Monday, September 10, 2018

I Worried


by Mary Oliver

“I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?
Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.”

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For One Who Is Exhausted, a Blessing


by John O’Donohue

When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight.

The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.

Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.

The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.

You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken in the race of days.

At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.

You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.

Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.

Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.

Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.

Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.

Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.

Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.

Letting go of Anxiety with Qigong


by Karen Steinbrecher

Qigong is a tool to transform emotional energy, anxiety, and stress into positive energy.  Life today demands a seemingly endless amount of energy and all too often we are left feeling drained and exhausted, stressed, perhaps anxious. Qigong is a way to help.  Everyone needs more energy, but some of us have forgotten how to access it.  These slow, flowing and meditative,  healing movements help us to let go, unlock, move on from stressful, anxiety-producing emotions. Qi is vitality, and Gong means practice. Thus, this practice helps us to empower ourselves and place more inspirational and positive energy into our mind, body, our emotions. You can learn more about this five thousand year old practice in Karen Steinbrecher's Tuesday and Thursday classes. 

Try this You Tube demonstration with Lee Holden called “An evening practice”.  It can be practiced at any time to help us release emotions we do not want in our life:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybffyTvgTzA. To experience Qi Gong at the Resiliency Center or learn more, check out Karen's class schedule on out Resiliency Center calendar or contact her at karensteinbrecher@msn.com or 215-836-7184.

Learning to Let Go of Anxiety and be Fully Present to your Life

by Heather Hill, MSS, LCSW

In my therapy practice and through personal observation, I’ve noticed that anxiety seems to be on the rise.  Anxiety can be a normal response to stress.  It’s a feeling of nervousness or unease, about an imminent event or a situation with an uncertain outcome.  It’s the alarm system in our brains that tells us danger is approaching and prepares us to fight, flee, or freeze.  However, anxiety can turn on us when our alarm system is sensitive or faulty, setting off emergency sirens all the time.  When our alarm system isn’t working properly, excess anxiety creeps in and interferes with our ability to be present, enjoy ourselves, and take risks to achieve meaningful goals.  Our lives become smaller and smaller and we feel worse about ourselves.  Anxiety can be persistent, like a weed; and if it’s not tended to, it can choke out the healthy life around it.  Fortunately, anxiety can be kept in check if you learn, and more importantly practice, the art of letting go.

Why Anxiety is on the Rise
Adults and teenagers are suffering from anxiety more now than in the past.  The American Psychiatric Association found that Americans are more anxious than they were a year ago on five measures: health, finances, safety, relationships and politics.  While it’s hard to draw any definitive conclusions about why this is so, many researchers suspect that the political climate, 24/7 news cycle, environmental degradation, and social media create a vicious cycle of fear and powerlessness. This article shares more: https://www.psychiatry.org/newsroom/news-releases/americans-say-they-are-more-anxious-than-a-year-ago-baby-boomers-report-greatest-increase-in-anxiety

Teenagers are also suffering from greater anxiety and depression. Researchers like Jean Twenge who wrote the book IGen point to a shocking increase in teen mental health problems with the advent of the Iphone. This article shares more: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/11/magazine/why-are-more-american-teenagers-than-ever-suffering-from-severe-anxiety.html]

Strategies for Letting Go of Anxiety:

1. Connect to Nature

Many people feel less anxiety after spending time in nature.  Outside in a natural setting, our senses can be more engaged and we are less distracted by our minds.  In addition, we are most likely exercising when outside.  A Stanford study found that walking for 90 minutes in nature vs walking in an urban setting had an effect on the prefrontal cortex in the brain that is responsible for rumination. Read more about the study here:  https://news.stanford.edu/2015/06/30/hiking-mental-health-063015/ 

You don’t have to be close to a forest or a beach to reap the healing properties of nature.  A picture or a view of nature has been shown to relieve stress and anxiety. “Nature, whether you’re in the woods far away from it all, in a city park, or simply walking down a tree-lined street, has the power to make people feel new again. Studies have shown that a simple walk in nature can reduce anxiety, keep your spirits high, and even improve memory. Even just looking at photographs of greenery for less than a minute can give you a mood boost. Spending time in nature reduces stress and helps people feel energetic and more alive, according to scientists at the University of Rochester (Brown and Ryan, 2003). A recent study used mobile EEG devices to monitor participants’ emotions during a walk in nature. Researchers also found that people were more likely to experience meditative-like brain waves and exhibit less frustration if they were walking in a green space, compared to a bustling shopping street or a busy business area (Aspinall et al., 2013).”  Read more at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6085576/

On the Restorative Nature Walk held here at The Resiliency Center every Monday, you can practice many of the suggestions listed here to identify, accept, and let go of your anxiety.  During the walk, we don’t try to achieve a certain amount of steps; but walk mindfully and slowly, stopping when a butterfly or bird delights us.  We strive to be present to ourselves, each other and the natural world and by the end of the hour, we all feel slightly less anxious.   

2. Return to the Body
According to Deepak Chopra (Read More at http://www.oprah.com/spirit/deepak-chopra-breaking-the-cycle-of-anxiety ), anxiety gets stuck when it stays in the mind.  If we recognize the energy we are devoting to thinking and overthinking, and tune in to the way our bodies are feeling, we can return to a natural state of calm.  Chopra advises that if we break down anxiety into each bodily sensation, we address one sensation at a time and gradually calm the entire body.  For example, if anxiety makes your breathing shallow, concentrate on taking slow deep breaths.  In addition to this practice, exercising, gentle stretching or yoga will help regulate our nervous system and help restore balance. Elsewhere in this newsletter, Karen Steinbrecher offers a Qigong practice for connecting with the body to release anxiety. 

3. Surrender the Ego
We may feel like we have to shoulder the burden of our fears alone because we don’t want to appear “weak”.  Or, as a defense against uncertainty, we paradoxically try to control more, not let less.  Acting counter to that instinct, by admitting your human limitations and practicing humility could yield greater connection to self and others.  Sometimes telling one other supportive and trusted person how we feel can be the most powerful step in reducing the negative impact of our fears.      

4. Start Meditating
When anxiety threatens to overwhelm your capacity to cope, it is a great time to begin a meditation practice.  One unique way to start meditating that incorporates nature is to find a “Sit Spot”, or a place you are drawn to in nature that you visit regularly for your meditation practice.  Find more information about it in this article: http://inmynature.life/ideal-sit-spot/

5. Turn off the Phone
Social media and technology magnify worry by making us feel like we are missing out on news, social events or the latest trends.  We blur the boundaries of work and home life when we have access to emails right in our pockets.  We have a minute to check social media and we find ourselves suddenly feeling angry about something not “liked” or a tweet.  Try an experiment and turn off the social media for one month. 

6. Add in Gratitude  
In the tunnel vision of anxiety, we are probably not aware of gratitude.  At any time, no matter what is going on, one can always find something to be grateful for, especially by looking around in the natural world.  Start a Gratitude Journal, to capture moments or observations in your day that you’re thankful for. Sometimes, this practice helps us develop the mental flexibility to change channels or expand awareness and therefore dilute the anxious thoughts.

Heather Hill, MSS, LCSW has been a psychotherapist for over 10 years. She specializes in helping teenage girls and women who struggle with anxiety and depression. Heather is passionate about using nature and ecotherapuetic approaches to overcome mental health challenges . She can be reached at Heatherhilltherapy@gmail.com  or 215-485-7205.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Mending Wall - by Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbours."
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbours? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down." I could say "Elves" to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbours.”

Source: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/mending-wall

Protecting Your Creative Spirit

by Rachel Kobin

Just as setting up healthy interpersonal boundaries is an important part of taking care of yourself, so is having clarity around how you want to share your creative output. Writing is my area of expertise, so I’ll focus there, but the issues I’ll briefly discuss are equally applicable to the visual arts.

First, let’s illustrate the distinction between making art and performance: making art can be purely personal, such as journaling, while as with a performative art, an audience is invited to hear the work read aloud or it is read on the page. Understandably, sharing new work makes writers (and artists) feel vulnerable—they’ve just poured a part of themselves onto a piece of paper. This is why, if a writer chooses to invite someone to read their work, they need to be clear about what kind of feedback they need and want to receive.

In the Tuesday-night workshops I lead, participants learn how to respond to newborn writing without making any negative comments. This is because the writing is done during workshop time, and no one has had a chance to edit their work. Even when writers bring in pages they’ve polished outside of workshop for us to “critique,” we begin by talking about everything we liked about the work, and we point to specific sentences, sections, or events in the piece that we enjoyed. Then, we move into answering questions like “What did we find confusing?” or “Which parts stood out as not as strong as the sections we liked so much?” The members of the workshop are asked again, to be specific, to point out actual examples in the text rather than make sweeping statements like, “I just don’t like romance stories,” because a comment like that will not help the writer of a romance to make their story even better. Most importantly, the discussion concludes by returning to what we liked about the work, again, which allows the writer to go home feeling good about continuing to work on their draft.

Similarly, it’s important to refrain from judging the content. For instance, the writer may hold an entirely different opinion than the reader does about a very controversial topic. The job of the reader providing feedback isn’t to argue with the writer’s perspective, but to help the writer make the most cogent possible argument supporting their point of view.

After eight years of leading workshops, I can testify to the number of times we’ve all laughed about how hard it is to show our work to friends, family, and romantic partners. The truth is that non-writers aren’t as interested, or they may feel they don’t “have what it takes,” to respond, which is why finding a group of other writers is so valuable. However, reassuring the reader that you value their gut reactions may help, and it also helps to give them specific guidelines such as those I outlined above. Timing is important; no one likes being ambushed. If you present your writing, give the other person the time and space they need to read your work and get back to you, but be clear about how and when you’d like to receive the feedback.

Most of all, create as if no one will ever see what you’re making. Decide later how, when and with whom you’d like to share, but if anything or anyone begins to shut you down in any way, step away and find the support you need.

Rachel Kobin is the director of the Philadelphia Writers Workshop. Rachel uses the Amherst Writers & Artists™ method to create a supportive, collaborative setting for writers of all backgrounds. The workshop allows beginners to explore their unique voice, and provides experienced writers a forum where they can further develop their craft. For more information www.phillywriters.com or email rachel@phillywriters.com.

Boundaries Are Essential Self-Care

by Jen Perry, MSEd, MA, LPC

Boundaries are a natural part of life and relationships. There are physical boundaries like our skin and personal space, boundaries on our time, financial boundaries, interpersonal boundaries. Dr. BrenĂ© Brown simply defines boundaries as what’s ok and what’s not ok ~  “Yes” and “No.” Being aware of and becoming skillful at communicating clearly our boundaries is well worth the effort and can save us from much stress and bewilderment in our relationships.

Unfortunately, most of us are not taught to be thoughtful and communicative about our boundaries, nor aware and respectful of others’ boundaries. Boundaries seem to be largely taken for granted, and this is fine when things are going smoothly. There is an underlying assumption that we should know other people’s boundaries and they should know ours (mind-reading, anyone?). However, when an unspoken boundary has been breached, there is usually an emotional flare that alerts us to the need to speak up and assert a boundary. This can be difficult if we are not trained to think of boundaries in this way ~ as something that we need to maintain and make others aware of. Instead, we often get upset that others don’t know our boundaries and don’t observe them. As Dr. Brown says, we believe that “people are sucking on purpose just to piss us off.” There is another way.  What if we assume that people have a low awareness of boundaries in general - and that, therefore, it is up to us to firmly let others know what’s okay and what’s not okay? And what if we also assume that we may not know their boundaries either - not until they tell us. Whew ~ can you feel the generosity of spirit in that? That people, us included, are generally doing the best they can, and a lack of clarity about boundaries (not bad intentions)  may be at the root of much misunderstanding.

The ability to know and state our boundaries clearly is an essential part of taking care of ourselves and lowering our stress levels. Instead of getting all muddled in the emotional fallout and confusion interpersonally, we can assert and observe our stated boundary. It clarifies things, takes away the complicated guessing and shadow-boxing we get ourselves into when things are unclear and bewildering. Essentially, our boundaries take care of us. Being able to clearly and without guilt assert our boundaries can drastically lower our stress levels.

A word about guilt in this situation. We desperately need a new word in the English language. For example, let’s say my mother really, really wants me to attend a family reunion. Something happened and communication faltered somewhere and I promised my kids and husband that we would go out of town that same weekend. Someone is going to be let down. There is a space/time/energy/can’t-be-two-places-at-once boundary at play here. Ugh, but I. Feel. So. Guilty. “Guilty” is the word commonly used in this situation. I haven’t done anything wrong. I have not done something for which guilt is appropriate. The word we need is more about the feeling we get when we disappoint someone because we we are constrained by a personal boundary. In this case, I want to follow through on what I promised my kids and I need to let my mom down. If I am afraid to tell my mom (or friend, sister, co-worker, etc) because I feel guilty and am confused about and unskilled at communicating boundaries, it leaves so much room for confusion and stress. If I’m avoiding the situation, my mom will start wondering why I won’t answer her calls, let her know when I’m coming, or tell her if I’ll bring the broccoli salad. She will start to get irritated. I’ll get irritated too: “Doesn’t she know I’m busy and overwhelmed?” No, actually, she isn’t thinking about that. She can’t read my mind, and I’m being sketchy because I’m avoiding feeling guilty and letting her down. Instead, I could offer her empathy and sit in the discomfort of disappointing her. I could let her know my boundary. Accepting that boundaries are a normal and natural part of life relieves us ~ not of our obligation to communicate early and often, but of feeling guilty and confused and bewildered by our own boundaries and others’.

Some thoughts about how to increase your skillfulness around sensing and communicating your boundaries clearly:

Seek your truth so you can speak your truth: Check in with yourself, get a sense moment to moment of what is okay with you and what’s not okay. What does your inner compass say? Yes? No? Remember, many (not all) boundaries are fluid and flexible. Sometimes we need to live our way into answers about our boundaries ~ it is important to continue to ask ourselves what is alive for us in the moment as we are figuring out our boundaries. Ask for time if you need it as you are figuring out what works for you and what doesn’t. Dare to ask yourself, “What do I truly want to do in this situation?”

Assume that the other person is doing the best they can. They most likely have a low awareness of your boundaries and other constraints on your energy and time. Remind yourself that boundaries are a natural and normal part of life and you, too, are doing the best you can. Remember we need a new word ~ it is normal and okay for our boundaries to disappoint others sometimes. We can offer empathy for this without resentment, guilt, or beating ourselves up.

Try your best to separate the boundary from your feelings about it. This can be a little tricky to understand. An emotion, particularly a strong, negative emotion is often a signal, a flare, that a boundary needs to be stated and maintained. Take care of your feelings separately from maintaining and communicating about your boundary. They are two separate things. Accept the fact that in our society humans are pretty confused about boundaries in general, violations will happen, and clear, consistent reminders may be necessary.

Kindly but firmly state your boundaries. Repeat as necessary.

Please keep in mind that this article focused on addressing boundaries between people on the level of preferences and negotiating things like time, energy, and other finite resources that are a part of everyday living - NOT on instances that are abusive or toxic. Boundary violations that are harmful or hurtful need to be dealt with far more strongly to ensure safety. Please reach out if you are experiencing more complex and toxic boundary violations. Your safety is essential.

Jen Perry, MSEd, MA, LPC has been a psychotherapist for over 18 years. She specializes in helping highly sensitive people thrive in love, work, and parenting highly sensitive children. Jen is passionate about using mindfulness and compassion-based approaches to ameliorate human suffering. She can be reached at jen@heartfulnessconsulting.com  or 215-292-5056. Learn more at www.heartfulnessconsulting.com.