Is There Such a Thing as Too Perfect?

“I love sitting back and finding joy in the things that I have not finished or need to do more work on” …. words never said by anyone! Often there are times when we come up short on tasks or have a feeling that things are incomplete. This can be irritating to us and for some reason we can’t find peace with the feeling of things not being perfect. It can even become discouraging when you are not able to get it just the way you envisioned it. Sometimes you may make a small mistake that you feel you can’t take back. Yes, those are all truly frustrating things which can really affect how you feel, but did you know that it could be of our own doing that we have these repeated experiences of feeling things are incomplete? Well it’s most definitely possible especially if you’re struggling with Perfectionism.

Perfectionism is when we believe we must be look perfect, act perfect, or even believe that perfection is achievable. You are probably wondering how this could be a bad thing. It is a good thing to be driven and goal oriented, but if we are honest, nothing and no one is perfect and there will always be flaws in everything. When “Perfect” becomes our standard, we often set expectations for ourselves that are not realistic and cause us distress. This can often block us from truly appreciating the work we’ve done and cause us to minimize or discount what was accomplished. Perfectionism is often overlooked, but it can and will zap the joy out of anything if we allow it.

Perfectionism can show up in 2 negative ways. The first is the societal perfectionist, which is when someone is trying to be perfect to meet the unrealistic standards of society. Examples may be when you have high expectations set for you because of your job title, the school you attend, or the sport you play. When this happens, the likelihood of negative feelings and thoughts increases. You may have begun to have feelings of depression, worthlessness, and increased stress levels. Also, some have even experienced urges to self harm and suicidal thoughts due to failing to meet the standards set by societal perfectionism. The second type is the self-critical perfectionist. This person feels too much pressure from the unrealistic goals set for themselves. Failure to meet your own unrealistic goals can cause you to start talking to yourself in negative ways or be self-critical which is like bullying yourself. This causes decreased feelings of value or worth in ourselves and can cause our motivation to decrease.

Perfectionism not only shows up in work or school. The way we judge our environment, our physical appearance, how you speak or write, and even how you manage your friendships and intimate relationships can be affected as well. Perfectionism can be something that is taught to us or it can be a side effect of our mental health. When we experience frequent put downs or criticism from family members such as parents, friends, or siblings, it can lead to the unrealistic thoughts about perfection. Anxiety can also cause some to be perfectionistic, as the fear of having a panic attack due to failure could push you to go beyond realistic expectations. 

So, by now I bet you’re wondering how to know if you’re struggling with perfectionism. Here are some warning signs of perfectionism:

·       Spending more time than would be expected on tasks (Example: taking 3 hours for a 1 paragraph assignment)

·      Minimizing accomplishments (Example: feelings of failure over getting a 95% on a paper because it’s not a 100%)

·      Being frustrated by others success (Example: finding flaws in their achievements) 

·      Avoiding tasks because they can’t be done perfectly (Example: skipping out on school or work projects rather than starting them)

·      Only focusing on the end goal and not the process (Example: being discouraged by only losing 3 lbs instead of the 10 lbs you wanted to lose after two weeks in the gym)

·      Sticking to tasks you know instead of trying new things that you might not be perfect in (Example: only playing games you win and refusing to try to play new sports or games with friends to not look bad)

Can Perfectionism Ever Be Good?

Perfectionism can really block our satisfaction in life and limit our perspective, but there is a type of perfectionism that can be effective. When we have goals based on our own standard or perfectionism that is motivating and not deflating. This comes with an understanding of what is realistically accomplishable for yourself and making sure you achieve it. An example of this would be knowing you can get in A in math class if you study because every time you study you earn an A. You would not compare yourself to others who get A’s without studying or people who study more or get a higher A by 2 points. When you have personal standards for perfectionism, you will be satisfied with the A you receive because you set a goal and achieved it using the method you know works. Also, you would not allow anything else to influence your feelings about your accomplishment. Those who can set goals without their disregarding their own standards are less likely to experience stress, anxiety, instability in mood, and distress.

6 Tips to on Healthy Standards for Personal Perfectionism:

·      Share goals and expectations you have for yourself with trusted and motivated friends or family members

·      Plan to celebrate after trying new or difficult things

·      Set limits on the time you take to complete small tasks

·      Reward yourself for the achievement of short-term goals

·      Break projects or big tasks into parts

·      Set goals that motivate you to complete them

Perfectionism is a very tough thing and can easily go unnoticed. Hopefully this helps open your eyes to perfectionism and ways to make it work for you.

 

 

 

How Yoga Can Improve Anxiety and Depression

Last fall, I wrote a blog about how physical fitness can help your overall mental health. I wanted to follow up with a blog about how yoga and mindfulness specifically can help with symptoms related to anxiety, depression and even trauma. Yoga is defined as a discipline that includes breath control, simple meditation, and a variety of body positions that is widely practiced for health and relaxation. Yoga, as a form of physical activity, used as a regular practice, will also increase the trait of mindfulness, as well as increase the “feel good” chemicals in your brain. As a result, it is a healthy coping skill for symptoms of depression, anxiety, and trauma. Mindfulness is the awareness of one’s body, one’s thoughts, and a greater connection of mind and body. Mindfulness teaches you to clear out distractions, with a goal of totally emptying your mind, while you are practicing yoga. 

There are many benefits of using yoga, which are not limited to but include:

            -Stress reduction

            -Sound sleep

            -Lower blood pressure

            -Improved mood

            -Increase strength and flexibility

            -Coping skill when feeling overwhelmed, anxious, depressed

Yoga can be used as a coping skill for worry in a way that the focus is on safety, the present moment, concentration, and relaxation. As the yoga pose is held, a mantra can be used. Breathing while in pose is important as well, as we use breath to calm ourselves. Yoga allows you to release stress and tension by helping you shift your focus to the present moment, the way your body feels right now. This allows you to let go of the negative energy and feel in control of your stress reaction. 

Yoga can be used for trauma, to represent safety in the environment and body, to be aware of body boundaries and inner body sensations, demonstrating a posture that reflects worthiness, and saying affirmations. Some examples of affirmations are “I am safe. I am alive. I choose. I feel. I speak.” Yoga is a healthy way to use your mind and body, rather than turning to unhealthy coping strategies such as drug or alcohol use or other self-medicating behaviors. 

A 3 month study was done on people experiencing depression, and a 50% reduction of symptoms was reported in those that participated in yoga practice. More days of yoga resulted in fewer symptoms (Dr. Chris Streeter, Boston University School of Medicine Journal of Alternative and complementary Medicine, 2017). Yoga helps the autonomic nervous system to be balanced, therefore the rest of the brain works better. The autonomic nervous system is what regulates organ functioning, the fight or flight response, and relaxation. When using yoga, the fight or flight response decreases, and the rest and digest response increases. Therefore, you enter a more relaxed state. As soon as your breath slows down, you decrease your fight or flight response and calm your nervous system.

As I previously mentioned, mantras are a great practice to use while in a yoga pose, or practicing mindfulness. A mantra is a statement or sound that is repeated. An example of a self-love mantra is “My dear I am here, I am learning to take care of you”, while holding your hand over your heart and breathing deep breaths. 

Along with all of the mentioned benefits, yoga can help you find or build your sense of self. It helps you get to know your body, and create a nonjudgmental relationship with yourself. When you become more rooted in your center, your breath, and your sense of self, you develop a healthy, balanced ego. If you are more at peace and centered with yourself, relationships around you will flourish as well. 

Yoga is designed for anyone to practice, and can be suitable for all ages, body shapes, and fitness levels. Yoga is never about who is the strongest or most flexible, but finding what poses work best for you. There are many yoga studios available for use, if you are interested in participating with others. There are a variety of classes available, whether you want gentle and relaxing, or strenuous and challenging. It will benefit your physical and mental health in a positive way. Get started today!

Here are 4 steps to get started with yoga:

1)    Consult with your doctor behavior starting any exercise program

2)    Decide if you want to find a studio near you to go to for instruction, or if you want to follow instruction on YouTube, or poses off of a link like this: https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/yoga-by-benefit/anxiety

3)    If you want to follow instructors on YouTube, a few examples are “Yoga with Adriene” or “Yoga with Tim”

4)    Practice your breathing as this will be important for any program. Take a few moments everyday to take a deep breath in to the count of 3, and then let it out to the count of 3.

For those of you who do yoga regularly, please share with us what benefits you see from practicing!

 

 

Easy Ideas To Manage Your Anxiety (And Ways to Help a Loved One Who Might Struggle)

Racing heart, dizziness, tightness in the chest, nausea, shaking, difficulty sleeping, chills yet sweating….sounds like a heart attack, right?  It could be a heart attack, yet if you are one of the 40 million adults (18.1% of the adult population!) or 25.1% of the 13-18 year old population in the United States, it could also be related to symptoms of anxiety.  

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health diagnosis in the United States and people who experience symptoms are 3-5 times more likely to seek treatment with their family doctor and 6 times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric care than those who do not experience or have anxiety disorders according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).  These statistics are quite an eye opener and hopefully makes anyone who experiences anxiety feel less alone.  

Many people say that they have anxiety and likely they do experience anxiety from time to time, such as before taking a test, before a job interview, or driving during a snowstorm.  However, for those who have an anxiety disorder, it goes way beyond having short term and temporary period of feelings of nervousness.  For them, anxiety instead encompasses much of their lives and affects many aspects of their lives such as relationships, work, schooling, and health.  Anxiety never seems to be too far from a person’s mind when they have an anxiety disorder. It often feels as if people are in a constant state of increased stress, what is called “fight or flight” mode, where they feel as if they need to be ready to defend themselves or quickly get out of any situation.  One such example is if you are afraid of spiders and see a large one in a room, you feel a sense of panic and feel the need to either remove the spider quickly or run out of the room screaming.  As Jody Aman said “Ask your anxiety this question:  Why don’t you just leave me alone?”  If it was only that simple.  

How to manage and get through feelings of worry or nervousness requires constant work, but don’t give up!  Try the below strategies, and also check out this previous blog post on other ideas to reduce your anxiety:

1. Talk to someone, such as explaining what you are feeling and telling them what you need… whether it is a hug or for them to simply listen to you and talk to you about how you are feeling.

2. Listen to soothing music. As I have mentioned in past blog posts, I like Orla Fallon and Chicago, but choose what music is calming for you.

3. Cuddle with an animal. Animals are non judgmental and very accepting….the sound of a cat purring is so very relaxing, at least for me it is!

4. Focus on your breathing….feel yourself breathe in, feel the breath held in your lungs, feel the release of your breath and keep repeating this breathing exercise.

5. Get active….take a walk, cook, clean, or whatever you like to do.

6. Practice self talk such as “yes I am feeling anxious, yes I don’t like this feeling, yes I will be ok”.

7. Enroll in and participate in therapy…therapy is so beneficial, including for those who provide therapy.

 

 5 tips to help a loved one who has anxiety:

Many people do not understand anxiety and what people who experience anxiety are going through.  Many people who experience anxiety have often been asked “Why don’t you just stop being anxious and calm down like I am?”  Well, wouldn’t that be nice for it to be that easy?!?!  It is not like anxiety is a light switch that one can turn on and off with a flick of a wrist.  Heck, those who experience anxiety would be very grateful for it to be like a dimmer switch that they could at least lower the intensity of worry!  Charles Schulz once said “My anxieties have anxieties”.  How true is that?!?!  And, Lauren Elizabeth stated “Just because I can’t explain the feelings causing my anxiety, doesn’t make them less valid”. This explains why your loved one might not be able to verbalize how they are feeling.

Living with and being in relationships with people who have anxiety disorders can be very challenging also.  Often, family members and others involved with those with anxiety disorders wonder what to do, how to help, and what to say.  This can be tricky, for often attempts at helping like saying “Please calm down.  Everything is ok and you will be ok” often increases the anxiety level of those experiencing anxiety.  Instead, try these suggestions:

1. Reassure the person experiencing anxiety that you are there for them and that you are available to talk such as “I am here for you and that I am always willing to listen and talk.”

2. Encourage the person experiencing anxiety to take their time and to work through the stress and anxiety together such as saying “I am not in a rush. I am here for you and we will work through this together.”

3. Offer some physical comfort such as a cup of hot herbal tea, a hug, or draw a hot bath.

4. Reassure them that you know and understand that they are not choosing to feel or act this way such as saying “I know this is difficult and that you don’t like or want to feel this way or experience this.”

5. Reassure them that you will still like and love them no matter what, such as saying “I love you in good and bad times.”

 

What are some ways that you manage anxiety?  What do you need from others when experiencing anxiety?  We would love to hear your strategies to manage anxiety and what you need from others to help you through your worry. If you are struggling with controlling your worry, please reach out to us.  We care and are here to help!

Guidance to know the answer to "When should I consider therapy"?

Today’s blog is Part 1 in a 3-Part series regarding starting therapy. Part 1 focuses on questions to ask yourself or situations that might make you want to consider therapy.  Part 2 will address ways to find a therapist to work with, and Part 3 will focus on what to expect in your initial therapy appointment.  

We find that many people have misconceptions about therapy, and I am hoping this 3-Part series will help answer some of those questions, and address some inaccuracies about therapy. 

How do I know when I should consider therapy?

Great question, and of course my first answer would be anytime!  The reason I say that is because therapy can be a time for self-reflection, a pause in your busy life to prioritize what you are doing and why.  Just like scheduling a massage, going for a run, or getting a mani/pedi allows you time to focus on YOU, therapy can offer the same benefit. A gym membership can lead to good physical health while therapy can lead to good mental health.  Maintaining good mental health is always a good idea, and therapy can help with that.

Therapy is also appropriate when you might be looking for unbiased,professional help. Therapy can be considered if you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, or are dissatisfied with your job, but can also be helpful if you don’t want to leave your house due to sadness or worry. The spectrum of people who can benefit from therapy is quite wide! As long as you are willing to open up to a therapist and are interested in having guidance to address some of your concerns or help get you back on track, then therapy is appropriate. 

A good rule of thumb is if you are consistently feeling: 

Unfulfilled

Stressed

Unhappy

Worried 

Sad

Drained

Questioning yourself or what you're doing, then therapy might be something to consider. 

Oftentimes, we feel dissatisfied, and don’t know why. You might say “I’m doing everything I can and I’m still not happy.”  This might lead to just trying harder, and doing more, which ends up leaving you even more drained.  This is when having a professional with an outside perspective assisting you could be beneficial.

Or, sometimes your friend, boss, or your spouse might suggest you talk to someone.  If someone close to you suggests this, please take a pause to consider. Might they see something that you don't ? Maybe they see you drinking too much to calm down every night, or maybe they see you pulling away from friendships due to anxiety.  As long as these are trusted people in your life, this might be another indicator that seeing a therapist would be a good idea.

“I don’t need therapy.  My doctor gave me medicine for my sadness/anxiety” – My reply to this would be that you should still consider therapy.  Medication can be helpful, but it might not target some of the underlying reasons you are feeling sad or worried.  Research studies have repeatedly shown that clients receive the most benefit when medication is combined with therapy, rather than just medication alone.

In the end, therapy can help you maintain good mental wellbeing, and adjust what you are doing so you are happier, more fulfilled, or less anxious.  And, who doesn’t want that?!

Feel free to reach out to our office if you aren’t sure if therapy could benefit you.  And, stay tuned to our next blog – Part 2 in this series on how to find a therapist!

 

6 Simple Tips to Reduce Your Anxiety so You Feel More Relaxed 

I thought I'd put together a brief list of simple ideas to help you feel more relaxed, especially if you are feeling worried or anxious.  You certainly don't need to do all of these, but if you're feeling run down, try figuring out how to add one or two of these practices into your day.  It just might help you feel better!

1- Develop a list of coping skills (things that help you to feel better when you are feeling nervous or anxious). Add things you have seen others do, or you have done in the past and helped you to feel better. Some ideas include: listening to music, getting some fresh air, and practicing deep breathing. Also, identify things you are doing when you feel anxious that DO NOT help you feel better, and stop doing them!  

2 - Build a positive support system of friends and/or family that you can talk to when you are feeling anxious (or down), when you need a reality check, or need to help remembering your coping skills.  Or, if you need a little more help than friends and family can provide, consider therapy.

3-Get moving! Exercise has numerous benefits, including helping to lift your mood. Exercise serves as an excellent outlet, and a great way to channel your “nervous” energies (if you are feeling a tendency to fidget) into something productive.    Even just taking a short walk at lunchtime can benefit your mental clarity.

4-Journaling offers a chance to do some reflective writing on your triggers to your anxiety and what coping skills are working for you. Journal nightly as a way to process your day, to find anxiety triggers and patterns in your behaviors.  You can add in gratitude journaling as well to help you focus on the positives. 

5-Practice Mindfulness. Anxiety is typically future oriented, and fear based. Practice mindfulness techniques (such as grounding) to train your mind to focus on the here and now rather than your anxiety about the future.   

6-Deep breathing. This is a quick and easy skill you can do anywhere, that requires no equipment or preparation. Take a slow deep breath in (to the count of 5), then hold it for a count of 5, then slowly exhale to the count of 5. Do this 5 times. This breathing can be combined with closing your eyes, focusing on your chest rising and falling, or picturing a place that makes you feel calm and happy. 

If you want to read more about simple techniques to help you feel less anxious, check out this article that elaborates on the above ideas.  What else would you add that helps you relax?

5 Tips on Sleeping Well

Do you have trouble falling asleep?  Does your mind seem to race even after you climb into bed?  Do you have worries on your mind that prevent you from easily falling asleep?  Do you toss and turn, finding you can't shut your mind off?  Or, do you sleep ok, but wake up and find you are still tired?

You are not alone!  Trouble sleeping (difficulty falling asleep and/or sustaining sleep) is something that I've noticed many people struggle with.  Or, maybe you are able to fall asleep easily now, but you've had times in the recent past when you couldn't fall asleep no matter how tired you were.  The Sleep Foundation (https://sleepfoundation.org/media-center/press-release/lack-sleep-affecting-americans-finds-the-national-sleep-foundation) reports that 45% of Americans said they had difficulty sleeping in the past week, with women struggling with insomnia more than men.  Good quality restorative sleep is so important for us to function at our best!  It is necessary for memory consolidation, helps reduce our risk of certain diseases like heart attacks and diabetes, and improves our decision making.

'Sleep hygiene' is the fancy term for any practice that helps you to sleep well consistently.  I suggest the following tips, which can be especially helpful for the ones who suffer with anxiety and racing thoughts at bedtime:

1-Use a sound machine.  Any sound, whether it’s white noise or rain softly falling, can help block out other extraneous sounds.  The soothing, repetitive nature of any sound machine track can help you relax.  There are even apps (Relax Melodies, or Sound Machine) available that have tracks of the rain forest, a babbling brook, or birds chirping that you can use for free.

2-Keep your bedroom cool and dark.  Use blackout curtains if you need it.  Conversely, when it is morning time, open up the curtains immediately, as the sunlight can help jumpstart your day and give you energy.

3-Limit naps to 15-30 minutes at most.  Skip naps if at all possible, because you most likely won't be ready for bed at your typical bed time. 

4-Have a consistent sleep/wake time.  Even if it’s the weekend, or your day off, it’s best to wake up within 1 hour of your normal wake time to not throw off your bed time that night.  And, go to bed at approximately the same time every night.

5-(THIS ONE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT!) Create a relaxing bedtime routine that includes no electronics.  Just as children crave routine, especially at bedtime, we do too!  A routine (like bath, pjs, read a book, and bedtime for kids) helps our brains to understand what is coming next.  Your brain will learn to expect that soon you'll want to fall asleep.  So, starting at least one hour prior to bedtime, turn off all electronics (yes, this includes your iPad, computer, tv and cell phone).  Some of these electronics have a “nighttime” lighting setting, but any light that they emit can prohibit your brain from naturally producing the melatonin that signals your body that you are tired.  Take a warm bath or shower.  As your body temperate decreases from the bath or shower, you will naturally become drowsy.  Take some time to journal your thoughts, or work on a crossword puzzle.  Read.  Crochet.  Do Sudoku.  If you turn off your phone, you’ll find you have time to do some of the things you previously did in the non-digital age, while promoting good sleep habits.

Give some of these a try and let me know what works for you!