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Well, that did it! I was just starting to get into the spirit of things too! The tree is up and decorated. I even put out lights this year! The holiday music is playing and the dogs are wearing their jingle collars (they really like it, seriously, they do!!). Then, I make the mistake of heading out to do some simple shopping. I figure, it’s monday, middle of the day, how crazy can it be? Yikes!!! It took me half the day to simply go to the store to buy some supplies. The parking lot was a survival of the fittest competition. Human compassion, politeness!? I think not! Every holiday shopper for themselves!!

While my painful shopping experience is a bother, it in no way compares to the real and devastating depression and anxiety many folks feel this time of year. The holidays can remind us of both happy, and not so happy times. We have intense expectations for ourselves and our families, that we should be happy, joyful, be able to get in the spirit. Yet many of us struggle with that expectation, and end up feeling down and out, depressed, and stressed. The holiday blues are upon us.

So here are some helpful (and holistic!!) tips to support you and your family as we move through this both wonderful and potentially overwhelming time of the year.

Body

Our ability to cope with stress, to be resilient in the face of overwhelming situations (like shopping!), is directly linked to how healthy we are. Most folks find that their normal regimens of care get interrupted during this time of year. Our trips to the gym, to the yoga studio, our daily runs all get pushed aside. As a psychotherapist, I notice that many of my clients take a couple weeks off during this time of year. This is usually a great idea, to take a break. But for many, taking a break at this time can be detrimental. So, do your best to stick to your daily routine. Get up at your regular hour, even if you’re not working (OK, you can sleep in on New Year’s 🙂  ). If you are on a regular excercise routine, stick to it. And if you are in therapy, or receive other supportive care, like massage, acupuncture, and reiki for example, continue to do so during this time. Heck, why not increase the care you are receiving?

In addition to our physical routine, our dietary routine takes a beating this time of year. How much sugar have you ingested this week??  Sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and foods we don’t normally eat become fast friends during this time. While you don’t have to be a Grinch and refuse everything, you can enjoy the staples of the season in moderation. Do your best to stick to your normal dietary regimen while you also enjoy that extra cookie or glass of egg nog. Increase intake of vital nutrients and stress busting substances like vitamin B and Rescue Remedy. Consider a multi-vitmin.

Mind

During this time of year, I tend to remember all of the holidays of the past. Each ornament Andrea and I hang on the tree has a story to it. For many folks, these memories are not always pleasant, and can be traumatic. Remember that memories are simply thoughts. When our brain has a thought, it gets connected to a feeling, and then begins to work its way through our system, creating moods, emotions, and behaviors. This is normal and natural. However, when those thoughts are painful, like difficult holiday memories, feeling alone, not meeting your own expectations for how you should feel this time of year, this normal progression can cause us intense suffering. The antidote is mindfulness. If you have a mindfulness practice, this is the time of year to increase it, not take a break. If you don’t have a practice, consider starting one this year, as a way to connect to yourself and with the spirit of this season. All you have to do is find 5-10 minutes, sit down where you won’t be interrupted, and focus on your breath. Each time your mind begins to wander (and it will!!!), just relax and return your focus to your breath. Check out this great video of Thich Nhat Hanh on mindfulness practice!  

Spirit

What is holiday spirit? How many times have your heard someone, or yourself, say “I’m just not feeling the holiday spirit this year!” Holiday Spirit means many things to many people. It’s a religious time of year for many faiths. It’s a time of year for giving and compassion. For others its simply about the colors, sounds, and smells of this time of year. We can’t always rely on a white Christmas, or being able to be with our families. But we can create a feeling of spirit. Fill your time with the sensorial experiences of this time of year. Your ears will be happy to hear wonderful music! Turn it on! Attend a concert, or a church service! Your eyes will appreciate a spin around the neighborhood at night to see the lights. We have a drive-thru nativity in our area that is feast for our eyes and ears!!  Your tongue is just waiting to sample the tastes of the season!!  Take it in! (in moderation!)  🙂

Another big way to get into the “spirit” is to give. And I don’t just mean buying stuff for people. Give in other ways. Spend your time donating, volunteering. Serve Christmas dinner to the homeless. Go caroling! Consider giving all the money you spend on presents each year to a worthy charity on your family and friend’s behalf. One of the quickest ways to get over our own holiday blues is to make the holidays for those less fortunate than ourselves a happier and more fulfilling time!

Feel what you feel! One of the biggest contributors to stress and anxiety is our own expectation of how we should be feeling. Just feel what you are feeling. If you’re sad, go ahead and cry. The more time you spend beating yourself up about not feeling the spirit, the harder it will be to do just that. Yet, if you just allow yourself to feel, accept yourself without judgement, most likely you will start to feel the spirit.

I hope this helps in some way. As always, feel free to be in touch!

Happy Holidays!!!

Chris Tickner is a Pasadena psychotherapist, child therapist, and clinical supervisor practicing holistic psychotherapy, where he combines mindfulness psychotherapy,  somatic therapy, neuroscience, and good old fasion humor and compassion to form a a powerful treatment that is transformative and holistic.  There are thousands of California psychotherapists, and finding a counselor or finding a therapist can be daunting. On his website, Chris provides a primer to help you find the therapist that is perfect for you! Chris is also a Pasadena therapist specializing in anxiety psychotherapy and depression psychotherapy.

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 “At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.” – Lao Tzu

I was recently given the honor of serving as the Topic Expert Contributor of Somatic Psychotherapy at GoodTherapy.org. Each month I’ll be contributing some new content on the subject and will share those articles here as well. Enjoy!!

What I find that many first time somatic therapy clients what to know is, what actually happens during a real session? How is Somatic Psychotherapy different from other forms of therapy? There is often a concern that because we include the body in our work, that somehow this will make things uncomfortable, or a little too out there. Therefore, I have included here a brief transcript from a recent session. I feel serves to provide a road map of sorts for a very typical somatic psychotherapy session. Keep in mind that for every somatic therapist out there, there is a unique way to do this work. No two sessions will be the same. But there are some key elements that I highlight in this session that are typical.

John is a 53 year old marketing executive. He originally came to me with complaints of depression, an increasing reliance on alcohol to feel “good,” and a life long sense of “not being good enough.” At the time of this session, John and I have been working together for about four months.

John enters the room and for the first five minutes or so we engage in chit chat, checking in with each other, exchanging pleasantries, that sort of stuff. John starts to talk about a situation at work that has left him feeling angry and nervous. He had given a presentation and felt he had done a pretty good job. In the break room just following the presentation, John’s boss approached him and asked if he was feeling alright today. A little confused, John indicated he was fine and asked why. His boss noted that John’s presentation seemed “off” and was “less polished” than usual.

While John is telling me this story, I’m both listening to the words, to the content, but I am also carefully listening to his body. I note that his breathing has increased and is coming more from his chest. His face is flushed, the muscles in his jaw are clenching, his right hand has formed a fist, and his feet are moving back and forth.

C: John, I’m curious as you tell me this story what you are noticing happening internally.

J: I’m pissed! I mean what kind of comment is that? What a jerk! (his fist comes down hard on the couch)

C: Yeah, you are pissed! Do you notice how your hand is now a fist?

J: Yeah! And my jaw is really tight.

C: Ah. Yes, it is tight. Just allow yourself to stay with all of that. Notice your breathing, allow your body to speak a little here.

This moment is an important one in any somatic session. We are moving out of talking about things, away from the content and from story telling, to mindfulness and present moment awareness. John has done this before with me, but for several sessions we worked together to help him develop this capacity to notice himself, without any judgment or need to change anything. John becomes curious about what his body is doing, and without losing the story, is able to gather important information about how the story is impacting him, not just in his thoughts, but physically and holistically as well.

J: Wow. I can’t believe how tight I am! My whole arm is tightening up.

C: Stay with that, notice what your arm wants to do.

J: It wants to pound on something! (he starts to make pounding movements with his arm. John pounds his fist a couple of times, then a long pause as he continues to be mindful.)

C: What’s happening now?

J: I feel sad too.

C: Ah, just stay with it and notice. (long pause). See if there is something familiar about this, or if there are any images, or memories.

J: (after a very long pause) Yeah. This is familiar. I’m having a memory of my dad. I’m like… seven or eight… and he is angry at me for something. Oh my God! I haven’t thought about this for years. He was angry that I didn’t catch the football. I was playing football and they passed the ball to me, and I dropped it. (John starts to cry, takes his time).

C: What is happening now in your body?

J: I’m sad, and angry. You know, that wasn’t fair! I was only a kid. (tears and anger) I didn’t do anything wrong! He had no right to be angry at me like that, did he?

C: No, he didn’t John. He really didn’t. That must have been very painful for you.

J: Yeah, it was, it is. (long pause)

C: What do you notice now?

J: My arm is relaxing. I’m thinking about Jim at the office and what he said to me. I think he was sort of like my dad in that moment.

C: Ah, yeah. Jim became your dad?

J: Yeah, and I just automatically reacted to it.

C: Makes sense. Your body wanted to protect you from that shame again, hunh?

J: Yeah. But Jim was actually being nice. He was more concerned about me than judging me. You know?

C: Yeah. Sounds like Jim really cares about you.

J: Yeah, he does. (starts to cry some)

This one short segment of John’s session outlines a very important and typical process in somatic work. We often start with whatever is happening for the person that day, something form work, from their family life, a dream, anything. We move from story telling into mindfulness and pay attention to the body, allowing it to unfold and move. From this place, new information becomes available to the client and they often make discoveries about how they function in the world. There is often a deep sense of appreciation and acceptance. As the body is allowed to move, energy that has been blocked or held for some reason, is able to move through, and we often experience relief and resolution.

This pattern can repeat several times during a session, and can include simple awareness of the body, movement, sound, reenactment, and touch.

So, in some ways, somatic work is very simple. We aren’t trying to figure out complex problems necessarily, or think our way through an issue. The problem is presented and then we create an environment in which the body can speak. All of the answers and resolutions to our problems are held within the body, we just have to be quiet enough to listen and follow.

Chris Tickner is a Pasadena psychotherapist, child therapist, and clinical supervisor practicing holistic psychotherapy, where he combines mindfulness psychotherapy,  somatic therapy, neuroscience, and good old fasion humor and compassion to form a a powerful treatment that is transformative and holistic.  There are thousands of California psychotherapists, and finding a counselor or finding a therapist can be daunting. On his website, Chris provides a primer to help you find the therapist that is perfect for you! Chris is also a Pasadena therapist specializing in anxiety psychotherapy and depression psychotherapy.

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