AHW Counseling & Consulting, PLLC.


5 Senses Calming Technique

5 Senses Calming Technique

woman-holding-her-head-2128817Are you feeling anxious? Is your mind racing? Are you having one of those moments, or days, when your brain is on overload? It’s like a speed train moving from one thing to the next. OR maybe it’s stuck, reviewing one or two thoughts over and over and over and it’s making you feel anxious. Your thoughts are going crazy and so maybe now your heart is pounding. Your body is responding and it’s fired up. Even though you’d love to relax, it seems like the thoughts in your brain won’t let go. You are craving rest and calm but all you can do is think and worry. What in the world is going on??

The first step, almost always, is to breathe. Just breathe. Take in a breath, hold it after the inhale for 1-3 counts, and even take another little inhale in if you can, and then let it go. Repeat this 3 or 4 times and your body will begin to shift gears into a more relaxed state. This type of slowing down breathing will help your heart rate to slow down a little and will give your brain a break, just long enough to practice this technique. 

So let’s talk about what’s happening in that crazy fast-paced brain of yours. Ever heard of the amygdala? Well it’s a part of your brain that is the alert area. It can be very helpful as it is designed to alert you when you are in danger in order to keep you safe. The amygdala is looking for harm and then letting your nervous system know if it needs to fight or flee. Right now, your amygdala, unless you are truly unsafe and in danger, is likely fired up and overreacting to something that is disturbing but not threatening. Unfortunately, it’s reading it as a real threat or danger, likely causing your thoughts to get away from you and your heart to pound. 

Lots of people deal with a recurring, over-reactive alerting amygdala. When this happens, we need to help calm down the nervous system, and reassure it that we are safe and that we are not in danger. We want to help the amygdala to avoid reacting to a thought causing anxiety when you are not actually in danger in the present moment but are just experiencing an uncomfortable thought. We can learn to tolerate discomfort and utilize practices like this one to calm our bodies and help our amygdalas make accurate assessments. 

Now that you know a little bit more about what’s happening in your body and that you person-on-a-bridge-near-a-lake-747964can help it get to a better place, here is an exercise you can practice. Practice is a really important word here by the way. It’s important that you do practice these types of mindfulness techniques so that your body and mind get used to them and know how to use them well. They will become more and more accessible to you with practice. 

Okay, so go back to the breath. Inhale, hold it for a count of 3, take another little inhale and then gently push the exhale all the way out. Repeat 3-4 times, however long it takes for you to start to notice your body calming down or when you notice a small shift in your ability to tolerate your anxiety. Next, you are going to walk through each of your senses, in order to help your mind and body know that in this present moment you are safe and out of harm’s way. Help your amygdala make an accurate assessment as you walk through your 5 senses.

Seeing-notice what your eyes see and describe it. I see three people sitting on a bench. I see my blue sweater and the threads winding together. I see a green sign on the side of the road. 

man-wearing-black-cap-with-eyes-closed-under-cloudy-sky-810775Hearing-listen. Are there any sounds around you? Describe this in your head…I hear birds chirping. I hear the air conditioner revving. I hear someone walking upstairs.  

Tasting-notice any tastes that you have…are you eating? Are you drinking? Can you think of a favorite taste that you enjoy having? See if you can just about taste it. 

Smelling-notice any smells. Take some deep breaths and see if you can smell anything or imagine some of your favorite smells. Smell can be a powerful way to get your brain to the present moment. 

Touching-what is touching you? Notice the seat under your body, the touch of the clothes you are wearing, the floor your feet are standing on. What does it all feel like? Is it soft? Is it cold? Warm?

Go through all that you notice with each of your 5 senses at least once, but feel free to repeat until you have a sense of the present moment. Help your brain and body understand that you are safe, right here right now and that you can in fact relax. Remember, practice is key. Neuroscientists have helped us learn that “neurons that fire together wire together” which means that we can teach our brains to process in different ways but we need to continue to offer opportunities for our brains to feel safe and calm on a regular basis. 

Next Steps

If you are someone looking to find relief from stress, anxiety, trouble sleeping, and worry, there are therapists such as myself that specialize in supporting these needs. If you are looking for more support, please contact me here. I offer free 15 minute consultations where I’ll try to get an idea of what you are dealing with and how I can help. I can let you know if I think therapy would be a good fit for you. We will get a good sense of each other and can decide if I’m the best fit for you. Together we will make a plan for the next steps.

What if? What if? What if? Time for the What if Positives!

Sometimes it feels like our brains are wired for worst case scenarios. Especially as our 2016-12-31-what-ifstress levels go up. One thing piles on top of another and it’s all we can do to manage each of the thoughts that come up in our brains. And unfortunately, so many of us go straight to what I call the What If Negatives. Our brains are actually wired this way, originally as a form of protection. Most people also have times of struggle with fear, anxiety, worry, and doubt. This only reinforces the what ifs in our minds that we may ruminate on and end up expending quite a bit wasted energy throughout the entire day.

Our minds take in what we give them. We pile in the negative, worst case scenarios usually (and unfortunately) with ease. This sends messages to our brains and whole bodies that there is a lot to fear and worry about out there. We focus on all of the things that might happen and end up scaring ourselves into thinking it will happen. In Habib Sadeghi’s book The Clarity Cleanse, he talks about patients he works with that scare themselves with their worst case scenario thoughts. His response…”Our lives are filled with terrible misfortunes, most of which never happen.” True, and yet we spend so much time obsessing on the What If Negatives.

Nurturing our brains with positivity is really important. I talk with my clients who tend towards worry to begin to build up the positives in their brain. This exercise is what I am referring to as the What If Positives. Our minds and bodies follow our lead. It is extremely important for our health to at the very least, tie up the score of What If Negatives with What If Positives.

blur-close-up-decor-1485657There is wonderful research out there on positive thinking and the impact it has on our lives. Positive thinking not only decreases stress and depression, but it also can have an impact on our physical health. Evidence supports that positive thinking provides resistance to the common cold, increase in lifespan, and help with general physical and psychological well being. This is an incredible medicine.

So here’s how to start. It will involve forming a new habit and rewiring a fresh way of thinking. The wonderful thing is that we can do this. WE control our thoughts and the input into our minds. Our minds and bodies are ready and able to make shifts. Start here…every time a What If Negative comes to mind, add a What If Positive. For ease, you can let it be the exact opposite. An example…when the thought comes into mind, “what if I don’t get this job”, add a “what if I get this job” right in there with it. Or, “what if I get the exact best job for me”. “What if I do terribly on my presentation and everyone thinks I’m awful” shifts to “What if I rock this thing and my boss tells me I did a great job.”

Next, start building the What If Positives into your thoughts even when there isn’t a negative. This will come more naturally once you get the first part down of adding a positive thought to a negative thought. Throughout the day we have a million thoughts so simply start making some of these positive scenarios. Positive outcomes for each and every little thing. What if the line at Starbucks is super short and I’m not late to work. What if I love my new haircut. What if I learn 3 new things from this all day workshop. What if she says I love you back! SO many What If Positives!

The whole point of this exercise is that we need to help shift our brains from change-negative-positive-think-shift-transform-512habitual negative thoughts to include habitual positive thoughts. Our brains need it. Honestly, there are so many negative, scary messages sent every day just by watching the news, or checking in on our social media of choice. It’s out there, so we’ve got to take an active approach to balancing it out, and hopefully make the positive thoughts the majority ones we have. Our minds and bodies will feel the difference.

A final thought…what ifs can be present due to intense situations. In life we are at times faced with truly scary, terrible what ifs. What if my daughter gets the diagnosis? What if the surgery doesn’t work? What if my husband leaves me? There are times when we do end up in life’s unfortunate, terribly challenging situations. And there isn’t an exact opposite counter, and it may be challenging to pull up the positives. But maybe you can fill your mind with some positivity in a different way. What if we figure out a way to make it through? What if we have the very best doctors? What if the surgery goes perfectly? What if we have a very long and good marriage together? In these times, it may be helpful to also seek professional support. Life’s most challenging experiences can be difficult to navigate and having someone supporting you outside of family/friends can be exactly what you need.

Next Steps

If you are struggling with anxiety or dealing with challenging experiences and would like additional support, please contact me here. I offer free 15 minute consultations where I’ll try to get an idea of what you are dealing with and how I can help. We will get a good sense of each other and can decide if I’m the best fit for you. Together we will make a plan for the next steps.

Setting Limits with Kids, Positively

One of the hardest parts of parenting is providing guidance when things are not going well. Obviously. When things are going well it’s easy to ride the high of being a parent and loving on your children. It’s enjoyable and reinforces all of the many reasons for having a family. Discipline, consequences, setting limits, boundaries, and expectations are not likely one of the reasons. It’s tough and the behaviors that require the limits are even tougher. They can wear on you so much that when it comes to setting the limit, your emotional brain has already been triggered or exhausted and all you want to do is scream.

Limits must be set in order for children to learn how to function in the world. They crave limits…even teenagers. Truly. Limits provide a sense of control and understanding. Without limits, kids get confused with the behaviors expected of them. It’s important to have some “go tos”. I’m going to share my favorite go to for setting limits in a positive way.

Garry Landreth is and will always be one of my heroes. He is a well known author, play therapist, professor, researcher, and scholar. He KNOWS kids. He knows how to interact with them, how to nurture their needs, how to build the best therapeutic relationships with kids, and he knows how to set limits. Which is actually a really important way to interact with kids, nurture their needs, and build wonderful relationships. I take my favorite limit setting tool from Dr. Landreth’s good work and it goes like this.

Positive Limit Setting This is a simple way to set limits with children in a more therapeutic manner. You can remember it by thinking of the letters A.C.T.Mom-setting-hard-no-limit

A = Acknowledge the child’s feeling

C = Communicate the limit

T = Target an alternative


Acknowledging the Feeling. One of the most important pieces of limit setting that caregivers often forget is validating children’s feelings. When children need a limit, they are almost always having a feeling and the feeling most often gets lost in the discipline. But the feeling is key. Think about in your own life, maybe when discussing a problem with a friend or your partner and the conversation goes right to the solution and your feeling never gets heard. This doesn’t feel good. You may even wonder, were they even listening to me? The same goes for kids. If they are struggling with a behavior it is linked with a feeling or experience that needs to be heard and not ignored. They are “going through” something and need their emotions supported, even when the behavior is not desirable. This technique is excellent for young children, but can be used in adjusted language for older kids too. Even teenagers need their feelings heard when they are acting out. Recognizing your child’s emotion by giving it a name and some nurturance will also increase your child’s emotional intelligence, an incredibly valuable skill. And if it’s not so much a feeling, it might just be acknowledging what your child is experiencing by saying, “Looks like you…” or “I can tell you really want to…”. This is still sending the message to your child that you care about what THEY are experiencing.

Communicate the limit. Don’t forget to clearly state the limit, helping your child identify the behavior that isn’t okay. Even if you think they know it, state it anyways. They need to hear you say it plus it gives you an opportunity to clearly state exactly what you want that limit to be. In their mind, there may be exceptions, variance, etc. therefore you want to clearly state YOUR limit.

Target an Alternative. Giving an alternative behavior or action is really helpful too. Kids need so much guidance from us. In as sense, we are acting as their more developed brains for them. They only have access to the small part of their brain that has been developed. Their brain continues to develop throughout childhood, adolescence, and even until they are young adults. The part of the brain that is still developing is the part that helps people think critically, problem solve, and make good decisions. Therefore, when dealing with feelings and behaviors, it’s way more challenging for children to manage than for adults who have fully developed brains. Children are able to have the strong feelings and impulses but just don’t quite know what to do with them. We are here for them helping them understand behaviorally what goes and what doesn’t go. And they likely NEED an alternate behavior or action to express themselves and their feelings that is appropriate and yet still gets the feeling out.

Here are a few examples to help get you started using positive limit setting:

A   “You are feeling excited and silly playing with your toys!”

C   “But toys are not for throwing.”

T    “You can throw the ball outside or you can slide your toys on the floor.”


A   “I can see you are feeling mad right now.”feelings

C   “But people are not for hitting.”

T   “You may hit your pillow or use your words to tell your brother why you are angry.”


A   “I know you are sad today.”

C   “But you have to finish your homework.”

T   “You can work at the kitchen table or on the desk in the den.”


A   “Looks like you really want a cookie. You must be hungry and I know you love cookies.”

C   “Cookies are for after dinner.”

T   “You can have a carrot stick or help me set the table for dinner.”

pexels-photo-1027931Just like any new tool, any new language, it takes practice. You have to get used to shifting your language while speaking calmly. Approaching your child with lots of love and kindness when you say these words is key. And at the same time the words need to be easy to understand and clear.

Next Steps

I have a background in child development and work with parents and caregivers of kids of all ages to build lasting positive relationships with their children. If you are a parent or caregiver who would like additional support and coaching, please contact me here. I offer free 15 minute consultations where I’ll try to get an idea of what you are dealing with and how I can help. We will get a good sense of each other and can decide if I’m the best fit for you. Together we will make a plan for the next steps.

Couples Weekly Business Meeting

Have you ever thought about your marriage, partnership, or household as a business? I hate to take the romance out of it, but just for a minute, consider this idea because I think there is quite a bit of truth to it. A business has a schedule, a budget, goals, working relationships, individuals who contribute to a mission or cause based on their skills, and a to-do list of daily work and ongoing projects. Sound like running a household to you? Me too!

beard-beverages-break-630831The similarities are actually quite clear. One thing that almost every business has is a staff meeting. So why in the world don’t we have this similar practice at home? Engaging in a regular meeting with the two individuals in charge of the “company” can increase organization, make for better planning, ensure expectations are clear, save money by reviewing the finances regularly, and improve the management of all of the many moving parts of a household. Plus, many of the challenging areas of household management and partnership come back to communication. If there was a designated time, to PROACTIVELY take care of the “business”, much miscommunication and conflict could be avoided. Meetings help people who are collaborating on the same goals to work together, express their needs, and set expectations. These types of conversations about your life are super important and yet so very often they are missed or even avoided.

Here are some ideas and tips for setting up your Couples Weekly Business Meeting:

TIMING. The first thing to think through is the timing. It is ideal to have this meeting occur at the same time every week, and if weekly just doesn’t work, make it every other week. You definitely want to set yourselves up for success! Choose a time when there will be no distractions. If there are kids in your home, make sure your meetings are at a time when they are well cared for, preferably out of the house or sleeping!

FOCUS. The next area to think through is how best you can focus on this meeting as a couple. Make sure again that if there are kids in your home, they are taken care of, cell phones are off/silenced/in another room, and this meeting is the only thing on your calendar at this time. Don’t come to the meeting hangry! Come well nourished and well hydrated. Take care of these needs beforehand, JUST like you would for a meeting at work. These distractions will very quickly take away your focus.

blurred-background-cheerful-colleague-1624170KINDNESS. Start with kindness. Check in with your partner. Make sure that you both feel heard and supported if emotions come up. I think it is useful to start the meeting with a general check in…ask each other how do you feel things are going? How was this past week? What can I do to help support you in this upcoming week? For some, it may even be helpful to start the meeting with a few minutes of deep breathing, just to get to a kind and calm place.

AGENDA. Think through together what your agenda should include. A few ideas…General Relationship Check In,Calendar Review, Budget Review, Weekly Tasks, On-going Projects, Goals, Kids Needs (if applicable). Order these in a way that makes sense for you but keep in mind any agenda items that might be more intense or triggering and surround them with items that will be more connecting. Don’t forget to bring your sense of humor to help lighten up intense work. Always end on a positive note as the hope is that this meeting will set the tone for the week!

PREPARATION. Come prepared with your notebook, laptop, paperwork, calendar etc. but also, and likely more importantly, think through the emotional preparation. These can be tough conversations… Budget? Individual contributions? Goals? Hard conversations for sure! As you begin discussing adding a regular business meeting to your life, talk through what are the areas that are stressful and what are the emotions that might come up and need some support. Money talk is almost ALWAYS stressful so give this one some thought. This may even include, who is driving if you are doing a review of your budget online? Who holds the mouse at which discussion point/agenda item (this one is from experience!) may actually be really important. Identify historically sensitive situations that are going to be intense, and then be intentional about your pre-work. Coaches do this before games. Dancers do this before performances. You have to get centered and into the right mindset so that you can begin within the best space possible This is the pre-game, pre-show work that is so critical to being successful.

alcohol-beverage-bottle-1841506WRAP-UP. It is crucial to wrap-up the meeting well. Make sure that expectations for the week, the projects, the finances, etc. are clear. Repeat any notes that were taken. Ensure that calendars are aligned. And most of all, end in connection, whatever that looks like for the two of you. Take a moment to thank each other for all that you bring to the partnership and household. Hug. Celebrate the good work you are doing as a couple!

There are many variations on business meetings and so I think there can be on this type of meeting as well. What is most important is that you do what works best for you as a couple and that you stay open to talking about what doesn’t work. Try out different ways of running the meeting, evaluate, then adjust and then re-evaluate and readjust. Know that it may take a little more work in the beginning, especially as you figure out the little emotional nuances like who’s driving the mouse! But after a little bit of practice, your Couples Business Meeting may end up being your favorite weekly date!

Next Steps
Through relationship coaching, I work with people who desire meaningful and positive partner, personal, and professional relationships.If you are someone looking to find support in working towards better relationship in your life, there are therapists such as myself that specialize in supporting these needs. Please contact me here. I offer free 15 minute consultations where I’ll try to get an idea of what you are dealing with and how I can help. I can let you know if I think therapy would be a good fit for you. We will get a good sense of each other and can decide if I’m the best fit for you. Together we will make a plan for the next steps.

Celebrate International Children’s Book Day with Wilma Jean the Worry Machine

Did you know that April 2nd is International Children’s Book Day? What a wonderful thing to celebrate! I still remember fondly so many of the books I read as a child and can see how strongly they impacted me. Reading books helps children in many ways. They develop language skills, of course, but they also learn a great deal about life, relating to others, the world, behaviors, experiences, etc. etc. etc. Through books, children are able to understand new concepts and in reading the stories of others, they are able to feel validated in their own stories and experiences. Children’s books are powerful and my list of the ones I love to recommend to parents is quite long! So, I’m going to highlight 3 favorites here in order to help recognize and celebrate International Children’s Book Day!

The three books I have selected off of my long list are books that I have used in my work with children and families over the years to help teach kids about feelings. One of the greatest challenges for children as they relate to others and experience many new things every day, is how to handle and express their feelings. Children’s feelings can be SO big and FEEL so big. It’s important that we provide them with a model for how to deal with and identify their feelings using relatable stories. That’s the first step — “feelings identification”. If we can help children learn how they experience each feeling in their body and name them, we are setting them up for strong emotional intelligence as an adult!

Image result for today i feel silly and other moods that make my dayToday I Feel Silly & Other Moods that Make My Day by Jamie Lee Curtis is spectacular. And I use the word spectacular because that’s sort of the best word to describe the experience that the main character has throughout the book. Spectacular feelings, spectacular pictures, spectacular experiences. She has so many feelings each day, some joyful and silly, others harder like grumpy and mad, and she feels them all in a spectacular way. It is indeed a silly book that is very relatable to children and the ups and downs of their worlds each day. I appreciate the variety of feelings expressed by this amazing little girl and the way the author describes the emotions and each of the reasons, big and small, behind the many feelings.

Image result for tough borisAnother favorite of mine, particularly when I am helping children who are struggling with expressing sadness is Tough Boris by Mem Fox. You would never ever ever think in a million years that Tough Boris the pirate would be sad or, even crazier, cry! But Tough Boris does indeed have a tender sensitive side, like all of us humans, and he expresses it well. I highly recommend this book for a child who is having a hard time expressing sadness. Sad can be hard for kids, especially when they think of being sad as a weakness or “uncool”. Boris helps show kids that they can be both tough and all kinds of cool and yet still be sad, especially when you face something in life worth being sad about. Just a heads up this one may get to you as well! Tough Boris is also a really helpful book for a child who has experienced loss or grief.

Image result for wilma jean the worry machineNow for your worriers……I have the PERFECT book…just look at her. Can’t you just relate?? The main character of this story has become so dear to me when working with parents of kids who struggle with anxiety. And her name is Wilma Jean the Worry Machine. This is the title of the brilliant book written by Julia Cook. Wilma Jean does a fantastic job of worrying. She worries about big things like getting called on in math class, not knowing the question, kids making fun of her, AND it all ending up in the school newspaper. She worries about little things like what if they are serving buttered carrots which she hates for lunch in the cafeteria. She worries about it all. Luckily, she has a great mom who jumps in and decides Wilma Jean needs some help managing her worries. Mom gets the school involved and Wilma Jean’s team of supporters are able to give her some coping techniques that make a huge difference in her life. The story helps kids not only identify what it means to worry but also how to sort through the worries they can control and worries they cannot control. I like that this story is helpful and relatable for kids, but also gives parents a couple of good ideas to try with their kids too. Plus, it’s just a ton of fun to say “Wilma Jean the Worry Machine”!

Reading books with your children can bring about an abundance of positive outcomes. It can expand their minds and build curiosity.  Reading can help them cope with their own experiences and feelings. There are a multitude of studies that prove that reading with your children has incredible benefits, like this recent study that shows that reading can benefit your child’s behavior and attention. Reading books with your kids also builds your relationship. Books like the ones above, offer wonderful opportunities to help your child navigate their emotional world and engage in interactions with you on how to deal with it all. In my opinion this is one of the greatest gifts books can bring to children and parents…helping start the hard conversations and giving parents a way to use language and stories to engage in these conversations.

Next Steps

I have a background in child development and work with parents and caregivers of kids of all ages to build lasting positive relationships with their children. If you are a parent or caregiver who would like additional support and coaching, please contact me here. I offer free 15 minute consultations where I’ll try to get an idea of what you are dealing with and how I can help. We will get a good sense of each other and can decide if I’m the best fit for you. Together we will make a plan for the next steps.

“What Am I Even Doing Here?” Boundary Lessons From A 7 Year Old

Boundaries are one of THE musts of a healthy life at home, in relationships, and in work. I have to tell you this amazing story a dear friend of mine shared about her sweet daughter, Elle. What seemed like a harmless American Girl Doll play date turned into an important life lesson. Elle was playing at a friend’s house with two sisters and American Girl Dolls. The sisters were really having a day. I get it we all have those days. You’ve heard it, the back and forth, can’t get it right, must push through with an argument kind of a day. Throughout this play date, Elle just stayed to herself and kept playing with her American Doll, probably doing her best to ignore the sisters. The sisters’ mom attempted to intervene and made the logical argument that there are three American Dolls and three girls wanting to play…you can do the math. Sometimes logical solutions don’t add up for sisters, and so the debating continued. On the way home, it was just the sisters’ mom and Elle in the car. Elle has a great relationship with her friend’s mom and felt comfortable sharing about her experience. Elle says to her, the sisters were just having such a hard time and arguing and going on and on and at one point I just thought to myself, “what am I even doing here?”

YES! Exactly Elle, you brilliant and wise 7 year old. We hear you! How many times in life, analysis-blackboard-board-bubble-355952 whether in home, relationships, or work does this hit us, “what am I even doing here?” It’s a great line. A funny little story in one sense that Elle had this beautiful insight, but in truth she is right on. SPOT on. And how amazing, that Elle is already being confronted by boundaries and that she had the confidence to question and acknowledge that this situation was not quite right…something is off here and I’m not sure why I’m here.

We’ve all been there. Draining work can cause this feeling. Toxic relationships that we somehow get stuck in can cause this feeling. And the worst part is that we can get used to it and forget that we have a choice. I’m not saying we can quit our jobs or walk away from all of our relationships, but we do have a choice around personal boundaries and protecting our emotions. If something isn’t feeling right and is maybe taking too much of our own emotional energy, it is ok to have a limit.

I talk about this often in therapy as our own personal capacity. Once our limit is hit, that’s when it’s important to set up a barrier or a boundary. Even if we are unable to remove ourselves from the situation or relationship, we can engage in it in a different way that doesn’t allow for the drain…a way that we advocate for ourselves…a way that is protective. Thinking through, and practicing saying no, whether it’s one more ask at work, another volunteering job for our kid’s sports team, a need from our spouse, or even a possibly toxic relationship, it’s very important that we learn how to say no.

Asking the questions is the first step to building some awareness and perspective:

  • What am I even doing here? Question Mark, Note, Duplicate, Request
  • Why am I giving this relationship so much of my emotional energy?
  • Do I have more time to give?
  • Do I have more emotional energy to give?
  • What is this doing for me? How is this filling me up, or is it?

Ask the questions, and then think it through. Life is full and our capacity is only so much. It’s important that we save that capacity for the things that bring us joy, wellness, safety, positivity, and the good stuff that fills us up. Practicing saying no, setting limits, and pulling back from challenging relationships is hard work, so practice on the small things. But start by asking the questions.

There are so many variables in life we cannot control. Stoic Quote “How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself?” – Epictetus. One thing we can control is where we spend our time and our energy, and even how much of it we give. We can give a little, but we can also protect a little and hold back a little in order to avoid landing in a place where we are with Emma wondering, “what am I even doing here?”


Next Steps

If you are someone looking to find support with personal and professional boundaries and enhancing meaningful relationships, there are therapists such as myself that specialize in supporting these needs. Please contact me here. I offer free 15 minute consultations where I’ll try to get an idea of what you are dealing with and how I can help. I can let you know if I think therapy would be a good fit for you. We will get a good sense of each other and can decide if I’m the best fit for you. Together we will make a plan for the next steps.

Counseling Technique Highlight: EMDR

Counseling Technique Highlight: EMDR

adult-album-casual-895228Do you ever feel like you keep reliving past trauma? Do painful memories play on repeat in your head? Do traumatic experiences cause you anxiety about what may be coming in the future? Trauma can occur during a range of experiences either to you or as secondary trauma as you care for a loved one. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) can help.

A little bit about trauma and memory…

We know that when a person is under great distress, their brain cannot process information well. The filing and processing system can actually get really messed up. The brain gets “stuck” and files the memory of the experience in an unhelpful way that may feel as bad as going through it again when remembered. Memory includes images, sounds, smells, and the feelings that are all stuck. These memories have a lasting negative impact and can interfere with daily life, the way you see the world, and the way you connect with other people. The good news is that the brain is very adaptive and this type of therapy assists with the adaptive process.

EMDR therapy helps your mind create a new way of storing and processing traumatic memory and anxiety that is more helpful and less painful.

An important thing to know is that EMDR is different from talk therapy. EMDR focuses less on the actual event and more on the upsetting symptoms and feelings that are present as a result of the event. It helps decrease negative feelings associated with memories of traumatic experiences. Following treatment, a person typically no longer relives the images, sounds, and feelings from the trauma. You still remember it but it isn’t as upsetting. You remember hard experiences in a less disturbing way. The “stuck” memories can process through in a more functional manner and then no longer have the same effect on you. Lots of people even leave EMDR therapy feeling fairly neutral about the memory.

EMDR can be used to treat:

  • Trauma
  • Anxiety
  • PTSD
  • Panic
  • Phobias
  • Painful memories
  • Complicated grief or loss

This type of therapy includes a technique called bilateral stimulation. This means engaging in a stimulating activity that alternates between both the left and right sides of the brain, while focusing on the painful memory or trigger. Bilateral stimulation may be following a therapist’s hand with your eyes as it moves back and forth or listening to a sound that alternates from one ear to the other. A therapist might alternate tapping on your knees, or ask you to follow an object with your eyes back and forth. This is the part that re-processes in the brain, helping these stuck memories get activated so normal processing can resume.EMDR-Photo

Does this sound familiar at all? This is actually a similar process to the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) cycle of sleep where information from the day is processed and sorted into proper storage. (Quick plug for regular good sleep-this is one of the many reasons why we need good sleep!) This is the significant difference in EMDR from talk therapy, as there is a physiological change that occurs. A sort of “rewiring” of the brain. Throughout EMDR therapy you will also learn positive ways of dealing with disturbing feelings and thoughts and ways of reinforcing and strengthening positive feelings and beliefs. All of this work will get you to a place where you can bring up the memories of the traumatic event without experiencing the negative thoughts and feelings.

Going through EMDR treatment, you can expect to connect to your trauma in a new way that decreases stress and increases positive self thoughts.

So, does EMDR really work? Yes! There is extensive research on this method and it has proven effective for the treatment of trauma. See up to date research here. In EMDR therapy, the brain moves towards healing just like our bodies do when they are physically injured. If you cut your foot, your body works to heal itself. The brain does the same thing, and EMDR helps remove the obstacles so that it can heal.

And, there are some really great advantages of EMDR!

  • You can sometimes achieve the same goals within fewer sessions than other types of therapy.
  • It’s a more active approach to healing.
  • It can be effective when talk therapy has not been successful.
  • Since some memories get “stuck” in the brain it may not be useful to simply talk about them.
  • You don’t have to go into major detail about your trauma-no need to relive it again!

If you would like even more information about EMDR you can visit http://www.EMDRIA.org and http://www.EMDR.com.

Next Steps
If you are struggling with anxiety or dealing with traumatic experiences and would like additional support or if you have interest in learning more about EMDR, please contact me here. I offer free 15 minute consultations where I’ll try to get an idea of what you are dealing with and how I can help. We will get a good sense of each other and can decide if I’m the best fit for you. Together we will make a plan for the next steps.

“Do you see me? Do you hear me? Are you there?”     

Have you ever felt really disconnected with your child? Do you ever feel like your child constantly asks for more of you and for more of your attention? Do you get the feeling that they need more but you can’t quite figure out what that looks like or how to add that into your busy life?

I know most parents and caregivers have experienced these feelings. Here’s the deal, it’s really normal and really frustrating. These times may come up more when your child is making an adjustment or dealing with a challenge, but they can also simply be a part of the everyday game. It is a normal part of a child’s development and relationship with their parent for them to want to be seen, be heard, and feel like you are present with them.

But how do you make this happen as a parent? Meet their need for attention, while also alleviating some of the ever present “am I spending enough time with my kids,” parent guilt. Here’s a tool that you can try out to connect well with your children that can both positively impact your relationship and increase positive behavior changes. Also, you may have one child that ends up taking more of your time due to higher needs like a chronic illness or behavioral challenge…this tool is an easy way to connect with your other children helping them get the attention they need as well.

A photo of a young girl and her father on the floor playing with Legos.Short, quality, one on one, positive time. Integrating regular short, but focused quality time with your child can greatly enhance your relationship. This time gives your child so many messages including that you are present with them, that you care about them, and that they are special. I recommend starting with 15 minutes 3 days a week per child. Make it clear and intentional by setting a timer and telling your child that this is their time. They get to be in charge (within reason!) of what you do during this time and your job is simply to hyperfocus in on your child. Give encouragement, give love, but most of all just give attention. Undivided, uninterrupted, intentional attention.

Having positive relationships with your children is highly important to the health and well being of your family. Spending positive, one on one time with your children individually is critical to developing the bond that makes each person feel important to the other. Although this may feel like a huge commitment, in the long run, you will see the benefits and it will actually save you time.

In fact, the time that you put into your child by doing this practice will save time later because it will promote positive behavior, enhance a close bond with your child, and have a lasting impact on their development. It also models for them the importance of intentionally nurturing relationships. I have seen this WORK. And fairly quickly too. Once this becomes a consistent part of a child or teen’s experience with their parent, the shifting can begin.

Here are some things to consider for your one on one time:

  • Your child is in charge during this time. Give them the control of deciding what activity you will do together. No need to add anything to their play, just let them guide the direction and flow of the activity.
  • For older kids and teens let them bring up topics of conversation and avoid any judgments.
  • Show interest and focus on your child but avoid asking questions or distracting from their play or chosen activity.
  • Comment on or describe what your child is doing and for older kids reflect on what they are saying in order to communicate that you are listening and you understand.
  • Avoid teaching or directing during this time. This is really important! That’s not what this time is for, save that for another time. Let them be in charge! It’s hard but will get easier with practice, and just remember, they do it all the time as we are almost always the ones in charge and in control.
  • Allow your child to direct your involvement.
  • Provide lots of encouragement and love and really build up that this is your special time together.
  • Set a timer so that it is clear and intentional, reminding them that once the timer goes off the time will end. If your child does better with a 2-3 minute alert for transition, set that timer too.
  • Let anyone else in the house know that this is your special time so that they know not to interrupt.

mom teen huggingI know it sounds simple but we forget to spend quality time with our kids. The difference with the time I’m talking about here is that they are running the show. It’s truly THEIR time and we are just there to be present and give attention. This time will cut back on attention seeking behaviors because, that need is being met. Consistency is key so that your child can expect this special time and appreciate your relationship. It communicates that you value what they need, because they do in fact need your time and attention.

Next Steps

I have a background in child development and work with parents of kids of all ages to build lasting positive relationships with their children. If you are a parent who would like additional support and coaching, please contact me here. I offer free 15 minute consultations where I’ll try to get an idea of what you are dealing with and how I can help. We will get a good sense of each other and can decide if I’m the best fit for you. Together we will make a plan for the next steps.

The Tired Caregiver: 3 Quick Tools You Can Use THIS Week to Take Better Care of YOU

Do you find yourself taking care of everyone else first, and taking care of you very, very last? When you are caring for a loved one with a chronic illness, it is so easy to forget about you. Whether it’s your child, spouse, parent, or close friend, often their illness and pain and needs can easily find a way to override your needs and your care.  

One common response to this is the old tried and true airplane oxygen mask example. What do they say at the beginning of literally every single flight that takes off every single day? If you are traveling with a young child, secure your oxygen mask first, then secure your child’s oxygen mask next. How does this even make sense? You are going to worry about YOU breathing before your CHILD is breathing? Well….yes.

If you can’t breathe, you are no good to your child. You become helpless yourself. You are the one that needs help from flight attendants or those around you. And then what has happened to your child? They need help and you are no longer available to provide that help. It’s a tough one to swallow, it’s a little cliche, but it really is a great analogy for being a caregiver. If you can’t breathe, you can’t provide care.

So let’s take 3 easy steps to help give you some oxygen. These are simple and are extremely effective. And the great news is that you can use them starting this week. No prep work needed, nothing fancy, just 3 simple tools to take some time for you.

Breathe. The first tool is to literally work on breathing. It’s the most simple, most readily available, cheapest, easiest tool that our bodies come built with at birth. Think of a phrase with two words that calms you down and gives you peace. In your head say one on the inhale and one on the exhale. “I’m okay”, “Peaceful thoughts”, “Calm heart”, or even “In and Out” are a few examples. Take a moment each day and breathe using your two words as you inhale the therapeutic breath, filling your body with care, and exhale the stress, letting your shoulders come down.


 Schedule it. If you are a caregiver for someone with chronic illness, you know how to schedule. You live by a schedule. Your calendar is full and balanced and every day you likely review it and then live by it. So schedule time for you. Literally put it on your calendar, to take 5 minutes just for you. If daily feels impossible, and I know it may, try 3 times a week and build up. Practicing helps. Decide how you want to spend those 5 minutes and write that in as the appointment. Is it breathing with your eyes closed? Maybe taking a 5 minute walk around the block. Reading a magazine. Sipping your coffee, alone and quietly. Simply putting it on the calendar makes all the difference. Everything on your calendar is valid and necessary and important. Time for you is too and having it on your calendar will make time for you valid and necessary and important.


Use a transition ritual. What’s a transition ritual? Well it’s whatever you want it to be, but it’s used to help you transition from one thing to the next. Some people use it at the beginning of their day, after they drop their children off at school and head to work by stopping for coffee. Others may use it at the end of their work day to transition from work brain to home brain, by listening to a funny podcast, or a distracting playlist, or maybe driving in the car in silence. It can be used all day long, basically any time you move from one thing to the next. Shifting gears. Transitioning. When caring for a loved one dealing with chronic illness, there is constant transition. Daily transitions from appointments to home to daily care to ups to downs. Our brains are amazing and actually can take on quite a bit of  transition but what if we made it a little easier with a ritual? Especially after stressful experiences that require a lot of energy. Maybe Wednesday’s physical therapy is always stressful, what little thing can you do afterwards to then help you transition to getting home and starting to cook dinner? What helps your brain close one experience, have a little space, and then shift and be ready for the next? You could create a transition ritual playlist, music that helps your brain breathe for a minute. Maybe you have a friend that you check in with to help make the shift. Replenishing with water, coffee, or a snack. Using your thoughts to shift out of one and into the other… “Physical therapy was so hard today. It was exhausting. But it’s done. We are not there anymore. My next step is cooking dinner. In between those two I’m going to take some sips of water, breathe, and listen to my transition ritual song.”



It may be hard to imagine adding one more thing, but these little tools may actually open up even more space. It’s funny how sometimes adding some love and care for yourself can open up time. It can help us be more efficient and gives a little room so that the space being taken up by being tired and worn down can be replaced with more energy for YOU.

Next Steps

If you are a caregiver for a loved one dealing with a chronic illness and would like additional support, there are therapists such as myself that specialize in supporting those dealing with chronic illness and medical trauma. Chronic illness, injury, and rare complex diagnoses impact the entire family. If you are looking for more support, please contact me here. I offer free 15 minute consultations where I’ll try to get an idea of what you are dealing with and how I can help. I can let you know if I think therapy would be a good fit for you. We will get a good sense of each other and can decide if I’m the best fit for you. Together we will make a plan for the next steps.

american-bags-busy-1798948Transition Rituals Life is crazy! It seems as though the world keeps picking up pace, moving faster and faster. Our smart devices encourage this speed because they allow us to keep moving so that no matter where we are…we can just keep going. And our lives are full. Family, relationships, work, household management, kids, friends, exercise, etc etc etc. There is much to balance with multiple transitions all throughout the day. Whether at work or at home we are constantly moving from one thing to the next. It can make us crazy but there is a REALLY SIMPLE thing you can do to help.

Transition rituals. Helping our brains and bodies move from one thing to the next is key to regaining energy, helping our minds shift more easily, and to feeling more productive and alive at the end of the day. A transition ritual is a simple practice of taking a moment, a break, between appointments, tasks, or any other shifts in the day to more easily and more mindfully move from one to the next. It could be breathing, listening to a song, taking a coffee or water break, meditating on a word, anything that allows your brain and body to rest for a moment, more calmly transitioning to the next.

I first heard about transition rituals when I was in grad school. A professor started talking about how important this practice was for therapists as we move from one client session to the next. Each session we need to bring different parts of who we are, skills, and offerings to the people we work with, and we need to be able to shift from what one person needs, to what the next person needs. It’s great self-care for me as I am holding space for one person’s story and then shifting, caring for myself, so that I can bring my very best energy and self to my next client.

adult-beverage-coffee-999305This idea really resonated with me and I’ve been practicing it as a therapist between sessions ever since I began doing therapy. But then I realized, transition rituals are for everyone. It hit me one day when I was talking to a friend about the stress of her daily morning routine. During her morning, she went from the crazy rush of getting her daughter to school to then quickly transitioning into her professional world and driving to work. She talked about the “break” that she built in between these two parts of her life by grabbing a coffee and mentally resetting. She worried that this was not a good use of her time. My response to her was, “It’s your transitional ritual. It’s the very best use of your time!” It’s what she needed to move from Mom to Professional. It was clear to her that she needed this time to shift well. Releasing the energy and or stress it took to get to the school drop off then transitioning to the next energy that she wanted to bring to start her work day. My friend was doing this transition practice accidentally and what I suggest, and encouraged her, is that you mindfully do this with intention. Acknowledging transitional moments help you navigate the day in a more mindful way.

A great secret about transition rituals….they count for meditation! There is SO much research now about the positive immediate impact that meditation can have on us. Research also supports the ongoing positive outcomes of meditation for months even years after we start a meditative practice.

A few of these incredible outcomes of meditative or mindful practices are:

  • stress and anxiety reduction
  • promoting better sleep
  • generating kindness
  • increasing focus
  • helping with pain control

Meditation does not have to be 20 minutes twice a day to have a positive impact. Transitioning with 2-3 minutes of quiet breathing can have similar effects in helping our minds take breaks to rest, then move ahead, filling us with time that we took care of ourselves and restored the ever sought after energy.

close-up-eyes-face-792043It’s simple. I like simple. I believe we need simple as a society today. It can be at the beginning of the day, the end of the day, between appointments, or it can even be all day long as you shift from one thing to the next. After a sprint of focus, take 2-3 minutes to sit quietly, be still, and breathe. Inhale, filling up on all that you just experienced, exhale to let it go. Think of a word that works for you….”let go”, “relax”, “shift”, “transition”. Keep repeating it as your shoulders begin to come down. If you can, close your eyes. Let them rest as they get so much stimulation all day long. Then move in your last minute to what’s coming next. Maybe say something that will inspire you, motivate you to give the next thing good positive strong energy. How can you bring your best self to what’s next? What word will help you set that intention?

Once you sit for just a few moments, your body will start to respond. You can literally feel your muscles relax. Your brain will get the restoration it’s likely craving. Practice this ritual whenever you can. From one thing to the next. From home to work. From work to home. It will change you. It will change the you that you bring to the people in your life. Brendon Burchard is a very successful business coach who teaches a transition ritual that he uses throughout his day. He uses the word “release” and then sets an intention for whatever’s coming next. These release meditations have had really positive outcomes for him and for his clients.

Trust me, this works. Try it. Take a few minutes a few times a day to try it and pretty soon, you may be doing a transition ritual every time you can.

Next Steps

If you are someone looking to find relief from the stress and anxiety of a busy world, there are therapists such as myself that specialize in supporting these needs. Please contact me here. I offer free 15 minute consultations where I’ll try to get an idea of what you are dealing with and how I can help. I can let you know if I think therapy would be a good fit for you. We will get a good sense of each other and can decide if I’m the best fit for you. Together we will make a plan for the next steps.