Category: Stress

Science Says You Should Go Outside

UK happiness researcher George MacKerron’s Mappiness Project is an app that allows users to track activities and feelings throughout their day. The results demonstrate that most of us are the least happy at work, more happy on vacation, with friends or listening to music and the most happy while outside.

When we’re outside most of our senses are engaged, taste is tricky but we’re at least seeing, smelling, hearing and feeling the world around us. That helps us to be more present and in the moment. When we're more mindful, amazing things can happen. Mindfulness allows us to recognize that we are not defined by our thoughts but are rather observers. This distinction is important because it allows us to be happier, more empathic and more secure.

Being outside also increases our exposure to direct sunlight and production of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is a steroid hormone that the Centers for Disease Control estimates 32% of children and adults are deficient in. Maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D lowers risk of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes while increasing bone density. Researchers recommend 10-minutes exposure to midday sun as a way of ensuring you don’t fall short.

Exposure to sunlight has also been shown to help maintain good eyesight by correcting the distance between the lens and the retina which can become distorted the more time one spends inside in front of a screen.

Simply living near parks and wooded areas has been shown to lead to decreased levels of anxiety and depression and several studies have demonstrated that patients in hospital rooms with views of nature require less pain medication and heal faster than patients in rooms without views of nature.

Walking outside at a natural gait has been shown to significantly enhance creativity. Individuals who walked outside were shown to present not only more ideas, but ideas that demonstrated an increase in novelty.

Nature walks have also been linked to significantly lower levels of depression, less perceived stress and enhanced mental health and well-being.

Here's a short video that hits on most of this:

For most people, the option to get outside is accessible. It costs nothing and the benefits far outweigh any inconvenience. There are not many easier ways to improve your physical and mental health.

If You'd Like To Learn About Other Ways To Improve Your Life, Let's Talk

6 Things Anxious Partners Can Do To Improve Their Relationships

Anxiety has a way of invading all aspects of life and can have a significant impact of romantic relationships. Those with anxiety feel misunderstood, invalidated and fearful of rejection while their partners feel alone, impatient and unsupported. If you struggle with anxiety, here are few things you can do to help lessen the impact.

Reality Checks. You might think you can read your partner’s mind; you can’t. Anxiety is great for creating a narrative but that narrative is rarely based in reality. So the next time you are making up a story about what your partner must be thinking, check it out. I’m a fan of something like, “Hey dear, I know this might sound weird but I’m worried you are _____________. Should I be worried?”

Be Vulnerable. I don’t know who first used the saying “name it to tame it” but Dr. Dan Siegel has popularized the idea that by naming our emotions we can reduce the degree to which they overwhelm us. It also helps put things in context for our partners. Knowing that you're upset about something at work and not at your partner will help them to respond with compassion rather than defensiveness.

Make Sacrifices. If you want to be in a relationship and you have anxiety, sometimes you're just going to have to do the thing that makes you anxious. If your partner is always the one doing the accommodating or altering plans they're going to eventually become bitter and resentful. Acknowledge your anxiety and then do it anyway.

Ask for Help. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that up to 18% of adults in the United States suffer from some type of anxiety disorder. And while anxiety disorders are highly treatable, less than a third of those suffering seek out help. It’s important for your partner to see that you’re trying; so try.

Seek Reassurance (sometimes). “Are you ok?” “Is anything wrong?” “Do you love me?” “Are you sure you’re ok… How about now?” Get it? Dial it back a few notches. If you can't, it will only lead to your partner distancing from you which is exactly what you're trying to avoid. It’s not your partner’s job to relieve you of your anxious thoughts. That’s your work; most of the time.

Find Ways to be a Support. Relationships like balance. If your needs are taking up too much space in the relationship it doesn’t leave much room for the needs of your partner. Anxiety has a way of keeping you focused inward, making it easy to miss what’s going on with the person right next to you. Sit down and make a list of things you can do to make your partner’s life easier. If you need to, set reminders in your phone to ensure follow through.


If Anxiety is Impacting Your Relationship, Let's Talk

Can’t Sleep? Here’s Why It Happens And What To Do About It.

Most humans spend approximately 30% of their lives asleep yet 43% of Americans between the ages of 13 and 64 report they rarely or never get a good night's rest. Proper rest is a big deal when it comes to physical and mental health. Sleep deficient folks are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension and obesity as well as depression.

What's Messing Up Your Sleep

Stress at Night: engaging in stressful activities like watching the news, paying bills or having conflicts with others increases cortisol and adrenaline levels and interferes with sleep. Instead, deliberately engage in calming activities at night and save the stress for other times.

Racing Thoughts: it's unfortunate that the very things that help promote sleep - quiet and stillness - also makes it easy for our thoughts to go on a rampage. Rumination often accompanies anxiety and depression which are exacerbated when our sleep is disturbed, forming a loop that can easily spin out of control. When racing thoughts occur, one of the worst ways to deal with it is to try and force sleep. It seldom works and often can make matters worse.

Unhealthy Food Choices: eating spicy or acidic food before bedtime can increase risk for heartburn or acid reflux. Food high in fats can interfere with the production of orexin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate the sleep/wake cycle. High protein foods require extra energy to digest which, when eaten close to bedtime, can interfere with sleep. In addition, it is well documented that sleep deprived individuals tend to snack more often and crave extra carbs and fatty foods, so on top of being tired you're probably going to be struggling with weight.

External Factors: these may seem obvious but factors like room temperature, outside light, street traffic or a snoring partner can be significant disruptions to getting a good night sleep. The more you wake up during the night, the harder it is for you to transition to the deeper stages of sleep.

How To Sleep Better

  • Keep to a Schedule: our brains and bodies like consistency. Try to stick to established bed and wake times.
  • Eliminate Napping: short naps can be refreshing but if you are having difficulty sleeping at night, push on through to bedtime.
  • Avoid Electronics: blue lights from LED screens can mimic sunlight and inhibit melatonin production which regulated our sleep-wake cycle. Give your eyes a break from electronic devices before bedtime to help your hormones.
  • Dim the Lights: similar to above. Help your body recognize nighttime by letting it get dark.
  • Avoid Clocks: clock watching only serves to increase anxiety about being awake when you should be asleep. If the alarm hasn't gone off it doesn't matter what time it is. Cover the clock if you can't help sneaking a glance.
  • Reduce Alcohol: alcohol can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer but it gets in the way of REM sleep which makes you feel less rested.
  • Reduce Caffeine: stimulants = bad for sleep.
  • Avoid Nicotine: see above.
  • Exercise: studies show that sleep is significantly improved when people get 150 minutes of exercise each week.
  • Read Before Bed: reading before bed can help reduce cortisol levels and help separate your sleep time from your daily stresses.
  • Use Guided Imagery: there are plenty of apps out there. Experiment to find one that works for you.
  • Breathing Exercise: exhale through your mouth; close your mouth and inhale through your nose to a count of 4; hold the breath to a count of 7; exhale to a count of 8; repeat x3.

Sleep is a tricky matter because what helps can vary significantly from person to person. What works for me is taking a hike in my mind. If I'm having a difficult time falling asleep I'll pick a favorite trail to follow. If my thoughts start to wander, I'll get back on the trail. I seldom reach the end before falling asleep. Your strategy may be different.

The relationship between sleep and mental health can easily become circular and can spill over into virtually every area of life. Let's work together to get your life back in order.

If you are struggling with sleep-related issues, let's talk!

Creatives and Money Boundaries

creatives don't have to be poorMany creatives have a hard time putting a monetary value on their work. That difficulty is often compounded when family or friends or even friends of friends ask or expect work to be done for free. If you are a designer, photographer, writer or musician you probably know what I’m talking about.

First things first, if you haven’t already, put a monetary value on what you do. Whether an hourly or project rate, come up with a number. Then add 20% - just enough to make you uncomfortable. That’s your number.

Second, adhere to a script. Lots of folks are uncomfortable talking about money, having a script makes it easy to know how to respond. As silly as it sounds, practice saying the script out loud, it will help with recall in the moment. Examples include:

“I’d love to ______, what’s your budget?”

“I’d love to _______, my fee is ________.”

“I’d love to _______, my fee is ________ but I give friends and family a __% discount.”

“I’d love to _______ but I’m unable to take on anymore pro bono work at this time.”

Worst case scenario, if you are too uncomfortable to set a clear and direct boundary in the moment, buy yourself some time. Let the person know that you need to think about their proposal and that you will get back to them in a few days. That gives you time to really evaluate what they are asking for and how you want to respond. If you are really struggling write out your response/counter proposal in an email, that will help you keep a bit of emotional distance from the process.

If someone wants you to do work in exchange for exposure, ask them to define what the exposure will look like. You want to negotiate what they will do in a way that most benefits you. Don’t just settle for “people will see your name/work.” Ask them how many people will potentially see your name/work. Ask if they are able to promote you via their website or social media accounts. Be specific about the frequency and duration of exposure to make sure it will do what you want it to do.

Donating work for causes or people that you want to invest in is completely fine. I put some structure to that in my private practice by taking a reduced rate for 10% of my clients. That works out to about 10 appointments per month that are below my set fee. When I receive inquiries from potential clients about free or reduced rate services, I let them know my policy and ask if they would like to be on my waiting list if I can’t see them right away. I don’t apologize or make excuses. I empathize and offer referrals if they aren’t able to wait.

Most people understand and respect it when creators own their value. If you encounter a rare entitled response, run. They are going to be a huge pain in the ass to work with whether they end up paying something or not.

If you have difficulty setting money boundaries with friends or clients, let's talk!

Why You Should Read More Fiction

counseling austin tx bibliotherapyI come from a long line of readers. Growing up, my sister and I were allowed to stay up later at night if we were reading – a habit that I have mostly adhered to throughout of my adult life. My tastes are varied and include biographies, historical fiction and nonfiction, short stories, self help, professional development, best sellers and random picks from the bargain shelf at Goodwill. At the beginning of 2016 I set out to read one piece of fiction each week; I failed miserably but am well into double digits. I’m often asked for recommendations of “self help” type books for clients but more and more I find myself encouraging clients to read fictional works as a form of self care.

You should read more fiction because:

  • Reading fiction allows for an escape from the day to day pressures of life. It can reduce stress better than listening to music, going for a walk or playing video games.
  • Reading fiction puts our brains in a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, in which the heart rate slows and muscle tension decreases.
  • Regular readers tend to sleep better, experience higher levels of self esteem and lower rates of depression.
  • Regular reading can help to slow memory decline in later life.
  • Reading fiction can increase our ability to empathize with others as we explore different experiences and world views through different character lenses.
  • Reading fiction can provide an opportunity to practice interactions with others as we identify with characters without the risk of any lasting damage.

Reading fiction can open up our worlds that have been narrowed by anxiety, depression or day to day stresses. It can help challenge perspectives or it can quite simply give your brain a rest. Try reading more fiction over the next few weeks and see what impact it has.