Exhausted

3 Ways to Avoid Becoming Exhausted

Exhausted, overwhelmed, depleted, stressed out.  When people ask you how you are, is this what you really want to say?

A recent episode of Oprah’s SuperSoul Sunday featured an author with a lot of experience with all of those feelings.  If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s just O and a guest, plugging a book about spirituality or self-help, sitting in Oprah’s backyard. The typical format is 1) person explains their book, 2) person reveals crisis point that inspired the book, and 3) what viewers should do (in addition to buying aforementioned book!) to avoid being like them.

Recently it hit me that all of these shows, at their core, are exactly the same.

The episode that caught my attention featured a woman I knew nothing about. Author Shauna Niequist sat with Oprah to discuss her new book called Present over Perfect.  I enjoyed listening to her discuss how to handle being pulled in many directions. It occurred to me that her A-ha Moment, Oprah-speak for “revelation”, is no different from the crisis that strikes all these authors. For Shauna Niequist, her particular A-ha Moment occurred while she snorkeled in Hawaii with her eight year-old son.  She indicated that, leading up to this trip, she was preoccupied with being busy.  She avoided silence because of what she might find if she tuned into her self.  The experience of being underwater where all she heard was her own inner voice led to Shauna’s commitment to change.

For many of us, it’s hard to comprehend how someone who seemingly has it all could lose her way.  But her interview conveyed that in spite of her material comfort, her feeling exhausted and overwhelmed are familiar to many of us.  In one of the opening exchanges between Shauna and Oprah, the author said that if you sat around a table with your peers and discussed what means the most in your life, every single person would say their family. And yet, she says, that’s not really where we are focusing our time. The focus is diverted from the connection of loved ones to all the areas that lead to the house/vacations/cars, etc.

All this is not to say that we need to give up all the trappings of comfort. I find my balance by living a life that tends to be somewhat minimalist (and stay tuned because I promise someday to write about one of the best films in recent years: Minimalism: A Documentary about the Important Things from 2015). Would I love all the travels and fancy restaurant meals and cars? Sure. But our connections with others go astray when our priorities lie in our pursuit of material possessions. Sadly, a lot of people find themselves where Shauna is, often after something traumatic has happened: death of a loved one, loss of a job, when diagnosed with a serious illness, or when faced with a relationship hardship such as infidelity.

Because I’m only going by what the author said on the show with Oprah, I took a quick whirl around Shauna’s website and read through a few of her articles. Every one of them indicated a shortcoming on her part, coupled with a commitment to do better.  And all of these shortcomings involve her being too exhausted to focus on what truly matters to her.  This can certainly be the stuff of marketing (i.e., All these women need to stay frazzled so I can continue selling books!), but if it’s not about the marketing, how do we get ourselves off this carousel where we deceive ourselves into thinking that we do not have time to go to dinner with our girlfriends or jump into a pile of leaves with our children or snuggle with our spouse?

Another thing that Shauna mentioned in this episode is that when she was an adolescent, she witnessed her mother experience a similar sort of re-awakening. Shauna’s father was a well-known pastor and the whole family was committed to working in the church. This is by no means a criticism of Shauna, because these are such universal stories, but if she saw her mother needing to slow down and smell the roses, why did Shauna grow up and fall into the same thorny situation?  We have a responsibility to ourselves to avoid falling into this trap as well as a responsibility to children or those whom we influence to help them see that value cannot be found in an exhausting rat race.

After seeing this show, I kept wondering how we can avoid having the blur that led to the “Shauna Snorkeling Moment” in the first place? Why do we always seem to need the pain of a rock bottom or tragedy to get up and take action?

Three questions to ask yourself that can help you find what truly matters:

  • Who is influencing you? We are all influenced by someone.  Do you have an image of the woman or man you wish you were? Think of what you like to wear.  If you dress a certain way, what does it say about you? Would it say you were a worldly person who really has their act together? What about what you drive or how you decorate your home? What are you trying to portray to the world? Do you really want to put up the massive holiday display on your lawn or do you secretly just want to have a bigger one than your neighbors’?  Think of the massive amount of energy that you are expending on the external aspects of your life.

 

  • What would you be willing to give up to get some of your life back? You spend hours driving to various specialty grocery stores for the ingredients you need for some fabulous dessert you saw on Pinterest. Pretty sure that your guests will still love you if you scaled back on your creations.  You drive your kiddo all over the place to expensive activities in the hopes of him getting a scholarship to college…but he’s only six.  Is it possible to dial your life down a little bit?

 

  • Is it truly necessary to stand out? What about simply being ordinary? Maybe it’s okay to have an average-paying job you love and buy groceries at Shop-Rite instead of Whole Paycheck…I mean, Whole Foods. Drive the Honda instead of the Lexus. Go to Knoebels instead of Disney World. People will still love you and if they don’t, that says a lot about the relationship you had with that person.

In closing, I had this amazingly articulate summary, expounding on the need to extract every last juicy ounce out of life.  But I erased it all.  I don’t think anyone could say it better than this guy:

Ferris Bueller:  Life moves pretty fast.  If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.

 

To discuss the possibility of working with me, please call 201-248-5552 or drop me a line at christine@snyderlcsw.com.

 

Infidelity Is Not a Laughing Matter

Stage Light

A number of years ago, I felt the need to bust past some creative blocks and signed up for some classes at the People’s Improv Theater in New York. Improv is what comedy giants like Tina Fey and Steve Carell credit for enhancing their performance.

Classes consist of various exercises and games. A suggestion is made by the instructor and someone creates a character and scenario based around it. Others join in, creating a spontaneous, organic scene that usually borders on absurdity but is accepted by the participants as reality.

The first thing you’re taught in an improv class is to say yes. To agree to whatever reality is drawn up in a scene. Your partner says you’re researchers in a lab with monkeys…so be it. The second thing you learn is to agree to that and then add on. In improv, it’s referred to as “Yes, and…” You’re researchers in a lab with monkeys…and the monkeys get out…and the lab is also on fire…and the fireman just served you divorce papers. You just go with whatever reality unfolds before you – no matter how outrageous.

I recently purchased an inexpensive banner from the dollar bin in Target. It’s bright blue with a glittery gold speech bubble that says, “Heck yes.” What I love about it is that it reminded me how necessary it is to open ourselves up to the possibilities of the world, in the same way that I learned to say “Yes, and…” in improv class a decade ago. I get how ridiculously cheesy and therapist-y of me to say something like that. You may even be rolling your eyes at the idiocy of talking about improv when people’s worlds are crashing down. Maybe it’s a stretch, but there can be value in changing up our perspective a little bit. I’m not generally one who sees the world through rose-colored glasses nor do I see the complexities of my clients’ lives in such a superficial manner.

What I’m trying to say is that we can’t get through adulthood without getting knocked around the ring every so often (or what feels like all the damned time). If we don’t respond to the punches, we get steamrolled. The bulk of my practice involves working with individuals and couples who have issues with infidelity and I realize that the choices are to get knocked out or come out swinging.

Saying “Yes, and…” can seem like a condescending way to approach infidelity, but that is not my intent. Looking at it through this lens allows you to confront some of the pain in your life that perhaps you suspected or knew anyway. Maybe you didn’t want to engage in conflict or stand up for yourself or acknowledge that you’ve had some unmet needs over the years. Saying “Yes, and…” allows us to say “this is the worst thing I’ve ever been through, but maybe it’s best for us both to move on.” It also might allow us the possibility to say, “I’ve done some things I’m not proud of, but I want to make things right with my wife.”

There are no cut-and-dry answers in situations where a partner has engaged in another relationship, even when people have committed to working it out. But sometimes the first step is just to say yes. And then commit to working through however things unfold.

If you are dealing with an infidelity issue and would like to explore the possibility of us working together, please email me at christine@snyderlcsw.com.  My practice is located in Livingston, New Jersey.

Imposter Syndrome: Who Do I Think I Am?

Masks

Did you ever have the feeling that the lights will come up, the curtain will rise, and the whole world will see you for the fraud you really are? I don’t know you, but chances are, if you’ve clicked on an article about imposter syndrome, you probably aren’t really a fraud. You’re likely someone who takes seriously your work, achievements, and your position in the world. You will do anything to avoid the sting of not being taken seriously…including convincing yourself that you’re a fraud.

Sociologist Erving Goffman wrote in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life that we live as if we are on stage. Every aspect of our lives involves playing a role. At home, we can be more casual with some of these roles, but once we enter the public – such as our workplace – we are often required to put on a costume and act out specific roles in order to earn a paycheck. Through the lens of the person-as-actor, those of us who struggle with imposter syndrome fear our disguise – that of Super Parent, All-Put-Together Bank Executive, Well-Rehearsed Musician – will be torn off.

So…what do we do? Battling imposter syndrome takes practice and, furthermore, usually involves adjusting your thinking.

Celebrate your successes. Take an objective look at how you got where you are and discard the temptation to slather on the judgment. Why did your boss ask you to take on these added responsibilities? What made the executives upstairs select you to make that presentation? What reason did your agent send you to that audition? Only look at the good stuff and go no further. Is it possible that someone selected you because you are reliable?  And that you’re super easy to work with?

Avoid the temptation to go full-on imposter syndrome. When was the last time that fear of exposure overwhelmed you?  We often believe that imposter syndrome comes on without a warning, but if you slowed down the tape, you’d see where you started going down the rabbit hole. Did you find yourself lose sleep because you panicked about what the next day would bring you? Could preparation for a presentation or audition help you sleep a little easier?  Sometimes it’s tempting to just go along with it and say, “See, I knew I wasn’t worthy of anything good in my life.” Find ways to make things easier for yourself instead of putting yourself through the discomfort of worrying about being a fraud.

You are not alone. Admitting to a trusted colleague that you battle imposter syndrome might be helpful. You might find that they also struggle and could help you to see that you’re not the only one who fears the mask will be torn off. There’s also power in being vulnerable with another person. Vulnerability does not equal weakness.

Sometimes considering how we received credit in our family-of-origin pinpoints where imposter syndrome resides in you. We learned that to celebrate our successes was the same as being pompous. This can lead to discomfort in taking pride in our accomplishments. Did you find that you only got attention when you scored goals or achieved scholarships? In some families, love feels contingent upon achieving something.  That could get pretty confusing, too. A skilled therapist could help you untie some of these knots.  You may become more comfortable in your roles and you may tear away some of the barriers to your success.

If you would like to explore the possibility of working with me, you can reach me at christine@snyderlcsw.com.  My practice is located in Livingston, New Jersey.

Creativity Can Save Your Life

A common complaint that clients bring into therapy is that their work lacks creativity. Some people feel trapped in their jobs due to the need to provide for their families.   It may also be to determine how to feel better about going to the same job day after day.  The ongoing emptiness of a miserable job can lead to anxiety and depression.  Unfulfilling work can cause looming dread on Sundays, difficulty sleeping, and irritability.  In extreme cases, some people have expressed that ending their lives would be a better alternative than their current position.

When clients present their work complaints to me, we often explore how they found their way into their current career. I may ask them to consider some of these possible scenarios:

  • Does this career field now feel stale?
  • Did this work opportunity feel like an obligation?
  • Did a loved one deter you from pursuing an artistic endeavor?

A book that I often recommend to clients is The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It’s a fantastic read, especially for those who feel drawn to artistic pursuits. This is not a how-to manual about leaving your job and suddenly becoming an artist, composer, cupcake creator, or master basket weaver. Cameron believes that each one of us is a creative being, no matter what we do for a living. Even if you consider your job routine or mundane, following the steps in the book may help you approach certain tasks in new and innovative ways.

The book consists of twelve chapters, inspired by Ms. Cameron’s success using a 12-step program to conquer her alcohol addiction. Each chapter involves a topic designed to help restore one’s inherent creativity. There is a weekly reading on a specific topic, such as recovering a sense of connection, abundance, and strength. There are exercises at the end of each chapter that ask you to recall things like what you did for fun as a child or how creativity was viewed in your home.

The author believes that, due to various factors, people’s creativity becomes “blocked” and they may be unable to express themselves freely. We may have grown up with a tyrannical parent who discounted our artistic abilities or had a teacher who made some unfortunate comments about a project we labored over. We may feel paralyzed by these attitudes and by investing the energy in the program, we might find the power to crush the voice of our inner critic.

This is not your run-of-the-mill self-help book because of the process.  The magic happens for readers of The Artist’s Way when they regularly engage in the two main requirements of the book: 1) Morning Pages and 2) Artist Dates.

Morning Pages consist of three pages of long-hand writing every morning. The idea is to write whatever comes to mind, without the structure of proper grammar or punctuation. There is even value if you only write “I don’t know what I’m supposed to be writing” over and over again.  It is basically draining your brain out every morning and leaving it on the paper. The book recommends that readers keep these pages to themselves, for now.  Writing like this can help you connect with the thoughts that reside under the surface of your psyche.

The book also recommends making quality time for yourself to engage in some creative activity such as visiting a museum or taking in a concert. The Artist Date inspires creativity. The author writes that people find the desire to discover new creative or artistic activities.  Or they felt motivated to pick up an instrument they had set aside years ago, for example.

There is great value in reading this book on your own, but it can also be useful in a group setting with others experiencing similar challenges. Some of the exercises require digging into your past to explore the roots of the obstacles to self-expression. Encountering some of these memories might be upsetting.  Working through them with a trained professional may result in a renewed sense of satisfaction with your work.

If you would like to explore the possibility of working with me, you can reach me at christine@snyderlcsw.com.  My practice is located in Livingston, New Jersey.

Monday Morning Negative Self-Talk

negative self-talk

Negative Self-Talk that happens on a Monday is harder to swallow than self-talk that happens on other days of the week.  Or maybe that’s just me.  I had the kind of morning that caused me to reflect on the Negative Self-Talk that chimed into my brain first thing in the morning.  One where I wished I could call it a day by the time 10AM rolled around.

Tidying up the house, I picked up a bunch of things that needed to be taken to other rooms. The bottle of water cradled in my right arm was cap-less because I was swigging it while cleaning up. When I dropped something on the floor, I bent over, not realizing that the water cascaded out of the bottle until there was a puddle at my feet.

I exclaimed a few choice words. Typical names or traits I call myself rambled out of my mouth as reflexively as any sort of curse word. (There might have been one or two of those, too.)  The sorts of words I exclaimed definitely fell into the category of “negative self-talk”.

After sopping up the water with a wad of Bounty, I headed downstairs to do some mundane tasks on my laptop. I set up shop at the kitchen table with the newly refilled bottle of water (with the cap securely tightened). Now is a good time for a snack, I thought.  And I pulled the box of Cheez-Its from the cabinet. I got down to business, typing away, doing my thing. Man, those crackers were tasty. Sip, sip. Crunch, crunch.

Engrossed in my laptop screen, I failed to realize the box of crackers that teetered close to the edge of the table.  I managed to knock the open box over.  Cheez-Its subsequently decorated the kitchen floor.

And then another string of the “typical names or traits I call myself” escaped my lips.

Even therapists aren’t immune from negative self-talk.  Furthermore, therapists aren’t immune from a lot of things, but that’s a whole other blog post for another day.

Through the course of the day, I reflected on how that nagging little voice and the unpleasant repercussions it can cause, including low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. The running commentary doesn’t have to control us. Working with a therapist can help govern how much it affects our feelings.

The way many therapists operate, including myself, is getting to know you, based on your own history, strengths, and preferences.  Together, we develop a plan of what might work best. Feeling better in your own skin can involve some detective work such as establishing connections between the patterns of our families and how we react to adversity as adults.

It can also be helpful to take a look at situations similar to the one I had this morning. How do you respond when you mess up? Like the time you accidentally left the lights on and your car battery went dead. Or last week when you said you’d pick up dinner for your family and then you accidentally went home from work without it. What sorts of things do you say to yourself?

Finally, you might have never given a thought to that internal tape that comments on your movements throughout the day. I will often encourage my clients to spend the week really paying attention to what it says. When we see each other again, we first categorize what we’ve heard.  Then we develop ways of responding to that voice with something more constructive than the usual litany of “typical traits and names”.

If you would like to explore the possibility of working with me, you can reach me at christine@snyderlcsw.com.  My practice is located in Livingston, New Jersey.

It’s Mid-November. Feeling stressed yet?

holiday-stress-post-image

It’s Mid-November. Do you have holiday stress yet?

Holiday stress season is upon us!  Christmas decorations have been up in some stores since Labor Day, but most definitely, you’ve seen them when you were picking up Halloween candy. This week, the election commercials have been replaced with those featuring happy people bringing massive turkeys to their candlelit tables, surrounded by smiling family members.

But we all know this is not the norm. (We do know this, right?) Just because it’s Thanksgiving or any other holiday doesn’t mean that the difficulties in our lives go away. We may have a sick parent, a child with an addiction, a sibling going through a bankruptcy, or enduring our first holiday season without a cherished loved one. For so many reasons, we could be carrying around an ideal of what holidays should be like and in most cases, they usually don’t live up to the image that we thought. These expectations could be due to our holding on to cherished childhood memories, long before we had a concept of family conflict or that the gifts under the tree may have put our moms and dads into financial peril.

We all have different triggers that affect our enjoyment of the holidays. Some of these include:

  • Political opinions – No matter which side of the aisle you’re on, chances are you also have a family member on the other side. And there’s a pretty good chance that someone in attendance might enjoy riling you up and engaging you in uncomfortable debates.
  • Criticism by family members – Holidays might involve a barrage of insults (some of them might be couched in what the insulter thinks are compliments) showered upon our cooking, appearance, the gifts we’ve selected, what our home looks like, what we’re doing with our lives, or who we married.
  • Competition or comparisons between siblings or other family members. Family members have a way of reminding you of your sibling’s superstar career successes.  They seem to do this while you’re you’re going through a career transition or job loss.
  • Financial woes – Difficulty making ends meet may prevent you from bringing the sort of gifts you would have liked. This might lead you to feel embarrassed or worried that you’ve disappointed others.

You might ask yourself, well, how can I get through this? It’s the same stuff, different year! Here are a few suggestions:

  • Cherish each other – Holidays are a time when we get to be around people we truly love. If holidays are tense for you, aim to surround yourself with people who bring you energy, not cause you stress. It may make the stressful times a little calmer.
  • Adjust your expectations – Sometimes we need to be more realistic with our time and our abilities. Do we really need to invest ten hours in making the spritz cookies that were Grandma’s signature Christmas staple? Is it worthwhile to stand in Black Friday lines in the middle of the night to buy your kid the hottest new toy that will just end up in a garage sale next year?
  • Establish boundaries – It may be difficult for you in general, but a skill worth sharpening is learning to say no when things don’t feel right to you. Furthermore, say no to overspending and limit participation in social engagements that aren’t enriching. Even give yourself a curfew to cut out of uncomfortable family gatherings early.
  • This time will pass – Come January, the hustle and bustle will be behind us. Before the stress of the season sets in, put something enjoyable on your calendar for January.  Some great self-care includes a massage, brunch with friends, or allow yourself a time to simply stay home and veg.
  • Take care of yourself – Make sure you get rest and have some down time in these next few weeks. Seek support and if you’re still not feeling right after the holidays, a professional can help you find your way. It may be the best holiday gift you receive!

If you would like to explore the possibility of working with me, I’d love to hear from you.  I can be reached at christine@snyderlcsw.com.  My practice is located in Livingston, New Jersey.

Caregiving in the Imperfect Family

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Rising rates of life expectancy can mean extended time with loved ones.  It can also mean increased responsibilities in providing care to an aging parent. Caregiving demands typically fall on individuals as their parents may find it difficult to care for themselves. Sometimes it may be necessary to move him or her in with a relative, into a nursing facility, or arrange care for them.

Companies sell services to family members who may already be stretched raising their children and juggling professional obligations. The people portrayed in commercials for prescription plans or wheelchair-friendly showers always appear sweet, jovial, and loving – the perfect image of what an aging relative embodies.

But this is probably not the experience of most children caring for aging parents. By the time we’ve assumed care for them, we’ve already experienced a lifetime with them. Television often propagates an image of parents who are supportive, caring, and willing to dole out helpful advice. What if life with you mother had been on the receiving end of her criticism or if your father walked out on your family? And now that she has dementia or he has cancer and you need to care for them, it may be doubly stressful for you.

Because every family is different, every challenge will be different. It’s safe to say that there are some very common stressors for caregivers. Some of these include the following:

Conflict with your parent. They may not be open to giving up their independence and may express great dissatisfaction with you for suggesting they stop driving after they’ve had an accident. Or they may disagree with what sorts of care you’ve arranged for them.

Dealing with old family wounds. Your parent may have legitimately let you down and it may be hard to put this behind you when you are responsible for tending to their personal needs.

Disagreeing with your siblings about how to care for your parent. Dissenting opinions on what kind of care your parent needs may cause a great deal of friction between siblings.

Your own life might be a shambles. Mom or Dad’s illness doesn’t wait until your life is neat as a pin. A chronic illness or a tremendous decline in cognitive capacity may feel like it happens at the absolutely worst time. You may be dealing with your own family issues or be going to school full-time.  You may be having marital problems or struggling with your own illness, or any number of issues.

One of the most basic ways to handle the myriad stressors of caregiving is comprised in one tiny word: self-care.

Think about the interminable safety video before a flight. As the narration drones on, the flight attendants show you that when the oxygen masks drop out from the ceiling, you must put yours on first before you can help your neighbor. When we are in a caregiving role, we often put their needs first, even if they weren’t Parent of the Year.

We cannot deal with the endless stressors of caregiving if our own tank is running on empty. It’s important for us to take time for ourselves; this can mean different things for different people. It can involve tapping into our support system and going out for a girl’s night out or a round of golf with our buddies.

You might also find that now is the time to seek the assistance from an empathic and trusted therapist. Old family wounds may interfere with your ability to meet the needs of your parent. You may also feel better by sharing with someone who can help you navigate difficult caregiving choices.

Our experience as caregivers might feel more like being on an airplane that’s losing altitude.  So remember the importance of putting on your own oxygen mask first.

If you would like to explore the possibility of working with me, my practice is located in Livingston, New Jersey.  I can be reached at christine@snyderlcsw.com.