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When Good Friends Move Away

English: Start of a long road

English: Start of a long road (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s official: the Smiths don’t live here anymore.  They drove off into the nightwith Fat Lucy in the backseat, signaling the end of this chapter.  Today is a sad day.

I’m talking about our neighbors; Fat Lucy is their cat.  We bought our houses the same year and became fast friends.  While this move is exciting for them, we, of course, are mourning the loss.  No more will their house be a second home to our kids. They fed us, gave to us of their time and talents.   They watched out for our kids while they played.  They babysat, fed, and loved our kids.  They let them pick flowers from their garden.  They caught Titus (our beastly Great Dane) countless times he got outside without a leash.  If we ever needed anything and they were able to help, the answer was always yes (even when I’m sure they didn’t want to).  House sitting, pet sitting, helping with projects, and truly sharing life.  In our eyes they were everything a neighbor could be.  Every member of our familes are close.  So many things in common, so many differences; yet somehow we all clicked.  This seems like a rarity in this day and age of hiding behind privacy fences.   We’ll miss their kids telling us, “You guys are the best family!”  And our countless long talks of hilarity or depth about joys and sorrows, our kids, extended families, friends (and sometimes spouses :p).  They are very gracious, genuine people.  People who let you see their house (and their very lives) messy. There is a trust there…an understanding.  They are people we can be completely real with who do not judge us.  I value that so much, and it is a quality that seems scarce.  How do you tell someone that?  That they mean all these things and more which words cannot express? I hope you who may be reading this have someone like that in your lives.  The street seems so different now.  And time marches on.

Hopefully we’ll keep in touch.  There’s e-mail, phone, Skype, planes, and cars to aid in that.  Yet life happens, and sometimes things we hold dear get forgotten…foggy.  As trivial as it might sound, we are grieving this loss.  My prayer is not only for their safe adjustment, but also that we would stay connected.  That perhaps we could sail together once again; let the kids have a sleepover again.  May we travel together someday like we always talked about.  May life be good to us all; not because we deserve it, but because God is so very good and abundant.  And that they would be blessed.  They are so giving, Lord please give to them; and please fill this hole with yourself and your love.  I hope the roads of our lives continue to lead us in parallel, though separate, directions.  Who knows, maybe they won’t be separate forever.

Have you had a close friend move away?  Or perhaps you were the one who had to move?  I’d love to read about it in the comments below.  Thanks for reading.

“We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers.” 1Thessalonians 1:2

*”Smith” is not their real name but a generic one used for their privacy

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Overcoming the Plague of Anxiety: Finding your way back to a place of rest

Anxiety

Anxiety (Photo credit: Rima Xaros)

Of all the clients I have seen over the years, one of the most common problems people have come to counseling for anxiety.  According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issue, affecting approximately 40 million adults each year.   To a certain degree, anxiety is a perfectly normal reaction to stress.  For example, if you have a big exam coming up at school or an important presentation at work, anxiety and nervousness are natural responses.  However, if an anxiety response causes substantial emotional impairment or distress, a person may be dealing with an anxiety disorder.  For more information on anxiety and how to help ease the symptoms, keep reading.

While anxiety has many forms (listed below), this article focuses on anxiety in the general sense.  The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders describes Generalized Anxiety Disorder as extreme and frequent worry that is difficult to control and causes impairment in functioning in at least one area of a person’s life (that is not caused by a medical issue or substance use).  Symptoms can include feeling edgy, cranky, and drained; having difficulty focusing, muscle tension, and trouble sleeping.  Remember that each individual is different so anxiety may not look exactly the same from person to person.  This can be exhausting to deal with for ourselves and our loved ones.  In addition to the mental and emotional response to anxiety and stress, our bodies also have a physiological response to stress and anxiety.

Naturally, our bodies respond to stress by trying to avoid or eliminate the stressor.  The hypothalamus kicks into gear.  The pupils dilate, the adrenal glands drive cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine throughout the body, the heart rate and blood pressure jump, our bodies burn stored fat for energy and constrict blood vessels in certain parts of the body.  This readies us to respond to and survive the threat by fighting, fleeing, or freezing (i.e. the fight-or-flight response).  While these automatic functions in the body are invaluable in protecting us from threats, anxiety can enable them by even a perceived threat.

If we get stuck in an anxious mindset, anything can become a perceived threat.  This can leave our body in survival mode around the clock, when it is only meant to turn on in an emergency.  Operating on this mode all the time can actually have toxic effects.  No wonder you are having difficulty concentrating and sleeping with all of this going on inside your body!  But how can a person get off the anxiety roundabout?  We have to engage our minds and bodies for the solution.

  • It all starts in the mind.  Ask yourself when the anxiety first started.  What was happening at that time?  What were you responding to?  Sometimes anxiety is (and other mental health issues are) a result of something we’ve been ignoring within ourselves that is trying to get out.  We can only stuff it down for so long before it manifests itself.  Identify how you respond to the trigger emotionally, physically, and mentally.  What are your thought responses to stress?  For example, if a teacher or an employer asks to speak to you privately after a presentation, are you assuming that what they have to say is negative?  Jot the answers to these questions down.  Take your time.  If you are having a difficult time answering some of these questions just relax and give yourself a break; you may have to revisit these questions repeatedly, and that is completely normal.  Now that you have identified the stressors and your initial responses, let’s get your body under control.
  • When you feel the anxiety start to creep in, the first thing to do is maintain a low heart rate.  Take slow, deep breaths.   Under stress our bodies want to huff and puff; these shallow intakes can encourage the stress response in your brain.  By maintaining your breath you can cut off the anxiety hormones at the pass.  Relax any muscles that may have tensed.  Try some progressive muscle relaxation; you may be surprised at how many of your muscle groups have been activated.  Participate in regular exercise.  When we sweat it releases many of the toxins in our bodies and leaves our brains and bodies in a much more restful state.  One of the most effective ways to relax the mind and body is through prayer and meditation.  Studies show how powerful these are, as people who identify themselves as religious are less likely to become anxious and depressed.  In one study, 20 out of 22 participants who practiced prayer or meditation to reduce moderate to severe anxiety showed marked improvement after three months.  When we pray and meditate, we use the most advanced part of our brains that is responsible for thinking, reasoning, and problem-solving.  These functions are dampened by anxiety from the activation of more primal instincts for survival.  Let’s not underestimate the power of our Lord.  He designed us this way for a purpose.
  • Now back to our thoughts.  Once the anxious thoughts have been identified, challenge and replace them along with any fearful self-talk; exchange them for empowered, positive ones.  Analyze how likely the feared event is to occur.  You see, our fears are like a plant.  They start with one seed, and then we water it by continuing to think and speak fearful thoughts which, many times, are unrealistic.  What can you do to control the outcome of the dreaded situation?  Remind yourself that you are not as helpless as you may feel.  Identify how you might respond to the feared outcome in order to return to a normal level of functioning.  And try to stay in the present moment.  Anxiety is usually brought on by thoughts of the dead past or the imaginary future.  Most of the time we are safe and should not have to feel worried.  This can be incredibly difficult at first, but patiently keep returning your focus to the here and now.  However, if there is a question of physical safety in your life, contact a helping professional to assist you in getting you to a safe place or situation as soon as possible.
  • Have a loved one or close friend to talk with about the anxiety.  Sometimes another person can give us a fresh perspective on how probable a feared event is.  They can also hold us accountable to our coping strategies.  If possible, this person should not have an anxiety problem as anxiety can be contagious; if we are in close proximity to an anxious person, our brain picks up on their elevated heart rate and will send a signal to the body that something is wrong.  This can stimulate an anxious response within us.  Also, exposing ourselves to anxiety-provoking material can do this: reading crime novels, watching disturbing movies or television, etc.

Again, we are all unique so some techniques may work better for you than others.  It can take time to overcome anxiety, so celebrate every small victory you have.  The good news is that anxiety is very treatable.  Continue to educate yourself on the causes, symptoms, and solutions of and to anxiety with many available books on the subject.  If your anxiety is serious, get in touch with a good counselor or licensed therapist.  Trained professionals have many additional resources and treatment exercises to help you reclaim control over your thoughts and feelings.  I am confident you will find freedom from the plague of anxiety and find your way back to a place of rest.

If you would like to see an article about other specific types of anxiety or anxiety in children/adolescents, or for questions, please leave a comment below.  Thanks for reading.

“If any of you are having trouble, pray.” James 5:13

“Cast all of your anxiety on God because He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

Anxiety types or disorders:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Panic attacks and Panic Disorder

Phobias (ex. Agoraphobia)

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Acute Stress Disorder

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Resources: A great workbook to check out is The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Edmund J. Bourne

References
American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth ed., Text Revision. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 2000.

Anxiety, Prayer, and Spirituality: Clinical evidence to the power of prayer and faith as an antidote to emotional diseases. (2007). In Holistic Online. Retrieved August 2, 2013, from http://www.holisticonline.com/Remedies/Anxiety/anx_prayer.htm

Facts and Statistics. (2010). In Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Retrieved July 2, 2013, from http://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics

Howard, P. J. (2006). The Owner’s Manual for the Brain: Everyday application from mind-brain research (3rd ed.). Austin, TX: Bard Press.

Jongsma, A. E., & Peterson, L. (2006). The Complete Adult Psychotherapy Treatment Planner (4th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2012, June 30). Anxiety: Symptoms. In Mayo Clinic. Retrieved July 2, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/anxiety/DS01187/DSECTION=symptoms

Nevid, J. S., Rathus, S. A., & Greene, B. (2006). Abnormal Psychology in a Changing World (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Statistics: Any anxiety disorder among adults. (2013). In National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved July 2, 2013, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/statistics/1ANYANX_ADULT.shtml

My video on this topic:

 

‘Good’ Looks?

English: Makeup before attendance. Српски / Sr...

English: Makeup before attendance. Српски / Srpski: Шминкање пред наступ. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“That which is striking and beautiful is not always good, but that which is good is always beautiful.” -Ninon de L’enclos

Have you ever stopped to think about what is in your makeup?  Unfortunately we cannot assume that if a product is allowed on the shelves it must be okay.  In fact, it may even be toxic.  Thanks to being born the only girl in a house full of boys, makeup has never been that important to me.  Still, I like to get dolled up on occasion, and I want to feel good about what I am putting on my face.  This post is not an alarmist scare tactic.  Rather, my opinion is that people should be educated about their products so they can make an informed decision.  Below is a list of personal care ingredients that are suspected toxins known as the “dirty dozen,” a brief description of the serious health concerns to which they are linked, and resources for finding non-toxic products.

  • BHA & BHT
  • Parabens
  • DEA-Realated Ingredients
  • Dibutyl phthalate
  • Formaldehyde-Releasing Preservatives
  • PEG Compounds
  • Coal Tar Dyes
  • Petrolatum
  • Siloxanes
  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate
  • Fragrance
  • Triclosan

While each ingredient affects us differently, some are known carcinogens, linked to organ toxicity, as well as birth defects, hormone disruption, cancer, skin rashes and irritations, allergens, asthma, and reproductive problems for both genders from either direct use or in utero exposure.  I enjoy makeup, but it is absolutely not worth those risks.  Some argue that many of these ingredients are considered low risk in small amounts.  However, people are not just exposed to them in a one-time use product.  Unfortunately, most personal care products contain one or several of these toxins, from lipstick to shampoo, lotion, soap, and more each and every day (not to mention toxins in other products such as food and cleaning products).  I would rather yield to the Precautionary Principle and limit them as much as possible.  It seems inconceivable that these ingredients would be allowed in so many of our products.

“Most consumer products are unregulated in the U.S., so manufacturers are allowed to use hazardous chemicals without demonstrating the safety of the products and without labeling them as toxic.” (Malkin, 2007).  Stronger regulation of cosmetic ingredients would help reduce or eliminate the risk posed by these components from the products that we put on our skin.  As the skin is our largest organ, the majority of what we put on it gets absorbed into our bodies.  Some of the ingredients above help products penetrate more deeply into our skin, causing us to absorb even more.  Many in-depth resources have been written about toxic ingredients and the lack of laws regulating their use, such as the references listed below.  If these ingredients are in so many products, how can they be avoided?

If you are like me, trying to decipher the ingredients list on a package can make your eyes cross.  What’s more, many of these products are listed under multiple names, such as the many types of siloxanes (generally they are listed as words ending in “–siloxane” and “–methicone”). Luckily there are search engines available that provide information on the safety of product ingredients.  I use Good Guide at www.goodguide.com and Skin Deep at www.ewg.org/skindeep. Each site pulls up a detailed rating regarding ingredient safety and toxicity.  Good Guide even has an app for smart phones.  Although I have found the regular search engine works a bit better, it is convenient to have it at my fingertips in the store.  It has enabled me to avoid purchasing a product with a low health rating numerous times.  Before you think this message is all gloom and doom, be encouraged that many products are available with safe ingredient alternatives (both affordable and high end).  And if you are motivated, you can take action.

-Urge your country’s leaders to pass legislation for safer personal care products.  If you live in the U.S., contact your representative and encourage them to co-sponsor the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act of 2013 (H.R. 1385) here: http://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/5500/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=13369.

If you live in Canada, go here: http://action2.davidsuzuki.org/cosmetics.

-Support health-conscious businesses by purchasing their products that have safe ingredient ratings.  Do not assume that if a product is labeled “natural” or “organic” that they truly are.  Companies recognize that many consumers are interested in healthier product ingredients.  They are trying to capitalize on that, labeling products as natural and organic which are not.  This also happens due to the lack of regulation.  Also do not assume that just because a company makes certain products with low-risk ingredients that all of their products will have the same rating.

-Reduce the number of products you use each day.  And remember, you do not need makeup to be beautiful!  The times in my life I’ve worn the most makeup were when I was most insecure, which is no good reason to wear it.

-Contact cosmetic and personal care companies and retailers to let them know healthy product ingredients matter to you.  For a form letter to retailers, go here: http://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/5500/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=12309.

-Spread the word so others can make informed choices about their products.

-Stay informed through campaigns such as the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (http://safecosmetics.org/), Teens for Safe Cosmetics (www.teensturninggreen.org/ ), and the Breast Cancer Fund (www.breastcancerfund.org/), among numerous others (a list of more endorsing organizations can be found on the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics website).

Don’t be discouraged.  Many companies are making the move toward safer products for their consumers; products that work just as well if not better than the toxic alternative.  It simply takes a little extra time on our part to find them.  Each time we purchase them, we send a message that toxic makeup should be a thing of the past.  Companies will make what people will buy.  Thanks for reading.  Please let me know your favorite low-toxin personal care products in the comments below.

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” 1Peter 3:3-4

References

Malkin, S. (2007). Not Just a Pretty Face: The ugly side of the beauty industry. Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers.

Suzuki, D. (n.d.). “‘Dirty Dozen’ Cosmetic Chemicals to Avoid. In David Suzuki Foundation. Retrieved June 4, 2013, from http://www.davidsuzuki.org/issues/health/science/toxics/dirty-dozen-cosmetic-chemicals/

http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/

http://www.goodguide.com/

http://safecosmetics.org/

Watch my YouTube video on this topic:

Water in the Basement

We’ve had some pretty nasty thunderstorms here lately, leaving many people with water in their basements.  Fortunately, our house had very, very little so it was more annoying than catastrophic.  Due to this water, we were going through boxes and things that have been stored down there and I came across a box I have not touched in years.  It contained memories from college.

Inside the box were many things I had both treasured and mindlessly thrown in to accelerate the moving process.  Class schedules, pictures, funny notes my roommate and I had taped to our door, flash cards, and e-mails I had printed.  Even notebooks I would doodle and journal in if I was bored at work at the mall (yes I was a total mall rat).  The nostalgia hit me so hard it was almost painful.  College was a very interesting time for me, simultaneously fun, challenging, chaotic, and amazing somehow.

Perhaps it was being an adult without 100% of the responsibility that would eventually come.  Maybe it was that my whole life was before me, full of promise and possibility.  I used to daydream about what the future would hold: what will my career be?  Who will I marry?  Where will I live?  How many children will I have?  What adventures will we create?  What will all of that look like put together?  My imagination would run wild with these things, picturing both the exciting and mundane.  I loved to dream.

Sitting there it occurred to me how, at this point, it seems so much of my life has been decided.  I know the answers to most of those questions now.   As a child in school I remember how much I looked forward to the weekend.  In time, I realized it was more the promise the weekend held than anything else.  But I miss dreaming a little, and I’m not entirely sure why.  Perhaps I feel a little trapped, like I can’t make any major change without disrupting the kids or job security.  Not in an immature, bored kind of way.  I have been very content with my life since undergrad, full of so many wonderful people and experiences I would never trade in.  And I certainly wouldn’t want to repeat college all over again.  Yet in the background there’s always that nostalgia that won’t be completely quiet.  And sometimes, times like now when I find an old photo or hear an old song, it becomes a guttural scream; a cry of restlessness.

Perhaps I need to remind myself that life is never fully decided.  That, in many ways, my proverbial “whole life” is always ahead of me; be it 80 years or mere moments.  Maybe the cure for the common life is to do something spontaneous.  To keep dreaming big.  To believe that God still has something special up His sleeve.  This can be a bit scary.  After all, not all change is pleasant.  And as I sit in the mildly musty basement lost in thought and memories, my little boy runs up to me and gives me a craft he made for me.  My heart warms, and I pack up the past and head back upstairs to my gifts of the present; reassured that I still have the right to dream.  For a romantic like me, I’m glad to have something to dream about.  And glad for a little water in the basement.

Can Your Calling Change?

A year ago, I was content in my phase of life.  I spent most of my time raising our young children.  I worked part-time as a counselor in a very

Two Paths Diverged in a wood

Two Paths Diverged in a wood (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

fulfilling job.  Life was good; I was living out my calling.  Little did I expect the rug was about to get pulled out from under me.

It began very subtly.  I had a small but nagging sense that it was time to leave my job.  Whenever this would occur to me, I quickly shrugged it off for many reasons.  The hours were flexible, I saw a diverse client base which kept work interesting, I was making decent money, I loved what I did, and it felt very meaningful.  Yet I still sensed that I needed to move on.  Shoving that notion to the back of my mind soon got costly.

The environment at work quickly and unexpectedly began to change.  My caseload was growing exponentially to nearly that of a full-time therapist.  Pressure was building to work more hours.  While my sessions with clients were still challenging and fulfilling, the office culture was rapidly becoming a toxic breeding ground for burnout.  I finally accepted that I needed to leave.  Then I had to figure out what I would do next.

This decision consumed me.  There were myriad options; however, none of them felt right.  I had offers to interview for other positions, but they were full-time.  I was committed to only working part-time while raising my kids so this was not a route I was willing to take.  Other part-time positions that were available were very limited, unchallenging, farther away, or worked with a population I was not as passionate about.  I considered going into private practice.  This seemed like the “right” answer.  I had plenty of referral sources and contact with other therapists in private practice who explained in depth the process of starting and maintaining a practice.  But all I could think about was the stress of owning my own business: getting paneled for insurances, finding an affordable place to practice, paying rent, buying accounting software to manage expenses and taxes, and so on ad infinitum.  Plus there was the guilt I felt over leaving my current clients.  At the end of every day, I felt fried with anxiety over making the right decision.  But none of the options before me brought me any sense of peace.  I started praying about the situation, hoping to gain some guidance.   God answered in a way I never expected.

I felt exceptionally impressed that I needed to stay home with my kids.  This possibility had not once occurred to me.  Never did I see myself as a fully stay at home mom.  I had felt called to become a counselor since I was a teenager; a calling that was undeniable for many years which God confirmed time and time again.  I had obtained three different licenses that needed to be maintained.  I loved counseling and had not entertained another future for myself in years.  I was (hopefully) helping people.  How could leaving this be the right answer?

I continued praying about this, convinced that I had misheard God.  I kept coming back to the notion that I needed to spend more time raising my children.  Plus my husband and I had begun the process of becoming foster parents, hoping it would result in adoption.  I struggled with and fought this choice for months.  Over time the path before me became clear: even though I did not want to hear it, this was the only option that gave me peace.

While I did not fully understand it, I decided to trust God in His leading.  I left my job and now hold a small pro bono caseload.  This transition was not easy, but over time I began to see God’s plan unfolding before me (including a surprise pregnancy, but that’s a story for another day).  Initially I was like Samuel mourning over Saul in 1 Samuel 16; God was calling me to something new, but first I had to let go of the old.  Letting go of a calling can be painful and difficult.  I did not realize how much of my identity had gotten wrapped up in my career.  And I was learning that just because something is “good” and right for one season does not mean it’s suited for me forever.  As I walked in obedience and adjusted my attitude, I was opening myself up to the blessings God had in store for me that I never could have conceived.  If we trust Him we can trust that He is leading us to something just as meaningful and fulfilling.  God is calling you.  He is a God of new things and wants you to join in the adventure.

Have you had a similar experience?  Leave a comment below!  Looking for resources on the subject of calling?  Below are a couple of books I highly recommend.  Thanks for reading.

The Call by Os Guiness

The Missional Mom by Helen Lee