, family, and neighbors constantly thriving
They have everything, you scream and shout
They always know for what they are striving
Their social media is full of joy
Their lives are so easy
They never question their options or choices
Their lack of a plan will never annoy
They will never know what it is to wake up feeling queasy
Their constant response to life is to say YES with their voices

Take heart, one and all
None of us really know what we are doing
We're all meandering down the life path feeling finite and small
Our fingers are crossed and our feet constantly moving
We're hoping to minimize our pain and strife
All the while recognizing that we know very little
And we can control even less
Take solace in knowing that you are making the best decisions for your life
Instead of feeling like you must know it all now, your path consistently whittled
Celebrate not knowing by inhaling a deep breath and giving yourself some peace from the must-know-it-all stress
Remember that you are doing what you can
You are evolving at your own pace through YOUR lifespan

If you want help breathing deeply as you grow at your own pace, check out my offerings for individual therapy by clicking here

- Lauren, HHT

My Most Helpful, Advice-giving, Navigation-supporting Work of Last Year

I am a lucky therapist. Last year, I was invited to do quite a few amazing things, including co-host a body positivity workshop with Path Nutrition and contribute to a re-imagined, anxiety-themed, Candy Land game for Almost Real Things. I facilitated a workshop for Moms to help break the silence around parenting perfectionism. With Launch Wellness, I created an opportunity for other therapists to acknowledge how freaking hard it is to be a business person and a clinician simultaneously. I also interviewed several bad ass Austin women, including journalist Jessica Luther and comedian Maggie Maye

If I had to pick my most helpful, advice-giving, navigation-supporting piece of last year's work, I would choose guesting on the Help Wanted podcast to discuss vulnerability (i.e. the stuff that makes us go AH! ICK! UGH!) It was great to talk about such a blech-inspiring topic with smart, honest, funny women! They asked me insightful questions and challenged my therapist brain. I shared a bit of my experience with the icky parts of vulnerability, as well as helpful tips and tricks for how to deal with the blech. If you have ever thought, "Oh hell no, I am not sharing _______________ with anyone ever. Just the thought of it makes me want to run and hide and never leave my apartment," then this podcast is for you! Check it out here

- Lauren, HHT

(Metaphorically) Set Your To-do List on Fire

I have a recurring dream. In it, we all set our to-do lists on fire and frolic in the Zilker Park grass instead. We talk about all of the wonderful life experiences we have had thus far. We slowly drink iced tea and ponder how the wildflowers became so persistent in their growth. We give ourselves permission to swim in Barton Springs and to hug puppies. We hike the Greenbelt and revel in the fall weather. Later, we eat at one of the new Austin restaurants that are always popping up. We do not talk about what we accomplished that day, and we do not hive five one another for completing more tasks than we thought mortally possible. Instead, we talk about our deep, soulful wishes. We close the evening by playing music and dancing under the stars, reveling in our freedom. Our to-do lists have gone up in smoke, and there is no turning back.

Okay, how many of you completely missed the beautiful imagery of frolicking and dancing, because you were hyperventilating at the thought of your to-do list crumbling to ashes?

Take heart. Having worked with perfectionists for a few years, I recognize the beauty and the curse of the to-do list. The beauty is that it keeps you organized. It is a way to prioritize and manage your workload. It is a concrete way to measure your productivity. You get to triumphantly mark off your accomplishments. Getting through it can be a slight (major?) adrenaline rush. People high five you for completing your to-do list. All of those things are great. (Yay!)  

The challenge is when your to-do list becomes an overwhelming, life-squashing, fun-killing mechanism for your inner perfectionist critic to beat you down with. If you consistently think, "I can't go to ____________, or I can't do ___________. I stall have things on my to-do list. I always complete the day's list. I must complete the day's list. It's what I do. I FINISH MY TO-DO LIST NO MATTER WHAT," then you might want to rethink your relationship with your to-do list. It could be tipping into unhelpful territory. (Boo!) 

If and when you are ready, here are some helpful questions to ask yourself in order to help you tame your to-do list (or set it on fire, whichever you prefer). Use your responses as a guide to shift your relationship with your daily tasks:

  • Can a human realistically complete everything on your list and take care of themselves at the same time? Is there anything on this list that could wait until tomorrow? Next week?
  • Where is the pressure coming from to complete everything on your list NOW? What would you like to change about that? What feels possible to change?
  • What will happen to you physically, emotionally, socially, financially, and spiritually if you do not finish everything on your list today? Is this picture accurate?
  • What is one joyful thing that you could do with your day if you re-prioritized your tasks?
  • Have you ever had a day when you abandoned your to-do list and chose to frolic instead? What did you need in order to get into that head space? How could you get back there?
  • What meaning have you associated with completing the items on your list? Do you want to keep feeding that story? What is one thing that you could do in order to step away from that myth?
  • What do you need to start doing in order to make it possible to tame your to-do list? What do you need to stop doing? What is necessary for those to happen?
  • What can you tell yourself in order to soothe the to-do list monster when it raises its ugly head?
  • If you feel comfortable involving others in the process, how could the people in your life help you? How could you ask them for support?
  • What sorts of reminders could you keep around in order to support yourself in this change? A quote? A song? A drawing? A scent?

I will close with a therapisty piece of advice if you choose to accept this quest: Remember that changing your relationship with your to-do list is a process. Some days are going to go more smoothly than others. Some tools will be more helpful than others. The important thing is that you recognize the issue and are trying to live differently. 

If you want extra support around this, set up a therapy consultation session with me

Lauren

 

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