Braving the Wilderness: A Mini Review

By Sasha Taskier, AMFT

I recently read Braving the Wilderness, Dr. Brené Brown’s newest book on the quest for true belonging in an era of emotional disconnection and political toxicity. I have long been a fan of Dr. Brown’s work; I try to reread her books Daring Greatly and Rising Strong every chance I get, and I am constantly recommending them to both clients and friends alike. I had very high hopes for her newest work, and let me tell you, it surpassed even my incredibly high expectations.

Here is a mini-review of the book, including reasons for its potency and relevance, and some of my favorite takeaways.

Brown explores to the rise of disconnection in our communities. She sees that our political parties have become gangs that leave no room for dissent amongst us. Perhaps more importantly, if we stay inside these bunkers, we lose the ability to connect with those on the outside. We are the most separated and siloed we have ever been, and despite being surrounded by the people who (likely) share our political beliefs, we are also the most lonely, isolated and disconnected we have ever been. So, while we may be gathered under the same bunkers of political ideology, we are really still alone.

Rather than continuing to stay in our bunkers and stonewalling (or fighting) with anyone who has a different belief than ours, Brown encourages us to learn to stand in the wilderness and begin to have the hard and painful conversations. Only through these moments of real connection can we better belong to ourselves and to one another.

To do this with any sort of success, Brown provides practices and tools that are meant to help us step into and become, what she calls “the wilderness”, both rooted deeply in our beliefs and integrity, and courageous enough to open ourselves to those around us even if we know it might not be popular opinion. We must choose courage over comfort and learn to embrace vulnerability. Both vulnerability and joy are the keys to true belonging.

Here are her tips for braving the wilderness:

  • Boundaries: Set/Hold/Respect them. The challenge is letting go of being liked and the fear of disappointing.
  • Reliability: Do not over commit or overpromise to please others or prove yourself.  Say what you mean and mean what you say.
  • Accountability: Issue meaningful apologies. Let go of blame and stay out of shame.
  • Vault: Share only what is yours to share. Stop using gossip to hotwire a quick connection with someone.
  • Integrity: Choose courage over comfort. Practice living in your values.
  • Generosity: Be honest and clear with others about what is ok and what is not.

Brown masterfully provides both research findings and anecdotes to better explain and unpack how these tools show up in our daily lives and why they are so integral to true belonging. One of my favorite sections from the book was a practice called: Hold Hands with Strangers.

She teaches that collective joy and pain are the cornerstones of human connection; “seek out moments of collective joy and show up for collective pain.” These are the moments that reinforce our human connection, such as concerts, sporting events and even movies where there is a palpable force of love and connection in the audience. Have you ever felt an experience of collective joy? For me, singing songs arm in arm with my best friends at my childhood summer camp triggers those memories. Even the joy I experienced at a Beyoncé concert, singing and dancing with strangers who loved her the same way I do. They were moments that, although maybe silly, made me feel hopeful about the goodness of people.

Moments of collective pain, such as funerals, or sitting with a friend who is grieving or hurting, are profoundly important - albeit much more difficult and uncomfortable. We need both.

Brown shares a study that examined the impact of collective assembly. The findings showed that these experiences “contribute to a life filled with sense of meaning, increased positive affect, increased sense of social connection, and decreased sense of loneliness. All essential components of a happy healthy life.” The best part is, they have a lingering effect; we hold onto these positive feelings past the events themselves.

Even since the rise of social media in the last decade, we have become simultaneously more connected and more isolated and lonely. Brown’s ultimate message resonates with me very deeply - if we want true, authentic belonging in this world, we first have to know who we are, what roots us and only then, can we turn outwards and engage with our friends and communities from a place of curiosity, vulnerability and shared humanity.

There are countless pieces of wisdom in this book, from conflict transformation tools to parenting advice, and its message could not be more important or relevant for our world today. So, pick up a copy - (and then talk to someone about it, in person!)

Transition to Parenthood Series

 By Sasha Taskier, AMFT

By Sasha Taskier, AMFT

PART II: Becoming a Mother

We are all taught to believe that pregnancy & motherhood are magnificent times in a woman’s life and that we, as women, intuitively transition into parenthood. What we aren’t taught is that often this transition also comes with shock, disappointment and fear. One of the reasons I wanted to write this blog series is to shed light on certain parts of this transition that may not be discussed as easily or openly in our communities and amongst our friends. In this post, I will be exploring some of the stories and myths around becoming a mother.

I recently listened to an interview with Dr. Catherine Birndorf, MD – a psychiatrist and obstetric gynecologist, who specializes in perinatal mood disorders, working almost exclusively with pregnant and postpartum women. She referred to the period of becoming a mother as “maitrescence.” Similar to adolescence, which we widely acknowledge to be a time of intense struggle and transition, maitrescence is another highly destabilizing time in a woman’s life, yet it often doesn’t get the same attention or acknowledgment.

Becoming a parent is a massive identity shift; once it happens, it is forever. You may have months and years to think about it and prepare, but the transition is instant; one moment your baby is safe and secure inside of you and the next, he or she is out in the world, needing your nourishment, warmth, and safety. You are responsible for a tiny little life and it is terrifying and wonderful all at the same time.

Many of the struggles Dr. Birndorf sees in her work are about the expectations women have about motherhood, and the disappointment and confusion that sometimes sets in when those expectations do not meet reality. Here are some of the thoughts I’ve heard and had on the difficulties of becoming a mother:

  • There is a narrative that I heard constantly when I was pregnant. That is, the moment you see your baby, you will be instantly attached and in love. Yes, many women do feel instant love and connection to their baby, but for others it takes more time to bond and experience feelings of love. It can be embarrassing, or even shameful to admit that your experience is outside this “norm.” More often than not, we keep these ‘shameful’ feelings a secret and let them ruminate.                                                       
  • You may need to mourn the loss of your freedom. Often we cannot even conceptualize the immense sacrifice that motherhood entails until we are in the throws of it all. Learning to give up your solo time, to no longer be able to run out of the house for an errand or walk the dog without a plan in place, or to have an impromptu date night with your partner – these are all difficult adjustments.                                                                                                                                                                        
  • Productivity is a trap and it is not serving you. Many of us measure the success of our days based on how productive we were. Give yourself permission to step off that productivity treadmill during this transition – because feeding a newborn (every two hours!), feeding yourself, and trying to sleep somewhere in between, is a full day. This is not the time for more work (or to worry about checking things off a to-do list, no matter how much your internal overachiever wants you to!) One helpful tactic I like to fall back on is to ask myself, what would I say to my best friend if she were sharing these feelings with me?                        
  • Your body has just gone through a major trauma and depending on your delivery, you may be in a huge amount of pain, and unable to care for your baby the way you hoped you would in the first weeks. Treat your body like you are treating your newborn – with care, concern, love and patience. Again, what would I say to my best friend if she were in this position? Can we work to show the grace and love we show to others, to ourselves?                                                                                                   
  • You are no longer the center of attention – for the doctors or your partner. For nine months you are under the care of a doctor every month (and eventually every week); you have a treasured spot in our society as a pregnant woman and often you are doted on, cared for and pampered like you have never been before (totally deserved by the way, you are growing a human life.) But, often all of that love and attention (from doctor, from partner, from the world) is transferred over to baby, and you may be left wondering where all the attention went. (Women are often not required to see your doctor until six weeks after your delivery, while newborns see his or her pediatrician 3-4 times in six weeks.)

This is such a hard thing to acknowledge, and it might feel embarrassing or inappropriate to say that you need some extra love and attention when there is a little baby in the picture. Honor those needs and communicate what you are feeling to both your partner and your doctors.

  • Becoming a mother can elicit questions that might feel overwhelming; Am I ready to be a mother? Who do I want to be as a mother? What do I want my child to experience in their childhood? But also, how was I mothered? Are there pieces of that story that are upsetting or triggering? Setting time aside to truly reflect on these questions can be daunting, but the reward is just as much yours as it is your baby’s.

If all of these weren’t enough, you may be experiencing a shift in your hormones, sleep deprivation, depression and anxiety symptoms all while you are caring for a newborn. See my post about Postpartum Depression (& Perinatal Mood Disorders) in Part 1 of The Transition to Parenthood series.

Additional resources & books:

More about Dr. Catherine Birndorf, MD and her most recent projects: https://www.themotherhoodcenter.com/         

Postpartum Support & Information

Nurture by Erica Chidi Cohen

Bringing up Bébé, by Pamela Druckerman

Great with Child by Beth Ann Fennelly

Art of Waiting, by Belle Boggs

SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

NorthShore MOMS Line
1-866-364-MOMS (866-364-6667)
The NorthShore MOMS Line is a free, confidential, 24/7 hotline staffed by licensed counselors who can help you find the information, support and resources you need to feel better. You don’t have to be in crisis to call.

The Power of Positivity

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By Caitlin Nelson, AMFT

Prioritizing positivity about ourselves has taken a bit of beating over the years, in part due to the rise of social media. We are invited to compare ourselves, almost constantly, to the rose-colored images of other people’s lives. The impact this is having on our well-being has been tied to an increase in anxiety and depressive symptoms. Our ability to remind ourselves that social media is a highlight reel, rather than a true depiction of others, allows us to stay mindful of reality. It also allows us to cultivate an appreciation for the positive aspects of our own lives.

Feeling grateful increases our sense of satisfaction and our self-esteem. It can also decrease the felt impact from negative experiences. An easy way to begin focusing on the positives in your own life is to keep a gratitude journal. Gratitude journals have been shown to decrease stress, improve sleep, and increase self-awareness. Dedicate time throughout your week to document what you are grateful for and allow your positive sense of self to flourish.

Learn more about the impact of social comparison here.

Delve further into gratitude journals here.

A Case to be (a little more) Selfish

 By Sasha Taskier, AFMT

By Sasha Taskier, AFMT

The word selfish has such a negative connotation. From a young age, we are taught not to be ‘selfish’ – we are taught to share, to be generous, to even sometimes put others’ needs before our own. While all of these lessons remain important, and are a part of the recipe for harmonious and reciprocal relationships, I have to ask: have we taken it too far? Have we gotten stuck in a cycle of putting everyone and everything before ourselves?

Recently, I’ve been hearing more and more from clients, family, and friends just how exhausted they are. Exhausted by their work, by their social calendars, and by the expectations they’ve put upon themselves to be stellar employees, parents, friends, and partners. We’ve put an immense amount of pressure on ourselves to show up in these roles, and while I absolutely believe these efforts are meaningful and worthwhile, how long before we are trying to pour from an empty cup?

When I suggest to my clients that perhaps they need to focus a bit more on themselves, it is often met with resistance; “but, I have no time” or, “I know it’s bad, but this is just a difficult time of year” or, “I honestly have no idea what that would even look like.” I would be lying if I said I couldn’t identify with every one of those excuses, because they are true! We do have a litany of obligations; we do have friends and family depending on us; we do have impossible work schedules that make the idea of a regular exercise routine seemingly comical. And yet, I wonder, how far are we willing to push ourselves? And, more importantly, to what cost?

How can we be the stellar employees, friends, parents and partners we strive to be if we are running on fumes? How on earth can we respond to each other with compassion and patience when our reserves are diminished? I like to think about an electrical outlet – envision the many things plugging into you for energy: your families, your job, your home, even, maybe your pet… but what do you plug into? What is your energy source (and how often are you using it)?

Organizational psychologist and author of Grounded: How Leaders Stay Rooted in an Uncertain World, Bob Rosen states: “When you take care of yourself first, you show up as a healthy, grounded person in life…If you can’t take care of yourself, then you can’t care for others. Being selfish is critical.” So, while perhaps an unpopular perspective – maybe we can encourage ourselves to be a little more selfish, not only as a necessity for our own well-being, but also as a service to those we love most.

Here are a few ideas and exercises to think about on this topic:

  • Write down 20 things that you love to do. No specific order, no right or wrong answers, just jot down 20 things that make you happy. (For example, reading a novel, taking a yoga class, traveling internationally, having dinner with friends, exploring new neighborhoods, walking the dog, etc.) Then, write next to each item, when the last time you actually did that activity (days/weeks/months/years). It can be a glaring exercise to realize that we haven’t engaged in activities that bring us joy in months or even years. [Activity adapted from The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron]                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
  • What can you say ‘NO’ to this week, (or this month)? Sometimes things that are supposed to bring us joy – like seeing friends, or going out for dinners etc., bring us more stress than we realize. We are so accustomed to saying ‘yes!’ to invitations and expectations, but what if we chose just one thing and said no rather than yes. Barricade yourself at home for the evening, (or in a happy, relaxing place) and play hooky.                                                                                                               
  • Engage in service. This might seem counterintuitive – but if you have ever spent time sitting with someone who is ill, or serving food in a soup kitchen, or volunteering at an animal shelter, you know – there are few things more energizing than giving back to those who truly need your help. Not only is giving back good for our communities, but it is good for our spirit. You can search for volunteer opportunities at chicagocares.org.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
  • Take 10 minutes for yourself. Whether it is walking to get yourself a coffee in the middle of the work day, or setting your alarm a bit earlier to sit quietly or stretch first thing – this tiny exercise in slowing down, can help us towards a more mindful reset.                                                                 
  • Plan something indulgent. While we can’t necessarily treat ourselves to a getaway or a massage every day, or even every month – there is research that suggests that the ‘build up’ and excitement for planning a trip is even more enjoyable than the trip itself. So, maybe begin to plan that trip you’ve wanted to take; savor the entire process. [Source]

A Season of Transition

 By Karen Focht, MA, LMFT

By Karen Focht, MA, LMFT

As I sit here at the office during my first week back from maternity leave I can’t help but reflect on life transition and what this can entail.  These days there seems to be so much expected from us in life such as family, work, and even self-care. I personally find it easy to rush through transitions and new stages in life with little time focused on reflection.  Life demands can easily take over and leave us feeling turned upside-down when a new season of life is upon us. 

As I approached the end of my maternity leave with my sweet baby boy, friends, family, and colleagues often asked me if I was ready for this time to end.  What I quickly realized was that although I was ready to come back to work, I had spent little time reflecting on this transition.  I mean, how hard could it be?  I had already done this once over 5 years ago.  I should have this down!  When I started researching the topic of transition I completely resonated with what I came across.  This includes allowing for realistic timeframes and expectations, accessing a supportive environment during a time of change, creating a new routine and allowing for self-expression. Sometimes we just need to let go of what was in order to truly embrace what is today.  This is something I am now focused on more than ever as I settle back into seeking a work/life balance.  Here are some articles I found to be helpful through my process of transition!

Keys to Handling Life’s Transitions

Understanding Transition Stress

How to Cope with Transition and Change

Rainy Day Blues

BY SASHA TASKIER, AMFT

It’s been a rainy, dreary few weeks in Chicago. I keep hoping spring is right around the corner, about to rear its head – but no. Not yet, at least. Talking with friends and clients, I’m reminded how profound an impact the weather can have on our minds, bodies and wellness. It has been over a week of rain and grey skies, and it certainly feels like our energy and positivity is being held hostage by the forecast.

Sometimes, only in retrospect we realize how hazy our brain has felt, how little energy we’ve had and how much we’ve isolated over the winter months. It’s invigorating to feel like you are coming out on the other side of the winter blues, and also a bit alarming to realize how deeply you may have been impacted.

Approximately 6% of the US population is impacted by S.A.D (seasonal affective disorder.) Symptoms include fatigue, depression, hopelessness, and social withdrawal. A milder version of SAD, called the ‘winter blues’ impacts almost 14% of the population. Most of the people impacted by these symptoms live in the northern parts of the country (not only because the temperatures are lower, but because there is less sunlight) and 4/5 of people impacted are women. (Mayo Clinic)

As Chicagoans, so many of us feel like our best selves in the summer months. We have access to an amazing city that comes alive in May & June. With a beautiful beach, walking paths, farmer’s markets and parks we remember that our city is filled with active, vibrant people and families who love to congregate outside.

While this is (almost) around the corner, we still have some time and may need some strategies for keeping our winter blues and S.A.D. symptoms at bay:

  • Get outside! If it is a beautiful day, take a walk during your lunch break, leave work early, go for a run. These days are few and far between and our bodies thank us so dearly for the vitamin D and exercise it desperately needs this time of year. (Do it, even if it isn’t very nice outside… your body will thank you.)

  • Get some light! Invest in a S.A.D light, or ‘phototherapy.’ You can read about it here and here

  • Be amongst friends and family. While rainy days can sometimes lead to isolation and hiding under our blankets, often what our minds and bodies need is community and connection.

  • Plan something you can look forward to. Organize a game night with friends, or plan a dinner with your nearest and dearest. Even schedule to watch a new movie at home for a few days away – excitement and anticipation are very powerful tools.

  • Get Connected.  If you are concerned that your symptoms may be more severe, you can seek out professional help either through your general practitioner or a therapist.

And remember, the more it rains now, the more abundance and beauty we will see this summer. Keep an eye out for all the budding plants and trees as we continue to wait out the rains. 

Mindful Living

 By Karen Focht, MA, LMFT

By Karen Focht, MA, LMFT

I’ve noticed that in today’s day and age we often hear language around the concept of Mindfulness.  Even when recently driving in my car I heard an advertisement for health insurance, which focused on creating a “mindful moment” of reflection and awareness. What does this really mean, to be mindful?  What does it mean to incorporate mindfulness into our daily lives and self-care?

I recently attended a two-day workshop on Mindfulness led by Ronald D. Siege, PsyD, and quickly found myself challenged to the core.  The concepts of mindfulness that were taught during this workshop included seeing and accepting things as they are, experiencing the “richness” of the moment and freeing ourselves from having to “act skillfully”.  On the other hand, the training emphasized that mindfulness practice is not having a blank mind, detaching from our emotions, escaping pain and withdrawing from our life and reality. 

On the first day of training, Ronald Siege led a guided meditation that lasted hours.  Ok, to be totally honest it was about 30 minutes, but I found myself completely challenged through this process.  Why was it so hard to stay present in the moment?  Why did it feel like this exercise took hours rather than minutes?  Our brains are conditioned to continuously process thoughts that can often be distracting to our emotional process.  This is often how we cope to distract from anxious or painful thoughts and emotions.

As I sat in the midst of this mindfulness experiment, I found myself criticizing my inability to stay focused on the here and now.  My mind quickly drifted from my breath (where my focus was suppose to be) to my endless list of to do’s that were not being concurred due to attending a 2 day training.   The instructor immediately introduced the concept of “acceptance and loving-kindness”.  As I sat in self-criticism, I experienced tremendous validation in the idea that a wondering mind was expected, and that in these moments we can "gently and lovingly" guide ourselves back to letting it all go.  During this particular exercise the primary focus was on our breathing process. I can’t tell you how many times I had to lead myself back to my breath.  It felt like every 10 seconds or so!  Although it wasn’t a natural process for me personally, I gained so much insight into how easily I can distract myself from difficult thoughts and feelings along with the criticism attached to these feelings.  

Since completing this training I have found myself working harder to adopt the concepts of mindfulness practice in my day to day life.  It’s never easy, nor perfect, but it has created a new gentle and loving tone within.  Please take a moment to check out these resources on Mindfulness that include guided meditations. Give them a try and allow yourself to practice embracing the moment and providing self-compassion and acceptace. 

Resources on Mindfulness

http://www.mindfulness-solution.com/DownloadMeditations.html

http://www.sittingtogether.com/meditations.php

http://themindfulnessapp.com/

https://www.headspace.com/

Less Is More

 REAL SIMPLE JANUARY 2017

REAL SIMPLE JANUARY 2017

As we are in the midst of the holiday season, I find myself engaging in more and more conversations, both personally and professionally, around the reality of burn out.  With obligations, tasks and even party attendance, it seems to become harder and harder to keep up each year.  So why is it we take on so much year after year?  Does saying no have to come along with an aftermath of guilt, embarrassment and a label of being insensitive to others feelings and needs? 

As I was preparing my reflection on this very topic, my office received the latest subscription to Real Simple Magazine.  I couldn’t help but smile when I saw the January 2017 cover; “Say Yes to Saying No:  Find more time for the things you love”.  The article mentions how we are socialized to feel responsible for the feelings and well-being of those around us. As we continue to say yes to more and more, we lose site of our own needs and in return are left feeling resentment, depletion and burnout.  Melissa McCreery, Ph.D., a psychologist, provides some great direction stating “Pay yourself first.  Self-care is what allows you to show up and say your yeses later”.  The article then goes into some great tips on how to say now well. 

                  1.     Start Small:  Even if it is declining a store credit card.

2.     Have a go-to phrase:  A simple “Thanks for thinking of me.  I have other commitments” will go a far way.

3.     Take a pause:  Think your decision through and if your not sure take some time and get back with them.

4.     Try “yes, no, yes”:  YES to the relationship, NO to the request, YES to offering an alternative.

5.     Keep it Brief:  Be direct and brief which will create less loopholes coming back at you.

6.     Don’t White-Lie:  There isn’t a need to be specific in reasoning or excuse.

For more information, check out these resources.  Our hope is that by saying yes to less you will find more fulfillment and joy through the season.  Happy Holiday’s from the Focht Family Practice Team!

-       http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/keep-holiday-stress-minimum-learn-say-no

-       https://www.womenshealth.gov/blog/no-holiday-stress.html

-       http://www.huffingtonpost.com/greater-good-science-center/5-research-based-ways-to-say-no-during-the-holidays_b_8649384.html

The Power of Reminiscing

 The Short north, columbus ohio

The Short north, columbus ohio

I recently returned to Columbus Ohio where I had spent three years of my life post college.  During these early twenty-something years, I can look back to some amazing memories, tough challenges, relationship building and self discovery.  Columbus was where I started the beginning stages of my career, built a strong support system of close friends and met my husband.  It was where I first experienced full independence and allowed myself to dream big and push through fear of failure and change.

As I drove through the city with my closest girlfriend Jaime, we found ourselves completely emerged in our memories of that exciting and terrifying time.  Not only did we reflect on our memories, but we also shared new awareness of the present as it is connected to our past. 

Research shows that reminiscing can be a very valuable tool towards healing and growth.  John Kunz, founder of the International Institute of Reminiscence and Life Review states “each time an individual tells part of his/her life story, those who listen are like a mirror, reflecting and affirming their lives.”  This experience of nostalgia does have its painful side, yet research continues to show that by reminiscing, life can seem more meaningful and death less freighting.  It can counteract loneliness, boredom and anxiety.

So the next time you find yourself with this opportunity of reminiscing remember that this experience strengthens relationships, creates more meaning in life, increases feelings of contentment and links our past to the present.  

Quality not Quantity

By Karen Focht, MA, LMFT

Creating family balance can be challenging in today’s world and it often leaves us feeling as if we don’t have much time to really invest in the quality things that we love.  Creating experiences within our relationships is a valuable and powerful force.  If you find yourself struggling with pressure of lacking time, try to focus less on quantity and more on quality. 

As summer is quickly approaching an end, there are still many events and activities remaining in Chicago. One of our favorite things to do as a family is to attend the Jay Pritzker Pavilion summer concert series.  There is nothing better than starting your week with a picnic in the park together as a family.  Not only is there amazing music preformed with a stunning background view of the city, but it’s also free!  In the midst of busy schedules, I have always found it to be so worthwhile to invest this time together as a family.  So get out there and have some fun with these last remaining summer nights in Chicago!  Here are a few remaining concerts presented by Millennium Park. 

Millennium Park Summer Music Series

-       August 18th at 6:30pm Elephant Revival + Mandolin Orange

-       August 25th at 6:30pm Tortoise + Homme

Millennium Park Presents

-       August 27th at 7:30pm Chicago Dancing Festival:  Dancing Under the Stars

-       August 28th at 6:30pm Lang Lang International Music Foundation

-       September 9th at 7:30pm Stars of Lyric Opera presented by Lyric Opera of Chicago

For additional information go to: http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/millennium_park_-upcomingevents.html