Romantic relationships used to be the number one trigger for my anxiety. I would experience some stress and anxiety related to academics and a little in response to friendships but dating was what consistently caused me to feel most anxious. And there’s good reason, in contrast to a lot of areas of our lives, romantic relationships are one place where we don’t have much control. Sure we have agency over how we engage with the person we are dating but we can’t control how they feel about us. We can feel like we are doing “all the right things” but we can’t make someone like or commit to us. Also, romantic relationships put us in a place of vulnerability. In romantic relationships more than other types of relationships, we open up to our partners and share parts of ourselves that we are scared to let the world see. This combination of dynamics coupled with my desire for everyone to like me and the pressure I felt starting around age 23 to meet and marry the right partner made relationships a powder keg for my anxiety.
Thankfully, I have emerged from that period of my life more calm and grounded in myself, which has helped me to be much less anxious in relationships. My last relationship was a true testament to the growth that I’ve experienced in this area. While there were times when I felt anxious I was able to manage these periods and communicate constructively with my boyfriend about what I needed. Instead of getting overwhelmed and leaving the relationship abruptly or beginning to criticize my partner in response to my anxiety I learned to soothe myself and identify when I wanted to address a concern and when I could let things go.
I notice a tightness in my chest and an empty feeling in my abdomen. It’s uncomfortable. I am able to identify these sensations as signaling feelings of sadness and anger for me. I remind myself to accept these feelings as I’ve learned from both professional training and spiritual teachings. I am able to sit with the feeling for a moment or two and then my mind is off and running. Coming up with explanations about why I feel this way. Blaming someone who I think is at fault for me feeling this way. Blaming myself. Thinking of things to help me feel better. Maybe if I listen to a spiritual teaching, eat some chocolate, or drink some wine I’ll fee better. Maybe if I get some reassurance or affirmation, I’ll feel better. This usually continues for a few minutes and then in a moment of space between thoughts I am able to step back and gently remind myself to just feel it. To welcome these painful feelings like a cute puppy and to offer the feelings and myself some comfort. This is hard. I know I’m progressing in this area because my awareness of what is happening has increased. But this awareness has made it easier to see how much my mind tries to help me escape these feelings with strategies that would probably help me to feel good in the moment but ultimately don’t allow me to process and release what I’m experiencing. Continue reading “Being There for Yourself in Times of Pain”→
I love that therapy is a topic of discussion on Insecure and that Molly has started going to therapy this season. I appreciate the transition from Molly being angry at Issa for hinting that she might benefit from therapy to Molly actively engaging in therapy and Issa supporting her in the process. It would be wonderful if more friends could support each other in going to therapy and talk about how it is going. In this post I highlight a couple of things related to Molly’s pursuit of therapy that I think we can learn from.
Find the right therapist for you
During the first episode of season 2 Molly and Issa discuss the fact that Molly has met with a couple of different therapists in her effort to find the right person for her. This is significant because so many people go to a few session of therapy with one therapist and if that therapist isn’t the right fit they give up on therapy all together. One reason for this that it takes a lot of courage to go therapy and it can be disheartening to go to a few sessions with one therapist, share your story, and then figure out that person is not going to work for you. However, while finding a therapist can certainly be a challenging process it is important to stick with it until you find someone who feels right for you. Think about finding a therapist like you might think about dating. Just like you wouldn’t go one one bad date and give up on dating all together, I encourage you not to do that with therapy. Therapists are humans and they have different personalities and styles and just like you won’t be a good romantic match for everyone you go on a date with, you won’t be a good therapeutic match for every therapist you meet. Continue reading “Molly (from Insecure) Goes to Therapy: What We Can Learn from Her”→
I came back from a marvelous trip to Europe two weeks ago. The trip was wonderful in so many ways and exactly what I needed to take a break from work, relax, and feel restored.
One of the wonderful things about vacations is their ability to bring us into the present moment. The new sights, sounds, and experiences help us to stay mindful in a way that is more challenging when we are at home. Limited wifi and cell service and failing cell phone batteries help us to disconnect from social media and pay attention to what’s right in front of us. However, while it is easier to stay present and relax on vacation it is still possible to feel stressed and worried instead of calm, which is why it is important to be intentional about making our vacations restorative. In this post I share my suggestions for how to do this. Continue reading “How to Take a Restorative Vacation”→
I’m feeling burned out…I have said yes to too many things, I have too much on my plate, I have some tough things going on in my personal life and the result is me feeling burned out. One of the worst parts of this is that it’s negatively impacting my work. I love being a therapist; sitting with people, helping them to process their emotions and experiences, bearing witness to their pain, and talking through strategies to help them improve their lives. And yet, in this space of burnout I feel less empathic and patient with my clients who are most challenging. My ability to take a step back and see what is happening emotionally in sessions has been diminished. I feel guilty and embarrassed by these shortcomings. I feel badly that I may not be offering my clients the best support possible.
Part of my experience of stress and burnout is situational. I work at a university that is on a quarter system and this is the time of the quarter when we are busy and have a lot to fit in before the academic year ends. Part of this is because of my own difficulty saying no to things and my general excitement related to taking on new things. I am realizing that I need to be more strategic about what I say yes to and that I cannot sign on to everything that looks good and comes my way.
We are living in stressful times. Whether you’re concerned about the fates of Syrian refugees, undocumented immigrants, transgender people, the gender wage gap, people of color, or the environment, there are lots of things that need our support. As these issues become more present to us I believe that more people are asking themselves how they can help. More of us are wondering whether the careers that we have chosen will enable us to affect change in this world. I believe that our greatest accomplishments are those that help to solve our world’s greatest challenges. Your deepest satisfaction will come from the meaningful contributions you make to the common good.
There is an elementary school down the street from my office and every afternoon around 3:45pm there is a long line of cars with parents and caregivers waiting to pick up their children from school. At least a couple times a week this line of cars is accompanied by someone who decides to lay on their horn seemingly frustrated with the traffic caused by 5 year olds getting in their parent’s cars to go home. It always feels nonsensical to me. Why would someone honk and get so frustrated if they know this traffic jam happens every day at the same time and if they know the cause of it? Why wouldn’t they take another route to get where they need to go? Or better yet, why don’t they just relax and make their way through the line like everyone else?
It’s easy to judge these drivers who honk their horns loudly in frustration and to get annoyed at the noise pollution they cause as I attempt to provide a calming therapeutic space for my clients and yet as I take some time to reflect and use this as a metaphor I realize that there must be times and places where I do something similar.
I have to ask myself, where do I create unnecessary stress and tension while also disrupting the people around me because I’m resisting what is? Where are the places that I struggle against life when I really need to relax and let life go at it’s own pace? When are the times that I run into the same predictable barriers only to respond with frustration instead of humor and acceptance? I’m going to take some time to think about my answers to these questions with the hope that it will make my life and the lives around me more calm and peaceful. I encourage you to think about where these places are for you. When are you honking your horn during a predictable traffic jam? Where are you struggling against life?
I started to feel overwhelmed again last Tuesday morning. My to do list felt too long and the hours to get things done felt too short. I needed time to rest but felt stuck in the commitments I had already made. The combination of needing a break from work and managing a few projects outside of work was pushing my ideal balance of busyness too far. I have always tended to do too much. However, over the last few years, I have made an effort to increase my time for rest and self-care, to get comfortable spending time relaxing and not doing anything productive. Though I’ve gotten better at cutting back when I start to feel overwhelmed and saying no to things that I don’t have time for, I still struggle with these things and am making efforts to grow in this area.
It is essential for us as Black women to take a hard look at the ways we are complicit in wearing ourselves down. The stress we hold from always carrying a heavy load and taking on too much contributes to the negative health outcomes that we see among Black women. Higher rates of mortality from breast cancer and heart disease and higher rates of other physical illnesses. We also know that stress is a trigger for mental illness. There are a myriad of societal factors outside of our control that negatively impact our health and well being and it’s important that we take responsibility for the things we can control like how much we do.
There are a number of things the cause us to do too much and I’m highlighting them in this post. I encourage you to take some time to reflect honestly on the things that cause you to do too much in your life. To think about the things that prevent you from creating space for the rest and care that you need. Continue reading “Freeing Yourself from the Trap of Trying to Do it All”→
Picture a young Black girl named Lauren growing up in the suburb of a major city with her family. Her parents are married and she is the middle of 3 children. From the outside their family looks “perfect.” A two-parent household where both parents are working and the family has enough money to cover necessities and some luxury items. However, if you looked inside and observed the family dynamic you might notice something different. Lauren’s parents do not get along well and the conflict between them is frequent. They are never physically violent with each other but they pick on each other’s mistakes and have a very low tolerance for each other’s quirks. Lauren’s parents are also very critical of her and her siblings. They push them hard to succeed and are harsh when their kids do not live up to their expectations. The parents even withhold love and affection from Lauren and her siblings when they make a mistake. In order to survive in this environment, when it felt like Lauren could be critiqued an any moment, when the love from her parents did not feel consistent or stable, Lauren became a perfectionist. She agonized over everything, spending extra hours to make sure that things were perfect. She began to be self-critical to preempt the harsh criticism from her parents if she made a mistake. She has trouble falling asleep at night because she worries about her parents not loving her, about doing something that might cause them to reject her permanently. In Lauren’s efforts to adapt to a difficult home environment, she developed symptoms of anxiety. While her efforts to be perfect may have been adaptive as a child, as an adult these strategies are no longer working for her.
As an adult, Lauren struggles to do things in a timely manner because her perfectionism makes it difficult to get things done. She has internalized her parent’s critical voices and even though she lives 1000s of miles away from them she hears them in her head whenever she is about to do something new or challenging. Lauren has a hard time accepting love and affirmation from other people, romantic partners in particular, because she fears that they will leave her as soon as they find out that she’s not perfect. Lauren feels stressed and on edge all of the time; she has headaches, difficulty sleeping, and an almost constant tightness in her chest. Lauren struggles to accept feedback because she can’t tolerate looking at her mistakes in a constructive way. Lauren is struggling with generalized anxiety disorder. Continue reading “Stuck, Not Broken: Understanding Mental Illness”→
Women. Women have always been a driving force in this world. Embodying the qualities of strength and gentleness simultaneously. Women have served as protectors and providers since the beginning of time. Figuring out ways to make something out of nothing, to move the needle forward in the midst of oppression. Women have kept faith and hope going. Have sung songs and made balms to heal souls and bodies. Women have fed and clothed us. Pushed us to be be better. Women have been at the core all along.
In honor of International Women’s Day, let us remember all that women have done. Let go of the patriarchal narratives that women are weak, not smart enough, not good enough. As we continue to push the world forward and fight for the equality of all women (cis and trans) let us also remember how much we have already done. Let’s celebrate ourselves and our legacies. Let’s celebrate our known and unknown heroines. Let us bask in the glory of womanhood.
As we work to bring about change in this world let us remember the guidance of bell hooks: that we don’t just want to move up in existing patriarchal systems that oppress people of color and those who are not cis and straight. Let us not be constrained by the limited imaginations of men who created structures that were meant to exclude us. Let us work to change the system itself. Imagining something new. Imagining systems that allow us to be our full selves. Systems that support our well being and mental health and embrace all that we bring. Systems that enable us to fully embody our womanhood.