THE ONLY WAY OUT IS THROUGH

“Why can’t I just be changed without having to deal with all these shitty feelings?, ” I said with a laugh. My therapist laughed, too, “Well, wouldn’t that be nice! But you seem to think of things as black and white, good or bad. These feelings are just feelings. You can handle them.”

I know better than this. I’ve asked this question before. So have many of my own therapy clients. “Why does growth require so much pain? Can’t I just skip it?” I’m not sure I have the answer to why, but I do know that the only way to “get over” something is to acknowledge it and feel it. You can’t go around a feeling. There’s really no “easy” way out.

I think what we often feel is a pressure to get over things quickly. We want to be happy, productive people, good friends and good partners who don’t “burden” others with our “negative” feelings. But why do we even need to label feelings like sadness, anger, or anxiety as “bad”? Of course, these emotions don’t feel good, but does that mean they’re automatically bad? What if we could view them as simple messages?

Sadness can tell you that you’ve lost something and you need some time to heal. Anger can tell you that you’ve been hurt or wronged. These feelings are valid and important. They tell us when we need to take care of ourselves, to talk to someone, or to set a boundary.

Anxiety is a message that you’re afraid of something. It shows up in life – usually when there’s change happening or about to happen – even “good” change. Breakups, death, new jobs, new children, new relationships, these are all changes. When anxiety shows up, instead of saying “OMG, I’m crazy, how can I make this go away RIGHT NOW?”, maybe you need to ask yourself, “What am I afraid of?” It might be difficult to find the answer right away. You might say, “Nothing. I’m just going to my office like anything other day.” But I guarantee if you dig a little deeper, perhaps to something that’s completely unrelated to what you’re doing at that moment, you’ll find something that needs attention. Then, over time, you’ll find you can face it and walk through the fear.

And that’s the key – walking through. Avoiding the fear will only make you more afraid. Pretending you’re happy all the time will not serve you or anyone else. Ignoring your anger and not acknowledging the hurt you feel will only hurt you more.  PLUS,  you won’t get that amazing growth and change you’re looking for!

Now, I’m not talking about wallowing. I’m talking about acknowledging your feelings, validating them, and maybe even getting curious about where they come from so that you can figure out what it is that you need to take good care of you.

What feelings have you been fighting? How can you validate them instead? When have you found that it actually was easier to move through a feeling rather than fight it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

RESOLVE TO BE GOOD TO YOURSELF

Resolutions don’t work because they’re usually based on some external, nebulous, often unattainable goal. “I will lose 15 pounds.” “I will eat only salad.” “I will paint every day.” We usually start off well, but when one day goes by that we don’t do what we said we would, we say “screw it, I’ll never change” and go back to our old ways.

But what if your resolution is to simply do your best to take care of yourself, so you can handle what life throws your way? What if the idea is just to try and feel your best, more days than not? Because feeling better helps you make tough decisions, move through difficult feelings, and create more. Here are some tried and true ways to help you take good care of you this year, and beyond.

Get off of your phone

More and more studies are showing us how addicted we are to our phones. We now know for a fact that checking your email or social media first thing in the morning is one of the worst things you can do for your emotional health. First, it sets you up to keep checking and checking your phone all day long. Second, it contributes to ongoing depression, anxiety, and stress.

How do you break this habit? First, try charging your phone somewhere other than your bedroom. Get an alarm clock so you don’t use your phone as one. (You can get one for under $10 at pretty much any general store or second-hand shop). Then, instead of rushing to your phone in the morning, go do 10 – 20 minutes of exercise (see below), mindfully make yourself a cup of coffee or tea, or take a longer, more rejuvenating shower. Your brain will thank you for the slow wake up.

Other ways to break the phone habit include leaving your phone at home when you go out to dinner, removing social media apps from your phone (you can check Facebook on your desktop or even just on the browser), or turning off notifications to your social media apps so they don’t ding or vibrate at you constantly. Is the comment on that Instagram photo of your food really so important that you must see it RIGHT NOW? Probably not.

Last, because you’re charging your phone somewhere else, you won’t be looking at your phone right before bed. This can seriously disturb your sleep. Try reading a physical book instead or, if you must have your phone nearby, set up one of those guided meditations I mentioned earlier and put your phone on the other side of the room to listen and help you drift off to sleep.

Move your body every day

Seriously. Every. Day. It helps with a myriad of physical and emotional issues, including depression and anxiety. Preferably first thing in the morning. While this might not give you the biggest muscle building benefit, when you’re done, you’re done and it sets you on a path to all-day productivity. Now, does this mean getting up at 6 am to hit the gym every day? Absolutely not.

 

Twenty minutes, even as little as 10 minutes of exercise, will give you a big boost in mood and energy.

 

Any movement is good. Whatever your body will allow you to do. I love the rock’n’roll yogi, Sadie Nardini. She has a ton of yoga routines out there in cyberspace. Her 21-day Yoga Body course on DailyOm (where you pay what you want!) is a fabulous way to start doing 10 – 20 minutes of yoga each day. It also includes recipes and journaling prompts to help you transform from the inside, out. I’ve now moved on to her 21-day Yoga Shred, which involves more intense yoga workouts, including High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). I’ve now been working out every morning for the past 30 days using these programs. I have NEVER worked out every day before. And no, I’m not making any money off of Sadie’s programs. I just love her stuff!

Of course, if you miss a day, IT’S OK. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Get moving the next day. And you don’t have to do double the workout – just start right back up again.

Meditate

Do I really need to show you how meditation is good for the brain? Alright, alright, I’ll give you this: Meditation can literally, physically change your brain. A recent study on 155 adults showed that after eight weeks of meditating, the amygdala – the fight or flight center of the brain that gets overworked and causes anxiety – actually shrunk. At the same time, the pre-frontal cortex got thicker, which helps in concentration, focus, and decision-making.

Yes, meditation can be hard. No, it does not require hours of meditating every day. Just like exercise, as little as 10 minutes a day can be beneficial. I highly recommend guided meditations. Sit comfortably, put your headphones in, and just listen. Check out some of my favorite meditations on YouTube. I also love the Relax Melodies app that contains guided meditations and lets you create your own soundscapes for relaxation and sleep (again, I’m not affiliated with these guys, I just use and love their app).

Plan your big and small creative moves

I know, it can be difficult and overwhelming to plan. But living with intention, which is what is required to truly move forward and get things done, requires planning. You need to know what you want and make a plan to get it. Start out with a list of your goals for the year. Write down at least three. This can be an ongoing list – you don’t have to finish it now. From there, break it down into smaller goals that will help you accomplish your bigger ones. Want to be part of a gallery show some time this year? Ok, then you’ll need smaller goals that include researching and contacting galleries, organizing your work, and planning for any new pieces you might create. If you feel stuck and are worried about how you can get your creative process moving again, try my DIY coaching e-course, Creative Lightning (it’s also pay what you want!)

Even when I put things in my google and iPhone calendars, I tend to sometimes forget things I should know are going on – until I write them down. The act of writing things down helps to solidify them into your memory. I love Danielle Laporte’s Desire Map Planners. I use the weekly version to just get a good grip on my appointments at the start of each week. This planner goes along with Danielle’s Desire Map process that asks you to define exactly how you want to feel and then set your goals based on finding that feeling. You can find that book and so much more of her cool, conscious stuff here. (Disclaimer: I AM an affiliate for Danielle Laporte. I love her stuff so much and recommend her so often that I decided to sign up for her affiliate program!)

Write down your thoughts

Journaling is an age old practice that many of you may have left behind in your high school years. But studies show that it is beneficial to your mental and emotional health, helping you to process thoughts and emotions, and better solve difficult problems. I find often that many of my more visually and performance-oriented clients can express themselves very well through their mediums, but have difficulty defining and communicating their emotions verbally, which can be a strain on relationships. Journaling can help you to sort through your feelings and help you to see helpful and not-so-helpful patterns that may be holding you back. Try to journal without judgment. Just write and read it afterwards, even days later. Write knowing that this is not about how you want to present yourself to others, it’s just how you are, right now. You can journal on your computer or phone, but the act of writing (and getting your eyes off of a screen) can hold even more benefits. Personally, I can’t resist a blank sketchbook with some good, heavy paper and a quality pen.

Say “NO.”

If the last year was filled with a bunch of things you wish you hadn’t agreed to do, and left you exhausted and filled with resentment, then you may want to add this one to your list. When should you say no? Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Does it feel like an obligation, rather than enthusiastic yes?
  2. Do I feel like you couldn’t possibly say no because of what the other person might think of me or how they might feel, but the idea of doing the thing makes me feel down, overwhelmed, overworked, or under-appreciated?
  3. Do I want to yes to just to get someone off my back rather than deal with conflict or set a healthy boundary?
  4. Do I realistically have enough time in my schedule to do this?
  5. If I do this, what are my expectations about what I’m going to receive in return? If I’m to receive nothing, perhaps not even a “thank you”, am I ok with that?

Now, if it’s difficult to answer these questions, I want to let you in on a little secret: WAIT. You have every right to say, “Let me think about it and get back to you.” Give yourself time to think it over. Journal about it. Then decide how you’ll answer.

Connect and share IRL

Technology is awesome for connecting and sharing stories with people and about things we may never encounter personally, but it won’t give our brains the same benefit as physically sitting and talking with someone. Emotional growth and development comes from authentically connecting with others. This means sharing the light and the dark with someone you trust. It means talking about your struggles, as well as your triumphs. I know, it can be hard to admit when you’re having a hard time – you don’t want to bum someone out; you don’t want to look like a mess – but doing so will help you heal from those hard times faster and better. You’ll probably find that you’re not alone in your experiences, your feelings and thoughts aren’t weird or wrong, and that another perspective can really help you move forward. This also means truly listening to others and not just trying to fix things for them by giving advice (unless they ask for it). BONUS: Your relationships will deepen and become more meaningful.

Banish negative self-talk

You know that voice in your head that says, “You’re not good enough. You’ll never get it done. You don’t deserve that.”? That’s not you. It’s messages that you’ve received, probably from a loved one, that have wormed their way in and wired your brain to think this way. Because it’s not really you, you can talk back to this voice. When it shows up, respond to it with evidence to the contrary. Or simply say “I AM good enough.” I don’t care if you don’t believe it at first, just try it. It will feel wrong and weird. But over time, you’ll start to believe the new messages more and more and be able to stop the negative ones a lot faster. If you find you’re struggling or stuck, maybe it’s time to find a therapist to talk to.

Start with these practices to take good care of yourself this year. Try one or all of them.

 

Most importantly – BE GENTLE WITH YOURSELF. Believe it or not, discipline can be achieved with compassion and without brute force.

 

If you want even more help, consider taking my workshop this February. I’ve teamed up with awesome Life + Wellness Coach, Julia Flaccavento, BCC, CCC and created a three-hour workshop to help creative empaths like you beat overwhelm and burnout with tried and true self-care strategies. Check it out!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the suggestions above and hear about any other ways you’ve resolved to take care of yourself this year. Scroll on down and leave a comment!

THE EMPATH’S GUIDE TO MANAGING FEELINGS

When you’re an empath, feelings, even other people’s feelings, can be so powerful they become overwhelming.

Empaths are notorious for feeling ALL THE THINGS. Which is both a blessing and a curse. For some, emotions can get so overwhelming that they become frightening. When negative feelings show up, there’s often a fear of going out of a control and feeling that way forever. When loved ones are in pain, there’s this need to fix it because you’re feeling it, too. Trying to fix things for people gets exhausting and can eventually lead to really restrictive ways of interacting with people. Emotions you perceive as negative, both within yourself and others, become intolerable. You might try to control your feelings, and maybe even other people’s feelings. You try to block out the bad and embrace the good. Unfortunately, you can’t banish pain and get only joy. So with this avoidance of the bad feelings, you tend to lose the full impact of the good feelings, too. And so the tension builds. Your shoulders get tight. Your stomach hurts. Your head aches. You might be able to express your emotions when you paint, write, or sing, but you find it hard to be truly vulnerable with those you love.

Think about a time, probably when you were a kid, when you felt you could express yourself freely. Remember how loose you were? How easily you could move between utter devastation and vibrating joy? How you could ache with someone else and then move on to gleefully play with another? You just naturally knew that feelings were nothing to be afraid of because feelings were temporary.

As you got older, you started to learn that adults had to “keep it under control” or “suck it up”. You got messages about certain feelings being appropriate only at certain times. Or maybe you saw first hand how destructive anger, sadness, or fear can be when they aren’t handled well. Maybe you’ve been stuck in your own depression or anxiety before and you’re terrified of going back there. So you try to move away from the bad feelings and try to make sure others don’t have bad feelings either.

But here’s the irony of it all: Feelings only become dangerous if we try to change or deny them. 

Sadness, anger, and fear are not inherently bad and in fact, are necessary to our wellbeing. Pain tells us when we need to take care of ourselves. Or when we need to change something. We prolong our suffering when we avoid our pain.

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You can learn to feel negative feelings without letting them take over your life.

You already have many, many times. You really can handle the full range of emotions from yourself and from those around you. Here are a few tips to help you through the process:

1. When a negative feeling arises, take a deep breath, feel it, and allow yourself to just be. If you get scared or anxious that you might get stuck there or go off the deep end, tell yourself, “This is only temporary.”

2. Empaths in particular tend to have a lot of guilt around feelings like anger and frustration. You can see the other person’s perspective, so you know why they’re being the way they are. But just because someone has been hurt before or has learned to cope in a certain way, doesn’t mean they have a right to treat you badly. If you feel guilty, remind yourself that you have the right to feel whatever it is you feel. Try to remove the judgment and self-talk about what you should be feeling. Instead, think about how you can take care of yourself. Do you need 10 deep breaths? Do you need to talk a walk? Do you need to engage in your art? Do you need to call a friend for support? Sharing your guilt over your feelings to the right friend can help alleviate the pressure.

3. When you have trouble knowing what’s your feeling and what isn’t, take a moment, breathe, and assess. Ask yourself, “Is this mine?” If you find that you’re feeling something that isn’t yours, remind yourself, “I am not responsible for other people’s feelings.” Then do something physical. Go for a walk or run or do some yoga. One trick I like is to rub my hands on my arms and legs in a sweeping motion, like I’m dusting the bad feelings off of me. Like this!

Feelings are fleeting. Thoughts are temporary. If you get anxious about something, it doesn’t make you an anxious person. If you get angry at someone, it doesn’t make you an angry person. If you’re sad, you’re not automatically a depressed person. The same goes for the people around you. It’s ok to feel however you feel at this moment. It’s what you do with your feelings that matters.

 

YOU’LL NEVER BE READY

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“I’m not ready.”

I hear this often when people talk about why they haven’t started to pursue their passions. “I haven’t learned enough. I need more supplies. I need more time. I haven’t practiced enough.”

My response:

“How will you know when you’re ready?”

99% of the time the answer is, “I have no idea.”

Being ready to pursue creative work is tough. Often there is no certificate, no graduation, no significant marker that says, “Ok, now you’re ready. Go create.” But the truth is there’s no amount of preparation that will ever make you feel completely ready. Did I feel completely ready to be a therapist when I got out of grad school? Hell no! But I had to start. Because the only way you can know whether or not you’re ready to do something is to actually do it.

How many times have you heard a success story about someone who just jumped into a profession without really knowing what they were doing? Stories like that are SO annoying! We often jealously chalk stories like that up to coincidence and luck. But the main difference between that person and the rest of us, is that that person had the humility to accept that didn’t know what they were doing and the courage to just dive in and learn as they went.

When we say we’re not ready, what we’re really saying is that we’re afraid. Probably afraid of screwing up, being seen, or being judged and criticized. We’re afraid of what it will do to us when we get right up close to our dreams. It’s scary to pursue a dream. What if you fail? What if it turns out you don’t like it? Then what?

It’s scary to show people your art. It puts you in a very vulnerable spot. You open yourself up to SO much. Think about all the hating and judging you see from your friends on social media every day. We live in a culture of constant criticism. So that fear you feel? Totally valid. 

But it’s not an excuse to limit yourself.

I know you’re afraid. I know you don’t feel ready. But I also know you’ve got something amazing and uniquely you to share with the world. Someone out there is waiting for it. They want to read it, see it, hear it, smell it, taste it. Someone is ready to be thrilled, moved, and inspired by you. Gather your courage, balls, ovaries, chutzpah, whatever you want to call it, and start now.

And when you get afraid of what people will say when you show them what you’ve got, keep this incredible quote from Theodore Roosevelt in mind:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly.”

I’m ready to see YOU. 

I challenge you to do something courageous today. Share something you’ve made, something you’re working on, or even just the start of your creative journey on Instagram with the hashtag #courageouscreatives and tag me @empoweringcreatives. I may even repost what you have to share.

Or share your work, links, images, writings, thoughts, ramblings, whatever you’d like in the comments below.

You’ll never be truly ready, so you might as well start now.

5 WAYS TO STOP CARING WHAT PEOPLE THINK

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I talk to myself. All the time. If you see me walking down the street alone, you’ll probably see me talking to myself. It’s how I plan and process ideas. If it stays in my head and doesn’t come out of my mouth, it’s not tangible to me. It’s just the way I work.

I know I look crazy, but it’s not really something I can stop doing.

I also run into things and fall. All the time. I’ve had many a friend laugh at my stumbles over the years. I’ve actually got great balance, just no spatial awareness. The other day, I twisted my ankle walking down unfamiliar steps because I was reading my email. I fell, cursed, checked my ankle (it was fine), and then looked around immediately to see if anyone saw me. No signs of life. Hooray! Just then a security guard walked up and said, “Are you ok, Ma’am?” I laughed and said, “Oh, I’m just learning the lesson: Don’t look at your phone while walking down stairs.” He laughed, too and we went our separate ways.

Now, I could walk around for the rest of the day thinking about this incident. I could be mortified and beat myself up about how dumb it was, how much of an idiot I am, and how I should pay better attention, damnit! Or I can learn the lesson, laugh at myself, acknowledge that I’m a human being who makes mistakes (that security guard is human, too, by the way), and move on with my life. I choose the latter.

Because it’s a choice.

But the choice isn’t, “Care or don’t care about what other people think.” The choice is really, “Love and trust myself or don’t.”

I know I’m not crazy. I know I’m not an idiot. So why would I care if someone else thinks I am because of some momentary interaction?

Is this choice always easy? HELL NO. It takes a lot of time and practice. This is especially true if you’ve spent most of your life valuing external opinions and devaluing your own, relentlessly chiding yourself when you make a mistake, are in a bad mood, or fail at something. In the therapeutic world, we call this “negative self-talk” and in my opinion it’s one of the best places to begin when you want to stop caring so much about what others think.

So, how do you get rid of negative self-talk? I’ve got some suggestions…

1. Look at the actual evidence

Are you really an idiot who can’t get anything done? Or are you a person who screws something up every once in awhile? When we’ve done something wrong, get embarrassed, or someone criticizes us we often feel shame. Not guilt, but shame. As the researcher Brené Brown has noted, guilt tells us “I’ve done something bad”, while shame says, “I am bad.” Big difference there. That voice saying, “You’re stupid! What were you thinking! They’re all gonna laugh at you!” is shame. Give shame a reality check. Are you really dumb? Nope. Are they really all gonna laugh you? Nah. (Unless you’re a comedian and you want them to. But even then, not everyone is gonna laugh. Sorry.) When you look at the evidence, you’ll probably find that much of it is contrary to that nasty negative self-talk. If you have trouble finding that better evidence, keep digging. It’s there. I know it.

2. Talk to yourself like you would talk to a friend

I say this one all the time, but it bears repeating. If you really can’t seem to talk to yourself in a helpful, loving way then think about how you would talk to a friend who was in your situation. Would you say hateful, mean things to your friend, calling them stupid over and over again and dwelling on their mistakes? Or would you try to comfort them, contradict their shame, and offer to help out? My guess is you’d choose the second option (if you’d do the first, I doubt you’d be reading this blog). So why do you deserve any different? Because you know better? Because you just should be perfect all the time? Nonsense. Why should you be perfect when everyone else gets to make mistakes? Talk to yourself in that same comforting, reasonable voice you talk to your friends with. You might not believe it at first. It’ll probably feel weird. Do it anyway. Just try it a few times and see what happens.

3. Forgive yourself

YOU ARE A HUMAN BEING. I’m sorry, but you’re not a robot. Not yet… You are imperfect and you always will be. None of us are perfect. What even is a perfect person, anyway? If you think about it, the opinions on perfection vary pretty widely. So how can you possibly live up to anyone’s expectations? Be you and when you screw up, and you will, forgive yourself. Sometimes that even means forgiving yourself for talking to yourself badly.

My father died in May after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. This last year, I was just not myself a lot of the time. It was hard to function normally. I made some mistakes in that time and I’ve worked hard on forgiving myself for them. Recently my energy healer (yes, I’ve got one of those) said, “You might need to forgive yourself for judging yourself.” That was hard to wrap my head around. But really, it’s about forgiving myself for that negative self-talk. Because sometimes when we catch ourselves talking to ourselves badly, we can then get down on ourselves for getting down on ourselves! Isn’t that ridiculous? Just writing that sentence feels ridiculous. So, when you hear that negative self-talk, shut it down and try not to judge yourself for judging yourself. Forgive yourself. It’s ok. You’re human.

4. Find the lessons

Talking nice to yourself doesn’t mean you get to get away with not learning anything. Life is trial and error. When you make a mistake, think about how the mistake was made, and then decide whether you want to make it again. Error is useful, but you get no use out of focusing on the error and freaking out about it. Stop, look at what happened, learn the lesson, and try again. I like to think of my computer engineer brother who essentially figures out how errors occur for a living. Understanding how something happened is useful, but you can’t learn if you’re stuck in a shame sprial. Like I said when I fell down those stairs, “Whelp, that’s why you don’t walk and stare at your phone at the same time.” It’s a lesson – a funny one – and that’s all it has to be.

5. Remember: No one really cares what you do

It’s a paradox: People are watching and they aren’t. Most people are so wrapped up in their own lives that they really aren’t paying much attention to what you’re doing. But when they do notice and say something, it’s helpful to trust and love yourself, so it’s easier to brush it off. Because…

When you’re more centered within yourself, you’re less likely to get thrown around by the opinions and actions of others.

Now I want to hear from YOU! How does negative self-talk affect your opinion of yourself? What helps you let go of how others think of you? How can you apply these steps to your creative work? Leave a comment or question and I’ll be so happy to answer.