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“Being depressed is a lot of work!”

depressed

I was having a conversation with a friend who is successfully recovering from a debilitating episode of depression several months ago. She was floating in a sea of hopelessness. She never imagined she could feel as good as she does today.  She was listing all the strategies she continues to implement in order to maintain her progress. Things like, daily exercise, sun exposure, a depression program that includes books and audios, medication compliance, ongoing counseling and psychiatry appointments.  She candidly told me with a chuckle, “Being depressed is a lot of work!”  This was not only funny but always so true.

Unfortunately, so many people want to find relief from their symptoms without doing the work that it entails. Sometimes that involves tangible tools like programs, or journaling, or homework.  Sometimes, it involves being utterly raw and vulnerable with yourself and your therapist.  That is hard! But if you want different results you have to step out of your comfort zone and do something different.

Motivation to change will happen when the pain and fear of remaining the same outweighs the fear and pain of changing.

I suppose it is human nature, especially in this day and age, to expect instant results.  We want to put in the least amount of effort and get the most results. When has that ever worked? And yet we cling to that mentality when it comes to our physical health as well as our mental health.  We want to loose weight and get fit but we struggle to eat right and exercise long term.

Sometimes we can continue to place responsibility outside of ourselves and onto the therapist to say something magical that is finally going to fix everything once and for all, ignoring all the homework that has been assigned or putting in a half-hearted effort inside and outside of session. That approach doesn’t work in dieting and it doesn’t work in therapy.

My friend is investing in herself. Sometimes she has to challenge the thoughts that she is being selfish spending so much taking care of herself. But the truth is without her self-care she wouldn’t be able to take care of and enjoy her family, home, and business.  She sees the value in doing the work because she is motivated to stay better.  She knows how crippling depression can be and doesn’t ever want to go back to that dark place.  She is simply compliant. She does the work. She reaps the benefits.

What about you? Are you ready to reap the long-lasting benefits of counseling?  Let’s get started!

How to dramatically decrease (or eliminate) any negative feeling in 90 seconds

 

Happy woman jumping in golden wheat

 

What if you could virtually eliminate any distressing feeling you have in the span of 60-90 seconds?  Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But consider what you do now when you are anxious, upset, or stressed? We all tend to avoid our negative feelings through distraction or denial.  It is our human nature to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Freud got that much right! We want to do more of what feels good and avoid hurt and pain as much as we can.

While intellectually we might know that it is not always possible or good for us to avoid pain, instinctively it is our natural tendency.It is because of our tendency to avoid feeling upset that we suppress these feelings.  I mean, who wants to feel bad right? So we distract ourselves with our phones, food and drink, music, TV, or facebook, to push the feelings away.

Here is an example of how we do this and the outcome that it has. Imagine being in a pool with an inflatable ball. It is light and full of air while the water is heavy and dense. Have you ever tried to hold a beach ball under the water?  You can do it right?  But it takes a great deal of effort and strength.

Now what happens when you release the ball?  Does it float gently to the surface?  No, it erupts through the surface of the water. This is precisely what many of us do when we are triggered by a strong emotion. We try to suppress it for as long as we can exhausting ourselves, but it never really goes away does it? Then with the slightest trigger, we spew all over those around us, those that don’t deserve it.

Our children and loved ones are on the receiving end of our emotional outburst.  We all have been there, myself included. So how can we make ourselves feel better, not just temporarily, but experience real relief from the negative feeling?

Enter in The Pure Awareness Exercise.

Here’s a little therapy secret.  A felt feeling dissipates.  A suppressed feeling will always pop up, somewhere else again. I promise.  Because it is still there.  It didn’t go away. I propose to you to invite your feelings in. To do what is counter intuitive and sit with those feelings. Experience them to their fullest.  Is this going to feel good?  No. But are you interested in feeling better in the long run? Yeah, me too! The good news is the exercise only lasts a minute or so.

How does this work exactly?

  • Get alone somewhere quiet for just a couple of minutes. Literally, like 2 minutes. That is all you need.  I know how hard that can be with little children around or noisy work cubicles. But just find a place you can be undisturbed. I have escaped to a locked bathroom on numerous occasions!
  • Begin to conjure up the feeling in your body. You do not need to relive the upsetting experience or rehash it in your mind. That becomes a mental exercise (and not a very useful one at that). Just start to get in touch with the feeling. How your felt when the triggering event happened. Experience it on the fullest level you can imagine. (Spend about 30 seconds on that)
  • Let it grow, expand, get bigger. This is where it will be at its worst. You are OK.  You are perfectly capable of handling this. (30 seconds)
  • Then notice any experiences you may be feeling in your body. Is your chest tight? Is your stomach in knots?  Are your hands tingling? Put your attention there.  Notice the sensation in your body.  It is Ok if you don’t feel anything physically.  Your not doing it wrong. (30 seconds)
  • Most importantly, just stay with it. Notice that your mind might want to distract you from it. Just bring yourself back to what you are feeling emotionally.

And that’s it. How do you feel after?  Did the feeling dramatically decrease or was it eliminated entirely?

This is not a cure for a major depression or anxiety disorder.  This exercise is for heavily charged emotional reactions that we experience as a result of a situation we deem as stressful, negative, or, upsetting. You can do it again and again…in only 90 seconds.

I can help walk you through this process. Call or Email today for a free consultation.

 609-576-2586

 

hilaryakman@onlinecounselingsolutions.com


 

Is Online Counseling Right for You?

You’ve heard of physicians using tele-health with patients and maybe you have even heard of online counseling. Most service professions seem to be crossing the internet boundary. How does it really work? Is it really possible to get the same top notch service as you would in a counseling office? The answer is a resounding yes.  Here is how to determine if it is right for you.

After moving from New Jersey to Florida I converted my traditional office based practice to an online-based practice. The reactions from my clients were resoundingly positive.  They enjoyed not commuting to appointments or sitting in crowded waiting rooms. They found that nothing was lost in the quality of therapeutic rapport.

So what are some other benefits to online therapy and is it right for you?

  • Flexibility- Appointments can be scheduled at the convenience of busy professionals and parents. Most of the appointments I offer are in the evenings to accommodate busy schedules.
  • Convenience- Sessions can be done within the comfort of your own home or office. No commuting to and from appointments. As long as you have 4 walls and a door your sessions can be conducted anywhere.
  • Increased level of privacy- no awkward moments running into others you know in the waiting room.
  • Increased level of comfort during the session because you are in a familiar setting versus a professional’s office. This often helps you to feel more relaxed which improves rapport and trust.

I would be remiss not to mention the disadvantages of online counseling, technology being among them.  Most notably, screens can freeze, internet connections can be sketchy, video resolution can be fuzzy.  These are all drawbacks for therapist and client alike.

Both traditional and online therapy are imperfect.  Both have their limitations. Online therapy is effective for many types of problems and people.  It is an ideal fit for those with social anxiety, agoraphobia, and panic disorder as well as mild to moderate depression where getting out of the house is often a huge obstacle to treatment.  It can also be a lifesaver for couples or single parents who can have a session after their children are in bed and can’t afford a babysitter on top of the expense of counseling.

However, online therapy is not a good fit for everyone, particularly those with Major Depression and suicidal thinking.  For those types of issues a face-to-face in person counseling session is better suited.

Online counseling has shown to “have a similar impact and capable of replicating” face-to-face counseling sessions (Richards and Vigano 2013).  It is becoming more and more prevalent as another effective avenue to provide services to those who cannot access more traditional types of care or who prefer not to.  See if counseling online could work for you.  I would be happy to speak with you to answer any questions you might have.  Call today for a free phone consultation!

Richards, Derek (09/01/2013). “Online Counseling: A Narrative and Critical Review of the Literature”. Journal of clinical psychology (0021-9762), 69 (9), p. 994.

Consciousness vs. Unconsciousness Series 3 of 3

So I promised that I would show you how to move through your feelings instead of being ruled by them. The pathway is through the title of this series. It is  in noticing when we are being driven by our unconscious.  For it is in that moment when you realize that you have been lost in ruminations of your thoughts and old behavior patterns that you have become conscious!

I’m going to delve right in and give you a practical exercise that you can walk yourself through whenever you find yourself experiencing an intense negative emotion. This is an exercise I use myself and often walk my clients through during sessions. Once the awareness is there, you have made a a huge leap in taking charge of the emotion. So many times, we find ourselves heading to the kitchen cabinets or reaching for the bottle or other substances when we are in the grip of strong feelings.

The beauty of this exercise is that is only takes about 60-90 seconds! So no excuses! I have done it with my kids around. You can do this in your office, with others around if you have to.  Ideally, you should be somewhere where you can be alone and without distractions.

  1. Close you eyes and begin to take slow deliberate breaths. On the inhale, expand your belly like a balloon and on the exhale push all the air out.  Continue this deep, slow, belly breathing through the entire exercise.
  2. Allow yourself to feel this feeling you are having.  Don’t think about the thoughts or situation that contributed to it.  Just focus on the feeling.  Allow yourself to feel it fully.  Ask  yourself on a scale of 1-10 how intensely am I feeling this feeling? (10 being the strongest you can imagine)  Go inside of it, explore it with an open, curious mind and with out judgement.  At this point it will intensify- it will become stronger and get bigger and more intense.  Your body is completely safe to do this.
  3. Begin to notice where you are feeling this feeling in your body.  It is motoring through your body somewhere.  Key into this and really feel where in your body you experience some sensation.  Is there a knot in your stomach? Are your shoulders tight?  Maybe your hands are tingling? Focus all your energy  into this physical manifestation of your emotions. Allow it to expand. Keep breathing into it.
  4. At this point approximately 60-90 seconds have passed.  What are you noticing? Ask yourself now how strong your feeling is? Has your feeling  lessened?  Did your number go down? It is beginning to subside isn’t it?

You have just experienced a truth- that a fully felt feeling dissipates. It is released.  Accumulated negative feelings come out somewhere.  They have to surface somewhere in the body.

We live in a society in which giving ourselves the permission to pay attention to what our feelings are telling us is discouraged by phrases such as, “get over it”

Have you ever tried to hold a beach ball under water in a pool?  You can only do it for so long before it pops up to the surface.  It doesn’t just slowly rise to the surface.  It erupts!  That eruption in our lives can look like screaming at our kids, impulsively quitting a job, or road rage.

The health risks of suppressing feelings are numerous. Increased stress leads to an increase in  anxiety and depression, heart disease,  gastrointestinal problems, and sexual dysfunction to name a few.

Are you willing to start doing something different in order to get different results? I promise you if you do nothing, nothing will change.  You’ll continue in your same momentum of behavior that is not serving you well. So, I ask you, would you be willing to take 60-90 seconds to take care of yourself? You are worth that much!

 

Consciousness vs. Unconsciousness Series 2 of 3

So picking up where we left of from 1st installment of this series, we discussed the importantance of presence, or becoming conscious in any given moment. So now that you can dis-identify with the mind and it’s entanglements you begin to see yourself as you really are, pure awareness; you are connected to your source.

Now you have opened up space for self-compassion to flow in. To be able to say, “There goes my mind again, telling myself some dreadful story that I bought into”.  There’s no judgment, analysis, or resistance.

A simple way to invite self-compassion is by asking yourself, “What would I tell my dearest friend about this situation?”

I don’t imagine you would berate him or her for getting lost in the mind’s endless chatter. But you would offer acceptance and love and humility.

So how do you start integrating consciousness? The easiest place to start is with your senses. Observe nature without labeling everything you see. Your mind will love that!

Just observe a flower without naming the species of plant or labeling its color. Really taste your food slowly. What does it feel like on your tongue? In your mouth? In his book, Minfulness for Beginners, John Kabat-Zinn does a great food meditation with a raisin!

Really notice the smell of your perfume or cologne as you spray it on.

I am practicing mindfulness now as I feel the chair beneath me and notice how the keys of the keyboard feel on my fingertips while still attending to the practicalities of creating this message for you.

Even notice your feelings as they come up. Notice the restlessness you feel as the end of your work day approaches and you are eager to go home. Really feel the restlessness without trying to fix it, eradicate it or cultivate ways to make the time pass, which is really just yet another way we ignore our feelings.

As you do this scan your body for where you may be holding the feeling. Is there tightness in your chest? Knots in your stomach? Tension in your head or shoulders? Put all your focus and awareness into these sensations. Notice what happens.

Can you begin to see the shift from doing to being? Our natural inclination is to want to do something about the problems we have or just stick our head in the sand.

While there is a time and place for applying solutions to problems, much of the problems we think we have can be viewed through a different lens when we slow down and shift into consciousness.

The apostle Paul states in Philippians in the New Testament of the bible, “For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances…I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…”. Paul wrote this while imprisoned!

In the last installment of this series I will address how this all ties into emotional distress and how you can move through your feelings much more effectively instead of being ruled by them.

Hilary Akman, LPC

Conscious vs. Unconscious Series 1 of 3

Candle in hands

In my work with clients I talk a lot about becoming conscious. What does that mean anyway and why should it be important to you?

Because that is where our freedom lies!

Freedom from the mind and its relentless untruths

Freedom from reactivity

Freedom from feeling like a victim

Now we have the power to choose in every moment.

So did you know we operate out of our unconscious mind a whopping 95% of the time?

No wonder we snap at our kids, fly into road rage, and work ourselves up into a frenzy at the slightest stressor (more to come on stress- stay tuned!) We are just a great ball of reactivity.

So how do we tap into that elusive 5%? The answer lies in awareness. Pure awareness. In shifting from doing to being. We are human <i>beings </i>after all. Some other words used to describe consciousness are mindfulness, presence, and attention.

Psalms in the old testament of the Bible says, “<em><span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>Be</span></em> still and know that I am God”  That is a wonderful quote to repeat while deeply breathing to bring yourself into the present.
Minfulness is defined by John Kabat-Zinn as moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness. I like the simplicity of this description.

It forces us into the present moment. It yanks us out of the past and brings us back from the future. So often our minds are in one or the other, past or future. Rarely just the now. Now is all we have my dear reader!

So how exactly do we do this? We are just noticing what is going on in and around us without judging it or labeling it as bad <i>or</i> good. Eckart Tolle calls this being the “distant observer”. That you are the one noticing what is going on in your head and around you in your environment.

Imagine yourself coming outside of yourself and hovering in the corner of the room. As though there were 2 of you. One is immersed in doing with the inner dialogue of the mind going full speed ahead. The other one of you is the one observing you. That is presence. Awareness aware of itself.

When integrating mindfulness or consciousness you are the one that is noticing. This is your true self. The false self is on the other side of the room doing the dishes while ruminating over the comment your boss made and how you wish you would have replied differently.

You are that pure awareness who is observing without judgment. And in that moment, just by bringing attention to the moment, you are conscious. You have released yourself from the prison of your mind.

In the next installment we will dive into what comes next. Because after becoming present you open yourself up to release yourself from destructive patterns and slow their momentum.

Thanks for reading and I hope this helps to create an opening in discovering a different approach to relating to problems in your life.

Hilary Akman, LPC


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