Monday, March 11, 2019

Self-Care During Busy Times

Lovely Vase and Cup of Tea by Jamie Paterno

By Mary Claire Schibelka
What do you think of when you hear “self-care”? Painting your nails? Getting a massage? Journaling? For a long time, I rolled my eyes at the thought of doing these things. “I’m way too busy for self-care,” I thought. Regardless of how many people told me about the importance of self-care, I never looked at it as a necessity. Instead, I actually believed that doing things to take care of myself would only take up more time in my schedule, hence making me even more stressed out.
            Ironically, it wasn’t until several months into my internship at The Awakening Center—when my schedule became busier than it ever has been—that I discovered the power and importance of self-care. Part of this came from taking an honest look at myself and realizing that my current self-care plan (or lack thereof…) wasn’t working. The other part came from reassessing what self-care actually meant to me and questioning whether or not that definition was flexible. What I learned is that self-care doesn’t always have to mean going to a spa or taking a luxury vacation or doing a Pinterest-worthy art project. Those things are great, but when life gets busy, they aren’t always practical. Sometimes, self-care is more about looking ahead, asking yourself what you really need, and then setting yourself up for success.
Planning. One of the most important self-care strategies I have discovered is planning ahead. Using a planner allows you to take what seems like an overwhelming list of things to do and organize it into shorter lists of what you need to tackle on a day-by-day basis. When you take on a busy week one day at a time, it suddenly seems much more manageable. Plus, planners can be great outlets for creative energy if you’re an artistic type. Check out Target, Amazon, and even discount stores like TJ Maxx for cute stickers, markers, and other supplies.
Routines. Not a morning person? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. It’s easy to opt for sleeping in and then rushing out the door in the morning. However, I think most would agree that this usually just ends up making us more tired. A morning routine, on the other hand, sets the tone for a positive and productive day. Your morning routine can start off small, with only one item on the list, like making the bed. By completing just that one task, you’re starting off your morning with a feeling of accomplishment, and this can be very energizing. The same is true for nighttime routines. Just like morning routines help us feel more awake, nighttime routines tell our bodies that it’s time to wind down. This leads to a more restful sleep, and again, a more energetic morning!
Sleep. Since we’re on the topic of sleep anyways, now would be a good time to talk about the importance of it. Sleep is so beneficial to our bodies. It’s restorative, it’s relaxing, and—in all honesty—it’s often a much-needed break from the business of our days. I’ve learned that sleep works best when it’s structured. Our bodies love rhythm. When we stick to a consistent bedtime and wake-up time, our bodies start to naturally fall into the pattern, and we can then reap the benefits, such as more energy and a better mood, throughout the day. Of course, there are circumstances in which we might need more or less sleep, like when we’re sick or during finals week. Remember to listen to your body and give yourself some grace when this one gets difficult.
Preparing. Remember when we talked about planning? This is where it really starts to come in handy. When you have a layout of what your week is going to look like, it’s much easier to figure out what you need to do and when you have time to do it. For example, if you have class at 8am on Tuesdays, and you know you’re not a morning person, it might be helpful to do tasks like showering or putting supplies in your backpack the night before. Also, if it’s difficult or exhausting for you to cook throughout the week, advance meal-prepping can be a great skill. If you have a dietitian, talk to him or her about how to prepare balanced, easily stored meals that fit your meal plan.
Schedule in fun. In the past, whenever I’ve gotten exceptionally busy, the fun activities on my to-do list were always the first to go. I believed that I could do those things only when I completed all of the other requirements. The problem with that philosophy is that when you cut out time for fun, the quality of all your other work suffers. You’re more likely to feel drained, distracted, and resentful of everything else you have to do, so you don’t do it as well. However, if you intentionally schedule in things like hanging out with friends, watching your favorite TV show, doing yoga, or whatever else it is you love, you approach your other obligations with more energy and passion. Next time you find yourself feeling guilty for taking time out of your busy schedule for fun, think of it as an investment, and then notice how it impacts the rest of your tasks for the week.

            Beginning a self-care plan can seem like a daunting task. It requires intention and dedication, and at times you may wonder if it is worth it. But take it from a former skeptic like me: When you invest in yourself, it becomes much easier (and more fun) to put forth energy into everything else. I encourage you to start slowly and choose just a few things you can implement today. Little by little, add more strategies to your self-care repertoire, notice the benefits, and above all, don’t forget to thank yourself.
Mary Claire is a graduate intern therapist at The Awakening Center. She will graduate from Northeastern Illinois University in August 2019 with an MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and will become certified as a Licensed Professional Counselor.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Still Contemplating January

Yes, I know it’s February, but we're still orienting to the new year.
           January Fun Fact: January is named for Janus, the ancient Roman god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, and endings. He is usually depicted as having two faces because he looks to the future and to the past.
            Janus fits in nicely with the month of January; New Year is a natural time of self-reflection. When we look back at last year, we can see how we intuitively want this year to be different, to be better. However, most find that by mid-January they have already broken and abandoned their resolutions. Usually that's because they made their resolution from a harsh, critical, and judgmental Part. Additionally, the resolutions may be vague or feel very demanding and perfectionistic, have no workable plan, and are not sustainable for the long run. For example, “Get healthy,” “Get organized,” “Be perfect!”
            What if we tried a different approach? Have you heard of SMART goals? SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. Let’s rewrite one of the aforementioned resolutions, engaging Wise One Within and using curiosity, compassion, clarity to create a workable plan. 
            Our SMART goal resolution says, “I will eat a vegetable with dinner, three times a week.” I'm sure you can see how that's very specific. It is also measurable—you eat a vegetable or you don’t. It’s achievable to eat a vegetable with your dinner. Realistic? Yes, you are able to do this. And timely? We said we would do this three times a week.
            Because of the way this resolution is worded, we know exactly what we are trying to achieve, and it gives us some wiggle room for those days when vegetables are not available. We don't expect ourselves to be perfect. 
            Your perfectionistic or critical Parts may not like what I have suggested. These Parts may want to force us to change even though the way it has tried in the past has not worked. Our Wise One Within knows the wisdom of trying something new, and something is better than nothing..  
Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC
Amy is the Director of The Awakening Center, which she founded 25 years ago! She is the author of Healing Part by Part: An IFS Guide to Recovery from Eating Disorders. For more information about her book click here:

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Seeing the World with Purpose

Photo by Erin Channell

By Erin Channell MA, LPC
As an art therapist, I believe that a depth of healing and growth are uniquely reached through the process of making art. Growing up people are often encouraged to create things that are “beautiful.” At some point during the early middle school years, those who do not excel in rendering “beautiful” art stop practicing and engaging in the process. What a shame, because when creativity is not fostered, it is often lost. We begin to believe the lie “I can’t.”
            One of the best tools of self-care that I have nurtured is my own practice of art-making as a way to process personal issues and gain perspective in a quickly shifting world. This is practicing art as therapy (a way to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of embracing creativity) in contrast to art psychotherapy (art utilized during therapy to enhance the verbal communication between therapist and client).            
           Personally, photography is the medium that I gravitate to when the desire to make art surfaces. There is something transcendent that occurs when I am looking at the world through a lens and purposely observing details that many others miss. I don’t mean snapping some pictures with my iPhone (however, the accessibility of iPhones has brought photography to a much wider audience). I mean charging the battery of the good ‘ole DLSR and manually changing the settings to adjust for light changes, depth, and feeling the weight in my hand as I purposely walk around observing the world around me.
            It takes a minute to fully slow down, forget about looking, and to begin seeing. I believe that this process is available to anyone who searches for it. Take a different route to work and leave 30 minutes early. In these moments of slowing down, I begin to feel full and alive. This practice of seeing highlights the importance of therapy through the process instead of becoming consumed with creating a visually appealing product.
            Challenge yourself today to bring creativity to the way you approach your daily activities. This could be creating visual art or simply approaching something mundane with a new perspective. My guess is that you will be surprised by the new flow that often occurs when you bring your creative brain into your everyday life.

Erin Channell is an Art Therapist and Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) at The Awakening Center. She facilitates a weekly art therapy group and sees clients for either art therapy or talk therapy services. She has special training in working with children on the Autism Spectrum and adults facing a range of issues including, but not limited to, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and stress related struggles.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

I Go Easy on Myself.

By Sheana Tobey, MA, LPC
So, I’ve been trying this new thing for about a year now, and I dare you to try it too. Any time I notice that I am being hard on myself—or when my thoughts start to spiral out anxiously—I stop, take a deep breath, and say “I go easy on myself.” I learned this simple mantra from an old therapist of mine. I’ve been sharing this idea with loved ones whom I notice are a bit hard on themselves too. Of course it’s so much easier to have compassion for others than for ourselves, which is why this mantra is so neat to try. It is simply presenting the idea that you CAN go easy on yourself, and things will still get done. You CAN go easy on yourself and learn from your “mistakes.”
            So often, I find that we are hard on ourselves because we think we have to be. We believe the tough love approach is the ONLY thing that will keep us motivated and working toward the impossibly high bar that the American culture encourages us to set for ourselves. So, how has that been working out for all of us? For me, it created an internal environment ruled by fear of punishment and a feeling that I wasn’t doing anything _________ enough. It felt like I could ALWAYS be doing something better, more better, or even better than that. It was exhausting.      A key piece for me to learn to go easy on myself was to identify my core values and then choose to allow them to be a guiding post. Now the bar I set for myself is simply to live by my values as much as possible. There are moments, of course, as we all have, when I act outside of my value set. And that’s when I practice going easy on myself. I go easy on myself so I can move forward with an internal environment that is nurturing and allows for growth. I am able to take these moments and learn from them, rather than become ashamed of them.
            Another large piece of learning was to acknowledge and allow myself to make these “mistakes” and then recognize that it is a human thing to do. I used to believe everyone else was allowed to make “mistakes” except for me. My bar told me I had to be perfect or get as close as possible to perfect. Only then would I have value as a person; only then would I be loveable. Once I allowed myself to make mistakes and go easy on myself when I did, I noticed that I still had value. I noticed that the people around me still loved me. The bar I set for myself wasn’t the bar anyone else even dreamed of setting for me. They just loved me. Because I am loveable. And so are you. So. Is. Everyone! Every. Single. Person. In. This. World. Was. Born. Loveable. Period. And you are no exception.
            So, I encourage you to give this a try. Introduce the idea that you are allowed to go easy on yourself by using this mantra any time your thoughts are spiraling anxiously, or anytime you are being hard on yourself. Stop. Take a deep breath. “I go easy on myself.” Repeat as many times as needed.
Sheana is a Licensed Professional Counselor at The Awakening Center working with individuals and groups. She creates an empathic, accepting environment in which she walks with her clients on a path toward peace and happiness. For inquiries or to set up an appointment, please contact her at (773)929-6262 Ext. 16 or

P.S. If you need help identifying your values, try Googling “list of core values.” Find a list that has A LOT, even one that feels like it’s too many. Then, write down next to each one a V if the value is very important to you, an I if the value is important to you, and an N if the value is not important to you. Then, see if you can identify your top 6 values. See if you can put those in order of importance. If it’s too hard to narrow it down to 6, go for 10 or 20. Whatever works for you. If you can’t identify 6, only list the ones that make sense for you. If you have questions, feel free to reach out and ask or leave them in the comment section below.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Tackling the Gut

Karlee Pinto, RD, LDN
Sometimes I think of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract as this large dance party. There is a lot going on. Everyone is spinning around on the dance floor. All different dance styles and music. Unique and individual wardrobes and personalities. So much is happening at once. The night is constantly evolving. OK, bear with me here…we don’t have a dance party in our bellies (although sometimes it may feel like it), but the GI tract is incredibly complex and intricate. It feels like we have been researching the GI system forever, yet we still have so far to go. But this is the true beauty of it. There is so much to learn and so many unknowns to discover.
            Because this system is so intricate and a hot topic to study right now, it receives a lot of attention, specifically when addressing food and its effect on the GI tract. Think about it. When you have an upset stomach, a lot of gas, or some abnormal bowel habits, often the first thing you think is “ohh…what did I eat today??” Certainly, some medically diagnosed conditions—such as an allergy or intolerance—relate specifically to a certain type of food. If you feel that you may have an allergy or intolerance, please consult your general practitioner. But in this post, I hope to provide you with a little more knowledge to help you understand just how complex this system is and how many factors impact our GI health.
            Often, when we are presented with some sort of GI issues, the immediate recommendation is an elimination diet. For those unfamiliar with elimination diets, here’s a brief overview. Individuals experiencing GI distress keep a detailed food log and deeply analyze and study the specific GI symptoms that they experience to try to link them to a specific food or food group. Depending upon the specific protocol, foods and food groups that are more common allergens and intolerances are strictly removed from the diet and then gradually added back, one by one to determine which ones could be causing the GI symptom. This may seem like a no-brainer protocol, however the restriction has the potential to be harmful and triggering to someone who has a history of dieting, an eating disorder, or disordered eating. There is a fine line between reasonable intention to take care for one’s own body and using elimination as a vehicle to manage other aspects of our well-being. Maybe it is that inner factor that thrives on controlling all aspects of the diet. Or maybe we are searching for stability in our live, so we seek this through our experiences with food. In these moments, we need to take a step back and take a look at the bigger picture. The sole focus may not necessarily be on food itself.
            Our digestive system is intricately connected to the nervous system. Our thoughts and feelings can transform into a very real, physical experience or sensation. Have you ever been super-stressed before an exam and your breakfast just didn’t sit too comfortably? Or you had a meal just prior to experiencing some unpredicted stressful situation and suddenly a wave of nausea hits? Our GI system is heavily impacted by emotions, such as stress, anxiety, fear, depression, and so forth. Surely, we could be having some other co-occurring physiological symptoms that exacerbate the feelings of GI distress and discomfort. However, add in some other strong emotions like anxiety and stress around eating, and you can see how we fueling the fire. Thoughts and emotions live in our bodies and deserve to be acknowledged while we try to understand and decipher this mind-gut connection.
            Gastroparesis is a fancy term that can be easily defined as delayed emptying of food from the stomach into the intestines. This process is caused by decreased stomach motility, or movement. In some cases, the vagus nerve, which controls the stomach muscles, is damaged. This interferes with your stomach’s ability to naturally contract and move food along the GI tract. Another possible determinant to gastroparesis could be a change in the gut microflora, which could be triggered by restricting specific foods or food groups. There could also be changes in the production of digestive enzymes. In simple terms, this variation could impact how certain foods are broken down and digested. Once restriction barriers are taken down and food is reintroduced back into one’s routine, some GI discomfort could potentially arise.
            So how do we begin to calm down this gastrointestinal dance party? How do we wind down and relieve some of this chaos? What follows are a few simple steps to help work through some of these GI issues:
Balance and Regularity
Our bodies love routine. In fact, our digestive tract prefers meals every 4 hours or so. Things may seem to pass along more smoothly when we honor our bodies’ natural rhythm. Make it a priority, and care for your body by eating balanced meals and snacks every few hours. Bring mindfulness and awareness to this need. Just as someone with the diagnosis of diabetes mellitus is more mindful of the impact of carbohydrates on their blood sugar, perhaps you may need to be more mindful of routine eating patterns to aid in the digestion process.
Stress Management
Work with members of your treatment team to develop skills and tools to tackle and manage stress. Remember, the nervous system feeds into the gut. A stressed-out mind can lead to a stressed-out gut. Consider how an emotion might be affecting your digestion just as you would question the impact of food.
The Squatty Potty
Well, I guess this is happening—I am indeed going there. Because of the body’s natural physiology, the rectum and anus are located at the end of the digestive tract. You have a muscle that sort of ropes around the rectum, kinks, and contains the stool so that you can go about our life. Using a squatty potty allows our knees to rise above our hips, mimicking a natural squat. The muscle that loops around the rectum loosens up, making it much easier to go to the bathroom.
Fibrous Foods
Are you eating a lot of raw produce or fiber-enhanced foods, such as protein bars or crackers? Highly fibrous produce can be taking a toll on our GI system as it may not have the capacity to digest all of this roughage. Allow your gut to relax. For ease of digestion, try to cook some of the produce that you believe may be triggering GI distress and see if this helps to alleviate gas and bloating.

            Most importantly, give this process time and grace. If you are experiencing GI distress and discomfort, let your treatment team know as each member can contribute something meaningful to help improve your digestive health. Allow them to provide you with that support and guidance while you patiently explore your own, individual digestion. 
Karlee is a staff nutritionist at The Awakening Center. To schedule an appointment, call 773.929.6262.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Virtual Reality Therapy with Susan Morlock, MA, LPC

By Hallie Schwartz
We are living in the golden age of technology, and mental health professionals are finding new and innovative ways to help their clients. Susan Morlock, a staff therapist at The Awakening Center, is one of those innovators.
            Virtual reality therapy offers an entirely new experience to clients. Susan explained that exposure therapy is often used with clients who experience anxiety. Her virtual reality technology brings exposure therapy directly into the office. Susan stated that virtual reality therapy immerses people in their fears in a safe environment. Fear of flying, for example, could be treated using exposure therapy. Clients would be incrementally exposed to entering the airport, checking into a flight, going through airport security, boarding a plane, preparing for take-off, and so on. Likely, this would involve clients driving to and from the airport on multiple occasions. Using virtual reality therapy allows clients to receive a very similar experience without all the travel back and forth.
            I asked Susan about her biggest success story with virtual reality therapy. She was proud to tell me that the technology, along with some additional education, helped one of her clients fly after not going near an airplane for 16 years! 
            Susan purchased her virtual reality equipment from a company called PSIOUS, which is based out of Spain. The virtual reality platform, called PsiousToolsuite, provides animated and live environments that can be used in clinical practice. Susan showed me some of the technology’s additional capabilities: typing messages to participants that can act as replacement thoughts, changing parts of the scene to make them more stressful, and the biofeedback monitor that can track physiological responses. PsiousToolsuite provides environments for more than just the treatment of anxiety and anxiety-related disorders. The technology can be used for mindfulness and relaxation techniques too. In fact, Susan relayed that she mostly uses the equipment when teaching mindfulness and relaxation to her clients.
            I was excited to play the role of Susan’s client as she showed me how virtual reality therapy works. I wore a pair of googles that had a cell phone attached as a means to provide the screen. Susan used her laptop to control the images on the cell phone screen. She presented me with a very calming scene of a green pasture with a tree in the forefront. As we worked through this mindfulness module, I watched the tree’s leaves slowly fall to the ground. I truly felt present in the moment and calmer afterward.
            Susan said that PsiousToolsuite is updating its modules all the time and offering more to mental health professionals. Virtual reality therapy does not require a certification and can be purchased online at
            As an intern therapist, I am inspired by Susan’s efforts to explore more new age therapeutic interventions and plan to do the same in my clinical practice. After all, it’s called the golden age of technology for a reason.
Hallie is a graduate intern at The Awakening Center and currently finishing her master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Roosevelt University. Hallie is passionate about working with clients who are in recovery. She has worked with clients in recovery from domestic violence, substance dependency, and eating disorders.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Starting Your Intuitive Eating Adventure

By Rachel Baker, MA, LPC
Let’s talk about intuitive eating. We all know what “eating” is. We get that part, but what about the “intuition” part? has several definitions for “intuition.” Here are two of my favorites:
1. direct perception of truth, fact, etc., independent of any reasoning process; immediate apprehension.
2. pure, untaught, noninferential knowledge.
            There are a few things that stand out for me in these definitions. First, intuition allows us to perceive “pure“truth.” Second, intuition happens without any “reasoning process,” meaning it’s not a cognitive or thinking activity. Finally, intuition is “untaught.”
            Now, for those of you thinking, “If intuition can’t be taught, and I can’t think my way through it, how will I ever learn intuitive eating?” Fear not! The beauty of intuitive eating, is that we were all born with this skill.
            As toddlers, we all intuitively knew when we were hungry, and we let our hunger needs be known. We did not pause to think about what we’d already eaten that day or if we should wait until we felt hungrier. Once we got our food, we also intuitively knew when we were satiated. We did not feel compelled, unless taught to be, to clean our plates. When we were done, we were done. It wasn’t until we got older and societal messaging told us to ignore our bodies’ hunger and satiation cues that we lost our sense of intuition.
            So, how do we find it again? Two of the most important concepts in intuitive eating practices are rediscovering our bodies’ hunger and satiation cues and trusting ourselves and our bodies to seek satisfaction in our eating. There are many ways to explore these concepts, but for now, I’d like to share one activity or practice for each concept.
            Let’s start with rediscovering our bodies’ hunger and satiation cues. I like to think about hunger and satiation on a Scale of Fullness from 0–10, 0 being, “I’m empty. I’m starving,” and 10 being, “I’m so full it hurts.” One way to begin to relearn our bodies’ hunger cues is pause periodically throughout the day, turn our attention inward, and genuinely ask out bodies, “On a scale of 0–10, how full am I right now?” The key here is to remember that intuition is NOT a cognitive or thinking process. Instead, of thinking about our fullness, we must practice asking our bodies and listening for their responses.
            Once our bodies’ respond with a Scale of Fullness number, it can be useful to ask our bodies, “How do you know that’s the number?” Your body might respond with anything from, “We have a headache,” “Our stomach has started to gurgle,” or “We’re having trouble concentrating,” on the low end to, “I feel comfortable and content,” in the middle to, “Our stomach feels full,” or “No more food,” on the high end. With practice, you may begin to notice patterns or typical ways your body let’s you know how hungry or full it is.
            Another important intuitive eating practice is seeking true satisfaction in eating. This may seem daunting, but as you practice, you will begin to discover that your body usually craves what it needs nutritionally. So, imagine that you’ve asked your body for its Scale of Fullness number, and it has become clear that it would like something to eat. Here is where the seeking satisfaction practice comes in.
            Before heading to the fridge, ask your body what kind of food would feel satisfying. I like to ask three main questions: “Body, would you like to eat something hot or cold? Sweet, savory, salty, bitter? Smooth and soft or chewy and textured?” Let’s assume your body said it wanted something hot, salty, and smooth. It might then find satisfaction in a bowl of miso soup or soft scrambled eggs, or anything else that meets those criteria. Your job then is to work to satisfy your body’s food desires as closely as you can with the foods that are available to you at the moment.
            Learning to eat intuitively can be a truly enjoyable exploration once you start. Remember, this is NOT about doing it perfectly. Instead, it’s about experimenting and staying curious. Getting support from a therapist or nutritionist can be helpful on this journey. Cheers to you intuitive eating explorers! Bon apetit!
Rachel is a staff therapist at The Awakening Center. In addition to seeing clients for individual therapy, she also co-leads the Yoga-Informed Therapy Group. You can reach Rachel at 773.929.6262.