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The New to Houston Vibes

Written by: Kellie Klinck MA, LPC

Well, it’s official - I have lived in Houston for an entire year now!  My husband and I moved to Texas last summer and like many other transplants, a great work opportunity brought us here.  Houston, let me start out this blog by saying you’re a lovely, hard-working, welcoming town (except on I-45 … y’all are out for blood) and I am very lucky to call this place home.  However, my appreciation for Houston does not overshadow the fact it has been a very challenging year.   I spent some time this week reflecting a lot on my settling into Houston and just the moving process in general.  A few things came up that I thought would be helpful to share for anyone else out going through the same thing.

 

Let's start with a lightbulb moment..

> Moving is both excitement and loss. It's not supposed to be easy <

 

Whether you are moving 15 miles or 1500 miles, MOVING IS HARD.  Period. It is not just the packing and unpacking of boxes, or the hours spent changing your address online that stink. It's easy to assume the physical nature of moving is what taxes us, but it is actually a bit more complex.  Humans experience a REAL feeling of loss after moving and we can grieve as a result.  In perfect timing, I've been reading this book by John James & Russell Friedman, founders of the Grief Recovery Method, and they define grief as “conflicting feelings caused by the end or a change in a familiar pattern or behavior.”  That is EXACTLY how I have felt this last year.  

I’ve had conflicting feelings of excitement, gratitude, and sadness.  My move ended relationships and routines that disrupted my sense of normal.  It does not surprise me that “moving” is one of the Top Five Most Stressful Life Events, sitting along side other major incidents like death of a loved one, divorce, illness, and job loss.  Without question, pain, loss, and grief are experienced when we move.

*this is where I shamelessly plug that if you want to unpack some of the emotional stuff as you move through all the newness, I GOT YOU! In the meantime, here's a few things to unwrap to help you ground some roots.

 

Box #1: DOUSE YOURSELF IN SELF-COMPASSION


As I sit with the fact that moving involves grief and loss, I rely heavily on self-compassion to help me cope.  I have compassion for losing that “first snow” excitement that comes with living in the Midwest, as well as no longer feeling the comfort of having family and friends within driving distance.  I miss out on impromptu family events and long-standing traditions.  I probably will not see snow again in Houston for quite some time (or ever?).  Things. Are. Different.  My self-compassion is like a hug, offering kindness, reminding me that I am not alone (i.e. suffering and struggle is a part of being human), and it gives me space to take care of myself in those tough moments.   I have called upon compassion numerous times when feeling homesickness and it does help me through it.


Box #2: Listen for the stories you're telling yourself

I also have cranked up my mindfulness skills to help me notice and gently shift unhelpful stories, such as “I’ll never make any friends” or “things will always be difficult.”   When I feel myself start to spiral, I take a mindful breath, come back to the present moment and pay attention to what I’m saying to myself.  I acknowledge it takes time to meet people or that this feeling is temporary and will pass.  Paying attention to thoughts that include “always” or  “never” is a clue that I am in stinkin’ thinkin’.  There aren’t too many things in life are absolutes.  Through mindfulness, I can be with my thoughts and feelings and not get swept away in negative thinking patterns.

 

Box #3: Flip the coin. See what's on the other side

Like I said earlier, there is a lot of loss associated with moving (or any change, really), and my brain seems to fixate on those losses.  It likes to point out what is missing ALL THE TIME.  When I find myself in that space, I try to mentally ‘flip the coin’ and see what is on the other side.   Sure, things have been lost, but what has been gained or acquired out of this change?  Are there things I can be GRATEFUL for, even?     

I started to learn a new side to myself… a new Kellie I didn’t know existed.  This Kellie can handle her business.  She can kill bugs the size of New Jersey without having a nervous breakdown.  She can FINALLY use a gas range oven (don’t ask).  She can run in 90+ degree heat.  I’ve learned I can do things I didn’t know were possible for my person. 

Inviting a new lens showed me that I have gained a LOT.  I have grown tremendously both personally and professionally. Moving may have taken away my comfort but it gave me growth.  The “space” coin has been tougher to flip, as the loss of closeness feels very heavy.  However, if I allow it, I can see how the space gave me perspective.   I can be more of an observer, which offers something different to the people I love.   I truly believe this space has enriched some of my relationships.  Ask yourself – what’s on the other side of the coin?

 

Box #4: Embrace your inner turtle.

My nature is to rush.  I like to cross things of a list.  I like the feeling of crossing some vague, imaginary finish line.  In the past, I have rushed through decisions and not paid attention to myself.  I often compromise thoroughness to avoid the discomfort of waiting. 

I found myself wanting to rush through the moving process, too.   However, an article I read recently stated that it could take 3-5 years to develop a “place attachment.”   Damn.  I guess I can slow down. 

 

I tried something new and it has worked out well.  I chose to divide and conquer my very long “to-do” list, rather than cram it all out in a weekend.  I have things prioritized by their level of importance and am still checking things off to this day.   It still gets to me at times but I am managing!  I also had to level with myself because the things I WANTED to do weren’t always the things that NEEDED to be done at that time.  For example, I wanted to rip down the hideous kitchen light fixtures before the ink dried on the closing documents but I had to be patient.  After all, we still needed to get the garbage cans to put those light fixtures into!  I have found this approach to be less overwhelming and more enjoyable.  I’m sitting with something for a bit and able to be more decisive, which feels nice.  There are also a LOT less returns to Target.

 

Box #5: Make your space feel like yours.

Our first few weeks in Houston were spent living in a temporary apartment.  Nothing was ours – pots, pans, artwork, even the vacuum was a rental.  I needed to see ME in this space. The sooner I personalized my space, the sooner I felt connected to it.

I added a few of my favorite books to the nightstand, lit a scented candle, and put a few photos around the space.  There…there I am.

It can also be beneficial to have things have their own place, even temporarily, while unpacking.  This is especially true of items used daily.  When things are stashed in boxes and out of order, it further exacerbates that feeling of unfamiliarity.  It’s hard to move through your morning routine when you can’t find the coffee filters or toothpaste.    Routine can be healing.


Box #6: This is not your high school cafeteria.  Be courageous.

I once read somewhere that people who move more regularly are likely to be risk takers – do you agree?  I feel like that’s a fair statement.  Moving requires us to be okay with discomfort.  Not only did I have to learn a new city and all of its culture, rules, and lingo (what in the hell is crawfish boil?), I also had to embrace the pain of  putting myself out there to meet people.   Admittedly, this has been the hardest part of my move to Houston.

As humans, we are wired for connection.  We can quickly feel isolated when we arrive someplace new.  On top of that, the stress of the move can make it tempting to retreat rather than engage with others.  I can see this in myself as I have spent quite a few nights at home, connecting with others through social media while binge watching some disaster on Bravo. 

To help me overcome this, I had to remind myself that I am not the only one looking for friends.  I also am not the only one struggling with the process.  Whenever I meet other transplants, we tend to commiserate about the same three things:  heat, traffic, and how hard it is to meet people.   There MUST be others out there looking for someone like me, right?!  Let’s go find them! 

After quieting my inner critic and drumming up the courage to put myself out there, I realized that I could quickly meet really cool, fun people.  I was grateful to have wine and “girl time.”  However, I was foolish to think that these new friendships would completely take away the lonely, isolated feelings I had.  In fact, it sometimes makes me feel even lonelier to be with people I don’t have a history with.  I long for my tribe– the guys and gals who knew me growing up, who share the same stories, and can communicate with me without saying a word.  I miss the “hey, remember when” moments.  I was mistaken to think that these new friendships would somehow fill the void of lifelong relationships that are no longer in my space.  I had to adjust my perspective, realizing that these friendships COULD become something very deep and meaningful, but that takes time.   There is room in my heart for missing old friends and making new ones.

 

Box #7: Home is a feeling.

After a big move, there is a period where you can feel like you don’t really belong anywhere.  You no longer belong where you came from and you don’t belong where you are.  I consistently struggle with remaining “true to my roots” while also wanting to embrace my new surroundings.  I experience this the most when I say ‘y’all.’  We do not typically say ‘y’all’ where I come from; rather, we say “you guys.”  When I first arrived, ‘y’all’ was everywhere and I loved it.  It was simple and fun to say.  When I started to find myself wanting to say it, I would stop myself.  I was not a Texan and I felt like a poser using the slang.  I stuck with ‘you guys’ even though if felt foreign here.  Soon, however, I realized it is unstoppable and just rolled off the tongue.  I decided to go with it.  I embraced ‘y’all’ but found myself hesitating a new way.  I would not say it when talking to people back home, or if it slipped out, I would call myself out.  “Excuse me while I go Texan” was my disclaimer to avoid criticism or judgment. The new me really didn’t belong back home, either.    

Driving home last night, I felt something shift.  I was enjoying the sky at dusk, listening to one of my favorite artists, and feeling a sense of pride for making it through another week.   I felt very content and connected.  It felt like home.  It was then that I realized that home is within ME.  

I instantly started to cry from relief and gratitude.  I belong wherever I am because I am my home.  It is not my surroundings – it is not the landscape, the climate, or the people in my space that make it home.   Home is an internal state – a feeling of unconditional belonging to myself.   I then recalled a book I recently read called “Braving the Wilderness” by Brene Brown.  She shares her own experiences with longing to belong.   I think I’ll pick it up again, as the message may have new meaning now.  I invite you to do the same.  

 

To all of my fellow transplants: I see you.  It is tough moving to a new place and getting resettled takes time.  Just know that we’re in this together.  I hope you find some time this week to practice self- compassion, slow down your pace, and connect with yourself and others.  See ya out there!

- Kellie

 

Feeling all the newbie adjustment? Want to make the most out of your transition? Right. There. With you. You can book online with us here for a session. Questions first? Not a problem. You can book for a free 15 minute consult with us too.

How to get the most out of therapy.

Written by: Phil Landry M.Ed. LPC

 

Making the decision to start therapy is the first big step. Part of the therapy process involves not only showing up, but learning how to use therapy.  With so many clients who come through our practice as first timers to therapy, I spend a lot of time educating people on how to best use the hour we have together to help them produce the kind of changes in their lives they are seeking.  I have learned some lessons about what makes for a successful therapy experience for my clients, and I want to pass on that knowledge to all of you. So once you get here, we can start to move through the jumbled emotions and experiences you've been holding onto and start to gain clarity on things.

 

1. Let's set some clear and specific goals to get you there.

You may have heard that therapy is a process. You may not have realized it, but ever since birth, you've been subtly at work with strengthening neural connections when it comes to the way you think, feel, and relate to your experiences. To begin working a new lifestyle, we'll start to set goals to help you stay intentional and focused on where you want the change to happen. There are two major categories of goals in therapy: emotional goals and behavioral goals.  Emotional goals involve changing feelings in some way. For example, “I want to stop feeling depressed,” “I want to feel less anxious,” or “I want to be more happy.”  Behavioral goals involve things that you do.  This can be a skill you practice internally, aka “I want to be more aware of my body to notice when my stress starts to increase,” (body scans would work well), “I want to improve my ability to focus during conversations and not get lost in my own thoughts,” (mindfulness meditation or practicing expanding awareness would be great options), or externally, “I want to start working out again,” or “I want to call my friends more often.”  

The distinction between emotional and behavioral goals is important because typically we have far more immediate control over behavioral goals than emotional goals. There is very little I can do in session to take away your full on experience of depression or anxiety, BUT we can help you move toward your emotional goals by helping you create smaller behavioral goals, aka the things you DO have control over. 

 

By doing this, we can then focus on defining and overcoming the barriers to implementing the behavioral goals with the idea that over time, you will achieve growth toward your emotional goals. EVERYONE experiences anxiety in some form. There is no such thing as happiness without pain. Often, I find that my clients’ greatest lesson they learn in therapy is that they can have the life they have always dreamed of EVEN IF they continue to feel some unpleasant feelings. Focusing on building that life in spite of experiencing depression and anxiety is completely possible and something I seek to do with all of my clients by defining the behaviors that constitute their best life.  .

 

2. Do not settle for a therapist with whom you do not feel safe and connected.  

With every new client, I make a point to say that if they have any doubts about working with me by the end of their first session to please let me know and I would be happy to help them find another therapist who may be a better fit.   I say this because in my training I was taught that one of the most important factors in providing successful psychotherapy is in establishing a safe, connected, and non-judgmental relationship with clients. For you as the client, that means that if you are unable to build a solid, collaborative relationship with your therapist, then you are unlikely to achieve your goals.  It's perfectly OK to try a therapist and shift elsewhere if they don't feel like someone you can feel safe and open with.

 

3. Normal social rules do not apply in therapy.

I like to think of therapy as a safe haven against the normal societal pressures within which we are immersed every day.  One of the opportunities in psychotherapy is to learn about the ways you have conformed to societal rules about behavior without even realizing it.  As a therapist, I consider it part of my job to help you notice this.  For example, many people raised in the South, like me, were socialized to avoid giving honest feedback, particularly when feeling angry or hurt, to anyone for the sake of “politeness.”  This can show up in therapy as not talking with your therapist about the fact that they start nearly every session late or maybe a cue that they're disinterested (I have literally talked with my therapist about how much he yawned during our sessions - turns out he was just tired because it was the end of his day and not because he was so bored of meeting with me that he wanted me to stop coming forever - who knew??). 

I believe getting curious about what rules you have that keep you trapped within a limited range of living, and then practicing breaking those rules in therapy is a tremendously helpful part of the growing in therapy. Cut loose!

 

4. Share your darkest secrets.

One of the best ways I have seen for my clients to have breakthroughs around shame, anxiety, or other painful emotions is to discuss parts of their lives, thoughts, and experiences that they have never dared to bring up with anyone.  There is something transformative about sharing these dark parts and STILL BEING LOVED AND ACCEPTED. I see clients who dare to include me in these private experience gain huge increases in their ability to feel free in their inner experience and external life.  There is something about saying it and getting it out that takes away the burden of walking around with the secret. Plus, as a Licensed Professional Counselor I am ethically and legally obligated to keep your secrets and ethically obligated to not abandon you without a clinically significant reason, so rest assured that your secrets are safe and you will not be abandoned.  

 

5. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings about your therapist, and talk about them with your therapist.

If your therapist pisses you off, tell them!  If you don’t think your therapist says enough in your sessions, and you feel like you are just talking for an hour without direction, tell them!  There is a distinction in therapy between “there-and-then” content and “here-and-now” content. There-and-then content involves talking about things like your issues with your mother or how depression is impacting your life.  These are things that are happening outside of the session. Here-and-now content involves everything happening during the session like your thoughts, your therapist’s thoughts, how you are feeling in your relationship with your therapist, what feelings you are evoking in your therapist, etc. 

When you bring up your thoughts and feelings about your therapist and your therapy, you give yourself the chance to learn about how you may be projecting your emotional and thinking issues onto your therapist in a way that you can notice in the here-and-now.

This kind of honesty can also help you start to get a better understanding of the types of things you do in relationships that push people away rather than help you get closer and more connected.  Finally, talking about things happening in the here-and-now, is also a great way to evoke emotions if you are working on feeling your feelings more deeply.

 

6. Be curious about the past origins of your present day thoughts and feelings.  

A simple question you can ask yourself in any moment to start to link your present day emotional experiences to their past origins is, “when have I felt this way before?”  I am always amazed by how effectively this simple question works. I have seen numerous times where a client, perplexed by a nagging sense of hopelessness or stuckness, becomes surprised when an old memory arises after I ask this question.  Suddenly, as we explore this memory, their story comes into sharp relief and they see through the emotional barriers that their childhood has placed on their lives and they get the freedom to step out of their old patterns. I LOVE IT.

 

7. Do the work.  

Guys, I assume you may be surprised to see me write this, but limiting your personal work to one hour a week with your therapist is not going to do very much to change your life.  I know, I know, I am therapist and I said that...can you believe it? What I mean is that an hour of working on deep seated issues is going to open up new insights, but without taking your work outside of session, you'll be limited in seeing significant change.  If you think about it, an hour a week is about 0.6% of your week that you are putting into working on changing. Let’s be real, that is such a small amount. Now, for clients who take what we discuss in therapy, convert them into intentional goals (remember tip #1?) and actively create time to allow what they are working on in therapy to influence their life outside of therapy, day to day, then we may start to see some significant changes.  This is also the reason why homework and intentionality are so important in therapy. Homework allows you to bridge the therapy hour into your life. It helps you bump up the percentage of your week spent on YOU, so that you can move that much faster towards the life you have secretly dreamed of in the back of your mind. That life is accessible and yes, it will involve work.

 

Wishing you the most out of your therapy hour! Haven't talked to a therapist and interested in cultivating a new emotional lifestyle? You can book online with us here for a session. Questions first? No sweat. You can book for a free 15 minute consult with us too.

You're Going to Fight. Fight Smart!

Written by: Dr. Sunita Osborn

“Wow, we never fight. We are so mature.”

Can you hear my bubble about to burst? Yeah, me too. I vividly recall having this thought during an early relationship that was months old but felt like decades to my younger self. Yep, spoiler alert: I was quickly kicked off that pedestal and face-to-face with the reality that conflict is not only inherent in a relationship, but part of a HEALTHY one. Conflict teaches us about true intimacy and can actually leave us feeling closer with the help of new understanding. Following many life lessons and couples’ therapy sessions myself, I have learned that there are intentional ways of approaching conflict that will leave you and your partner feeling heard, more connected, and oh yeah, much more mature 😉

Here's a few pointers after many years of life and in-depth clinical training on all things couples:

//Get on the same team

Imagine you are a boxer in a ring. Your opponent launches a powerful hook at you and then a quick jab. What do you do next? You duck to avoid the punches and at the first moment of opportunity, you launch a counter attack against your opponent. Now, what does a boxing match have to do with your relationship? Well, when you and your partner get locked in the argument-counterargument pattern, your relationship becomes sort of a boxing ring. And just like in a boxing match, every time you throw a punch, you are inviting your partner to attack right back.

>>> How to fight smart: Shift from reaction to reflection. Before jumping straight to your counterargument, join your partner for a second, share with them what you have heard and understood and invite them to share more with you. Phrases starting with “I hear you saying…,” “It sounds like you feel…,” and ” You want me to know…” are all great ways to encourage further sharing from your partner and shifts the focus from the attack-defend to expression-acknowledgement.  

 

//Stop with the character assassinations

The actor-observer bias refers to our tendency to attribute our own actions to external factors while attributing others’ actions to internal factors. Translated to our relationships this means: “I’m tired, you’re lazy.” Or a common example, when I forgot to take out the trash it was because I had a big presentation that day and had a major headache, but when my partner forgets to take the trash out it’s because he’s selfish and expects me to pick up after him. See how that works? Our brain has all these nifty ways of protecting our self-worth which is great, but this can also prevent us from taking in all the many nuances of a situation when we are royally pissed at our partners.

>> How to fight smart: Ask questions! Before you go off on your partner, take the time to breathe, check your assumptions, and invite them to share with you what happened. Many clients at this juncture will often tell me “I know what she will say” and my response is always “Do you want to know or do you want to be right?” because believe me taking that extra step to hear your partner out may just save you both from a ton of heartache!

 

//Find common ground

Remember those Venn diagrams you used to draw in school? Well, take a second and picture two circles that overlap. The overlapping area is the common ground you share with your partner while the non-overlapping areas are the differences and disagreements. Too often in arguments, our attention is solely focused on our disagreements wedging our proverbial circles further and further apart while that common thread that binds us is pushed to the side. Give space for you and your partner to share your differences in opinion, but don’t forget to acknowledge the often-forgotten overlapping area of common ground built on your shared values, beliefs, and love.

>> How to fight smart: Call for a cease fire and ask your partner: What is most important to you in this? Once both of you have shared your answers, find the common thread even if the only common thread is your love and respect for each other and then work backwards from there using WE language. “What can we do to make sure you are getting enough time to work on your report?” or “What can we do to make sure we are both feeling loved and respected in this relationship?”  

 

//Complaint versus Criticism

We are always going to have complaints about the person we live with. These concerns deserve to be communicated, but there’s a huge difference between “It really hurt me when you missed my parents’ anniversary dinner” versus “You never show up for me!” Hear the difference? We’ve been told before to avoid using extreme words like “always” or “never” during arguments and the reason being is that in the second statement, I’ve taken things from being annoyed by a specific action my partner took to criticizing him as a person which can escalate things real quick.

>> How to fight smart: When you are annoyed with your partner, communicate this using Gottman’s tried and true formula: 1. Here’s how I feel (I’m hurt); 2. About a very specific situation (you were on your phone during dinner); 3. And here’s what I need, want, prefer (I would like us to have some technology-free time together).

 

//Strike when the iron is cold

Don’t limit yourself to working on your relationship to stop fights or prevent them from escalating. Use them to deepen your relationship, to learn more about each other, and to continue growing together. Also, it’s a lot easier to practice these skills when you are not in the heat of an argument and practicing them ahead of time will make it more likely that you will be able to use them when the sparks start to fly.  

>> How to fight smart: When you are feeling connected with your partner, reflect together on some of the patterns you both notice in the relationship. For example, try describing your relationship patterns by filling in the blanks: The more I_____, the more you________, and then the more I________, and round and round we go.

Don't forget, relationships are DYNAMIC. We each bring in all of our history and unique points of reactivity. This is where the growth comes and truly getting to know your partner. With intention and commitment to the process, you'll be surprised how much you grow with (and not despite) the inherent conflict that comes with love.

 

Ready to roll up your sleeves and work your relationship with new perspective? Awesome. That makes me happy for your life! You can book online with us here for a session. Questions first? No sweat. You can book for a free 15 minute consult with us too.

Modern Dating With Integrity

(And without losing your freaking mind and faith in humanity)

by Coach Holly Coneway, M.Ed. LPC, BCC

I had a very eye-opening moment while watching a movie on Netflix a couple of nights ago. There was a scene in which a man approached a woman at a bar to strike up a conversation. She chatted with him for a few seconds and then annoyedly said something along the lines of “watch my finger” as she swiped left in front of his face. He was understandably confused and taken aback and asked what the gesture meant. She laughed in his face, rolled her eyes, and hissed something like, “You don’t know what it means to get swiped left on? It means I’m not interested. Leave me alone!” The whole scene was just terrible... Mean-spirited, cruel, devastating, confusing and wrought with all of the emotional turmoil so many of us know all too well when it comes to the world of modern dating.

In this land of apps, hook-ups, and subtle signals it can be easy to get so  lost in it all that you lose sight of what your original intention was for downloading the app or signing up for the site.

 

Dating was once a fun way to meet new people and have new experiences as you got a clearer and clearer picture of what you are looking for in a potential life partner. I fear that all too often this original definition and intention behind dating is becoming obsolete and is leaving the self-worth and happiness of an entire generation in its wake of destruction. It is my hope that these 10 tips can remind you of your why and bring back some of the fun and intentionality to modern dating:

1. Know your values and your vision.

Downloading the app(s) without a strong sense of who you are and what you want can be a recipe for disaster. Time after time, people will sign up for a site or download an app with little to no sense of what they are bringing to the table as a potential partner and even less sense of what they want or need out of one. Having this very clear picture of who you are and what you want will definitely make you LESS APPEALING and you will probably have LESS MATCHES and go on LESS DATES but THAT’S A GOOD THING! Having a clear vision/values is a natural filtering process and only those who align with your vision will make it through your filter. In the same vein that living a minimalistic lifestyle is appealing, so is having a clear vision of your values and what you want/need out of a partner and relationship. Sure there will be less options, but the options you do have are all highly appealing and life-giving as opposed to having tons of options that are not in-line with your values and simply suck away your time, energy and self-worth.

 

2. Speaking of self-worth

This process of having your entire life’s worth judged on the look of your face, the shape of your body, and the content of your teeny profile is absolutely wrekcing people. If you are one of the millions of people who use online/swiping dating as their primary form of dating...you have a responsibility. You have a responsibility to both yourself and your fellow humans traveling this journey with you. We are all trying to write and figure out the rules for this journey as we bumble through it together. We are all building the plane as we are flying it. If you think about it, there is no one dictating the rules or norms for navigating this new world... WE are creating them! So, here's a call to action: Let’s create them in a way that does not do damage to our fellow humans’ self-worth. No matter what the landscape might call for, YOU have the power to decide how you immerse yourself in it. Of course, people have their likes/dislikes and you will not be attracted to everyone, but hold yourself to a high standard if that's what you want in return. Do not ghost people. Do not make snarky remarks about people’s looks or height or weight. Do not ask people who the cute friend in their pictures is and if they are single. The same goes for the way you talk to yourself throughout this journey. Be kind to yourself. Do not take it personally if you don’t have as many matches as you might like. Do not assume you did something wrong if you don’t hear back from someone. Don’t judge your entire worth on the look of your face, the shape of your body, or the content of your teeny profile. If you are a genuinely kind and honest human, doing your best to live in integrity and spread decency in the world...know that and remember that when you are swiping! Be nice… to yourself and to others!

 

3. Remember that your online self is still your offline self... Act the same!

All too often, the format of the app(s) causes our brains to think of our online self/our dating self as some other entity than our work self, our social self or our true self. A great way to combat this mental dissonance is to set standards for your behavior that feel good to you and don’t harm others. When you are first getting to know someone, be appropriate! Most people would never dream of, for example, walking up to a stranger and, within a few minutes, asking them to take their clothes off or pulling down their pants and showing their goods, but our online selves often feel invicible and bold, empowered by the anonymity the screen and physical distance provides us. By that same token. If someone you have a casual acquintanceship walked up to you and said hello in real life, you would say hello back. But often out online/dating/texting selves forget this and feel like its ok to just not speak when someone speaks to us. That’s rude! Just communicate. Be kind. Tell people if you have lost interest or met someone else, just like you would do if you saw them in real life.

 

4. Too many choices is crippling/unmanageable

A lot of times the failure to behave like our offline personas would/want to is due to the high volume of communication expected to keep up an active online dating life. How can we possibly remember to text and message and send a pic and ask for a number and follow on IG and accept a friend request on Facebook and on and on when we are talking to too many people at once? There is only so much communication and connection one person can manage. Between work, family, and friends you are already managing a ton of relationships, so it serves us well to be mindful about how many more we can realistically take on and handle in a way that lets us connect and interact in a way that feels authentic to ourselves. I know it can be tempting to get swipe-happy and to play the numbers game when you first get online and are overwhelmed with so many potential suitors in one place, but take a deep breath and remember that 100 undernourished, underdeveloped  conversations/connections will end up being more of a source of frustration than 1 or 2 well-managed, well-nourished ones.

 

5. Remember that the face on your screen is a real person who you want to meet IRL

One of the main problems I see occuring in the land of swiping is that people linger too long before taking the relationship offline. It begins to atrophy and die before it even begins. Even the smoothest of talkers and greatest of conversationalist will sputter out and stall when having to communicate with a stranger via the app for too long. Keep it in the front of your mind that this bubble you are messaging with is an actual human that, hopefully, you want to meet in real life on a date (you are both on dating apps after all… remember that the date is the intention… not wasting hours and days messaging back and forth). So, as soon as you have a pretty good idea that this person is not a serial killer and sounds like someone you'd actually vibe with, make a plan for a real, in-person date ASAP!

Pro tip: make sure you call this person at some point before you go on this date. I know, I know… who makes phone calls anymore?! But you really can tell a lot about a person from a quick phone call. You can hear their voice, begin to gauge if you have anything to talk about, start testing out/creating the chemistry between the two of you.

 

6. Over-communicate before, during, and after

As alluded to above, getting to in-person communication sooner rather than later could really help this new little seed of a relationship to take root. This person you are beginning a connection with is probably a complete stranger, so you should have SO MUCH to talk about! Before your first date, make a plan and make sure the other person knows and is totally comfortable with the plan. People love clarity. The decisiveness and ability to make and communicate a fun plan will really make you stand out in the crowd! On the date, bring your active-listening and genuine curiosity skills with you. Ask a lot of questions. Get to know this person. Be truly curious about them. Really listen to their answers. If you do these things, you will be pleasantly surprised how un-awkward the conversation can be. Remember that people love to talk about themselves, so ask more questions and do more listening than you do talking. If the initial conversation is flowing, take things deeper and begin to ask them about their expectations, hopes, fears, and plans for their life and for their relationships. Remember that the communication isn’t over just because the date is, though. If you had fun and want to see this person again.. Tell them that! If you didn’t feel the connection or you’re getting friend vibes… Tell them that! If you are confused and not sure where to go from here… Tell them that! If there is one thing that will make you stand out in this massive sea of potential mates it is communication: making and communicating a plan before the date, really talking and genuinely listening on the date, and making post-date ghosting a hard-no will all help make this process much smoother, clearer, and more fun!

 

7. Be mindful of your alcohol intake

With all the emotion and confusion surrounding modern dating, it is not at all surprising that most first dates involve alcohol in some way. However, more often than not, when people have too much to drink they let all of the things their logical brain knows and wants be washed away with each swig. You can have all the intentions, standards, and communication skills on the planet, but its all for naught if you drink too much. When you let alcohol dictate the date, one or both of you will almost inevitably drink too much and compromise your standards and/or behaviors in some way. Then you find yourself in a position where the whole fledgling relationship is off to a shaky and uncertain start. You aren’t sure if you actually had butterflies or you were just tipsy, aren’t quite sure if you were super attracted to them or you had on beer goggles. Mindful dating is a wonderful thing and it can be a great practice to remember right as you are about to have that pre-date glass of wine or order another cocktail with your potential new mate.

 

8. Be open

As difficult and confusing as modern dating can be, it can also be worth it! There are millions of people using these apps/sites. It has never in history been so easy to meet so many people… the odds are in your favor! All too often, people feel leary of online dating (definitely still be cautious) or make sweeping generalizations about everyone on the apps (“they just want to hook up” or “its weird” or “it never works for anyone”) and, in my opinion, these are excuses people make to deal with the confusion and discomfort that comes up when they think of trying to navigate this sea of possibility. If we let the overwhelm and confusion win, if we shut down and isolate so we don’t have to deal with it all, we may end up without the meaningful romantic relationship we seek. We have to be open (to both the pain and the possibility) if we ever want to get to the relationship we envision for ourselves. There was a hilarious, yet poignant, meme floating around a few years ago that said, “The only person you are ever going to meet staying home in your pajamas is the person who breaks in to steal your TV.” It’s so true! I talk to people all the time who desperately want to be married, yet are not dating at all. How does that work? A lot of us know the discipline and process it takes to achieve a long-term goal. We know that we have to take  small, daily actions that lead us toward the bigger picture goals in our lives… dating is no different. Get out there and meet people. You never know how it might end up!

 

9. Support each other!

Dating is fun and funny and sad and inherently kind of messy. Remind yourself often that dating is intended to be that time in our lives where we can be young and free and spontaneous… open to all the possibilities and adventures that lay ahead. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t, but remember that you are one of truly millions of people trying to figure this all out… you are not alone! How many great movies and shows have we seen that have groups of friends sitting around for hours dissecting and discussing their dating lives… sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly. Follow in their footsteps! Seek support and community with other people who are navigating all of this with you. Tell your funny first-date stories, ask for advice when you feel stuck, offer encouragement to others who are trying to figure all this out, seek support when something sad or confusing happens. Even better… talk to your dates about it all! Who better to empathize than someone living it too. Talking about dating with your dates is a great way to bond, get to know one another, and gain some great insight into where their head and heart are emotionally when it comes to dating and relationships.

 

10. HAVE FUN!

Most importantly… remember that this is all fun! Take full advantage of this time of freedom in your life. Not everyone you meet on the apps/sites is intended to be your romantic life partner. That doesn’t mean they aren’t a super fun and interesting person to get to know and learn from. As long as you are following the tips above and communicating openly with the person you meet, there is no harm in using this time to try new things, make cool memories, make some new friends, grow your network, etc, etc… the possibilities are endless when you take some of the pressure, stress, and confusion away from it.

HAVE FUN and HAPPY SWIPING!

 

>> If your friend's advice isn't getting you anywhere enlightening, we're happy to get you some smart and expert hoorah on your side to help you navigate life and relationships. It makes our hearts happy to help people live deeply and meaningfully. You can book online with us here for a session or free 15 minute consult with us.

 

The case for the technology purge

Written by: Dr. B

A few months ago I made the decision to have Technology Purge Sundays. I walked into Verizon and asked them to help me set up my new Blackberry which would serve as my red phone; the emergency line should someone need me or I fall into a hole. They were intrigued by the request and poked at it with a stick as they tried to recall how in the world to set one of these up. I was buying my sanity back and incurring the additional monthly cost as my self-imposed tax for quality life.

My Blackberry has changed my freaking life.

 

Just as vulnerable as anyone else, I'm the quintessential tech junkie. This became most apparent the first few weeks of my experiment when I would reach out for my phantom phone, horrified at my impulsive reflex to reach for it first thing in the morning and any breadth of pause longer than 10 seconds. My Blackberry was only a hair better than those phone surrogates that came out a while back. "Here, hold this black weighty brick so it feels like you're holding the real thing." My arm would spasm out and recoil back in sad, horrified recognition that I was, indeed, left to be with myself. WTF. This is exactly the kind of wild-haired idea I'd sign myself up for. 

I bought myself an iPod to accompany me with the specific purpose of music, podcasts, and audiobooks with no other apps to entice me with.

The mental difference between that and just putting my iPhone on airplane or Do Not Disturb was enormous. I was cut off. The possibility didn't even exist. My Sundays are now my most precious days. I sit in my backyard with my headphones on as I listen to books that have been rotting away on my reading list; looking at the trees and tanning under the hot Texas sun with my sweating mason jar of lemonade beside me. It's absolutely delicious.

This Sunday, the extra brain space prompted me to look around and pick up a book I bought at Barnes and Noble last Christmas that's now turned into decor on my bedside table. It's the latest book by David Sedaris; a compilation of diary entries called Theft by Finding. I cracked that baby open and took a peruse. Journaling is one of those things I do off and on.  Reading Sedaris' entries inspired me and reminded me of why I enjoy the practice so much. He mentioned his observation of a stranger eating a sandwich with his eyes closed and how freaking captivating he found it. I've missed having the bandwidth to see more of that kind of sh*t. Observation is one of my favorite past times. It's what's always kept me happy and in the moment.

As a culture, I'm afraid we're fostering an environment for ourselves that leaves us restless and infuses a sneaking sensation of unfulfillment via lost hours of life (that are snatched in 15 minute increments) and subtle messages regarding other people's successes versus our own.

When I'm mid technology purge, I don't seek out to do more with my time. My Sundays rather, are about the opposite. They're about doing less. But once the noise is gone I'm left with nothing but myself and less obvious opportunities soon present themselves to me in tiny, meaningful packages.

>> So here's my invitation for you. For the sake of fostering a new type of environment that doesn't subtly suck you dry of time and spirit:

1. Take on a technology purge.

Whether that's putting your phone on Do Not Disturb and leaving it in another room entirely or going more out-there like me (note: that's not because I'm more extreme, it's just because I know my impulse control and prefer to not have the option to slip back into old patterns). Limit yourself to activities that bring you true enjoyment. That could be music, cooking, writing, reading, or similar activities that move positive emotions and pull more creative and engaged thought. That's part of my hunch with technology's effect on our mood: we're doing something and nothing simultaneously. As human beings, we feel more fulfilled when our mind has the room to open, chew on things, and build. It allows us to ponder and engage more creatively.

2. Engage in 5 minutes of sense and savoring throughout your day.

One of my girlfriends is a psychologist and we went on a camping trip together last year. She had just come back from a week long retreat on mindfulness and thought it would be fun to do an exercise together (because mindfulness is awesome and we're nerds for psychology). The activity is to put away your phone and for 5 minutes, you tune into your 5 senses. That means bringing your awareness to what you see, hear, smell, feel, and maybe even taste. Once I stopped judging myself for how silly we probably looked as we meandered in the woods, I was amazed by what unfolded in front of me. All of a sudden I noticed the texture of the bark and the gorgeous variations of color in each portion of the tree in front of me. The bird song became more distinct and melodious. My body softened and joy came pouring in in the form of awe. Now, anytime I notice I'm going a mile a minute, I slow down and give myself 5 minutes. Whether that's to eat lunch or listen to the rain outside on the back porch with my dog. They invite contentment and bliss into my life. My 5 minutes of sense and savoring are some of my favorite moments of the day.

3. Make a list of the people you'd connect with and things you'd do if you had more time (and then refer to it).

When I feel like I'm piddling around doing nothing, I have a list I go to that helps me re-focus my attention on something I actually want to be cultivating. So when I notice I'm scrolling, I remember, "Hey, B, there's this cool new relationship you want to nurture, why don't you go ask them to coffee instead?" or "Hey, remember that time you said you wanted to be like Blues Traveler and learn how to play the harmonica like a boss? Why don't you grab that ol' thing and give it a whirl much to your husband's delight?" Sometimes we need grounding. Sometimes we need redirection.

4. Keep a journal to note your observations every day.

This practice will prime you to slow down and reflect. It's also really fun to read back as it jogs all kinds of memories that would otherwise get lost and pruned away for more important neural connections like who got into a beef with who in the latest season of Real Housewives. Write down your observations for the day. What you noticed. The moments that brought you contentment. It's something to read when we're old so we can remember that yes, we lived and it was freaking beautiful amidst all the grief and all the hard that comes with living. Or you can read it next week because we forget things REALLY quickly.

So give yourself a moment, or heck, even a day. DAYS of just being with yourself are the most incredible. No more neglect. No more sneaky sadness when your cup runs dry and you don't know how. Take on the technology purge. I'm curious to see what unfolds for you in unexpected ways. 

To the well lived life,

Dr. B

 

Read more about us and our work with people navigating life here

How much drinking is too much drinking?

Written by: Phil Landry

As a therapist, I hear the struggle to determine this line often. According to the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, there are research-backed levels of drinking that predict whether someone is low- or high-risk for having or developing a problem with alcohol.  For women, low-risk drinking is having no more than 7 drinks per week and no more than 3 drinks on any day. For men, low-risk drinking is having no more than 14 drinks per week and no more than 4 drinks on any day.  If someone drinks more than the single day or weekly drinking limits, then they have a 25% chance of already struggling with medically significant alcohol problems. For some perspective, 9% of American adults drink more than both the single-day and weekly limits, and 19% of American adults drink more than either the single-day or weekly limits.  

Oftentimes, clients are surprised when I share these numbers with them. 

They can see that their drinking puts them in the high-risk category, but they have never considered that their drinking may be causing them problems worth checking into.  For others, these numbers give them permission to accept what they have suspected deep down - that their drinking is at a problematic level. I have seen this statistic motivate people to stop drinking, at least temporarily, ON THE SPOT.  I love the power of sharing research with my clients!

If you are thinking about whether it may be worth addressing your alcohol use and you are curious if psychotherapy could help, I want you to consider whether you relate to the following statements:

- you seem to only get in fights with your partner when you have been drinking

- you feel a creeping sensation to hide the amount you drink from your partner/family/friends

- you binge drink (even just a few times a year) even though you intend not to or blackout

- you are worried about how often you go to work hungover

- you engage in other behaviors like infidelity, drug use, or riskier actions only when you drink

- you feel an underlying, chronically blue sensation and have always wondered if your drinking contributes

- you drink and drive even though you know you should not

- you feel most motivated to hang out with people if drinking is involved

- you no longer engage in other activities you enjoy outside of drinking

- you have tried to cut back on your drinking before and you always seem to increase your drinking again, or you have had symptoms such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart, or a seizure when you stop drinking.
 

How many of these did you resonate with? 2? 3? 5? It is normal to feel afraid of talking about alcohol use with a therapist, but with all the benefits that come with it, I encourage you to push through and do so anyway!  On the other side of addressing a negative relationship with alcohol can be new levels of energy, a deepened sense of meaning and purpose, improved intimacy in relationships, increased physical health, and rediscovery of parts of yourself that have been numbed by alcohol.  I am inspired over and over by the courage of my clients who come in to address their alcohol use and the look of pride they develop after they do the work to understand why their relationship with alcohol has become problematic.

In my view, walking into a therapist's office in the midst of a culture absolutely saturated with glamorization of distraction and numbness through alcohol use, is a tremendous act of self-love.  You are worth it.

 

Read more on our work with alcohol, addiction(ish), and escapism and see how to get in contact with us here

Mo' Feelings, Mo' Problems?

My husband was interviewed a long time ago when he was first starting his company. It was his first time speaking on a podcast and he was in the early stages of his work. There was a point where the interviewer asked how he was able to be so successful when he was dealing with the challenges that come with building a company and working with family. I remember it clearly, "I just take the emotion out of it." In the moment I was like, "WHAT?" Who can just "take the emotion out of it," just like that? This was years ago and I was still in the stages of exploring whether my husband might be a robot or just really out of touch with his feelings. If you're wondering, it's true. We enter this field to help heal other people's problems and our own.

We were eating dinner the other night and I brought it up. We both had a good laugh. "Yeeaaah, that was wrong", he says. Since that interview, we've experienced plenty of growth with many emotions to accompany it. I brought it up because I was remembering how absurd and spectacular it sounded. "Wouldn't that be nice?", I fantasized mid-chew. "If I could just cut this knot out of the center of my chest, that would be amaaaaaziiiiiiing." I can't even remember what it was, but clearly, something had been stressful that day and I really wanted to put down my emotions the same way I put down my keys. My husband has owned his own life path and company for a few years more than I have. He looks at me and goes,

"If you're going to do your own thing, it never stops. You just get better at it." 

 

My mind wanted to latch onto the "it never stops" part. But my soul could feel relief in the truth that "you just get better at it." I had witnessed the evidence of that first hand. It made me remember that my coach had asked me to list my greatest accomplishments of 2017 and one of them was: I effectively held my emotions and human ego in self-compassion. I gave myself a well deserved pat on the back for all the dang work I put into being aware of my emotions so I could let unhelpful feelings simmer and keep my focus on my big audacious goals. 

One thing I hear a lot from my clients is a desire to tame their emotions so they don't get overrun by them. They want less reactivity when they run into issues with their partners, they want to sleep better after a difficult interaction at work, and they want to doubt themselves less when it comes to stepping outside of their comfort zone. Just yesterday, I was talking to a friend of mine who is an ambitious business owner and entrepreneur about how he has managed to evolve in his capacity to move through emotions when having difficult conversations at work:

 "The feelings don't go away, but you just get more comfortable having that feeling and operating anyway. You just don't get frozen or paralyzed about it. You just feel that stuff and do it anyway. You start to think, 'I've been here before, I've felt this before, and I've gotten through it.' It's never like, 'I just love having to be the asshole that holds people accountable!' Just because I don't like it and it's uncomfortable doesn't mean I don't do it."

 

Whoa. HOW KILLER IS THAT?? I immediately started writing that down as a reminder to both myself and every other human being on this planet. I know the truth of this incredibly well, but some things you just have to hear a thousand times before it starts to sink in. The feeling can seriously suck sometimes, but it's just a feeling. It will pass and you will get through it. Just because it feels sh*tty and annoying, don't let temporary emotions stop you from moving into places of growth that require discomfort. 

If you're wondering about how to start a new process in your relationship with your feelings, start with working on becoming aware of them. Therapy is like strength training. It's a process and you build up over time. We start by helping you better understand your mind, how you tick, and gain new strategies for how to engage with your world. As a team at Modern Therapy, we're huge advocates of mindfulness and talk a lot about strengthening our client's capacity to be the "Observing Self." If you want to start settling down the emotions that come up for you, begin a practice of gently noticing what you're experiencing. This will help you cultivate a healthy capacity to recognize what's moving inside of you. That way, you can make a more conscientous response rather than dive head first into reactivity. It's an absolute practice and it requires a shift in your mental lifestyle. The practice doesn't mean your feelings go away, they'll just become less severe and distressing in your experience of them. Your core self will remain intact as you notice the experiences that move around you. It's no surprise so many ambitious and driven people take the time to meditate every day. They have bigger sh*t to deal with.

If you're a skeptic of the mindfulness meditaiton movement, here's a final point to bring it home. I was reading an interesting dialogue last week by The Atlantic between Matthieu Ricard, a molecular biologist turned Buddhist monk, and Wolf Singer, a neuroscientist as they discussed their new book, Beyond the Self:

"So far, the results of the studies conducted with trained meditators indicate that they have the faculty to generate clean, powerful, well-defined states of mind, and this faculty is associated with some specific brain patterns. Mental training enables one to generate those states at will and to modulate their intensity, even when confronted with disturbing circumstances, such as strong positive or negative emotional stimuli. Thus, one acquires the faculty to maintain an overall emotional balance that favors inner strength and peace."

Sounds pretty epic to me and a solid encourager to get back on my daily meditation practice. On that note, a mindful break is calling my name.

Yes feelings, less problems.

- Dr. B

 

Resilience and the Houstonian

"We did this for you." - Jose Altuve

"We needed this." [insert explosion of emotion] - Houston

I've never been much of a sports fan aside from my Love of community and socially appropriate excuses to yell excitedly about things. I noticed something weird start to happen to me sometime after Hurricane Harvey and the world catching on fire in a hundred different ways. With so much stress swirling in the air, I got this odd desire to watch sports. Outside of my Love for therapy and home, my number of f*cks to give was maxed out. There was too much to process. My natural response to regulate myself was literally, "For the Love of all things holy, I just want to sit here and watch someone throw a ball around." That would make me content. What's awesome is that while this was naturally going on for me, I watched an old video of Astros' Justin Verlander as he was making his transition to Houston. He specifically wanted to give us something to rally for and look forward to during this time of distress. He's not alone in recognizing the challenging times that have gone on in Houston this year. It's no secret that other players have kept photos of Hurricane Harvey devastation in their lockers as a reminder and motivator that kept them going. The game became something much larger than themselves.

Baseball became our city's therapy and source to channel our energy. #HoustonStrong became #HoustonStronger and I'm NERDING OUT over here at every turn. I was absolutely fascinated by this team and how they moved through adversity. Post the most epic game 5 of all time, Alex Bregman shared their mindset: "It was 0-4... we had our backs against the wall so we got together in the dugout and thought, 'why not play loose?.'" WTH DOES THAT MEAN??? I wanted to reach through the TV and grab the interviewers mic so Breg and I could dig into things. While I'm not sure what he meant, I was amazed by this team's capacity to tap into laughter and playfulness throughout the entirety of the World Series. While Kershaw was turning into a ball of tension and grief in the Dodgers' dugout, our 'Stros were getting nailed, refocusing, and recovering quickly. Altuve wasn't beating himself up to death after losing game 6, he was laughing his buns off while singing "ain't nothing but a heartache" to the Backstreet Boys. There was no need to stress anymore, it wouldn't serve them. It was time to let loose, support their bodies, and recharge for the next obstacle.

This, ladies and gentlepeople, is what we call resilience.

Our 'Stros modeled it beautifully for us. They came in grounded and strong as hell with a huge 'WHY' anchoring every powerful move. What they were doing extended beyond themselves and provided a greater meaning every day. They didn't just get up in the morning for themselves. They did it for their team, their fellow Houstonians, and for many, the calling they felt Created for. It brings to mind one of my favorite people to grace this universe, psychiatriast Viktor Frankl, who lived through WWII concentration camps and would often quote Nietzsche: "a [man] with a 'why' can bear almost any 'how.'" When we have a reason to move forward, whether that be family, what we create through our work, or another larger goal, meaning that extends beyond us becomes a powerful force to will us on.

They also seemed to master stress like Buddha meets Latin bro. In psychology, we look at optimal stress levels. Stress isn't a bad thing in itself. It's just a thing that serves a purpose. In many ways, it's actually good. It's our body readying itself for action. Having a negative relationship to it and experiencing too much of it for too long is where we start to run into trouble. We have to be super intentional and attuned to ourselves so we can listen to our stress, honor it, and give ourselves the mental grace we need to breathe and let go when it no longer serves us. The same way someone might train their physical body for the World Series, we can train to withstand adversity as we harness skills in relaxation, body movement, and positive self-talk to get back into that optimal zone.  

They had trust and faith that hardship was temporary and they were stronger than the immediate moment. You could see the look of frustration when Altuve would roar it out like a panther on the field, but he didn't seem to let it eat away at him as a person. This appeared evident in his capacity to flash a genuine smile shortly after. He seemed flustered at the behavior which could be improved, not himself as a faulty person. It reminds me of a model from Martin Seligman, a positive psychologist who breaks down a great model to help us move more effectively through hardship. He says, be mindful of the 3 P's; Personalization, Pervasiveness, and Permanence. Basically, don't internalize this too hard as a personal fault, be careful to not let this feeling spread to a more general feeling of sucking across all areas of your life (you goofed, you're not terrible at life), and remember that this won't follow you around at this acute level forever. Even more importantly, you can grow. As Altuve reiterated, "believe in the process." You might not be where you want to be today, but just take it a day at a time, keep leaning in, and you'll improve. 

When hardship is bringing you down, give yourself some space to let loose as counter-intuitive as it may seem. Take a breather and remember to not get so hard on yourself when the chips are down. Remember that it's only a heartache and remember that you will get through to the other side in time. Also, remember to dance. A good shimmy is always a great idea.

Thank you, boys, for this incredible gift of joy and triumph. We needed it. 

Now let's celebrate our 'Stros and each other for this incredible year of challenge and the spirit we carry within us to overcome always. Houston, I literally Love you.

To the moon and back,

Dr. B