Family Gardening Goal setting Moms Perspective Problem Solving Relationships

Flower Child

In reviewing my blog page recently, I noticed it’s been almost a year since I last posted. Does that mean I didn’t write any? Not at all. I have many in the works but what seems to happen is that I complete 50% of the blog post, not sure I love it…79% of a blog, want to finish strong…92% percent of a blog, still, I might want to do some edits. I have many ideas and yet 2020 clouded my mind and, in some ways, diminished my joy in writing. Will what I have to say be important? Will my readers wonder if I am living in a bubble and have missed all the chaos of the year? Or will I just dislike the content of my own thoughts?

2020 invited me to do something different, less stressful than writing and yet creative and so I decided to create an Instagram page (@merrietherapy) where I would position my wooden unisex people into amusing thoughtful poses with tips that might inspire, increase coping, or add a spark of joy to someone’s day. At least that was my goal. I have to say I enjoyed this project and generated 100 different tips during the calendar year. My favorite one is the picture in this blog. Interestingly, I took this picture at my mother’s home. Her small, compact flower beds were, in fact, designed by me with flowers from my own perennial collection.

My mother (I call her “Mom”) is 82 years old and long past gardening. In fact, she has Meniere’s disease and can’t perform the ritual of bending and stooping which is so lovingly necessary to garden. So, I have worked in her flower beds from time to time trying to give her something lovely to look at as she leaves for, at this time of COVID-19, doctors’ appointments only. At any rate, I am a fan of the English garden and the seemingly uncoordinated and random look, with a variety of colors. 2020 saw the black-eye Susans take over one area of Mom’s flowerbed. So lovely.

It is true that one person’s idea of beauty is not necessarily another’s. It turns out that my mom does not like black-eyed Susans. When I mentioned how lovely they were this year, Mom said “I don’t like them, they look too wild.” Cue: stunned silence. No, she was not aware of my award-winning photograph and how I had proudly posted it on my Instagram page. “Mom, do you not get the English garden look?” I wanted to inquire, but I instead I only said, “I really like them,” to which she reminded me of her dislike.

Families can be hard. Moms too. I mentally resolved to redesign her flower beds, along with my life and my blogs. New goals, you get the idea. I made a plan which included moving many of the perennial plants back to my wild English garden. As it turns out, my black-eyed Susans had all but died out, so this, I thought to myself, “it will all work out fine.” I also decided I would find Mom some plants and flowers she would enjoy. I am not sure if I mentioned that, in my lifetime, my mother has never been a gardener or planted a single flower that I have known about, but she does enjoy nature.

It should be noted that I am not always in the habit of exploring my thoughts aloud with others, and I tend to strategize in my mind before I roll out a new plan, in this case, the plan about Mom’s garden as stated above. So, just as everyone in 2020 was doing, I was busy with many things including my work as a therapist. No, I hadn’t forgotten about the black-eyed Susans, I had just left them for another day.

I sometimes underestimate my mom. I went to see her a few days after our initial conversation about her garden. It seems she has become a gardener after all! She decided to sit in a chair with a pair of scissors and cut all the flower heads off of the black-eyed Susans…well, at least the ones she could reach. This looks like a very bad haircut. But there is also something amusing about it too. Perhaps she didn’t think I was listening to her. She seemed pretty proud to tell me, “I told you I didn’t like those. I trimmed them myself!” Good on you, Mom!

What is the moral of this story? People are different. As it turns out, I really like black-eyed Susans all crowded together and reaching for the sun with their ever-cheerful dispositions. My mom, on the other hand, does not like them. They feel too random and disorganized in her garden, and most likely in her mind as well. Things don’t have to be perfect, and that is really OK! Even though it could probably be better, I think I will actually post this blog. It’s about my real life, and what could be wrong with that?

Coping Skills Intention Problem Solving

I Can’t Stop Worrying!

Have you ever had one of those times that worry seemed to be the theme of the day? We all struggle with worry or anxiety. Often, we cannot change the thing we are worried about but we invest much energy, either consciously or unconsciously, in the process. We want and need our mind to slow down and give us a break from our thoughts. We are looking for peace and balance in our lives.

We all know that worrying won’t change the outcome but we still get trapped in the cycle.  The worry process can generate much negative energy for us. It can invite us to try to control others’ behaviors or resent them when our needs are not being met. A new process that allows us to work through our worry will benefit us. There is something we can do. Consider the three questions below.

What you are worrying about?

What do you want to happen?

What do you need?

I suggest that you write these three things down when the worry is getting to much. After we identify and write down the specific worry we can move on to what I want to happen; “I want him to stop criticizing me; I want her to return the money I loaned her; I want my kids to do what I tell them to do…” and the list goes on.

Next, what do I need? “I need to feel loved and supported by him; I need her to understand that was money for my own bills and now I am in a bind; I need my kids to listen to me so I don’t have to get angry with them.”

After you have determined the answer to the three questions above, ask yourself another very important question. How much control do I have in this situation? The answer might surprise you. We often have less control than we realize or if we do have some control, we may not be using it in a way to obtain a positive result.

Often our worry is about the actions of others or when they let us down. It can be that we are powerless in a situation and we do not know what to do. Do I have any control over my husband’s critical comments? Do I have any control over another person’s budget or how they spend their money? Do I ultimately have any control over how my children choose to behave?

If you said, “I have no control” over my critical husband you may feel loss and disconnection in the relationship; his criticism may drive additional negativity and resentment. On the other hand, you may feel more hopeful. If you said, “I have 50% of the control because I can talk to him about how I feel, change some things I am doing, or ask him to make changes” then you can work on how you will influence change. The idea is to be realistic about how much control we actually have.

How we perceive the amount of control we have over circumstances or other people will have a direct correlation to how we manage our worries.  Do I feel that I have any control over the situation causing my worry? If so, what are my choices now and am I doing everything I can do? If I have no control, am I spending my precious life energy worrying?

Sometimes I reflect on how many times in my life I worried, lost sleep and spent days being fearful or fretful, sometimes to the point of exhaustion, only to find out that the situation was resolved in some way I did not expect.  Worry dissipated my energy and left me feeling drained. One of the greatest lessons I have learned is about knowing my limits and using my energy to create more positive outcomes.

Having skills to redirect our thinking, to understand our worries, wants, and needs and how much control we can exert in any given situation can greatly influence our happiness and our relationships with others. We can assess how we are using our energy and modify what we are thinking and doing.  We can increase our happiness by managing our thoughts, understanding our options and using our skills in relationships with self and others. By managing our thinking, we increase our happiness and decrease our anxiety.

Coping Skills Intention Problem Solving Self Care

When Art is More Than Meets the Eye

Most of us have been to museums where we have experienced the pleasure of art: a painting, a sculpture, an installation, antiques, or perhaps a living museum as some gardens or zoos are called. Images on social media can also have a powerful effect on us. We are transported to other places in our minds, hearts, and imaginations.  

I am reminded of a trip to the Smithsonian museums where I experienced paintings by both Monet and Renoir. As I stood in front of those aged masterpieces, I got lost in the beauty of them and of the artists who painted them. I had many moments of wonder and reflection that day.

As you view the picture above, can you describe it in detail? As you look at the picture what do you see? What does it make you think or how does it make you feel?  What, if any, sounds or smells does it evoke? How long can you invest yourself in this process?

What I have described above is a technique to increase coping mechanisms. While I could write volumes about art and my experiences, I am particularly interested how you might use art as purposeful distraction. These skills are called “grounding,” and knowing how to do them can improve your ability to cope in a moment of elevated stress when you need it the most.

Here are some ideas and tips to begin using these skills.

Mental Grounding Skills Most people would say “counting to 10” is one skill, and that would be correct. Additional skills could be:

  • Describing your environment in detail, and include everything that you see. Aim for three minutes of focus to start learning this process.
  • Describing objects; this is where art can be useful. Add additional details of sounds you hear, textures, colors, smells, shapes, and numbers. Try to engage all of your senses.
  • Describing things by category. Name your favorite rock bands, flowers in your garden, zoo animals, bible characters … and the list goes on.
  • Describing an everyday activity in great detail. How to cook a meal, change a flat tire, or complete an art project. There are so many things to do and life processes to explore.
  • Imagining a pleasant place you have been, a place that feels safe and nurturing to you. If you struggle with this you can create such a place in your mind. See if you can stay in this place for 5 minutes to begin.
  • Reading aloud to yourself. Start from the end and read to the beginning. This will really give your brain something challenging to work on.

Physical Grounding Skills

  • Run cool or warm water over your hands and wrists.
  • Grab tightly onto your chair as hard as you can; notice the sensations and the experience.
  • Touch various objects around you: your pen or pencil, a leather handbag or the fabrics you are wearing, furniture you are currently sitting on, or anything that is safe to touch in your environment.  
  • Carry a grounding object in your pocket – a small stone, piece of cloth or object that you can touch when you are struggling with any unpleasant emotion.  
  • Notice your body in the physical space you inhabit. Move your hands or toes and notice the sensation, lean against your chair or experience your feet firmly planted on the floor below you.
  • Jump up and down.
  • Eat something in a slow and mindful way. Try a raisin or an M&M. Don’t swallow it but rather notice the texture on your tongue and in your mouth. Describe it to yourself.
  • Focus on your breathing, noticing each inhale and exhale. How wonderfully your lungs provide oxygen for your body. Focus on this only and do not let your mind wander. Aim for 6-10 focused, deep breaths.

 Soothing Grounding Skills

  • Create kind statements that you can say to yourself, “I am a good person. I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to know everything. I am enough.”
  • Ponder on favorite things.
  • Imagine people you care about, that care about you, and look at photographs of them.
  • Remember the words to an inspiring song, bible verse, quotation or poem that makes you feel better. Social media sites like Pinterest have many quotes that can inspire.
  • Use coping statements like, “I will be OK. Nothing lasts forever. This feeling will pass. Tomorrow is a new day.”
  • Think of things you are looking forward to the next day, week, or month. Maybe spending time with family or friends, an upcoming vacation, a meal you will enjoy, or doing something for others.

Some say, “That sounds too simple” and others say, “I can’t focus on anything else but feeling upset in this moment.” Do not underestimate the value of distracting yourself with skilled intention.  Grounding works because our brains cannot focus on two things simultaneously. 

Grounding skills take practice, but the effort will pay off. They can be used anywhere and cost nothing except the wise use of our time and a desire to invest in yourself. They can transport our thinking and change our emotions, which is sometimes exactly what we need to help us get through this moment, this day, or this trial.  Try them, you may be surprised to see how these skills can enhance your coping strategies and your life.

Art is ubiquitous. It is the sculpture in the park, the painting in your hospital room or hallway; it is architecture, a warm smile from a stranger, a favorite coffee mug, or a snapshot of someone you love. Art is more than art; it is a gift we can use to enhance our lives.  

Problem Solving Self Care

When Life Gives You Lemons

Experiencing problems is a daily affair for us all. The process of seeing a problem and assessing what we need to do to avoid or fix the problem isn’t always as easy as making lemonade. There are often pitfalls because we didn’t see it coming, we don’t know all the facts or what to do next and we don’t know how to change the outcome. This dilemma reminds me of a poem by Portia Nelson entitled Autobiography in Five Short Chapters:

Cradle to grave, life is a process of learning. We learn from both positive and negative experiences. Sometimes we fall down and skin our knees; those lessons can hurt.  Often, we learn from others’ mistakes or they give us a warning, “Hey, there is a hole in that sidewalk.” Maybe, we have already been in the hole and we can avoid that pitfall.  Perhaps someone else keeps us from falling into the hole by taking our hand and leading us to safety. Then there are those times when life just happens and the struggle continues. What can help us avoid life’s pitfalls?

  • Look before you leap.
  • Ask questions.
  • Give yourself reminders.
  • Use all of your resources.
  • Learn from the wisdom of others.

When you find yourself in a hole, don’t give up. You can say to yourself, “I didn’t see that coming but now I know” and get back up and try again.   Don’t stay in the proverbial hole in the sidewalk, make your way out of the situation. Be grateful for the life experiences and wisdom you have gained and let it guide you to a better path.  If you struggle with a problem, relationship, or situation, take stock of what you have learned, talk to a trusted friend, make the necessary changes even if they are painful, and practice gratitude for the teachers in your life. Find people who are walking on a different ‘sidewalk.’ Mostly remember, “Don’t give up!”