Dear Therapist: Dealing with Disappointment

Couple opens package and is disappointed

Dear Therapist:

I had so many good plans coming up this month and now they have all been cancelled. Like, I don’t want to get anyone sick or anything, but I’m pretty bummed. First off, there is nothing else on to go out and do. Second, I have no idea if this stuff will get rescheduled or not. Dang! How do I deal with my disappointment?

Signed, I know I’m not the only one, but Corona Disappointed

Ah! So many good concerts, sports, and events on this time of year. And it’s not like we are in the midst of a winter storm which is causing the disruption, it’s a virus. Something we cannot touch or see or feel — at least not until we get it. When things are getting cancelled for snow, it opens up a whole world of winter wonderland fun.

Not the case with this one, and I think that is part of the reason this is bringing you so much disappointment. It feels out of control and unknown. Let’s face it, we aren’t waiting for the snow to melt to get back to normal. We are waiting for a global pandemic to recede and hoping to not get sick during the outbreak. This is entirely different and most of us have never lived through such a disruption.

I think focusing on your disappointment is one way to try to feel some sense of control in an otherwise out-of-control time. We know disapppointment, we can put our energy there and feel certain about how bad it feels to not get to go to the big match or that ballet performance or that concert. What we don’t know is will this make a difference? Will this be over soon? Will my actions to avoid people and public spaces make a difference?

Disappointment we can know, uncertainty is harder to manage these days. So, let yourself feel that feeling of being disappointed. Hopefully, some of these things will be rescheduled. If not, then feel it, complain about it, and embody the disappointment so you can stay tuned in to your feelings.

However, do not despair. Most likely, this virus will recede and we will be left to pick up the pieces and begin anew with new things to do and to see. That day is coming. For now, welcome in your feelings.

Dear Therapist: Celebrating Little Victories

Woman celebrates her little victories

Dear Therapist:

I know most people mark the big things in life, work promotions, graduations, anniversaries, birthdays, and more, but I am wondering if it is selfish to celebrate the little victories we may achieve on any given day? I don’t want to be seen as self-involved, but I also want to celebrate this stuff as I go along to mark what’s unfolding in my life.

Sincerely, One Moment Away From Celebrating the Little Victories

Glad you wrote in! It’s funny how down society is on noticing the little victories of our lives and celebrating them along the way. We somehow receive the message that life is not to be marked and celebrated, except for those very big milestones, i.e. marriage, having children, work promotions, a new home, an anniversary, a Birthday and, of course, the holidays.

Outside of those parameters, life is considered ordinary time. As adults, we are given the message that we must bear the ordinary days and be “OK” without anything special happening. If we are constantly celebrating, then how will there be anything special about the big moments. Rather, keep these to yourself and don’t make a big deal.

Sort of feels like these are our Puritanical roots. Head down, do good work, don’t cause any ripples – good, bad, or otherwise — and pass on calling any attention to yourself. I say a loud and strong, “No!” to this way of living.

I think any day one has good health — ie you wake up and are not in any type of pain — that is a victory day. Do you know how many people wish they woke up to a pain free physical life? We should celebrate at the start of each day when we are healthy.

All through our ordinary days, extraordinary people, events, and kindnesses unfold and they should be celebrated and noticed. In that same spirit, many small victories are won in a day that should be marked. Some of these could include:

  • Your child is toilet trained
  • The dog no longer chews the carpet and house to bits
  • You tried a new food and enjoyed it
  • You got a rebate
  • The service call you had to make had you waiting on hold for less than a minute
  • A beloved item is returned to you
  • A presentation you deliver packs a punch and people really appreciated it
  • You got to sleep with no problem
  • You found time to make dinner
  • A letter arrives with the news you’ve been waiting to hear

Goodness! Our little victories that we experience each day are not to be discounted, but celebrated. It may feel strange given the societal norms to not make such a big deal of any number of little things. Still, to get through the ordinary time, not only should you mark your own little victories, but others as well.

Let’s start a movement!

Dear Therapist: A Meditation Stance

Woman practices mindfulness at the beach

Dear Therapist:

I enjoy being able to hold a meditation stance on a daily basis, but I feel pressure to have to meditate for awhile — like thirty minutes or so. Although this is what I think I should do, I’ll admit I lose interest, my mind wanders, and it’s beginning to feel more like a chore than a time to get in touch with myself by being mindful in such a stance. How much is too much or not enough?

Sincerely, Too In My Head

Good for you for finding that meditation works for you for any time at all. The idea of meditation is exactly as you describe, i.e. a time for you to get in touch with your own mind by settling it into a quiet stance for a period of time.

However, the amount of time is not prescribed. It certainly can feel otherwise in our society, as many people go to meditation sessions and/or retreats and are “taught” how to meditate, which often includes some prescribed length of time to make your session “legitimate.”

In fact, meditation is a practice for you that is practiced based on how it feels for you. It is a completely unique practice with no right or wrong way to do it. If you are sitting in one place, with eyes closed, and legs crossed for thirty minutes that may be driving you crazy with your practice.

My suggestion: bust your meditation out! First, decide if thirty minutes is, in fact, the amount of time you want to spend. If not, decide for yourself what is the right amount of time. This can vary by day and by week. Whatever it is, make the time frame work for you.

Second, is your meditative stance working for you? Many people like to engage in a walking meditation or creative meditation via art supplies. Perhaps sitting in one place for thirty minutes hits it right for you one day and the next day sitting in a meditative space while you draw may be just right or, on other days, grabbing your dog, your hiking boots, and heading to a trail to meditate in the woods is perfect. Whatever your meditative stance, it is absolutely unique to you.

Finally, drop any thoughts that the way you are meditating is wrong. Meditation is a unique practice that is private. Being true to yourself and making yourself feel comfortable and engaged with your practice are the keys to meditating well for one’s self.

Dear Therapist: Finding hope in hopelessness

hands hold a stone of hope finding hope in hopelessness
Hands of Hope

Dear Therapist,

How does one find hope when it all feels hopeless?

Sincerely, Hoping for Some Answers

My goodness! What a great question. A few words, but it packs a punch and offers up a true conundrum for the times we are living in indeed. Finding hope in hopelessness!

Earlier this week, I was spotlighting eco-anxiety, a place where it is easy to melt into a state of hopelessness even as people say there is still hope to be found. And it is not just worries about our environment, but, in general, in America there is a lot we can look around at and feel hopeless about. Poverty, gun violence, political discord, cyber attacks, and the list can go on and on.

It also doesn’t help that everything seems to be moving at the speed of light — faster even than that! All of this hopelessness and doses of hope are served up like a fast food meal. There is hardly time to know if one can dwell in both or must we decide to be hopeless or hopeful in our lives?

Whatever it is that is causing you to feel hopeless, it is important to slow down and consider the matter. And not alone, but in community with others. If you don’t feel there is anyone you can share with, then finding other voices in media and community may be a way to feel less lonely in whatever you are considering.

From there, think about all angles of the matter. What are the positives and what are the negatives? Is there a history to the matter? What do more than one voice and opinion say. From here, you can form your own ideas. If it is a problem that can potentially have a solution, creating those ideas and implementing them may move you along into a hopeful stance.

However, sometimes we have to simply sit in what appears to be hopeless and make the matters we are thinking of “our friend” and inviting them in without having to do much of anything, but be present to our sad/bad/angry/hopeless feelings. Sometimes it is healthy to dwell in these states and gain a curious stance over what it all means for you.

Hope seems to be the thing we are all chasing and hopelessness the thing we are supposed to avoid. Flipping that idea on its head and dwelling in them both but not getting bogged down in either place may be a more authentic and honest place for all us to strive to be in during these times.

Dear Therapist: My Heart is on the Line

Dear Therapist:

I told my special someone that I love her. Dang! She didn’t return the sentiment. I’m all in and she’s not. What do I do now?

Signed, Heart On the Line

How courageous to have acted on how you felt and let your partner know. Sometimes this is the only way to open up dialogue about where the two of you are in relation to one another.

I hear how “out there” you feel given your partner has not returned her love to you. It may be a good idea to take an honest assessment of the situation – were you surprised or not? Do you feel you are on the same page with one another or did you feel that you are more invested in the two of you than your partner?

These types of questions can help you discern how you are feeling both on the surface and underneath as well. If you are in love with someone, it is natural to express it with freedom and truth. That turning toward love is worthy. Now that you know it is not returned to you in the same way, you can decide how you want to proceed with your partner and/or on your own.

This is a crossroads moment in many ways. Are you willing to wait and see if your feelings will be returned? Is it not enough to be the only one feeling the love at this point? How does your partner feel about your love? Is it prompting her to draw closer or further away from you? Notice how you are feeling as you interact and observe what is happening between the two of you.

Yes, your heart is on the line and now, because of your courageous expression of love, your partner’s truth is also on the line. What you notice and observe about yourself, your partner, and the two of you together will be key to the next steps you take.

Dear Therapist: Love Is In the Air

Love is in the Air!

Dear Therapist:

It’s one week until Valentine’s Day – to say that “love is in the air” is an understatement! Everyone is making plans, has plans, completely gaga over someone — ugh! I got no one! I’m not writing because I feel sorry for myself, although I do sometimes. More to the point, how do I get through this week when I feel completely left out.

Signed, One Lovely Heart

Yeah, I get it. Not only do I understand, I have been there myself. Haven’t we all had a year or two or three where everyone it seemed was completely in love and over the moon struck with the love bug — except you? It happens. Ugh is right!

However, these days, like all holidays, love is measured beyond only romantic love. Yes, Cupid was traditionally associated with romance between partners, but anymore love is celebrated among friends, family, and community. It is a time to bask in the glow of love — of all.

And does our world ever need this more thane ever? How to ease a heart that doesn’t have a special someone this week? Expand your thought of who a special someone is in your life?

Who is your best friend, who did something for you awhile ago that you completely appreciated, who is faithful and loyal to you, who makes you laugh, who can you call up and see the same shows you both adore — all of these people, and more, are special someones.

Celebrate them and your relationship with that person. Perhaps send a text, a note, an emoji, share a song, share a candy — whatever you have to celebrate these relationships in your life. I know it is not exactly the hot romantic dinner date that Valentine’s is supposed to promise with someone you over the moon for, but expanding out beyond this notion can really help engage you in the spirit of this loving holiday.

Celebrate LOVE with all whom you share it with this week.

Dear Therapist: Maintaining Those Resolutions

How’s It Going With Those Resolutions?

Dear Therapist:

I made a few resolutions this year. It’s the end of January and I feel like I have pretty much stopped doing them all at this point. I know it’s common enough and it’s almost February. Should I let them go or try to recommit to them again?

This is definitely a common feeling right around this point in the New Year. The excited feeling of creating something new for yourself – whether that be better health or a new habit like reading more – 31 days in and we are reminded just how hard it is to change and make something new stick.

Here’s the first thing I suggest. No matter which way you go – either to keep on trying or to let them go – be kind to yourself. In the totality of the journey we are on, it doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t. Do not use this decision to beat yourself up or be miserable.

Second, think about it. You mention you made several resolutions. Often, trying to change too many habits at once is too much and we need to enter the zone gradually. Is there one that feels really good continuing to pursue? Alternatively, do you want to keep pursuing them all and simply recognize the lull in changing? Or do you want to just let them all be and go back to your comfortable ways?

Any of these choices are valid and fine. It really has to do with you and what intuitively feels right as to how you will continue on.

Perhaps you are going to carve out a middle ground for yourself — something beyond any of those options.

Let’s say you had resolved to go to the gym five times per week. Perhaps you do not stick with any set number, but notice when you do go to the gym and count it as a time you cared well for yourself and felt good about going without the pressure of the artificial number. Basically, noticing the changes as they are organically happening. You may have more success taking the pressure off yourself.

Tomorrow, February dawns in 2020. Some of us are continuing the resolutions, many of us are not, and some are in-between. Wherever you are, make the decision that feels right for you at this moment, knowing there is space to change.

Dear Therapist: Winter Isolation

A Season of Loneliness?

Dear Therapist,

I am feeling isolated this season. It feels like I am spending more time on my own, at home, binging shows, cooking for one, and generally feeling isolated. Is there any way to alleviate my winter blues?

I get you – particularly after the snowy, cold week we have had in the Seattle area recently. The pattern almost feels painful. Get up, head to work, come home, eat dinner, watch shows, and head to bed. People are over the holiday merriment and the cold has burrowed in to make it hard to feel and/or stay connected.

What to do?

Most likely it’s going to take some energy to break the pattern, but you can choose community over isolation even during this season — even if you find it challenging.

Here are some ideas:

  1. Invite a group of friends over to watch your favorite shows together — or watch a show with a friend on-line using FaceTime or another similar service.
  2. Don’t go home right away after work. Perhaps pop into a book store or a coffee shop and take in the scene. Even if you don’t know anyone being a part of the hustle and bustle of the place will lift the feeling of isolation.
  3. Host a dinner party or a game night – make it potluck in terms of food and games.
  4. Catch a movie on the big screen – with friends or on your own. Again, being in a public place can do a lot to take you out of that felt sense of isolation.
  5. Volunteer — spend some time working on behalf of a cause you love. You will meet like-minded people and gain a sense of purpose

These are only a few of the ways that you can beat winter isolation. Anything that breaks your routine and puts you around people or involves your community will be helpful.

Spring is coming – the days are already lengthening. Winter’s grip will recede in due time. In the meantime, challenge yourself to stay connected.

Dear Therapist: Political Exhaustion

Political Exhaustion

Dear Therapist:

I am exhausted! After years of political turmoil in this country, I can’t stand it any longer. I feel anxious, concerned, and worried. Further, I am tired of arguing with my neighbors. It used to be we could all get along, but those days seem long past. How do I handle what seems to be a never-ending world of political strife and turmoil that overwhelms me on a daily basis. Help!

Wow! Your question hits home I am sure for many people. No matter which side of the aisle you are on, the discourse of what is happening along with the events unfolding each day across a wide range of global concerns is enough to want to simply close your door, pull the covers over your head, and check out!

If you are feeling this way you are dealing with political exhaustion.

Of course, this is understandable:

  • You read the paper and find yourself bombarded with news headlines that are troubling
  • There is the realization that you are only one person and the question comes to mind, “what can one person do about any of it anyway?’
  • You are on social media and there are requests for your money and time to support causes and show up to one more rally
  • You listen to the news and the political talk heads speak your language and incites more concern and worry
  • You bring up a topic or contribute to a conversation with your neighbor and all of a sudden you find yourself in a hot argument because the other is never going to see the world as you do – not interested
  • You try to refresh yourself in nature and your mind is plagued wondering if the animals and trees and fresh air will be around for your kids and grandkids

How can one continue to stay engaged without drowning in exhaustion? After all, you are only one person.

I think it is important to be honest with yourself and be true to yourself. If you are feeling exhausted, disinterested, lethargic toward all of these cares, then it is time to change up one’s routine and ways of interacting with our current political construct.

Mainly this involves holding boundaries around where you will and will not put your time and energy into and prioritizing putting time into yourself and your care. There is no fight without the people and so taking care of one’s self is one of the most critical ways to keep up the fight.

There is no shame in taking a break and refueling yourself. Here are some helpful tips to treat your political exhaustion:

  • Go on a news diet and limit how much you read and watch in a day
  • Say no to events for awhile and, when you feel ready, be discerning about what you choose to say yes to
  • Sleep
  • Self Care — whatever you do to care for yourself, do more
  • Let go of the guilt of stepping back – the struggle will still be there with you either exhausted or refreshed
  • Choose to spend time “doing good” – most likely the flow of doing something good for yourself, another, your community, your neighborhood, your friends and family will recharge you in a way that is not depleting, but fulfilling

It is inevitable to become politically exhausted. This is not a short, quick battle, but a long grind that all of us must contend with each day. We are running a marathon not a sprint. Take care of you and let go of the rest while you need and want to.

Dear Therapist: Procrastination Exhaustion

Procrastination Exhaustion – It’s Real!

Dear Therapist:

I am the worst procrastinator. Ever since I can remember, I have always put off whatever I need to do. It could be anything from work projects to school papers to getting my errands run on any given day. Help! By the time my back is up against a wall and I have to get it done, I am exhausted from all the energy I put in to not having ever started in the first place. Not good. Is this hopeless or are there any ways I can mitigate my procrastination?

Wow! I hear you! I feel you! Procrastination is a bugaboo that hounds many people. Some will say this is actually how they work best, i.e. putting things off until the last minute and then being forced to get it done (and done well) in a limited period of time.

However, if it is causing you to feel exhausted so that when you have to get to the grocery store because there is no food left in the house or the paper is due tomorrow or your big work presentation is here, then it’s not an effective way to actually work and get things done. Rather, it sounds anxiety-provoking, exhausting, and overall stressful.

However, if you have been doing this for most of your life, this is not going to be an easy habit to break. So, my first tip is to go slow with this and be gentle with yourself as you work to undertake your tasks over the course of time rather than at the last minute.

Second, it is a mental trick, but one that is helpful. Back up any due date by a couple of days to a full week. If you hear that a due date is Wednesday the 10th, in your mind and in your calendars, make the due date Wednesday the 3rd. When you play this time trick, you will be left with anywhere from a few days to a whole week to get the project/paper completed without procrastinating through the actual due date.

Third, in terms of errands, make a “to do” list for any given day and stick with it. Need to pick up the shirt at the dry cleaners today for an event tomorrow? Add it to the “to do” list and get it done – so you can cross it off. Never underestimate the utter gleeful feeling of marking off an item on a list like this. If you think it will be impossible, do you have a partner, friend, roommate who is good at getting tasks done like this and would be willing to help you out? Then delegate and ask if the person can help you out. Perhaps you can offer one of your strengths to them to return the favor.

Procrastination is never fun when it leads to anxiety and exhaustion. Finding solutions to help you out of this loop is key, but remember it will take time. One last thing you may want to ask yourself — how did it all begin with anyway? Thinking about the baseline issue of how it started may also help you gain more of an understanding of yourself as you seek to change the behavior.

Here’s to completing things on time every time without stress, anxiety or exhaustion!