5 tips to achieve your goals in 2019

 

The new year is a great time for reflection and creating intentions and setting new goals for the upcoming year. Whether you are striving to keep your New Year’s resolutions, change certain habits, learn new things, or simply looking to grow, here’s 5 ways to help you succeed.

Establish routines: We humans are creatures of habit and so creating any kind of change requires that we first create a very specific and realistic plan and then take small steps consistently towards our desired goals. Coming up with a plan and establishing a routine for the day, upcoming week, or month will help you become focused and intentional about how you plan to actualize the desired change(s). For instance, if your goal is to meditate more, you can plan a nightly session after brushing your teeth. Pairing your goal with another activity (brushing) serves as a reminder and having a routine (doing it every night) will help you slowly incorporate meditation in your lifestyle.

Make yourself a priority: You make yourself a priority by practicing self-care and self-compassion. It is crucial to make self-care a regular practice rather than something you do for yourself once in a while. You cannot pour from an empty cup so pay attention to your own physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs and regularly engage in self-care practices such as meditation, exercise, hot baths, seeing a therapist, journaling or anything else that helps you recenter and restore. When you take care of yourself, you will feel energized and motivated to stay committed to your goals. Also, be mindfully compassionate towards yourself especially when your harsh inner critic comes out or when you fail at a task. Practice self-compassion by being your own cheer-leader and by offering the same advice to yourself that you would to a friend or family member. Research shows that practicing self-compassion helps people take action and reach their goals, creates emotional resilience and helps bounce back from setbacks.  

Set boundaries: Setting boundaries means recognizing your needs and doing what’s best for your growth. It’s learning to say yes or no to people without worrying about disappointing/pleasing them.  For instance, it could be saying no to a late night hang out with friends if your goal is waking up early to exercise or saying yes to an invitation to a social gathering when your goal is to meet new people. Start saying no to old patterns and people that no longer support your goals and saying yes to opportunities, people and ideas that align with what you are trying to accomplish.

Find community: Surround yourself with people who you can safely and openly share with and who are supportive and encouraging of the changes you are trying to make. Create a network of people (experts, mentors, family, friends or colleagues) who can hold you accountable, inspire you, offer valuable feedback and provide words of encouragement. When you feel supported by others, you will also realize your potential of helping others towards their growth. In doing so, you will create positive and authentic connections that feel meaningful to you and others within your support network.

Develop a growth mindset: Your mindset, the way you view yourself and the world around you, shapes your perception of what’s attainable and what’s out of your reach. When you cultivate a growth mindset, you recognize your unique abilities and strengths and believe that your intelligence, talent, skill, and success can continuously grow through dedication, commitment, persistence and hard work. With this mindset, you believe that nothing is static and that failed attempts have valuable lessons to offer. So, recognize and celebrate every small win, learn from your setbacks and keep marching forward!

If you are looking for support with your vision for your life, career or relationships, schedule an appointment with us today. For more information about us visit our website www.colliancewellness.com

 

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Living in a world of hashtags

The recent internet sensation; the kiki/keke challenge has got me thinking about social media yet again. It is amazing that a video shot not too long ago by an American comedian has become a global phenomenon with over 500,000 posts (and counting) for #InMyFeelingsChallenge hashtag on Instagram. Yes, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened and certainly won’t be the last but it is a reminder yet again of the reach, influence and power of social media. Thanks to the digital world we are more connected, informed and engaged but we are also more pressured to keep up with trends;  be it a trend to follow a certain fitness regime, or be eating a certain diet, or be risking our lives for a meme. Trends, good and bad, existed even prior to social media but what’s different now is how fast things start trending and the large crowds they attract. Thanks to smart phones, information penetrates every waking moment of our lives and lures us into following rapidly changing trends.

Living in the digital world means that we are constantly plugged in both in our professional and personal lives. Disconnecting from work and maintaining a work/life balance has become difficult because there are no set work hours for a lot of people and there are expectations to work from anywhere anytime. We have become “multi-taskers” believing that we can be present with our partner/friends/children at a dinner table while we engage with people in the virtual world. We mindlessly scroll through feeds on Instagram and Facebook to fill our time because sitting still and letting our minds wander is no longer considered an option. We say we use social media to connect, to belong, to keep up with what’s happening in people’s lives but we also inevitably end up comparing our lives with others. Social comparison isn’t new but the number of humans we compare ourselves to has grown exponentially. We look at the carefully crafted and filtered lives of others, some of whom we would perhaps never meet, and experience emotional responses that range from admiration, inadequacy, inspiration, envy, sadness, self-loathing, happiness, loneliness, self-doubt, anger, and anxiety.

While research on connectivity in the digital world and its impact is still relatively limited and mixed, we know that it most certainly has an effect on our emotional and psychological health. Media Psychology is an official sub-specialty in the field of psychology that examines the impact of media and technology on human behavior. Recent studies have validated the reality of Internet Addiction Disorder that can cause symptoms (nausea, tremors, shivers, anxiety) similar to other addictive disorders.

A study conducted in 2015 shows that one third of the participants were not only addicted to their smartphones but they were also not aware of how addicted they were. Another study looked at the use of Facebook on mood and found that the participants felt worse after using it. A follow up experiment showed that people were stuck in the cycle of repeated use because they expect and believe that using it will make them feel better but, in fact, it did not. This kind of thinking and behavior is typical in other types of addictions. On the other hand, it is important to note that not all social media use is bad. There is also research that shows that online social networks allow people to reach out and comfortably share and express themselves. Another recent study shows that young adults with depression are using the internet and social media to connect and talk about their personal experiences with each other.

It is true that we all use technology differently and hence the impact of it is different for all. Social media is a powerful tool that has the ability to organize, create, inspire, influence people and bring about meaningful change. We have seen its power at the Women’s March in cities all over America, the #Metoo movement and the revolution in Egypt among some other positive examples. But we have also seen a rise in cyberbullying, social isolation, mental health problems (stress, depression, anxiety, self-esteem issues), decreased productivity, FOMO, social comparison, and risky behaviors.

As our personal and social spaces become increasingly digital, we need to remember that social media and digital technologies in and of themselves are not the problem, it’s how we choose to consume them. Remember that YOU are the boss of your technology and not the other way around.

The key is to be a mindful consumer;

  • to be cognizant of the content being consumed,
  • to identify goals (e.g. improve relationships, success at work, personal development) and organize content viewing and connectivity accordingly,
  • to evaluate use periodically to see if you are still on track with using it to meet your goals,
  • to be aware of the emotions it stirs in you when you use it,
  • to recognize and acknowledge what personal need you are trying to meet (instant gratification, love, boost self-esteem),
  • to create boundaries around the amount of time you spend on it daily,
  • to give yourself permission to take a break from it from time to time and enjoy living outside the digital world.

 

Maria Mirza is a therapist at Colliance Wellness. If you would like support in prioritizing and taking care of your emotional health and well-being, contact Colliance Wellness and see how therapy can help.

Guide To Understanding Your Emotions

From a very early age, many of us are told to not show our emotions for it is ‘considered a sign of weakness.’ We might have heard things like ‘don’t show your tears to anyone,’ ‘man up and stop crying’ ‘good girls don’t get angry’ or ‘don’t get so emotional.’ While these messages from others are usually well-intentioned, they teach us that our feelings aren’t valid, emotions can’t be trusted, and that unpleasant emotions need to be avoided at all costs. As a result, when we experience any unpleasant emotions our impulse is to hide, run, avoid, deny, or perhaps numb our feelings through alcohol, drugs, prescription medications, binging, restricting eating, over-working, gambling, compulsive sex, or distracting through over-use of social media.

The fact of the matter is that none of us can escape our emotions. Emotions are an inherently essential part of our daily lives that play the role of an internal compass. They contribute to our identities and help us understand our needs and what matters most to us. According to American psychologist, Paul Eckman, people experience six basic emotions (sadness, anger, surprise, disgust, fear, and joy) regardless of our genes, culture, or upbringing. These core emotions are innate, universal, and automatic and they are what makes all humans alike! It is hypothesized that other more complex emotions, such as contempt or nostalgia, are a blend of these core emotions.

The word emotion literally translates as energy in motion and its Latin root is the same as motivation and motion. Emotions are at the heart of our behavior as they spur us to action. They serve an evolutionary purpose by giving us information about situations and motivating us to act. For example, fear motivates us to fight, flee, or freeze in a situation that may be dangerous or life-threatening, anger makes us assert/stand up for ourselves and provides us with the drive to change a situation. Sadness is a feeling of loss of some kind that pushes us to heal ourselves from hurt, disgust alerts us of unpleasantness and makes us avoid it. Joy gets us engaged with things, and surprise is the rush of adrenaline in our body that stirs curiosity, learning and adventure.

There is nothing inherently good or bad about emotions but there are good and bad ways of expressing or acting on emotions. A common reaction to our perceived unpleasant or distressing emotions is to either suppress them or act them out. Trying to suppress our emotions is like putting a lid on a pot of boiling water; the water will boil over and come out of the pot at some point despite our efforts to stop it. Acting out our emotions by being aggressive or passive aggressive might feel good in the moment, but in the long run it leads to resentment, increased anger, shame or disappointment.  

Many of us aren’t good at listening to our emotions due to unhelpful internalized messages from our culture/caregivers as well as our lack of practice of acknowledging and accepting our feelings. Often, we respond to our emotions by judging ourselves, disavowing our feelings or getting so attached to our emotions that our feelings become all-consuming and crippling. Dealing with our emotions in these ways is not only exhausting but often leads to more suffering.

The key to living a full and satisfying life is to listen to our emotions and to use them as our guide to determine what our mind, body and soul needs at every given moment. When we learn to accept that all emotions, whether it be disappointment, sadness, anxiety, frustration, joy, heartbreak, or gratitude, are a natural part of the human experience, we allow ourselves to bravely embrace the ebb and flow of life. 

The mindful approach to emotions is to simply recognize and be present with our feelings. Often times it is the meanings we assign to our emotions that is a cause of distress rather than emotions themselves. By judging ourselves and trying to suppress an unpleasant emotion, we make the emotion grow in intensity and put ourselves in greater distress. When we engage in the practice of mindfulness, we non-judgmentally acknowledge and accept whatever feelings/thoughts show up and as we do this, we notice that our emotion passes and makes room for the next experience. All feelings are transient and while some thoughts/feelings might stay longer, eventually they ALL pass. Mindfulness takes practice but making a habit of tuning into our feelings, recognizing our body signals (e.g. racing heart, sweaty palms) and putting emotions into words (e.g I’m feeling anxious, I’m feeling disappointed) creates emotional awareness and makes space for healthier ways of responding to distress (e.g using techniques like listening to music, taking a walk, creating boundaries, journaling, reaching out to someone for help etc).

If you find yourself holding back your emotions tell yourself: It’s time to let them out. Give yourself permission to feel, embrace your emotions fully, identify, label and express them, and make them your ally. Use them to understand and express your authentic core and feel more in control of how you respond to yourself and the people around you.

 

Maria Mirza is a psychotherapist at Colliance Wellness. If you would like support in identifying, understanding and better managing your emotions, contact Colliance Wellness and see how therapy can help.

Rumination: the broken record of our mind

 

Sarah receives feedback from her boss on a project she recently completed and now she can’t stop thinking about it and is worried that her boss wants her fired. Jane meets her friends for drinks and expresses her opinion on a political matter that is not well received and now she fears that her friendship will change. Both Sarah and Jane are engaged in ruminative thinking. They replay the scenario in their mind over and over again and are stuck in a wallowing cycle of what they could or should have done differently and what might happen in the future.

Rumination is something a lot of us do. We replay a thought, a conversation, an event, or a situation in our heads over and over again with no solution in sight. We become fixated on our shortcomings and mistakes and let worry of feared outcomes take over.  Rumination is much like a record that’s stuck; the same song compulsively playing in the brain.

While we have a tendency to ruminate on matters that feel important to us, being engaged in this kind of thinking is not only counterproductive but also leads to an inability to flexibly generate solutions. The problem with rumination is that it distracts us through its repeated and passive quality. It takes us away from the present moment and gets us stuck in our heads. So when Sarah gets home after work, instead of enjoying her meal with her family, she is tormented by the thoughts in her head and is unable to be fully present with her family.

Unlike introspection that calls for active self-reflection and engagement for growth, rumination keeps us stuck and paralyzed and robs us of our ability to focus and constructively problem-solve. Furthermore, being trapped in a negative cycle of repetitive thinking has an impact on our mood. Research shows that rumination is linked to depression as well as anxiety, eating, and substance abuse disorders. It can also lead to sleep problems, physical symptoms of stress such as headaches or fatigue, and poor self-esteem.

Thankfully there are ways to deal with rumination. Here are some:

Talk it out with others who understand. Sharing your thoughts with trusted friends, family or a therapist can help you gain a different perspective on things that are troubling you.

Practicing mindfulness regularly teaches you to bring your attention back to the present moment and when it’s done regularly it can alert you when you get into ruminative thinking. Having this type of awareness can help you get out of your head and back into the present moment.

Engage in some form of physical activity because ruminators have a tendency to sit in one place and worry. By simply doing something around the house, taking a walk in nature or engaging in an activity that is part of your self-care routine can help break the cycle.

Repeat a healthy affirmation, a poem, a mantra, a song or perhaps the serenity prayer by Niebuhr for comfort: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.

Make a list of all your concerns, categorize them based on ‘problems I can actually do something about’ and ‘worries I can’t control.’ For the first category, create small goals or action steps that you can start working towards and monitor your progress. For the second category, acknowledge that these are worries outside of my control and look for themes to your anxiety (self-sabotaging, blaming, interpersonal). But if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by your problems/thoughts and they continue to be a source of major distress then seek help from a professional counselor.

If this resonates with you and you have identified rumination as a culprit that is impacting your daily life, then know that you’ve already taken the first step towards change! With acknowledgement of the problem and the right tools and support, it is possible to to change the song playing in your mind.

 

Maria Mirza is a psychotherapist at Colliance Wellness. If you would like support in prioritizing and taking care of your emotional health and well-being, contact Colliance Wellnessand see how therapy can help.

Crushing your Impostor Syndrome

“It was sheer luck that I was promoted last week. I really didn’t deserve it”— a common confession I have heard from successful professionals. Many high-achieving men and women minimize their successes by attributing it to luck or timing, or telling themselves that they are undeserving of it, or feeling like a fake or a fraud, or fearing being “found out” sooner or later. Does this internal dialogue seem familiar to you? If so, know that you’re not alone. You might be suffering from a phenomenon called the Impostor Syndrome, which nearly 70% of people experience at some point in their professional life. 

 

What is Impostor Syndrome?  

The term “Impostor Phenomenon” was coined in 1978 by two American psychologists, Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. They described the phenomenon as a persistent belief that one is unintelligent, inadequate, incompetent, and undeserving of success despite knowing the facts that provide evidence for one’s skills and accomplishments. While there can be several causes and forms of the impostor experience, some common ones include:

  • A sense of inadequacy internalized in childhood
  • Perfectionism that leads to wanting to be 100% perfect, 100% of the time
  • Setting unrealistically high standards for oneself 
  • Fear of criticism or failure  
  • Distrust in internal validation and as a result seeking out external validation perhaps by overworking or people pleasing
  • Automatic thoughts of “you’re not good enough”
  • Comparison with other more accomplished people
  • Cultural expectations and determinants of self-worth.

Most people with the syndrome suffer in silence and if unrecognized can potentially lead to feelings of anxiety, low self-esteem, depression and stress among other issues. It rears its ugly head especially when you’re thinking of starting a new endeavor or wanting to do something that’s out of your comfort zone. 

 

How to battle Impostor Syndrome?

Here are some ways you can fight your impostor feelings:

Recognize and name it:

Take a few minutes and think about how you frame your accomplishments or how you feel when you want to take a risk (switching jobs, starting your own business, or sharing your creativity with others etc). Recognize the voice in your head and the next time you fear being exposed as a fraud, call it for what it is- impostor syndrome. When you name it, you take the first step towards putting yourself in the driver’s seat of self confidence and self love. Remember, YOU are in charge!

Check your response to it:

Now tune into your response to impostor feelings. Does it make you want to go down the path of perfectionism, push you to overwork yourself and as a result do you experience anxiety or toxic stress? Or does it paralyze you, make you procrastinate and bring up feelings of shame and embarrassment? Being able to identify and label feelings accurately as well as your behaviors associated with them can help you understand your reflexive response to your impostor feelings.

Journal your accomplishments:

Write down your strengths, compliments, and testimonials you have received from colleagues, customers or friends. Also include any past accomplishments, small everyday triumphs and continue to add to them as you go along. Anytime the voice of self-doubt comes back, pull out this journal and remind yourself of how awesome you are for having done so much and accomplished so much in life!

Develop personal mantras:

Repeated positive affirmations are a great way to send positive messages to your brain. For example you can say, “I am enough.” “I’m smart.” “I’m a work in progress and I’m proud.” Choose an affirmation that resonates with you and make it your daily mantra. It will likely feel strange saying it in the beginning but keep doing it to make way for creating a new self belief.

Reach out, you’re not alone:

Remember, you’re not the only one who struggles with feelings of inadequacy and chronic self-doubt. Even the most successful people, who appear to have it all together, have to fight their own inner critic to get to where they are in life. However, unspoken fears or negative thoughts that induce self-doubt can turn into self-fulfilling prophecies and get in the way of you realizing your full potential.

It isn’t easy to admit out loud one’s feelings of inadequacy but it sure is liberating and empowering to understand its roots and learn ways to break the cycle of impostor thinking. In the words of Louise L. Hay: “You have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” 

If you want to develop a different relationship with your inner critic, don’t be afraid to reach out for a free consultation so that we can help figure out a plan for therapy to help you. Remember, you deserve your successes and you can learn to talk about them with pride. 

 

Maria Mirza is a therapist at Colliance Wellness. If you would like support in prioritizing and taking care of your emotional health and well-being, contact Colliance Wellness and see how therapy can help.

10 positive ways to deal with stress

Since April is National Stress Awareness month, let’s talk STRESS. According to the “Stress in America: The State of our Nation” survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, Americans’ stress levels in 2017 were at 4.8 (on a 1 to 10 scale). Furthermore, the survey also reports that 75 percent of Americans experienced one acute symptom of stress in the month prior to the survey.

Stress occurs when the demands placed on us from school, work, friends, family, and life stressors exceed our ability to cope with them. However, it is important to note that stress affects everyone differently and that not all stress is bad. An “optimal” level of stress acts as a motivator and is needed for growth, creativity, change, and innovation. It becomes problematic when we experience “too much” stress that stays around for weeks or months. Chronic stress can lead to serious health consequences such as fatigue, anxiety, depression, a weak immune system, and heart disease amongst other health problems. However, we can mitigate the effects of stress on our body and mind by creating healthy habits.

Here are 10 positive ways you can respond to the stress in your life:

Exercise: Make time for some form of physical activity every day. It’s important to find out which activity you enjoy most (running, swimming, yoga, dancing in your apartment) and commit yourself to doing it even if it’s just for 15 minutes a day. Exercise reduces stress by stimulating the production of endorphins in the body, which acts as a natural painkiller and mood elevator.

Meditate: Research has shown meditation reduces stress. Be mindfully present for 10 minutes every day and focus on your breath and simply notice your thoughts and emotions without judgment.   

De-clutter:  Organize your work desk and remove the extra items from your wardrobe. Having lots of “stuff” lying around can overload your senses and increase stress levels. It’s officially spring (even though it doesn’t feel like it in Chicago) and a good time for Spring cleaning!

Keep a gratitude journal: Reflect on your day and write down one thing that delighted you today. Focusing on the positive happenings of the day boosts our well-being.

Make time for laughter: Laughter is indeed the best medicine. Watch a funny show, read a joke, or talk to someone who makes you laugh.

Focus on now: Most of us are either fixated on what happened to us in the past or worried about our future. Such thoughts not only take us away from the present but contribute to our stress. Remind yourself to focus on the present and simply do what you can TODAY.

Pause and relax: Take a break, still your mind, disconnect from all your tech gadgets, read a book for pleasure, plan a weekend getaway.

Connect with people: Make plans with supportive family and friends or seek out activities where you can meet new people. Having a support system acts as a buffer against stress.

Treat yourself: Make time for self-care and get a massage or buy yourself flowers the next time you’re at a grocery store. Practicing self-care regularly replenishes our reserves, boosts our energy and provides clarity.

Seek help when you need it: Pay attention to your body’s response to stress such as difficulty sleeping, increased irritability or anger, anxiety, or fatigue. If you continue to feel overwhelmed, seek professional help from a licensed mental health professional who can help you identify situations or behaviors that contribute to your chronic stress and assist you in managing your stress more effectively.

 

Maria Mirza is a therapist at Colliance Wellness. If you would like support in prioritizing and taking care of your emotional health and well-being, contact Colliance Wellness and see how therapy can help.