Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Managing the Emotional Thermostat

By Rachel Baker

Self-care and coping are terms that get thrown around quite a bit. They are often presented as interchangeable, but, low and behold, these two types of activities serve us in very different ways. In the most basic terms, self-care serves as a nurturing, preventative measure, whereas coping skills assist us in the heat of a triggering moment.
Let’s use a metaphor to illustrate this point. Imagine that you are a house. Your house has a physical body--the walls, roof, windows, and doors. Your house also has an internal emotional life, in this case, the temperature inside. We each have a unique temperature (emotional) range at which we feel comfortable. So how do we keep our houses in that comfortable zone?

You guessed it, self-care and coping! Self-care is all of the daily, weekly, monthly maintenance work you do on your house to make sure it has the capacity to stay in that comfortable temperature (emotional) range. You make sure that your windows and doors close securely to keep out the elements. You insulate your house. You set your thermostat to a comfy 72 degrees.

Self-care is the stuff that feels good and is good for us. Activities like spending time with loved ones, eating balanced meals, getting enough sleep, seeing a therapist, going to the doctor, joyfully moving our bodies, spending time in nature, making art, gardening, seeing a play, reading a good book, or anything else that brings a smile to our face is self-care. These activities keep our physical body and internal emotional life capable of maintaining our healthy, comfortable range.

OK, back to our house metaphor. Now imagine that all of a sudden, your AC unit breaks down in the middle of a heatwave. Time for coping skills! You might close your curtains, turn off all of the lights, and get out your backup fans.

Coping skills are the methods we use to deal with stressful situations. When our emotional thermostat shoots above our comfortable range and we feel angry, we might hit a punching bag, throw ice into a bathtub, take a vigorous walk (or stomp) around the block, or rip up an old phone book. When our emotional thermostat drops below our comfortable range and we feel sad or depressed, we might take a warm bath, call a friend, curl up with a good book, or listen to soothing music. After a stressful situation, coping skills help us get back to a content emotional temperature.

All in all, we need both self-care and coping skills. Following a daily or weekly self-care routine can minimize the opportunity for stressful moments. Of course, life is unpredictable. Sometimes our AC units break and we pull out our coping strategies. Self-care and coping look different for everyone. Trust your inner wisdom and start experimenting today!

Rachel Baker is a Staff Therapist at The Awakening Center who works with individuals and groups. Using a holistic approach, she strives to help clients discover a place of peace within. You can reach her at 773.929.6262 ext. 21 or at rachel.baker3523@gmail.com.


Monday, July 25, 2016

Meditation Monday: Is Intention-Setting a Setup for Judgment?

By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC
In an effort to take the “manic” out of “Monday,” this weekly post explores techniques, issues, latest research, and other thoughts on meditation. Nancy facilitates two weekly meditation groups at The Awakening Center. For more information, contact her at 773.929.6262, extension 17 or nancyhalltac@gmail.com

If you’ve ever been to a yoga or meditation class, you probably have been asked to set an intention for your practice. The idea is to create a vision for yourself—to add some agency. Meditation in particular can feel like a passive activity and setting an intention can shift this.

However, what happens when the intention becomes a distraction? And what about when you don’t “measure up” to your intention? Judgement. Self-criticism.

For some, intention-setting in meditation can shift the focus from the present to the future. It can turn the practice into a results-oriented endeavor. Which is why I like to offer my group participants an alternative.

“Take a moment to welcome yourself into your practice.”

There is a sneaky intention there—to come into the present. Whenever we welcome ourselves into a moment or activity, we orient ourselves to the present. And we take ourselves out of the sidelines. We open the door to full participation and it becomes harder to be a passive participant in our own lives.

Welcoming yourself can take a variety of forms. It might be mentally noting what you’re doing--“I’m at work now.” “I’m am talking with my friend now.” You might also observe what’s happening in your body—“My stomach has a knot.” “My palms feel tingly.”

Sometimes the story we tell ourselves about our lives can create a barrier to coming into the present moment. If we’re ruminating about what the boss thinks, focusing on the tasks at hand become even more difficult. However, acknowledging what you’re doing in that moment takes you out of your head and into your life.

So take a moment to welcome yourself into your day.

Enjoy your practice.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Meditation Monday: When the World Falls Apart

By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC

In an effort to take the “manic” out of “Monday,” this weekly post explores techniques, issues, latest research, and other thoughts on meditation. Nancy facilitates two weekly meditation groups at The Awakening Center. For more information, contact her at 773.929.6262, extension 17 or nancyhalltac@gmail.com

In recent weeks, I’ve had several clients express embarrassment over talking about their own feelings and problems when the world around them seems to be on fire. Suddenly, they feel that their worries are small—even insignificant.

The violence and hatred cast long and heavy shadows over everything. But this is not new. Throughout history, humans have shown that they are capable of unspeakable acts. It is an unfortunate reality of our existence. Yet, we don’t exactly know why. Evil? Psychosis?

What we do know is that people don’t cause suffering unless they’re suffering themselves. A perfectly content, accepting, and peaceful person does not decide to murder police officers or tourists.

And acknowledging this suffering does not excuse the horrific behavior. It does, however, give us a context. Which leads me back to my clients. Each person who comes into therapy or attends a group has decided to take responsibility for his or her suffering. So while the fight with a partner or struggle at work might feel petty, processing those battles helps calm the discontent that poisons the world around us.

Many find reflecting on the world’s events can help them realize their own problems are manageable. But we can also be good at using these crises to dismiss ourselves. “People are suffering in Syria—who cares about my body image issues?”

Unfortunately, suffering is not a zero-sum game—there is plenty to go around. But there is also plenty of healing, kindness, and peace to go around too. While your pain might feel small—it isn’t. And each step toward healing yourself heals the world.

Enjoy your practice.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"Toxic Friendship": A Poem by HJ

It's hard to understand how an eating disorder takes hold--how seductive it can be. One of our clients has written the following poem that beautifully describes how this "toxic friend" works its way into the heart. She has graciously given us permission to share. Special thanks to HJ.

Toxic Friendship

Lower and lower,
Into the abyss
Without even knowing.
Power and control--
All corrupt.
That's how it starts.
It feeds on insecurity.
An insidious disease
That pretends
To be your friend.
Its gift is the needlepoint pillow:
"You can never be too rich
Or too thin."

People reach out
To keep you from falling--
But you push them away.
You don't need them,
You already have a friend.
And so it goes,
This game of numbers.

One day you get up
Only to fall down.
The game is no longer fun.
So you grasp the hands
Reaching out to you--
As you realize
It was never your friend

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

TAC Book Review: Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi

(2010 ISBN 9781439177785 Publisher Atria Books)

 By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC

The first time I saw Portia de Rossi was on the TV show “Ally McBeal.” Wildly popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I never really got into it. None of the characters seemed real to me—everyone was kind of cartoonish. The addition of Portia de Rossi to the cast apparently sent shockwaves into the series. She played Nelle, a buttoned-up ice queen with her blonde hair squeezed up in a tight bun. But Nelle evolved and showed her sexier side, modeling underwear and freeing her tightly bound golden locks.

What viewers didn’t see was de Rossi’s off-screen suffering. Her anxiety about appearing on TV in just a bra and panties. Her panic about not fitting into the wardrobe provided. Unbearable Lightness reveals a life of struggles—from the loss of her father, to her battle with eating disorders, and shame over her sexual identity.

De Rossi’s memoir does not shield the readers from the details of her eating disorder behaviors. She graphically describes binges and purges. She talks candidly about her quest to eat as few calories as possible and her compensatory behaviors to offset what she did consume. This book is not for the squeamish or the easily triggered.

Eating disorder behavior is very isolating and shame-filled. Sufferers engage alone and then describe feeling “disgusting,” “ashamed,” “mortified,” and so forth. Because of de Rossi’s willingness to spell out it alarming detail the specifics of her behaviors, she confronts that shame and rejects isolation. It’s like she’s telling her readers, hey, I know what you do in the darkness and you’re not alone. I’ve done it too. It’s going to be OK.

As we so often tell our clients, eating disorders are not about food, exercise, and weight. And de Rossi’s story illustrates that as well. As a young adult, she knew she was a lesbian. But she could not come out and tried to bury her identity. Then, once she became famous in the U.S., she felt even more pressure to hide her true self. And this shame—this sense of feeling flawed and unnatural—provided fuel to the eating disorder fire.

Unbearable Lightness describes de Rossi’s eating disorder, but the real story is in how she connected with her true self—the person she was born to be. Through that exploration, she has been able to recover and find peace.

I recommend Unbearable Lightness if you are solid in your recovery. As noted earlier, the details could be triggering. If you’re just starting your journey, then perhaps you could read (or listen to the audiobook) with your therapist or support group.

Crisply written, de Rossi’s candor is oddly shocking and reassuring. She has crafted a memoir that offers hope without easy answers, inspiration without quick fixes.

Keep reading!

If you're interested in purchasing this book, visit Women and Children First Bookstore's website for details on how to order. A phenomenal Chicago independent bookstore, since 1979, W&CF has been been a great place to explore books from local writers, feminists, LGBT authors, and political activists. Their selection of children's books is unparalleled.  Next time you're in Chicago, head on up to Andersonville and tell them the staff at The Awakening Center sent you!

Nancy is a Staff Therapist at The Awakening Center. She sees clients individually and facilitates the DBT group, two meditation groups, and an ED therapy group. You can reach her at 773.929.6262 ext. 17 or at nancyhalltac@gmail.com.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Meditation Monday: Lessons from a Busted AC

By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC
In an effort to take the “manic” out of “Monday,” this weekly post explores techniques, issues, latest research, and other thoughts on meditation. Nancy facilitates two weekly meditation groups at The Awakening Center. For more information, contact her at 773.929.6262, extension 17 or nancyhalltac@gmail.com

The air conditioning at The Awakening Center has not been working for nearly two weeks. And when I say not working, I mean dead, kaput, get out the bugle and play “Taps.” And it’s been hot here in Chicago. Needless to say, my reaction to this hasn’t been the most gracious.

I actually like summer. But I do not like to be hot indoors. There is something about it that makes me feel sort of cornered. It’s hard to describe. I get antsy and distracted. I fantasize about driving around with the AC on max. I look for a reason to go to a grocery store so I can loiter in the frozen foods section. Being outside in hot weather is different from being inside. It just is.

I know—first-world problem. I have lived without AC and survived it just fine. But it took a recent group and time with my clients to help me gain some perspective and get my sweaty head out of my own…well, you know.

During the most recent meditation group, the window was open and fans were on high. Birds sang as I led the group through a progressive relaxation. As we processed the meditation, one participant noted how once her eyes were closed, she felt like a kid again. The gentle whirring of the fans and the street sounds took her back to summertime from her childhood. Days spent playing and then napping when the heat became overwhelming. She remembered lying on the couch, pulling her hair up off her neck, hoping for a little relief.

These were not days without stress or worry. But she was able to connect to moments of presence. When time seemed to stand still as the sweat rolled down her temple. To a time when acceptance was the only option when it came to summer heat.

I realized then that fighting the heat just made me feel more uncomfortable. The more I worried about my melting makeup, my sagging humidity-laden hair, or whether I put on enough deodorant, the more disconnected I became. Yes, it’s been hot and stuffy and sticky and stinky—all of that. But so what. It’s also been vibrant and alive—which is wonderful.

Oh, and a new AC is on its way thank goodness!

Enjoy your practice.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Meditation Monday: Accepting the Unexpected

By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC
In an effort to take the “manic” out of “Monday,” this weekly post explores techniques, issues, latest research, and other thoughts on meditation. Nancy facilitates two weekly meditation groups at The Awakening Center. For more information, contact her at 773.929.6262, extension 17 or nancyhalltac@gmail.com

We all know the stereotype of a meditation practice—sitting with pretzel legs, eyes closed, palms on knees with middle finger touching the thumb. And that is a perfectly fine way to meditate. But for those who don’t think they can sit too long in that position, there are plenty of other options. Take, for instance, a tea meditation.

A meditation focusing on tea can take many forms. The idea is to mindfully attend to each step along the way—boiling the water, listening to the sound the water makes as you pour it into the cup, feeling the warmth, watching the tea steep, inhaling the aroma, savoring the taste. Each step stimulates a different sense.

And you can have some fun with the tea options. In a recent meditation group at The Awakening Center, we sat and mindfully watched Peach Momotaro blossoming tea as it unfurled in hot water. Well, sort of.

As the group leader, I wanted the experience of watching the tea bloom to be awe-inspiring. I imagined the participants being moved by the display. Needless to say, my anxiety was triggered when the tea didn’t cooperate. The tea bundles floated for a while … kind of looking like dead fish. It took all my will power to not start poking at them or jostling the vessel.

Eventually, they began to painfully slowly open up. And they were pretty. Just not spectacular.

 And that was OK. The joy of the meditation was finding our patience and acceptance. The purpose was to provide a focal point and sensory experience for the participants—not to impress them with my miraculous tea display. The light fragrance was wonderful and the peach flavor was subtle but enjoyable.

Once I let go of my own expectations, I was able to admire the blossoms as they were. Experiences like a tea meditation help us let go and accept the beauty in how things are—not as we wish they would be.

Enjoy your practice.