Sunday, March 29, 2015

Experiencing Spring

It’s Spring! Well, at least the calendar says so. Spring is the season of new life; new beginnings. It’s nature refreshing and renewing itself. Many of us do our annual spring cleaning of our house. We sort out the closets, wash windows and walls, and clean out things that we haven’t seen since last spring. We refresh our houses, getting rid of the things that no longer serve a purpose and possibly replacing them with new things that we hope will be better in some way.

What if we could “spring clean” our thoughts and feelings? Similar to cleaning out our houses and getting rid of things that are no longer purposeful or needed and replacing them with new things, we can get rid of thoughts and feelings that no longer are useful to us, and replace them with thoughts and feelings that bring more hope. An emotional purging, if you will. Just like the clothes, dishes, or curtains that are too small, chipped, stained, or we’ve just become tired of them, we can also get rid of the thoughts and emotions that may have served a purpose at one time but we now are just tired of them.

Anger, resentment, jealousy, hurt, discouragement, and fear are common feelings that we tend to hold onto for long periods of time. Thoughts of self-doubt, critical judgment of others and ourselves, and the belief that we always seem to deserve something more than what we already have also plague us. Initially, we had those thoughts and feelings possibly as reactions to circumstances or even as defenses to prevent ourselves from feeling even worse. However, these thoughts and emotions drag us down and keep us from being able to truly appreciate the life we have.

If we can get rid of those emotions and thoughts, we will feel refreshed and renewed. Imagine the light-heartedness one would experience without anger and resentment bogging him or her down. Replace the non-functional feelings with forgiveness, peace, acceptance, and patience. Allow yourself to feel renewed and refreshed psychologically. You may even experience the sense of hope that spring promises.

Kelly Renzi, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Monday, March 23, 2015

Creating Self-Compassion to Manage Anxiety, Stress and Depression

Most people are familiar with the concept of self-esteem and understand that high self-esteem is associated with success in work and relationships and a lower risk of mental health issues like anxiety and depression while low self-esteem is associated with problematic relationships, lowered success at work and a higher risk of mental health problems. As a result of the research on the impact of self-esteem of happiness and success, much attention has been paid in recent years to how to raise self-esteem in children and adults.

Some researchers (e.g., Neff, K 2011; Hayes, S. 2014), however, have begun to question whether attempts to raise self-esteem may be misdirected and have proposed that self-compassion may play a bigger role than self-esteem in promoting happiness and success and preventing (and ameliorating) mental health problems. Attempts to raise self-esteem artificially, through increased levels of praise and affirmation may result in narcissistic self-absorption and dependence on continuous validations by self and others, as well as a tendency toward negative self-evaluation in the face of failure. It may be that self-esteem and success are associated because success results in improved self esteem rather than the other way around. Self-esteem can be dependent on life conditions, that is, when one is doing well self-esteem remains high but in the face of failure, self-esteem may tumble. Self-compassion, on the other hand, is equally useful in times of success or failure in life.

According to Kristin Neff, author of Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind, self-compassion consists of three elements:

“First it requires self-kindness, that we be gentle and understanding with ourselves rather than harshly critical and judgmental.

Second, it requires recognition of our common humanity, feeling connected with others in the experience of life rather than feeling isolated and alienated by our suffering.

Third, it requires mindfulness—that we hold our experience in balanced awareness, rather than ignoring our pain or exaggerating it.”

Treating ourselves with kindness rather than beating up on ourselves for every failure and flaw helps to alleviate the negative thinking that is especially associated with anxiety and depression. In the same way, seeing ourselves as one with the rest of humanity in our imperfection rather than the lone screw-up who never gets anything right, helps us to bear the inevitable suffering that every human being encounters. Learning to think about ourselves this way leads not only to a lessening of the negative internal dialogue and a brighter, more realistic outlook on ourselves but also opens a path to increased connection with others.

Achieving such a perspective on the self requires that we are able to be mindfully aware of our painful thoughts and feelings, attempting neither to repress our emotions or becoming completely caught up with them. We can acknowledge and accept our negative feelings and our failures without self-criticism and with the belief that our lives and our selves are still valuable and worthwhile. As Stephan Hayes put it, “…we humbly accept our place as one amongst our fellow human beings, mindfully acknowledging that we all have self-doubt, we all suffer, we all fail from time to time, but none of that means we can't live a life of meaning, purpose, and compassion for ourselves and others.”

Hayes, S., 2014. Is Self-Compassion More Important Than Self-Esteem?

Neff, K., 2011. Why Self-Compassion Trumps Self-Esteem.

Nancy R. Soro, Ph.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Stepping-stones: Successful Goal Setting Techniques for Increasing Self-Esteem & Confidence

Setting goals is a positive intervention that’s used by almost anyone trying to achieve a task.   In therapy, we use goals to help challenge depression, gauge progress, reduce anxiety, and build self-esteem.  It is a tool with multiple facets, but setting goals can also work against us if we don’t do it right. 

Consider the infamous New Year’s Eve resolutions: we set lofty goals, fail to meet them, and end up beating ourselves up about it months down the road.  Failing to meet a goal that we set ourselves can lead to feelings of depression and lowered self-esteem and can discourage us from striving to meet goals in the future.  This does not have to be the case!  In this blog, we’re going to explore how to create goals that make them easier to achieve and explore an exercise that can be used to do so.  By following these ideas, you can make goals a positive intervention skill for your toolbox.

First off, we must examine the goals that we set for how realistic they are.  The first mistake that we commonly make is assuming that we can change our behavior completely overnight.  We wake up in the morning and discover that we’ve gained a few pounds.  In response, we proclaim that we’re setting a new goal: “I’m never eating junk food again!”  A few days go by and our cravings have gotten the better of us.  We hit the nearest fast food stand and feel disappointment for our perceived failure.  In reality, our goal was unrealistic from the start and doomed us from the onset.  Our goals need to be something that we can achieve.  By identifying something that we can achieve (in the example above, maybe starting by limiting junk food intake to 3 times a week), we not only give ourselves the opportunity to achieve success, but we also help to build our confidence at achieving success in the future. 

The next step is to make sure your goal can be measured.  Being able to identify when we’ve made progress on our goal is crucial to identifying success.  “I resolve this year to feel better about myself”- this is a great idea, but how will you know when you feel better about yourself.  Will you worry less? Call in sick to work less often?  It is important to know exactly what changes you want to see.  When you’re dealing with resolutions surrounding feelings, ask yourself this question: “how will I know when my feelings have changed?”  If you want to be happier, what will happier look like to you?  These questions will help you identify exactly what you will look like when you achieve your goals.

Another important step in goal setting is identifying how you will achieve this goal.  If I set a goal to run a marathon in 2015, but make no effort to train or plan then there is almost no chance I will reach my goal.  The best course of action is to identify small, incremental steps that you can achieve to work toward your goals.  The same rules on being realistic and measurable apply to these steps as they do to the main goal.  To reach my goal of running a marathon, I would start off by running a mile every week, then every day, then a 5K a week, and so on.  Eventually these small steps build us toward our goal.

Here is a fantastic activity that you can use to create realistic and measurable goals and the steps to achieve them.  Take a piece of paper and turn it sideways.  On the far right side identify the goal you want to achieve.  On the far left side identify where you are now.  Once that is done, identify four steps in between the two that help you get from where you are to where you want to be.  These stepping stones act as your incremental steps to help you achieve the ultimate goal.  Create one of these charts and use it to help remind and encourage you.  Hang it in the office, on the refrigerator, or anywhere else that you’ll see it and be reminded of the small steps you’re taking to reach the thing you want most.

The use of these simple skills will help you to set and achieve goals for yourself.  By making our goals realistic, measurable, and creating incremental steps to work towards them, we increase the chance of success.  The achievement of goals helps us to build confidence and self-esteem, and we can achieve the goals we set with a little help and preparation.  Good luck!

Bill Knor, LCPC
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor