Navigating Change With Grace and A Few Swear Words

It has been a bit! I’ve been navigating a new job as a trauma informed practices consultant in schools (mostly) and I gave myself some grace to let some things go so I could adjust. The newsletter was one of the things I let go but I want to rekindle our connection and get back on track. Who know, I may even send a newsletter twice a month! Ha!

Change is no joke and like I mentioned above, we’ve been going through it in the last few months. I left a school building I’ve been working at for 4 years, my oldest graduated high school, I got an amazing job offer to work with phenomenal women and coach schools in WA State in Trauma Informed Practices, the kids started school - we have an 8th grader, 9th grader and senior this year! You get the idea. My comfort zone is being S-T-R-E-T-C-H-E-D. I imagine you’ve experienced change in the past few months as well and it can take it’s toll if you aren’t equipped mentally to handle it. Here’s a breakdown of what I’ve been practicing (it’s a practice folks!) so I didn’t lose my f#%king mind during the transition:

  1. Using my Feel Good Plan/Bliss List/Whatever You Want To Call It. Please tell me you’ve made one and you’re practicing it too! Maybe you haven’t because you think it’s silly or that you don’t need a “list” but I promise if you suspend disbelief, you will be pleasantly surprised by how helpful it is.

  2. Checking my narratives - This is part of my FGP but I’m calling it out specifically because I can attest to the fact that at least 90% of my emotional discomfort stems from the old/unhelpful narratives that pop up. I’ve done a lot of work around rewiring my brain but when I’m under stress, the old stuff can show up. I view these experiences as invitations to heal and rewire some more and I don’t get down about it.

  3. Asking for HELP. Folks, this is a hard one for me because I feel pretty capable and productive and all the things most of the time. And if I don’t, I often muscle my way through it. I don’t recommend it. But no longer! I reached out and found a therapist for myself (therapists need therapists!) and I’m checking in with my partner and getting even more support there.

  4. Giving myself an extra dose, or two or three, of self-compassion. I’ve dropped balls, I’ve cried, I’ve felt uncomfortable more than usual and I know I need extra love in those times, not shame and guilt.

    So here is your gentle reminder to be kind to yourself during phases of life that are FULL. Also, a reminder that you can choose to pay attention to the wonderful things happening at the same time as the tough stuff. You can choose to be miserable when your comfort zone is being stretched or you can choose to make the best of it.

Emotional Rollercoaster

Summer is in full swing! Seattle is stunning this time of year and we almost never leave for vacations because the weather is what we live for during the rest of the year. If you’ve ever considered visiting Seattle, July, August and September are beautiful months to do it!

So many things are moving and grooving around here. I’ve left my secure school counseling job (!) and am transitioning to more consulting work and education gigs, along with continuing to see my amazing clients. I’ve had some uncomfortable feelings come up and I’ve been on a bit of a rollercoaster of emotions since May. Fear and anxiety are regular visitors (I have to pay for my own insurance, yikes!) coupled with elation and a feeling of FREEDOM that my soul needs.Years ago the highs and the lows of the rollercoaster looked and felt like one of those rickety, wooden rollercoasters that scare the hell out of me because they toss you all over the place and leave you with a major kink in your neck.

Since I cultivated awareness of the power I have to manage my thoughts, feelings and behavior AND invested time, effort and energy (money) into building the skills to take action on my newfound awareness, my emotional dips are more like the little ones on the kiddie coasters. Pretty easy to navigate and I’m not on the ride for too long. I’m learning (because yay for lifelong curiosity!) more and more how to stay in my feel good zone by practicing the following tools:

  1. Writing down why I’m feeling good

  2. Practicing gratitude at least once a day

  3. Using my Feel Good Plan

  4. Spending time creating new narratives when old ones are taking up too much mental space - I write them down, record the new stories/affirmations in my voice memos app and play them throughout the day

It IS possible to handle tricky life stuff AND adapt, bounce back and feel mostly good. I promise! If you would like more help with developing and practicing these skills consider my course SHIFT: How To Rewire Your Brain For Healing, Growth & Connection.

The Day I Almost Lost It In Physical Therapy

About 12 years ago, roughly a year after my last kiddo was born, I experienced an excruciating back/hip injury. I had been a runner between my 2nd and 3rd kids, managing to fit in a few half marathons and a marathon while juggling tricky life stuff like infertility, my parent’s divorce and my husband’s long work hours as an investment banker while I was staying home with two littles. Running was my freedom and my mental health care back then so it made perfect sense that I would hop back into training quickly after the birth. I knew nothing about core stability or pelvic floor strength and soon found myself barely able to walk one morning and had to practically be carried to a physical therapist that would see me in an emergency.

Fast forward a dozen years, constant flares and thousands of dollars in PT and I FINALLY found a PT that understands women’s issues and could pinpoint how my problems began and how she could help me fix it. I had hope! Here’s the thing though; my body had spent 12+ years compensating and moving away from pain. The body is really fantastic at doing that, until it isn’t anymore. When I began this last round of PT I had to learn how to stand, sit, walk, exercise and breathe all over again! Yes, breathe! Did you know your pelvic floor muscles need to be engaged to properly take deep breaths? I didn’t.

So here I am, learning to do all these fundamental movements from scratch and my brain and body were MAD and putting up quite the fight. I was working on the TRX doing back exercises and the PT kept correcting how I was flaring my ribs (you shouldn’t) and not pulling my shoulders back (you should) and I almost lost it in a full meltdown. I could hear my brain saying “No f-ing way!” and I was beginning to agree with it. I could just go back to my regular way of walking, sitting, standing, etc. and put up with the money to temporarily correct it with PT every once in a while when it flared up. No problem! This was too much effort.

See where I’m headed here? Our brain has all kinds of compensations for the hurt, trauma, dysfunction, socialization, lack of skills, etc. and those compensations can rear their ugly heads randomly or regularly and probably with our kids and/or in our partnered relationships. Our brains can balk at change unless given consistent, clear instructions to do otherwise. So why not choose to stay disconnected from our mind and body most of the time and just deal with the random discomfort we experience?

We can’t because our brain (and bodies) move us towards healing with consistent and increasingly uncomfortable invitations to change - change the way we think, feel, say and do so we can truly connect to ourselves and others. We are wired for connection and there’s no way around it if you want to live your most purposeful life and lead others (your kids, if you have them) to do the same. I had been dealing with the symptoms of my core instability for over a dozen years but hadn’t dealt with the root of it all - the teeny, tiny, super important inner core muscles and structures that needed a lot more support and strength. With time, effort and a bit of a financial investment in physical therapy, I’m experiencing no pain most of the time and if I feel a twinge of it I know exactly what to do to get my body back on track.

You might be dealing with symptoms too - anxiety, depression, strained relationships, emotional dysregulation, unhappiness, anger, parenting stress and all sorts of things but not working on the root cause. You’re in a constant battle with discomfort because your soul is calling you to stretch your comfort zone in order to do and be what and who you’re meant to.

I want more than anything to help you and with a bit of time, effort and financial investment I can! If you want to get to the root of what keeps you stuck or causes you pain, even if it’s just every once in a while (or ALL the while), then consider taking my upcoming SHIFT: 5 Must-Have Tools In Your Parenting Toolbox course. It’s a live, online course beginning JUNE 1st that will get you and your parenting partner on the same page, will teach valuable social and emotional skills to your kids and we will work on some of your “stuff” while we’re at it. Not a parent or you want to dive deeper into your own “stuff”? Get my course SHIFT: How To Rewire Your Brain For Healing, Growth & Connection where you’ll learn where your bullshit comes from and how to make teeny, tiny shifts in what you think, say and do to create healthier boundaries, more self-compassion, a growth mindset and much more!

Want to know the best part of both of these options? Besides the amazing tried and true hacks I’ve been using with clients, families and myself for years? The office hours! You get to ask me all of your questions in monthly, online office hours and from the comfort of your own home, possibly in your jammies with a glass of wine in one hand and a pen and paper in the other because you’re going to want to take notes. It’s like having a life coach or parenting coach in your back pocket indefinitely!

Can’t wait to see you in my office!

NOTE: This blog post, office hours and anything related to my courses are for educational purposes only. We are not creating a client/therapist relationship in this or any other setting.

Feelings Are Just Information

Are there feelings you avoid like the plague? Feelings that throw you off your game a little bit or send you into a downward spiral? Many of us haven’t been taught to process our feelings very well, if at all! We have been taught to minimize, distract, stuff down, criticize, numb and ignore feelings so it’s no wonder that well into adulthood many of us are still trying to figure out how the fuck to handle them in healthy ways!

Feelings are just information. That’s it! If we are feeling comfortable feelings that we’ve come by honestly (not with substances or any other superficial way) the information could be that what you are doing and where you are is in alignment with your values and purpose. Comfortable feelings could also indicate you’ve done enough personal work on the stories you tell yourself so the tricky stuff you experience doesn’t take you on an emotional rollercoaster as often.

Uncomfortable feelings indicate areas you need to still heal and grow. Are you interpretations of your life experiences less than helpful? Do you have a victim mentality (“They made me feel…”, “Nothing works out for me”) or assume the worst of others? Are you living out of alignment with your values and purpose? Do you need more rest, healthier food, alone time, self-compassion, movement, hobbies or fun?

Don’t get caught up in making meaning out of the feelings in the moment. When we are in our limbic system (feelings brain!) we will most often access unhelpful wiring that makes unhelpful meaning out of the feelings like SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH ME or I’M UNLOVABLE or some other bullshit story you have going on. Simply notice the feeling, identify it and say something like “I wonder what the anxiety is about” and keep going about your day, using your Feel Good Plan and see what happens. You’ll be surprised how the feelings move through you and at the aha moments that come when you are curious about the feeling.

Most importantly, don’t say and do from your uncomfortable feelings. When we say and do from our uncomfortable feelings we create disconnection within ourselves and with others. You might feel you need to handle the issue right then and there but there is much to be said for soothing your nervous system first and then taking care of the task (getting out the door, sassy teen, traffic, etc.) at hand.

Do you know someone who would find this blog post helpful? If so, pass it along! Wouldn’t it be great if more people in your life had these skills? Wink, wink.

Got Tricky Life Stuff Happening? This Can Help...

We’ve had a rocky few months in our family. Lots of change. Lots of discomfort. Definitely overwhelm. But I gotta say, the things we’ve experienced lately would have derailed us even 6 months to a year ago and by derailed I mean cranky, exhausted, fighting, yelling, anxiety, depression, you name it and we could have had it in DROVES. Instead we experienced those things very little because we’ve (my husband & kids) built up our resilience and that made all the difference.

Human beings are pretty amazing. Some of us can experience awful things and still have the ability to live a beautiful, fulfilling life. How is that even possible? The key is working to build our resilience or the ability to bounce back after difficult life experiences. Notice I said BUILD resilience - yes! Resilience is something that can be developed and strengthened over time.

Research shows there are two major factors that influence our level of resilience - How we THINK about our life experiences and WHO we surround ourselves with. First, the narratives (part of our brain wiring) we have playing over and over again can either be really helpful in building resilience or can prevent us from having any at all! Think back to your most recent negative experience - how did you interpret that experience? What words did you use to describe it?

Second, the people we have in our close circles greatly influence our ability to cope during difficult times. Is your social safety net full of optimists who help you make the most out of life? Or Negative Nellies that center the conversation around complaining or talking about others? Consider where you can shore up your resilience by checking in with your thoughts and who your besties are. It can be a matter life and death! Research shows these two things can not only positively or negatively affect our mental health, but our physical health too!

If resilience is something you need more of, check out my digital course called SHIFT: How To Rewire Your Brain for Healing, Growth & Connection. Click through the link to learn more about how you can begin the process of questioning the brain wiring that prevents you from fully showing up in life and in your relationships and learn how to create new wiring that helps you create healthier, more authentic connection with yourself and others AND step into the life you are meant to live. If you’d like to get my blog posts dropped directly into your inbox, sign up for my monthly newsletter! As a bonus for signing up, you will get special discounts on my courses and other products

What are YOUR resilience factors? What are the things that buffer you from tricky life stuff?

How to Raise Financially Independent Children (Maybe and Hopefully) by Jon Anderton (my husband!)

Last week our eleven year-old son asked to be taken to Big Five so he could get another pair of shoes and "tights," the stretchy, skin-hugging athletic pants worn by a lot of kids these days. He ended up spending $85 ... of his own money. Most importantly, I don't think the thought that his parents should cover the purchase ever crossed his mind. This was probably the most amount of money he'd ever spent at one time, and I was happy to see the smile on his face as he felt the thrill of financial independence. What do I think has been the biggest factor in encouraging this type of behavior? His allowance.

When our oldest was five or six (she turns 18 this year), we starting thinking about giving our two oldest children an allowance. I remember researching the different schools of thought on how much, how often and whether or not to link the allowance to household chores or some other responsibility. I remember being surprised by the variety of opinions, and even more surprised by the passion people have for their own opinion. We're talking about money, though, so maybe the variety and passion aren't so surprising. In the end, we landed on a system that has remained remarkably consistent over the years, and in my opinion, is the primary driver for the type of behavior in the story above.

Each of our children receives a weekly allowance that is not only generous but also completely separate from any responsibilities, such as chores or good behavior. You might disagree, but we view chores as an expectation, and don’t feel the need to incent good behavior with money. So, our kids get their allowance even if they were snots all week, or if they forgot to do their chores, or if they broke the flat-screen TV with a bouncy ball (admittedly I almost pulled his allowance indefinitely). Structuring it this way allows you to use an allowance exclusively as a money management tool.

How often, how much and what you’ll pay for vs. what they’ll pay for are the key questions to ask yourselves when setting up an effective allowance.

Monthly works well for us. The two oldest have bank accounts and debit cards, so their allowance is just transferred over monthly. They are responsible for checking their balances and not going negative. The two youngest have their allowances tracked in Excel - amounts are deducted by us when they spend.

How much to pay is determined by our budget and by deciding what we’ll pay for vs. what they’ll pay for. Ultimately, we try to shift purchases from our sphere of responsibility to theirs, so we are as clear as we can be with expectations and don’t budge. Amounts are adjusted periodically, based on age and whether or not they have a part-time job. In the end, the amounts we settle on should be enough for them to always have money available, which will encourage them to think of their money first. Two of our kids are reasonable spenders, while the other two sometimes run a pretty low balance, so we have more conversations with them about making more thoughtful choices with their spending.

Having clear expectations on what they’ll cover also gives us the opportunity to surprise them. They might think they’re covering the entire cost of their new coat, but you swoop in to cover half, rewarding them for saving up. Our kids think they won the lottery when this happens!

Allowance can also be used to help develop sharing and saving mindsets. We determine how much to carve off into "sharing" and "saving" buckets, generally one-third to savings and ten-percent to sharing, while they are responsible for watching their savings grow and choosing a cause for their year-end donation. Our hope is that they internalize how important and meaningful sharing and saving are as part of a healthy financial life.

If structured well, an allowance can become a powerful tool for helping you develop your children's financial independence, as well as provide you with lots of opportunities to teach and connect. How do you manage allowance (or not) and what have you seen as the long-term positive/negative effects?

(click blog post title in order to make comments)

Teaching Kids Responsibility

Raising responsible kids takes A LOT of effort. Consistent expectations, following through, teaching the skills and then teaching them again and again. One way my husband and I have approached teaching responsibility is to frame it as family work that each of us needs to participate in in order to keep our family running. Between all of their activities, all of our jobs and the wear and tear of 6 people on the house and cars, etc., there's no way my husband and I could do it without their support and we appreciate all they do to make things go. When kids feel needed and know they matter and belong to the family unit they are more willing to help, often without whining! 

Our kids also learn and develop character traits like responsibility by watching and listening to us. Do we complain about the things we need to do or avoid them altogether? We can easily fall into victim mode when it comes to our adult responsibilities and bemoan the fact that we have a home or a car or a job we "have" to take care of instead of recognizing these things and experiences as gifts. Expressions of appreciation for the help and gratitude for the ability to take care of these things rubs off on our kids over time. 

Here are a few more resources about the why to and the how to when it comes to teaching responsibility. Dive in!

The following are excerpts from the book Positive Discipline by Jane Nelsen, Ed.D.

“Children do not develop responsibility when parents and teachers are too strict and controlling, nor do they develop responsibility when parents and teachers are permissive. Children learn responsibility when they have opportunities to learn valuable social and life skills for good character in an atmosphere of kindness, firmness, dignity, and respect.

We need to provide opportunities for children to experience responsibility in direct relationship to the privileges they enjoy. Otherwise, they become dependent recipients who feel that the only way to achieve belonging and significance is by manipulating other people into their service. Some children develop the belief, “I’m not loved unless others take care of me.” Others may develop the belief that they shouldn’t try because they can’t do very much that doesn’t invite shame and pain. It is saddest when they develop the belief “I’m not good enough” because they don’t have opportunities to practice proficiencies that would help them feel capable. These children spend a great deal of energy in rebellion or avoidance behaviors.”

In the book Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World, H. Stephen Glen and Jane Nelson identify the Significant Seven Perceptions and Skills necessary for developing capable people.

  1. Strong perceptions of personal capabilities: “I am capable.”

  2. Strong perceptions of significance in primary relationships: “I contribute in meaningful ways and I am genuinely needed.”

  3. Strong perceptions of personal power or influence over life: “I can influence what happens to me.”

  4. Strong intrapersonal skills: the ability to understand personal emotions and to use that understanding to develop self-discipline and self-control.

  5. Strong interpersonal skills: the ability to work with others and develop friendships through communicating, cooperating, negotiating, sharing, empathizing, and listening.

  6. Strong systemic skills: the ability to respond to the limits and consequences of everyday life with responsibility, flexibility, and integrity.

  7. Strong judgemental skills: the ability to use wisdom and to evaluate situations according to appropriate values.

Here are few more articles if want to keep going down the rabbit hole:

What have you found works for you when it comes to teaching responsibility? 

The Root Causes of Anxiety and Depression Can't Be Oversimplified

A friend sent along an interesting article on depression and anxiety - the research cited in it is similar to the research in the book A Mind of Your Own by Dr. Kelly Brogan. I highly recommend the book and that you take a peek at the article. Below is a quote from Is everything you know about depression wrong? which I agree with to a certain extent...

"If you are depressed and anxious, you are not a machine with malfunctioning parts. You are a human being with unmet needs. The only real way out of our epidemic of despair is for all of us, together, to begin to meet those human needs – for deep connection, to the things that really matter in life."

While I appreciate the idea that humans are wired for connection and we can all do a better job of taking care of each other, I think the root causes of depression and anxiety can't be oversimplified as only related to a lack of connection and other context-related issues. Feelings of any kind are simply information that we need to pay attention to - they are telling us something isn't right. There are numerous physiological possibilities for experiencing anxiety and depression (autoimmune diseases, gut imbalances, etc.) as well as negative core beliefs and thought patterns as well as environmental stressors such as work, a lack of connection and/or sense of purpose.

I do believe context plays a role but I don't recommend only focusing on only changing context because we often get stuck in the negative behavior pattern of trying to control external things in order to manage our internal chaos and anxiety. Meaning I might change my job or relationship status believing I'll feel less anxious or depressed, yet if I haven't done the personal work of changing limiting thoughts and beliefs to limitless, helpful thoughts and beliefs then the changes I make in my external world won't have a sustainable, positive impact on my life. In fact, I wouldn't recommend making any life changing decisions until internal improvements are initiated. You may find you don't need to change anything externally (job, relationship, etc.), you just need to change how you think about those things as well as make some dietary and lifestyle changes to support a healthier body and mind.

Emotion Regulation Helps #3

Emotion Regulation Tips #'s 3 and 4! See previous posts for #'s 1 and 2...

Deep Breaths: Helpful self-talk and deep breaths are my two FAVORITE calm down tools because fortunately we always have our brains and our lungs with us and can use them any time! The other day in a kindergarten class students shared all of the many ways they use deep breaths to keep their brains and bodies calm so they can be problem solvers. Some mentioned using deep breaths when they are having sibling or peer conflicts, when a grown up says “no” to something they really want, etc. When kids (and adults) develop a core practice of taking deep breaths during stressful times and outside of stressful times, they strengthen neural pathways that help them respond wisely in those moments instead of reacting in ways that are harmful to relationships and ourselves.

Self-Talk: We discuss self-talk all the time at Echo Lake! We can have helpful self-talk like "That's too bad they won't play with me, I'll go find someone else to play with", "This is hard, but I can keep at it" or "I can stay calm." OR we can have very harmful self-talk such as "I'm stupid", "No one likes me" and "I'll never be good enough". Each human has the super power to decide what we think and how we talk to ourselves! Some of us don't even realize how much negativity is floating around in our minds. As soon as we notice the unhelpful self-talk we can interrupt the conversation and switch it to something more healthy. We have a lot of choice when it comes to our thoughts and the stories we tell ourselves!

Emotion Regulation Helps #2

Emotion Regulation Tool/Skill #2 - Flexible Thinking (See previous post for #1)

One of the major issues we see at school, and you probably see at home, is inflexible thinking. This can look like falling apart when your child doesn't have their favorite striped shirt/underwear/sock combo clean (This was my reality for EVERYDAY of one of my son's 3rd year) or an "I hate you, you're the worst mom ever" when you don't allow your 4th grader a smart phone.

While this can be age appropriate to a certain extent (toddlers as they develop language for instance), cognitive flexibility is a mindset we want to help our kids develop and practice. Kids who practice cognitive flexibility generally are more calm and able to problem solve, say and do appropriate things in all kinds of situations and show acceptance and empathy towards themselves and others. At Echo Lake we use the phrase "Oh well, that's okay, no big deal" with our primary aged students when things don't go how we expect them to or when we don't get what we want. If your child has a particularly hard time with flexible thinking, consider checking out the books More Than One Way To Be Okay: Developing Cognitive Flexibility With Children, My Day Is Ruined: A Story For Teaching Flexible Thinking and Zach Gets Frustrated and reading them with your child. Helping your child make connections to areas they have trouble showing flexibility will help solidify the concepts laid out in the books.

Cognitive flexibility is also a crucial component to developing a growth mindset. Picture books on growth mindset include The Most Magnificent Thing and The Girl Who Never Makes Mistakes. If you haven't gone down the growth mindset rabbit hole (useful for both kids and adults!) then hit up Pinterest and Youtube for tons of information on what it is and how to develop it. Again, if we want our kiddos to develop cognitive flexibility and a growth mindset, we need to develop these skills ourselves and model (TALK OUT LOUD!) how you are thinking/feeling/problem solving different situations. It feels funny at first but it gets easier! It's a win win when we (the adults) work on tools to feel good most of the time and we can teach them to our kiddos even as we learn them!

Emotion Regulation Helps

Whether your kiddo is in kindergarten (or younger!) or a teen, you know kids have BIG feelings as they navigate their big world. So many things create those big feelings: Peer interactions, negative self-talk, social media, home life, you name it! My main focus as an elementary school counselor and therapist is to help children and adults alike develop and master tools for regulating uncomfortable emotions like anxiety, sadness and frustration and feeling good/okay (most of the time!) no matter what is happening in their external world.

As parents, we can model those tools often to our kids. If we are cut off in traffic, instead of saying negative things about the other driver we can say "Man, that was scary. I'm glad we're safe." If we are disappointed, frustrated, sad, anxious or any other uncomfortable feeling we can say out loud, in front of our kids, "I feel (insert feeling) right now and I'm going to think (insert helpful self-talk) and do something to help myself feel better. I'm going to (insert act of self-compassion) after work today." You may feel silly saying those things out loud but often our kiddos don't know HOW we manage our big feelings in a healthy way and they need that modeled to them.

Over the next week or so I’ll be sharing some other tools we are practicing at Echo Lake (my day job 😉) that can be incorporated at home too!

Reset Station: Consider designating a spot in your home where your younger kiddos can “reset” themselves - use some tools to calm down their brains and bodies so they can be problem solvers and feel better. You can teach them to sit down in the designated spot, name their feeling (picked from a feelings chart, these are all over Pinterest!), take 3 deep breaths and then turn over the timer (2 minutes) and use some sort of fidget to "reset" and get back to feeling good. The tools we use at school are a small container of kinetic sand, a marble/net fidget toy, a 2 minute sand timer and a feelings chart. You can add stuffed animals, blankets and any other calming tool your kiddo likes. Age appropriate versions for teens can also be found on Pinterest - some high schools are even designating a spot for students to take breaks in with art supplies, lava lamps, music, essential oil diffusers, etc. Have the conversation with your teen about what tools they like to use when they are feeling uncomfortable feelings and want to feel better.