Sarah's Blog

Connecting the head to the heart.

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“Our baseline isn’t happiness, our baseline is contentment.. We have to actively seek happiness.” ~Sarah Buino

I recently had the opportunity to be featured on an episode of The Creative Impostor with Andrea Klunder. On the interview we discussed:

  • What if we could stop talking to ourselves like an a*@hole?
  • What if we could avoid buying into our shame talk?
  • What if happiness was only a perspective shift away?
Listen to the full episode:

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PERFECT


Before I get into the meat of this topic, I want to take a second to address why I’m doing these posts differently. One of the reasons I started this blog and connected it with music is because I’m a musician. I am deeply familiar with the healing powers of music and how impactful music is on many of our lives.

This time, I decided I’d start singing these songs for the video link because I thought it would lend another level of intimacy to the material. My concern about what people will say about me performing songs makes me feel the need to make a disclaimer:

As a youth, I was often accused of showing off. And frankly, I was showing off all the time, but I didn’t even know it. I needed a lot of attention back then to validate that I was o.k. (I’ll get into that in a bit, once I start discussing perfectionism).

Today, I don’t feel I’m showing off. I feel my voice is a gift -- a gift that I’m extremely grateful for and am happy to share. Music and mental health are what I’m best at, and I no longer want to keep them completely separated from one another. It’s vulnerable for me to put myself out there in this way, but what the hell...let’s see what happens.


Thanks to my pal, Jam Alker for backing me up. (I have to be a good friend and plug his stuff: go check out his music at www.jamalker.com!).


Now, on to perfectionism…


I actually started to write this blog post several months ago. At that time, I was in the middle of an intense, acute episode of perfectionism. I say “episode” as if it were a bout of depression I was battling, because that’s what it felt like. Everything that I thought, felt, and experienced was through the lens of perfectionism. I’ve got a lot of change happening these days. My business is growing and changing, and my husband just quit his corporate job to go back to grad school, leaving me to be the breadwinner. So, I feel vulnerable, exposed, and overall, not good enough. Reading now what I wrote just a couple months ago makes me aware of just how debilitating my perfectionism can be.


Hi, I’m Sarah and I’m a recovering perfectionist.


Let’s take a moment to reflect on what perfectionism is and what it isn’t. I think the general consensus about perfectionism is that if you identify as such, that means you feel the need to do everything perfectly.

I don’t think this is true. I mean, I’m sure there are many people out there who identify that way, but perfectionism sinks much deeper than that. Instead of striving for “perfect,” perfectionists all have their own bar set for themselves.

In some areas, the bar is set at a “normal” level and in others, it’s astronomically high -- informed by societal expectations, family rules, etc. Basically, in whatever realm you’ve assigned yourself an impossible goal, you’re constantly feeling as if you’re not good enough. If you want to call it “not-good-enough-ism” instead of perfectionism, that probably works too.

For example, in my life, though I consider myself a perfectionist, my house is not immaculately clean (much to my husband’s chagrin). But, if I disappoint someone I love...forget it -- I’m beating myself up relentlessly, feeling like the biggest piece of shit to ever walk the Earth.

Brené Brown talks about “healthy striving” versus perfectionism, where healthy striving is motivated by ourselves, and perfectionism is motivated by what other people think.

I like where this definition is going, but I’ve found it’s easy for people to say “Oh yeah, I’m motivated to do better. This is all coming from me,” when I can feel that deep down it’s not healthy striving at all.

I think there’s more nuance than that, and for those of us who struggle with perfectionism, we’ve internalized the screwed up, impossible-to-reach goals and decided that it’s coming from us, when it actually originated elsewhere.

For example, in my head, I believe that all bodies are beautiful and we should accept ourselves as we are, but I often compare my body to what I think it should look like -- which is largely based on what society categorizes as beautiful. I will never be tall and thin, so I’m already starting with a huge deficit, even though I understand I’ve set an impossible goal.


Perfectionism is just as much an “ism” as alcoholism and can make one’s life completely unmanageable. Our society is pathologically over-stressed, over-worked, over-medicated and so on and so on...and these issues can lead to higher levels of cortisol, which is linked to decreased bone density, digestion problems, interference with metabolism, weakened immune systems and more.

I often say to my clients who struggle with addiction that the only difference between their “ism” and someone else’s is that their coping mechanisms will kill them faster. But I do believe perfectionism can kill. Emotions are energy, and when we don’t deal with them in a healthy way, sometimes the body lets us know we’re not doing it right. If you don’t believe me, check out the book When the Body Says No: Understanding the Stress-Disease Connection.


And now you’re like… “O.K., I’m depressed. I’m a “not-good-enough-ist” and clearly I’m going to die.” (Or maybe that’s just me? I came from a very histrionic family -- drama comes naturally to me). The good news about perfectionism is that it’s driven by shame.

Wait...how is that GOOD news? It’s good news because we know how to deal with shame! Empathy is the antidote to shame, which means self-compassion is the antidote to perfectionism. Self-compassion is basically self-empathy.


I wrote about self-compassion in my last blog post, but I’ve made an exciting discovery since then! (See, I knew there was a good reason to have a looooooong stretch of time between posts). I recognized there was a part of myself that wouldn’t accept self-compassion because I didn’t want to heal. There is/was a faulty message I was telling myself that if I accept self-compassion and heal, then my struggles would be invalidated.

Many of us struggle with competing priorities like this. If you consider yourself a self-saboteur, then start to consider what you GAIN from your pain. There’s always a payoff to our behavior, whether it’s conscious or not. (Sort of like the “bad” kid who acts out to get attention, but as adults, we tend to be much more nuanced about it).


So, once one can identify the part of oneself that doesn’t want to get better, what do you do? Love the fuck out of it. Seriously. I thought of that part of myself as a cuddly kitten crawling on my chest so I could pet and care for it. I KNOW it sounds cheesy! And it is, but this is deep work, friends.

I always used to shun the thought of inner child work, but the deeper I get into my own stuff, the more I find it’s necessary. On some level, we’re all hurt kids who need to be loved and accepted for who we are. Once we accept where/who we are, only then can we begin to change.

I learned about these parts of selves and how to apply self-compassion from Tim Desmond, a psychotherapist and a student of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. He just released a workbook on self-compassion. You bet I’ll be digging into that the second it arrives.


I believe that you (the collective you, and whoever YOU are specifically because I believe all humans are worthy of love and belonging) deserve all the love and joy in the world. But when I turn it on myself, there’s something about me that says I don’t deserve it as much as you do.

Would you be willing to join me in suspending that not-good-enough belief just long enough to be kind to ourselves, just for today? And then maybe we can make that decision each morning? One day at a time...
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PROMISE



I just came from a group my therapist, Susan Lipshutz runs called Thirteen Moons. It’s a personal growth group she hosts on a monthly basis. My husband jokingly calls it my “witches group” because we do all sorts of weird stuff like trance dancing, shamanic journeys, creating altars...you know, hippy, witch stuff. I love it. I highly recommend it.

This month’s theme was “becoming a daughter.” I decided this one was really important for me to attend given the loss of my mom at the end of 2014. Additionally, I’ve declared 2016 for me to be the Year of Self-Love. I’m determined to crack the code on what it means to really, truly, actually love myself in an unconditional way. (I imagine my determination in and of itself is one of the barriers that keeps this elusive self-love just out of reach...but I digress.)

During our group, we discussed the idea of how well we let ourselves be nurtured. We connected our ability to be nurtured to our relationships with our mothers and how they influence our relationships with ourselves. There were probably more than 40 women in the room, and we all agreed we struggled to let ourselves be cared for. Many of the women also reported believing their mothers did not love themselves, and that influenced their own ability to self-love.

My experience in the group made me remember reading Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher when I had just finished grad school. One message I took away from the book was how children don’t learn by listening to -- but by watching -- their parents. That is, if a daughter is raised by a mother who doesn’t love herself, it’s hard for the daughter to learn that skill no matter how hard the mother tries to teach it through words, if it’s not seen through actions.

In my own experience, I know my mother tried SO HARD to help me love myself. She told me often about how much she disliked herself and that she didn’t want the same fate for me. She told me how my grandmother would often compare the two of them, and how my mother always “lost” when making those comparisons between her mother and herself.

My mother also frequently compared herself to me...and again, she always “lost.” It set me up in a weird way with an inflated sense of self, but also a deep sense of guilt that I was hurting my mother just by my very existence.

My mother could tell me how wonderful I was, and how much she loved me, but I never saw an example through her of what self-love looked like, so I learned to attain love externally. Through my mother, I did, however, see extensive examples of self-sacrifice. But self-sacrifice didn’t feel good to me either. So, I developed a belief system that when I wasn’t sacrificing myself, I was being selfish. Selfish = bad. Therefore, I’m not good enough. ...in other words, shame.

When I saw Brené Brown speak for the first time, I had such a strong reaction to her work: I was all like “TELL ME HOW TO NOT FEEL SHAME! I WANNA FEEL GOOD ENOUGH!” Clearly I’m still working on it, but I do credit Brené with jump-starting my journey towards self-actualization.

One of the concepts Brené discusses is self-compassion. <Spoiler alert, if you haven’t read any Brené yet> empathy is the antidote to shame and self-empathy is self-compassion. Kristin Neff is a professor in Austin, TX who studies self-compassion. She breaks self-compassion into three parts:

1.Self-kindness

2.Common humanity

3.Mindfulness

Kristin determines self-kindness by how we talk to ourselves. I often use this concept leading groups: “Do you talk to yourself like someone you love? Or do you talk to yourself like an asshole?”

Unfortunately, most people I work with report they talk to themselves like an asshole. Whether it’s because they feel they deserve that sort of treatment, or because they’re trying to motivate themselves, they put themselves down when they really need to give themselves a break. (I say “they,” but c’mon...it’s “we,” right?) Even WikiHow agrees that negative self-talk is a barrier to self-love.

Common humanity is the concept that we are not alone in our struggles. In the 12-step world, there’s a phrase “terminal uniqueness,” which is the exact opposite of common humanity. I love to drop into terminal uniqueness when I’m in pain. I like to think my pain is the worst out of anyone else’s pain and no one can understand me...which is really unhelpful in the realm of self-love and healing.

I like to compare feelings and the interconnectedness with others’ struggles to the way music is structured. There are just 12 notes in the chromatic Western scale, but there are infinite songs. I doubt all the songs will ever be written. Just as 12 notes = all the music, similarly, there’s a finite amount of human emotions, but there are infinite ways human beings can experience and express them. In this way, we are our own unique snowflake...just like everyone else is their own unique snowflake.

On mindfulness,  I almost think mindfulness should come first on this list. Because if we don’t employ mindfulness, we won’t know how we’re talking to ourselves, and we certainly aren’t tapping into our common humanity. Mindfulness, simply put, is paying attention to the present moment without judgment. In the context of self-compassion, I also think mindfulness includes the recognition that all feelings are ephemeral and will pass with time. Even the most painful of feelings. The night is darkest before the dawn.

Back to my witches group...one question Susan asked of the group was to remember at different points in our lives where we found nurturing: as an infant, as a child, adolescent, and adult. Many of the women shared that as teenagers, music was what nurtured them. This BLEW MY MIND! I never thought of that, but it’s so true! As I’ve discussed in this blog before, music is empathy, among other things. (If you want to read a cool article on the connection to music and spirituality - check this out: http://www.wonderingsound.com/feature/music-as-religion-neuroscientists/)


Maybe, on this journey of self-love, we can all tap into the power of music and other forces outside ourselves to remember that we’re not alone. We really are all connected in the same struggles and if we can open to being nurtured and loved by other forces, maybe we’ll be able to start loving ourselves? I say maybe and use a question mark because I certainly haven’t figured it all out yet. I promise that when I do, I’ll tell you all the secret!


Speaking of promises, as I was searching for a song to link to this blog post I came across the most touching song I think I’ve ever heard. It’s a duet by Tori Amos and her teenage daughter, Natashya. When I listened to the song the first time, I felt a pang of grief for this close mother/daughter relationship I’ll never have. But as I listened to it again (and again, on loop the entire time I wrote this, in fact) I started to tap into the common humanity of their love and realize that my husband loves me in this unconditional way as do so many other wonderful people in my life. This promise to nurture and be nurtured doesn’t always happen between parents and children. And though there’s some grieving to experience around that, we have opportunities to call that kind of love into our lives. We just have to be willing to ask for it.


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“How many umbrellas do you have in your car?,” a client asked me recently. Seems like a random question, but this turned into a poignant discussion that sparked a lot of curiosity on my part. How are umbrellas related to control and even our outlook on life? In many ways!

Let’s discuss.

So, how many umbrellas do you have in your car? Your home? Where did these umbrellas come from? Did you buy them, or did you randomly acquire them from absent-minded houseguests or a healthy lost and found box at your place of employment?

If you purchased your umbrellas, what do they look like? Are they plain, unassuming, regular-old-nothing-fancy umbrellas? Or are they colorful and vibrant, making a statement about the way you relate to the world?

This question from my client got me to thinking that our relationship to umbrellas is a lot like our relationship to the way we move through the world.

Let’s first address how many umbrellas we own. So...how many? C’mon, fess up.

I admit to having a multitude of umbrellas that I’ve collected over the years from various jobs or having them left at my house. Also, I’ve got some “historic” umbrellas from the combination of both my belongings and my husband’s. In my car, I have one umbrella. Why?

I never stopped to think about it until I was asked. I have one in my car because I believe that’s all I need. If I dig a little bit deeper into why I’ve made this choice, I think about my relationship to when it rains. When I think about how I feel about when it rains, I instantly think about my hair.

(Men, I don’t know if you can relate to this, but I know my fellow females are all like, YES!)

If it’s raining and I want to arrive at my destination looking like I did when I left my house, then an umbrella is required. This then leads me to consider my desire to control the way I am perceived by others. How do I want to be seen?

Well, like many of us, I want to seem like I have my sh*t together. I want to be perceived as the kind of person who doesn’t get caught in the rain -- prepared for all occasions because that’s what people who have their sh*t together do -- they have umbrellas. They are prepared for anything, especially rain. Now that leads us to control…

Ah, control. A topic I find entering nearly all of my therapy sessions (with me as the therapist as well as with me as the client.)

The past several years of my life have been a tutorial in how to let go of control.

In 2012, I started working for Presence Behavioral Health’s Professionals Program where I was a therapist for high-functioning, professional patients who had become addicted to drugs or alcohol.

If you’re familiar with addiction, you’re probably familiar with the 12-steps, #1 being “we admitted we were powerless over <insert drug of choice> -- that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Admitting powerlessness is a very tall order, particularly for folks who are used to success due to their ability to manage their lives and the lives of those around them. I wanted to investigate for myself what it might feel and look like to surrender some semblance of control and trust in something larger than me.

Letting go of control was a humongous undertaking for me. I had historically thought of myself as an anxious person, but in reality, it was an intense desire to control everything that had my anxiety turned up to 11.

If I felt like I could control the who/what/where/when around me, then surely I wouldn’t feel the horrendous anxiety that tensed my muscles, made my stomach churn, and at times took my breath away. But none of my tactics actually seemed to work.

Though I would exert all of the control I could possibly muster, there was always some surprise lurking around the corner that I hadn’t prepared for that would send me into a tizzy. A canceled appointment, a forgotten item from the grocery, an incorrect take-out order...all life situations that had the potential to ruin my day. Yes, this letting go thing would be a humongous task.

The first book I stumbled on to that changed my life in this regard was Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach. I can’t possibly summarize the jewels of knowledge that pour from this book, but I’ll leave you with some nuggets and you can check it out for yourself.

She says, “We lay the foundation of Radical Acceptance by recognizing when we are caught in the habit of judging, resisting, and grasping and how we constantly try to control our levels of pain and pleasure...As we let go of our stories of what is wrong with us, we begin to touch what is actually happening with a clear and kind attention. We release our plans or fantasies and arrive open-handed in the experience of this moment.” (pg. 30)

Let me relate this to my experience with the umbrellas, or rather, the deeper desire to control the way I am perceived: radical acceptance means that people are going to see me the way they see me regardless of whether I’ve got an umbrella or not.

Radical acceptance is not a magical gift that is left by a unicorn under your pillow. It is a practice. It’s something we have to open ourselves to on a daily, sometimes minute-to-minute basis. How would your relationships change if you let radical acceptance color your connections?

Back to umbrellas: Now, I only have one umbrella in my car because I assume that’s all I need to get from point A to point B with my coiffure in tact. What about those of us who readily admit to a multitude of umbrellas in their car? What up with that?

My client, from whom this initial question stemmed, might share reasons such as this:

  • What if one breaks and I need another?
  • What if I’m with a friend and they also need an umbrella?
  • What if there’s someone I don’t know without an umbrella and I want to help him/her?
  • What if one of the umbrellas rolls under the seat and I can’t reach it?
  • And the list might very well continue…
This is where we shift into the examination of the isms: optimism and pessimism.

What makes one a pessimist or an optimist?

The authors of Neuowrite have this definition:

If you generally expect negative outcomes in your future you are a pessimist, whereas if you generally expect positive outcomes in your future you are an optimist. The past is a bit more complicated: if you think your failures are due to your own inner failings which are stable across time (you deserved to fail) and you think your successes are due to external factors that are unstable (you got lucky) then you are a pessimist. If instead, you believe your failures were due to external factors that are unstable (you got unlucky) and you believe your successes were due to stable inner virtues (you deserved to succeed) then you are an optimist.

Where the umbrellas come into play here is the underlying reasons for which one might justify having a multitude of umbrellas: do I assume I will have what I need, or that I need to be prepared for the worst?

Neuwrite says that our predisposition to optimism/pessimism is predetermined by genetics, but is highly influenced by our environment. Low socio-economic status in conjunction with negative life events has the greatest predictor of one becoming a pessimist. They also say that though pessimists have a potentially more realistic view of the world, they also tend to suffer negative health and mental health consequences and often live shorter lives than their optimistic counterparts.

Huh, well that sucks. Guess what the antidote is? Therapy and mindfulness practices are some of the most effective ways to deal with pessimism. #timetomeditate

One secret that I feel like therapists don’t always tell you is that therapy isn’t necessarily about feeling better. Therapy is about changing the underlying thought patterns that are keeping you trapped in the loop of feeling awful. (I say this because I have seen many a pessimist who would counter that they’ve tried therapy for years and haven’t felt any better. I would guess that they haven’t been willing to let go of some maladaptive ways of thinking for one reason or another, but maybe that’s just the optimist in me).

A final note on umbrellas and their relation to mental health connects us to the lovely Rihanna and the video posted above. One nonnegotiable need we all have as humans is connection and the desire to belong. And Miss Ri Ri is open and willing to share her umbrella, thus creating a space for connection. Do we need to have our own umbrella if we’ve always got someone in our lives who is willing to share? I’ve got a big, rainbow umbrella I’d be willing to hold over your head next time it rains.
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It’s been awhile, eh? It’s no secret that 2014 was a year of change for me personally and professionally.  And I’m not the only one.  In my sphere, I was witness to more death, pain and loss than I’ve ever experienced at one time.  A trusted advisor told me that over the past several years we’re all being shattered so that we can choose to rebuild ourselves in a mindful way and let go of parts of ourselves and our lives that no longer serve us.  Now is a time for reflection and thoughtful action: who do I want to be and what actions do I take to create that version of myself?

I want to be a person who embraces this life.  And to do that, I want to play.  Yes, play.

Death is so complicated, right?  I think a narrow view is that death is an ending, a final chapter.  But I choose to see it differently.  Death is a sad, but necessary wake up call to remind us that time on Earth is precious. It’s a time to think - if I died today, what would people say about my life?  I choose to view the death of my parents as the beginning of a new chapter. 

So what does play have to do with mental health?  EVERYTHING!  In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown shares guideposts for wholehearted living. Guidepost #7 offers the suggestion of cultivating rest and play in opposition to using productivity for self-worth and using exhaustion as a status symbol. Do you relate to the internal drive to check things off the to-do list as a measure of how much worth you have at any given time? This IS an exhausting way to live and I refuse to buy into this message any longer! Who’s gonna join me? Giving yourself time to play can lower stress, boost creativity, challenge the mind, improve connections and increase energy! (Check out this short piece by Brené!)

When I think of playful musicians, Sia is at the top of the list.  She came into my awareness through a patient at Harborview Recovery Center when I was interning there in 2009.  We were doing a music group where I asked patients to share a song that depicted their addiction.  She shared Sia’s Breathe Me: (Check out the video here!)

If you’re familiar with Breathe Me, you know it’s an intense song.  (I have it on my sad songs list on Spotify, affectionately titled: Bummertown.)  But in watching this video, you can still see Sia’s playful side through the dark lyrical content.  You see her wearing funny hats, having a dress up party, and smiling as she runs through the street.  I imagine that’s how she goes through life too.  Sia is a reluctant star and has used her fame to openly discuss her history of depression and addiction.  She even went as far as to write a suicide note in 2010, but was persuaded to get help through 12-step programs.  

Shall we all take a cue from Sia, Brené Brown, and other models of joy in our lives? Let’s remember today to clap our hands, smile, and slow down enough to enjoy ourselves. Isn’t that what life’s really about? Namaste, you guys.

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Your Love Is My Drug

I went to a seminar this past week and heard one piece of information that blew my mind.  Dopamine is a neurochemical that’s released when we believe we’ve received some sort of reward while oxytocin is released through experiences shared with another person.

In summary, what that said to me was: dopamine is all about me, while oxytocin is all about us.  Whoa.  

This seminar was about addiction and working with the millennial population, so let’s start by looking at this through the lens of addiction.  When a person is in active addiction, one of the main neurological drivers is the release of dopamine (or the desire for the release of dopamine since we know as tolerance increases, we’re less able to experience the same high with the same amount of our drug of choice.)  This desire for dopamine is one of the reasons it’s so hard to maintain sobriety in early recovery.  Because when a person is triggered -- dopamine is released.  So when a person in early recovery sees a bar or other people drinking, this neurochemical of excitement is released.  Yet another great example of addiction as a disease rather than just a lack of will power.  

Dopamine is also one of the main chemicals released when we have a first kiss.  In contrast, oxytocin is a neurochemical released when trust is built.  I suspect this is the reason we say that love changes over time - because it does from a neurochemical standpoint!!!  What starts the gears turning when meeting a new love prospect are dopamine and endorphins.  But healthy, sustained relationships generate oxytocin.

I once had a relationship that was harmful to me in a lot of ways.  And I swore to my therapist that I was really in love with this guy.  She said, “You’re not in love with him.  You’re in love with the way he makes you feel.”  Ouch...but she was totally right.  What I was most likely experiencing was the high from dopamine and endorphins, but because we had not developed any trust between us, I wasn't getting the oxytocin I needed to help me feel safe in the relationship.  In that instance, that relationship was my drug.

I’ve gotten the chance to work with a lot of clients who struggle to let go of a harmful relationship for one reason or another.  This information about neurochemicals puts all of their difficulty into context.  We know that process addictions affect the brain the same way as chemical addictions, so it makes sense when we look at addiction to a relationship in the same way as early recovery from a chemical.  If I look at someone who set my dopamine afire before, regardless of whether or not they hurt me, dopamine will be released again.  (One of the criteria for a substance use disorder is “continued use despite negative consequences.”).  One of the main complaints I hear from such clients is that all their friends struggle to understand why they keep going back.  Knowing how the brain works in these situations helps us understand why people stay in harmful relationships and/or get back together after breaking up.  

So what do we do with this information?  I imagine it would be a good idea to find other ways to trigger dopamine.  It’s not just harmful behaviors that cause the release of dopamine.  Even finding that rockstar parking spot releases dopamine!  

Loretta Graziano Breuning has written a book called Meet Your Happy Chemicals that informs you about dopamine, endorphins, serotonin and oxytocin and how/why they work.  She says that if you intentionally set out to produce these happy chemicals in healthy ways for 45 days, you’ll actually feel happier.  

You can read a brief overview here: http://www.psychologytoday.com/files/attachments/59029/happy-chemicals.pdf

I've always said to my clients that happiness isn't something we can necessarily achieve on a day-to-day basis, but it’s really the exciting things like birthdays or Christmas that cause happiness.  And that a more realistic state to strive for is contentment.  This new insight about neurochemicals makes me think we just need more words for happiness, just like the Greek language has multiple words for love.  If I come up with any good words, I'll let you know.

P.S. As I was watching Ke$ha’s video it reminded me of The Beatles' Yellow Submarine.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that “Your Love is My Drug” and “All You Need is Love” have the same trippy animation.  You decide…

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Are you sick of this song yet?  ME NEITHER!!  But I tend to be the type of person that can listen to the same song over and over and over and over and over…you get the idea.

This song has been running through my head this summer for more than just my love of Pharrell.  Positive Psychology has been gaining more and more steam these days.  During my grad school days, we talked a lot about looking at clients from a strengths-based perspective.  What tools does this person have that can help them with their current circumstance?  Positive Psychology goes a bit further in suggesting that we shouldn’t look at what tools we have, but how we can develop ALL THE TOOLS.  “The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.” – Positive Psychology Center, University of Pennsylvania

One of the ways I’ve found the ability to increase my happiness comes from Buddhist Psychology.  Rick Hanson’s book Just One Thing has been a great tool for taking charge of my own happiness.

“…how you use your mind changes your brain – for better or worse…you regularly rest your mind upon worries, self-criticism, and anger, then your brain will gradually take the shape – will develop neural structures and dynamics – of anxiety, low sense of worth, and prickly reactivity to others.  On the other hand, if you regularly rest your mind upon, for example, noticing you’re all right right now, seeing the good in yourself, and letting go – then your brain will gradually take the shape of calm strength, self-confidence, and inner peace.” Just One Thing, page 3

Dudes, this isn’t just wishy washy, hippy crap – it’s <beep boop boop beep bop> SCIENCE!  Just google “mindfulness and neuroscience” to see the data.  (My search just produced 872,000 results.)

I recognize that when we’re in times of crisis, it seems impossible to be mindful and embrace all that we’re experiencing.  And you’re right – it is nearly impossible, unless you’ve already been flexing your mindfulness muscles.  The brain acts just as our muscles in that if we exercise regularly, we will see more positive results.  If we only practice on occasion, the more difficult it will be to call on those tools when we’re really in need.

How do you even begin?  Little things can help.  What’s on your Facebook feed today?  Your high school friends showing pictures of their kids, that one sourpuss friend complaining about how they spilled coffee on themselves today, <insert sports team news here>, and blah, blah, blah? Take a second to look for some inspirational sites that will fill your feed with fabulous quotes or interesting articles about self-improvement.  Here are some of my favorites:

https://www.facebook.com/brenebrown

https://www.facebook.com/tarabrach

https://www.facebook.com/TheMindUnleashed

https://www.facebook.com/psychologytoday

And of course: https://www.facebook.com/HeadHeartTherapy

Any yoga fans out there?  Start your day with an intention, just like we do in yoga.  Will your intention today be strength, peace, seeing the good in yourself and others or something else empowering? 

Small, simple changes that take minimal effort will produce a huge payout when the universe hands you a big pile of dog poo.  (Not coincidentally, when I think of poo, I think of this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDyOD1C67J0.  I own this game and it is as magical as it looks, folks.)

Pharrell does have a lot to be happy about, but I’m willing to bet if we all started flexing our mindfulness muscles we’d be singing and dancing along with him more often. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted by on in Anxiety disorders

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I'm OBSESSED with this song and this video.  It makes me feel all the feels.

OBSESSED like whenever I hear it once, I have to hear it again at least five more times.  (I will be listening to it the entire time I compose this blog post.)

I'm glad I watched the video the first time I heard the song. Like many people, I don't always pay attention to the lyrics of a song.  If I hadn't seen the video first, I'm sure it wouldn't have impacted me so deeply.  There's so much in this song to discuss!!

What I love about the video is the way it illustrates how therapists and clients are both human.  The therapeutic relationship is not the place for the therapist to share their issues, but at the same time I personally hope my clients recognize I'm human and no where near perfect.  We're all searching for that sense of peace/happiness/contentment - just the same.  As I remind my clients, it's all a practice and some times we're better than others.

I also dig the last chorus, where the therapist is the lead singer while his clients are the musicians and back up singers.  I interpret this scene as a visual representation of how a) we're all in this together and b) clients enhance the therapist's life as well as vice versa.   It's really an honor to be able to support a person through trying times.  It gives me a sense of purpose and accomplishment to know that I've been chosen as a trusted person in a client's life.  And more obviously, I literally couldn't do what I do without clients.  Just like a lead singer is nothing without her band.

I filed this song under the "anxiety disorders" category because I think it expresses the gap between where we are and where we want to be - thus producing this sense of things-are-not-ok-right-now, otherwise known as generalized anxiety.  With the upbeat tempo and hurried lyrics, the song creates a sense of tension that feels a lot like anxiety to me.  Musically, the Bleachers do a great job of creating that anxious feeling while simultaneously making you wanna dance in your car while onlookers wonder what the hell you're doing.  ...or maybe that's just me.

There's also a longing for connection in the song that I hear over and over from clients.  It's amazing how isolated one can feel, even when so many others are feeling the same way.  In The Daring WayTM Brené Brown talks about wishing she could connect people with like stories so they wouldn't feel so isolated.  That's what I love about working in the addiction field - treatment groups are so intensively healing because of the common struggles group members have faced.  EMPATHY!!

And finally, the overall message of the song - I wanna get better - hits me right in the heart.  In my personal and professional experiences, I've gotten to feel THAT moment so many times.  That instant where the head and the heart come together and decide that it's time to make a change is so incredibly powerful.  We can be so impatient when we're feeling uncomfortable.  Humans will do anything to avoid pain.  But it's that discomfort that pushes us to do something different!  The next time you feel emotionally uncomfortable, pause for a second and ask yourself what's going on.  Emotions are just information - take a moment to listen and hear what they're trying to tell you.  Maybe they're telling you you wanna get better too?

 

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Posted by on in Music as therapy

"Without music, life would be a mistake." - Friedrich Nietzsche

I don't know much about Nietzsche, but from what I understand he wasn't a happy fellow.  But it's clear by this quote that he LOVED music.  Why?  Music is empathy.

If you know me, you know I'm a musician and that music has been a crucial component of my entire life.  So, I recognize my bias here, but bear with me - I'm not the only one who thinks this way.

First, let's take a look at what empathy is.  My favorite description of empathy comes from Theresa Wiseman via Brené Brown.  Empathy has four crucial components: 1) perspective-taking 2) staying out of judgment 3) recognizing emotion 4) communicating understanding of emotions.  (For more on this - join me in June for my first Daring Way intensive weekend!  Check the image for details.)

To further differentiate empathy from sympathy, watch this great video utilizing portions of Brené Brown's TEDx talk: http://tinyurl.com/krrrcnq

What does this have to do with music?  Well, I'm so glad you asked.  Show of hands for those of you who have utilized music to match your mood.  Maybe you listened to "Everybody Hurts" on repeat for hours that one time your high school boyfriend dumped you (me? no...never done a thing like that.)  Or maybe you still blast "Walking on Sunshine" when you need to clean your house.  Why do we do this? 

I've yet to find a decent article that supports my hypothesis, but two thoughts: 1) we want to know we're not alone and 2) we want to be alone while we feel all the feels.  Irony?  Yes, but it works!  When I'm hurt, sad, angry, or <insert any other negative emotional state here> the first thing I want to do is cry.  The last thing I want to do is cry in front of another person.  So what do I do?  I turn to Spotify to find just the perfect song to express myself.  Wait, what? You say you do that too?  Huzzah!  Music is the perfect way to cultivate connection when that's the experience we fear the most.  And all of us are wired for connection.  And in this meta way, when we connect with a song, we're connecting with the artist who wrote the song and all other humans who are also connected to that song.  (Whoa, mind BLOWN!) 

I also think the initial connection and empathy we feel while listening to music gives us the courage to reach out and actually talk to another human about our experience.  This helps alleviate shame, when we reach out beyond the music and interact with someone else.  I know after I've had a good cry and feel like I have the capacity to form actual sentences - that's when I call up a BFF or chat with my husband about whatever I'm feeling. 

I recently had a client tell me that crying felt unproductive. Well friends, Michael Stipe is here to tell you we all do it. 

I'd like to challenge you to mindfully use your music this way.  When you're drawn to an album or artist or song on any particular day - ask yourself why and just give it some thought.  Chances are, you're getting a healthy dose of empathy to help you on your journey.

 

 

 

 

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