As we enter the busy and sometimes over-focused Christmas and Hanukkah seasons, we offer these thoughts for consideration.

Holidays can be times of joy and togetherness, yet it is so important to remember that not everyone is looking forward to the holidays. Some people are not surrounded by wonderful families. Some people are struggling during this season and may be overcome with great sadness. Some are remembering the loved ones who are no longer with us. For many, it is their first Christmas or Hanukkah without a particular loved one, and many others lost loved ones at this time of year. In fact, many people have no one to spend these times with and must endure painful loneliness.

giveloveSome are facing new challenges among family members — divided by different faiths, political beliefs, or lifestyles. The election has created schisms, hard feelings, and hurt. Some are healing. Regardless of what position or belief, we all need caring, and loving thoughts and actions now.

Let us dedicate time to support all those who are experiencing personal or family troubles, health struggles, employment issues; those missing lost loved ones, facing financial stress or worries of any kind.

Reach out: we all need to know someone cares. We are stronger than our differences; we can carry more weight together than any one person can hold at a time.

Do this for a friend, an acquaintance, a co-worker, a service person. Do it for a stranger… because nobody is immune to the very human need for love, kindness, and compassion.

Make this truly the season of giving.

As part of Aspire’s move toward being a resiliency-focused counseling group, we are helping to train professionals in the Wake County Public School System in the Community Resiliency Model (CRM). CRM is a skills-based model that helps people bring their nervous system back into balance after periods of chronic stress or a traumatic event.

What’s so awesome about CRM is it is a peer-to-peer model, which means it is not dependent on professionals to implement in schools, facilities, churches, communities, etc.

This means that in schools, students can help each other, teachers can help students, teachers can help teachers, and the list goes on and on. CRM, developed by the California-based Trauma Resource Institute, trains community members to not only help themselves, but also to help others within their wider social network.

CRM skills help individuals understand their nervous system and learn to read sensations connected to their own well-being, which CRM calls the “Resilient Zone.” School systems are interested in CRM because it helps create “trauma-informed” and “resiliency-focused” schools that share a common understanding of the impact of trauma and chronic stress on the nervous system, and how resiliency can be restored or increased using this skills-based approach.

Time magazine recently ran a cover story titled “Anxiety, Depression and the American Adolescent: Why the Kids Are Not Alright,” which indicated 30% of girls and 20% of boys have had an anxiety disorder — that’s 6.3 million kids. Another three million have had a major depressive episode in the past year.

The article asserts “adolescents today have a reputation for being more fragile, less resilient and more overwhelmed than their parents were when they were growing up.” And researchers are starting to think it’s not just the epidemic of helicopter parenting causing this alarming rise and declining rates of resiliency.

What is going on?

The article, available here to Time magazine subscribers, gives a better idea of how the “post 9/11 generation” is faring and how their inability to escape problems is due to their constant access to social media and its “immediate feedback loop.” As one expert in the article says, “If you wanted to create an environment to churn out really angsty people, we’ve done it.”

So, what can we do about it?

image_201611How can we help our children and ourselves create more resiliency in this very angsty world? How do we learn to deal with the stress, the constant bombardment of a fast-moving society? One way is to learn how to be more resilient in the face of it all.

Resiliency is simply “the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens” (shout out to Merriam-Webster). Sometimes we are so beset with all the stuff coming at us, it feels like an electric current is coursing through our bodies. That stress, over long periods of time, builds up and causes lots of problems:

  • trouble sleeping
  • high levels of anxiety or symptoms of panic
  • feelings of overwhelm and fear
  • gastrointestinal distress
  • trouble eating or eating too much
  • difficulty turning off our thoughts and/or relaxing
  • and many more.

How does it work?

At Aspire — as resiliency specialists — we help you dig deep and find your grit, connect to the lessons learned from difficult circumstances, and find your inner light, motivation and hope. “Resiliency” is what we’ve been doing all along, and now we are affirmatively putting it out there.

We help you find the good in yourself and build on that. We help you learn how to get up again, hold your head high, and move on in your life with a deepened sense of purpose and understanding.

One way we do this is by teaching you about your nervous system and how it responds to stress and trauma. Once you learn about the normal functioning of your nervous system, we can help you learn how to work with what’s happening in your body (not only in your mind and emotionally).

By turning toward what is happening in our bodies, we can often move through it more quickly and easily. We can return our bodies, minds, and emotions back into balance.

What to learn more? Give us a call – we’d love to talk with you about it.

Learn more about how Aspire Counseling is engaging with Wake County Public Schools with training in the Community Resiliency Model.

My therapist probably (definitely) wouldn’t appreciate me saying this but, I suck at MANY things. From waking up on time to backflips to that stupid statistics class my junior year of college…there is a significantly long list of things I am inherently bad at. Recently, and probably more detrimental than my lack of backflipping skill, has been my struggle in dealing with high anxiety.

For a few years as I’ve sought help for various high anxiety events in my life, and as I’m sure similarly to many people who have sought therapy for various reasons, I’ve become aware of and invested in the practices and philosophies of mindfulness.

Disclaimer: it took a WHILE for me, the ever-skeptic-poster-child-non-believer-in-any-hippie-related “mumbo jumbo,” to actually buy into the value of mindfulness, but nonetheless here I am. I’m not necessarily here to debate the merits of the philosophy itself, though. Instead, I would rather dive into a moment where my mindset about how I was approaching the practice changed…which, oddly enough, came lost on a back road somewhere between Kinston and Goldsboro in North Carolina.

For me, practicing mindfulness and actively trying to meditate is a complete and utter chore. My head is typically running at Mach 5, so giving it the time and space to just let my thoughts run rapid is a lot like entering an overcrowded day care with a pinata…pandemonium and everyone gets a swing. A five-minute meditation would produce such a volume of uncontrollable thoughts that I would be more stressed out after the 300 seconds than when I originally started.

To say the least, it became frustrating.

Reading about all of these people who would naturally fall into these zen-like states and enjoy this organically induced calm, just exacerbated every second I sat there in total silence slaying the thousands of thoughts speeding through my head. On top of this, the fact I wasn’t any “good” at this practice was all the motivation my self-critical side needed to chime in on the thought-circus.

Then I had a moment where you hear something and think “well damn, that makes a hell of a lot of sense”…a moment where I was introduced to a very small, simple piece of advice…a nudge.

During a drive to the coast, listening to a TED podcast focused on the idea of the “nudge,” I was introduced to the ideas that small shifts in mindset can ultimately produces huge changes in the world. There were two concepts that resonated in me and ultimately changed the way I approach a lot of things in my life:

  1. nudge bookMake things easy. Yup, sounds pretty obvious but, in reality the simpler you can make something the easier it is to adopt in practice and establish a habit. Richard Thaler, Professor of Behavioral Science & Economics at the University of Chicago, whose book is titled Nudge, posits that making small tweaks to the way we frame choice, in the words we chose or how we think, can have huge impacts. So I started making my mindfulness practices simple: 5 min before I went to bed, at least 3 days a week, wherever I might be, using an app (Calm) on my iPhone. Incorporating it into my nightly routine, just like brushing my teeth, has made the entire process simpler, less irritating and actually something I now look forward to every evening.
  1. mindset bookGrowth mindset vs. fixed mindset. Next up, Carolyn Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford and author of Mindset, launched into the idea of how cues we get from the people around us have the power to change our mindset. Basically, from an early age, many children (especially women) are conditioned to have a “fixed mindset.” In other words, your talents and abilities are fixed and while some people are given more “natural talents” than others, what you get is what you get. This ultimately leads people to abandon things they feel they aren’t naturally good at or won’t achieve success in (Read: me quitting the piano in the third grade.)

A growth mindset, on the other hand, proposes that talents and abilities, regardless of level, can be further developed; and while not everyone is the same, everyone can grow their abilities. She argued that even as adults we have the ability change our mindsets. This could be accomplished by not trying to immediately crush a fixed mindset voice but, was rather about working with it: reframing the way you think about your own potential and not limiting your capabilities.

So, I’ve adopted both principles. Keeping things simple and not getting hung up on the fact I “suck” at mindfulness, because in all honesty, there is no “sucking” at mindfulness. It’s about taking what you can from the overall experience and journey. You can find the Nudge podcast and accompanying TED talks here.

Five Ways to Keep Your Lover 

You may or may not be old enough to remember the 1975 Paul Simon hit song, 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. In keeping with that idea, we want to give you some therapy goals headed in a positive direction — saving important love relationships, rather than losing them!

In the spirit of the positive, we offer you 5 Ways to Keep Your Lover — strategies that promote better communication and connection between partners.

1. Full Focus. The average married couple spends less than 20 minutes a day engaged in face-to-face conversation. Pretty meager! And that includes making plans for carpooling and relaying messages about conversations with other people!

Commit to beating the average and fully focus on communicating with your partner for 20 or more minutes a day. This means you and him/her, face-to-face, talking about something of interest or import (to at least one of you) with the full attention of the other. Try it. You may remember why you like this person — your partner.

2. Unplug. During the full-focus time, unplug from the television, computer, phone or any device that calls to you. Put them away and do not pick them up for any reason. Nothing makes a person feel unimportant like being de-prioritized for a funny commercial, an “amazing” sports play, a ringing phone, or a buzzing text. Think about it – what message do you send when you put a YouTube video ahead of your partner?

If you cannot unplug right now, this 20 minutes is not the right 20 minutes for Full Focus. Schedule it if you must. Can’t uplug? Consider this: if you or your partner cannot, or will not, disconnect from distractions for 20 minutes to focus on the other, the unwilling or unable partner is in serious danger of disconnection from their significant other.

3. Make a Plan (aka Practice Anticipation). Life is made up of three parts: Anticipation, Execution, and Remembering. Anticipating is one-third of living! Weddings are extreme examples of this — many months of anticipation/planning, a few hours of execution, and years of remembrance. (Note that while weddings can be stressful, your “anticipation exercise plans” should be anything but stressful.)

In order to anticipate, we must have something to look forward to, and that means making a plan. Plans may be short-term, such as what you will do this weekend, or longer term, such as plans for an annual vacation. Engaging together in forming and looking forward to pleasurable activities is itself a positive activity. Doing this regularly builds shared positive experiences.

4. The Rose, the Thorn, and the Rosebud. Conversation with a partner too often revolves around day-to-day schedules, children or other dependents’ needs and yes, complaints. None of the above promotes connection. A connected conversation includes meaningful content. One way to get to meaty subject matter early in a conversation is to practice using the Rose, Thorn and Rosebud metric.

The “Rose” is the best thing that happened to you or for you in your world today. Talk about what mattered.

The “Thorn” refers to the biggest challenge or disappointment/loss of the day. Sharing this allows vulnerability into your conversation — a must for connection. Sharing a hurt gives one partner a chance to readily join the other’s struggle with empathy. The key words here are join and empathy. Knowing what your partner is wrangling with is one thing: stepping into his/her shoes and feeling it with them is another. Truly connected partners can do this and feel their burdens lifted.

The “Rosebud” portion of this exercise is presenting to your partner what you are most looking forward to tomorrow (or in the near future.) You then know what anticipation is building in your significant other’s life.

5. Practice Favoritism. You know what your partner’s favorites are — favorite foods, activities, music, clothes, animal, TV show. Use this information — often. Do not wait for a birthday to make that favorite dessert. When there is an even choice, choose the one your partner likes best and tell him or her why you did. Wear his or her favorite clothes on you; whistle a favorite tune. You know how to do this — now just do it more.

Keeping your love alive takes work, and it can also be enjoyable – even fun! Try these five exercises and build a more solid, connected relationship.

Aspire has just announced its 2016 The Daring Way™ Residential Workshop dates! We are excited about leading another daring group of men and women toward more wholeheartedness, creativity, and love in their lives.

It’s hard to put into words the power of these workshops, so we asked our past Daring Way™ workshop participants about their experience. Here is what a couple of them had to offer.

A Connection with Others

I decided to participate in The Daring Way™ retreat because I had just read Daring Greatly and wanted to connect with others who had read it so we could talk about it. The retreat had a strong sense of sisterhood, and I found it reassuring there was a group of women dedicated to interacting in the world from a positive place.

From the retreat, I gained a great group of friends. I also lost the belief that my worthiness needed to be earned rather than it being inherent. That was a huge paradigm shift for me.

The workshop taught me and reminds me that my worthiness is never on the table, and that really brings me peace. It is a mantra I use whenever I start to feel stressed or anxious. Things don’t seem so life or death when they aren’t determining your worthiness.

Melissa C

Seeking Redemption, Finding Vulnerability

In Brene’ Brown’s new book, Rising Strong, she talks about how as a culture we like “redemption” stories, but they tend to gloss over the hard work and pain that go before it. Going to The Daring Way retreat, I had a secret hope of experiencing a redemption of sorts. You see, I had a few months earlier separated from my wife, and I wanted this retreat to get my emotional health back on the right track.

It doesn’t work like that. It did give me the opportunity to share in a safe place how I felt and what I was struggling with. It was supportive to hear from all the other participants who have dealt with divorce and separation. Unfortunately there are no big shortcuts to emotional or relationship health. Although I will say the retreat was a little like taking an elevator up a few floors in a tall building, but you still have to walk up the rest.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the discussions was that I was the only male in the group of about 12 women. I didn’t mind that and was warmly welcomed by the group. It felt a little strange being the sole male perspective, but it worked out well. I do hope that more men will feel drawn to participate.

In the program I had to push myself to do some things that were out of my comfort zone (I won’t spoil things by saying what they are because I think it would take away from the retreat). As I got more into the program, I realized everyone there was out of their comfort zone in some way. The end result was feeling more empowered and supported. I made some friends, one in particular, who has meant a lot to me. The difficulty of keeping the closeness going after the weekend is my only regret.

I did get back together with my wife several months later. I have made an effort to use these strategies in my personal life, and even though things are greatly improved it is still a daily challenge for me to follow the vulnerability ideals. Things do not become magically better. It is hard being in the arena. It is worth it.

David Z.

In college, one of my favorite songs was the Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine.” The lyrics felt like freedom to me and still do:

I’m trying to tell you somethin’ about my life
Maybe give me insight between black and white
And the best thing you’ve ever done for me
Is to help me take my life less seriously
It’s only life after all

Well darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable
And lightness has a call that’s hard to hear
And I wrap my fear around me like a blanket
I sailed my ship of safety till I sank it
I’m crawling on your shores

And I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains
There’s more than one answer to these questions
Pointing me in a crooked line

And the less I seek my source for some definitive

Closer I am to fine
Closer I am to fine

fineWhat is it about certainty? When did it become so important to know, to be sure, to cast out all doubt? One thing I know is that the more we cling to our certainty, our need to know and anticipate and predict and control, the more we live in anxiety and fear and reactivity. Our creativity is squelched and our capacity for joy dampened.

The truth is that there’s not a whole lot of black and white in the world. This life is full of gray.

The older I get, the more I am persuaded that it’s the embracing of the not-knowing that frees us. Over and over again, I see that we seem to be most afraid of the not-knowing. It feels uncomfortable in our bodies; it is scary. So, we try to hit the not-knowing over the head, subdue it, and control every aspect of our lives.

We all fall prey to it. We are very hard on ourselves. We want perfection in our work, in our parenting, in our spouses, in our children, in our spaces, even our vacations.

What if you let go, just a little? What if you stopped “seeking our source for some definitive”? Can you let yourself off the hook, even if just a little? What would happen if you welcomed the not-knowing?

I believe our lives would be happier and more spacious if we learned to take life less seriously and learned to be more kind to ourselves. It is only life, after all.

The winter doldrums have set in, and most everyone I talk to is feeling it. Lately, I haven’t been practicing my own mix of mindfulness:  yoga, hikes, dharma talks. It is, of course, exacerbating the winter blues and I have to get back to it.leaf5in

The thing is: We have to practice what we preach over here at Aspire and sometimes it’s hard. Life gets in the way. Weather, injuries, too busy, too overwhelmed—and then it snowballs. What we give out has to be filled back up and if we aren’t taking care of ourselves, we don’t have much left to give to our clients, friends, or families. Everything starts to feel like the cold, wet weather and dark clouds that have pervaded Raleigh lately.

The good thing about having a practice is that you notice it when it’s gone. You miss it. You crave it like a hot beverage after a long walk in wet snow. You know something is missing and you become driven to find it again.

Who knows what I’m talking about?

The Daring Way™ is essentially about learning a practice too. I am looking forward to our March Daring Way™ retreat in Chapel Hill, needing it to get here soon. The Daring Way™ is about learning a practice of self-compassion, self-care, self-awareness, empathy, and meaningful friendships and relationships. It fills you up while gutting you at the same time.

Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, writes in her book Tiny Beautiful Things, “Let yourself be gutted. Let it open you. Start here.” Sound terrifying? Sound exhilarating? Yes, it is both of those things. And there is so much beauty to be found in that place of openness that you should not live your life without experiencing it.

Start here. Join me.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,700 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 28 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

by Allison Grubbs, LCSW, LCAS, CDWF-Candidate

“Me too.” Two of the most powerful words we can hear. You know the experience of sharing an “I thought it was just me” moment or thought… then the other person says, “yeah, me too!”

It’s a feeling of relief — that someone gets it, that you’re not alone, that you’re not crazy. It’s in those moments I’ve built and earned the most trust with another person.

The “me too” experience is just one benefit to group counseling (group work). It’s something we can’t get from individual counseling. It can be scary, but it is definitely worth it.

I personally love group work. I’ve facilitated groups, and I’ve been a part of groups. I co-facilitated a Daring Way™ Retreat…think weekend-long group session, as well as an 8-session weekly group.

Taking this a step further, I’ve had a vision of an ongoing group, for people to attend when they want (hopefully regularly), which offers a safe, non-judgmental place for a “me-too” connection to occur.

For me, Brene’ Brown’s work hasn’t been just about her curriculums and the worksheets. It’s about how I look at my relationship with myself and with others. The concepts of vulnerability, trust, and self-worth don’t happen in a vacuum. We need each other for this work. I also know sharing personal thoughts and struggles with people you don’t know very well can be a bit terrifying.

Yet, if we’re able to do this, to experience the connection that comes from building trust in a healthy way, to be seen as who we are and sit with others in their vulnerability, the benefits impact all aspects of our lives.

So, on a daily basis, how do I practice vulnerability, courage, and shame resilience? I show up. I have days when that means getting out of bed, brushing my teeth, and asking myself…what’s the next right thing? Then I do that.

I also have days when showing up might be feeling my real emotions, the good ones and the hard ones. Showing up is messing up, over and over again, then trying again. The point of this work isn’t to be perfect or to have a perfect life. It’s to help us get through this messy, complex life with our imperfect selves.

We aren’t alone. We need each other. Let’s show up together.

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