Category Archives: Health Tip

Billie’s blog: February 2021

An invitation to sit with your discomfort, allow it to speak to you

Billie Wade, writer

by Billie Wade, PrairieFire graduate

February 2021 – This post heralds a new dawn: addressing the cold, hard reality of racism. I use the term “dawn” to signify the raw truth that for over four hundred years, we remain at the gate of facing and reckoning with racism. Racism, fueled by hate, greed, and fear, is firmly entrenched in our country’s DNA like the pink stain in a plastic refrigerator dish after the spaghetti sauce is removed. We begin where we are, which is always a new place even if we have had a similar experience in the past. Our feelings are cumulative. It is how wisdom is earned.

Since July 2017, I have enjoyed the honor and privilege to share with you a variety of topics and my experience and perspective. As a Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center client for many years, I feel the mission, vision, and values in the environment every time I enter the doors. Now with our interactions on Zoom, those tenets continue to shine through. The Center seeks to understand the clients they serve, and to reach out to underserved demographics. With that said, I now turn my focus to the insidious organism of racism and the trauma of intergenerational Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that remains alive and thriving in 2021.

On May 30, 2020, in response to the brutal, flaunting murder of George Floyd and the attack that murdered Breonna Taylor, the Center put voice to their compassion and solidarity with the Black community. The antiracism statement on the landing page of the website announced formation of the Antiracism Learning Group*. I am delighted and humbled to cofacilitate the group with Terri Speirs, the Center’s director of community relations.

I will use several terms often in my writing. My working definitions are:

  • Racism—a system consisting of rules, laws, policies, and practices designed to disenfranchise nonwhite people. The organism systematically perpetuates the unfounded belief that Black people are inferior and, therefore, suitable for subjugation and exploitation.
  • “I, we, and Black people”—descendants of slaves brought to this country in 1619.
  • “White people”—the collective of members of the privileged race in the United States.
  • White privilege—perks given to White people because of the color of their skin.
  • Appropriation—the use by one culture of the accoutrements of another culture, particularly while forbidding the appropriated culture to enjoy those accoutrements.

Racism began when White people laid eyes on native Africans and deemed them nonhuman. They kidnapped the people and brought them to this country stripped of everything—clothing, dignity, rituals, language, spirituality, family, friends, culture, all human rights—in chains stacked like ears of corn in the holds of cargo ships. Those who died were unceremoniously thrown overboard. Upon arrival in America, families were separated, never to see each other again.

Black people face a plethora of stressors every minute of every day. We are hated, hunted, and profiled. We live in a country where Black and Brown bodies are killed on suspicion of criminality by walking on a street with our hands in our pockets. Where a “routine” traffic stop may end our life. Where laws and policies directed at oppressing us are enacted without our knowledge and input. Policies and laws enacted to support and liberate Black people are swiftly met with counter laws that cancel out the advancement. Case in point: The so-called “war on drugs” is a war on Black people. The drug war is waged only in Black communities. The shop owner called police because he suspected George Floyd may have been attempting to pass a counterfeit $20.00 bill. Why did the situation call for four officers?

The medical and mental health fields acted with remarkable swiftness to address the opioid crisis. Middle- and upper-class White women comprised the largest demographic. They were offered treatment, mental health services, and resources. Their plight was blamed on a highly addictive drug. Black people who are addicted to drugs are labeled criminals (because they are in possession of the drug), drug addicts, and morally deficient.

Some of the material may be hard for you to receive. I encourage you to try to sit with your feelings and discomfort and allow them to speak to you. The discomfort is there for a reason. “What belief is this revelation rubbing up against?” The most potent question to ask yourself is, “How can I see this differently?” If you have a spiritual aspect in your life, you can ask that Power to help you see differently. Once we know something, we can no longer ignore its existence. Then, we bump into the question, “What can I do? I’m but one person and the landscape of racism is enormous.” This appeal is not easily answered. I hope to offer you resources you can explore.

Black people in the United States exist as a “gray” caricature of two disparate societies with clashing ideals and rules. The White collective expects us to adhere to their established cultural norms but to never make the mistake of forgetting our “place” on the human hierarchy—on the sidewalk leading to the ladder, not even close.

I have spent my life trying to maintain balance between the worlds of the Black collective and the White collective. Black people accuse me of imitating White people, of trying to be White. On the other hand, White people see me as friendly and intelligent—and Black. I have been denied raises, promotions, job flexibility to return to school, and subjected to blatant lies.

Everything I share does not apply to all people in every situation. Humans are hardwired with their own set of idiosyncrasies, perspectives, and ways of receiving new information, derived from experience. I make no attempt to address all White people as racist nor all Black people into a single category. With that said, I hope you use discernment to consider the statements I offer and examine your beliefs rather than dismissing a point as “it doesn’t apply to me.”

Much has happened during the past nine months—giant corporations drafted public antiracism statements and policies and enacted procedures to follow through; ordinary citizens created book clubs and discussion groups; people backed “Black Lives Matter” with yard signs, sweaters, and other wearables; churches hung banners on their exterior walls to declare their solidarity; we elected Kamala Harris, the first female, nonwhite vice president of the United States. Black people do have allies who sincerely offer compassion and generosity of time, energy, and resources. People who listen to us, really try to hear what we are not saying as well as what we do say.

We need White people to take the time to ask what we need. We need White people to become sensitive to the intergenerational effects of PTSD. Yes, we desperately need equal opportunities for and access to education, employment, housing, medical and mental healthcare, political and governmental participation and representation, and beneficial networks. We cannot attain these human rights and privileges without help. The media exposes us to the symptoms rather than the disease. As such, I commend all of you, and everyone on the front lines of supporting Black people. Please know you are appreciated.

There remains much to do to address more than four hundred years of racism. While we can view the glimmer of hope, to exhale and say we have arrived is a mistake. A quick fix does not exist. White supremacists push back to maintain the oppression and marginalization. They wait in the background ready to pounce at a moment’s notice.

Over the next month, I challenge you to the following exercise:

  • What do I believe about Black people—not what you want to believe? Write your answers in a notebook to get them out in front of you, out into the open, where you can see them in stark reality.
  • How did I arrive at those beliefs?
  • What proof do I have as the validity of those beliefs?
  • You need share your responses as you feel comfortable. I do not recommend doing so if you feel unsafe.

May your days, weeks, and months unfold in health, safety, joy, and peace.

More from Billie’s blog: www.dmpcc.org/Billie

*If you are interested in joining the anti-racism learning group, please email tspeirs@dmpcc.org

Billie’s blog: Celebrate What’s Important in 2021: You!

by Billie Wade

January 2021 — I recall attaining a major goal and the urge to run into the street screaming and flailing my arms. Fortunately, reality tapped me on the shoulder immediately. Achievement feels good and even more so when someone acknowledges our effort. Recognition gives us the energy and enthusiasm of boosted self-confidence for the next step of the journey. And away we go, having lunged into our goal or milestone, we are off to the next without so much as checking to see if our shoelaces are still tied. Over time we wear down, feeling overwhelmed, burnt out, and ineffective. The “new and exciting” activities of going after our vision become tedious chores. We ask ourselves, “Why am I doing this? It’s all so pointless. Nobody else will even care.” Mistakes, inevitable though they are, become shrouds of failure. When we live with one or more mental health diagnoses, both the pleasant and the unpleasant of successful living may bat us back and forth like a ping pong ball. One way to help ease the anxiety and balance our experiences is self-celebration.

Self-celebration gets you off the gerbil wheel for a while. You exhale the tension of focused striving. You catch your breath and let it come naturally. You inhale the next breath for strength to grab the baton and begin the next leg of the journey. With that new, raw energy comes increased belief in yourself and what you are setting out to do. When you celebrate yourself—who you are, what you have endured, your achievements, and what you have overcome—you make a profound statement to yourself that you are valuable unconditionally because of your existence. Celebration sets you up for an amazing range of feelings and physical responses. Joy. Delight. Awe. Wonder. Giggles. Laughter. Grins. Smirks. Amusement. And even eye rolling. People who are particularly body-sensitive may feel their body “laughing or singing, or other sensations.”

Self-celebration makes you your Number One Fan. You are a priceless synergy of traits, skills, and wisdom. Your unique quirkiness makes you who you are. You enrich the world with all you do. When you are joyful, you infuse your life with magnetic cheer, and you spread it to those around you. Joy is free. Joy is contagious. Joy is an expression of profound gratitude. Abilities are common in three forms: innate, learned through deliberate study, and acquired through experience—think of the wisdom and insight you have gained in the School of Life. Ironically, your most emotionally painful experiences contain the richest wisdom. They illuminate your courage, resourcefulness, and resilience, Celebrate them.

Early on in self-celebration you may worry about sounding arrogant and unappreciative. You may have learned, as I did, at a young age bragging is a bad practice to start, so bad you could get “the look” or dispatched upstairs to clean your room. However, when you embark on a new endeavor which requires the approval of others, you receive a set of “have tos. ”You have to sell yourself. You have to toot your own horn. You have to convince ‘them’ you are the best.” These instructions, while meant to encourage you, can confuse you about when you can be proud of yourself and when it is not a good idea.

When sharing your good news invite others in by leading with your feelings, such as, “I have great news to share with you,” or “I am so happy. I can hardly wait to tell you…” or “I did it! I finally made it. ”Share the spotlight if someone helped you. Consider the people you trust. You may need to share with different people in a revved up or subdued manner. If your sister is your number one fan, pour on the exuberance. If your neighbor frowns on everything you do, approach sharing the news with a little caution, if telling the person is necessary.

So, what do you do? First, remember you are the ONLY person with you 24/7. So, you are the only person who truly knows the intensity of your efforts. Waiting for someone else to congratulate you may take a long time, or not come at all. While this can be hurtful, you can celebrate yourself and even invite others to join you. Get ready for self-celebration by engaging a conscious awareness of activities you enjoy and/or do well and your achievements. I have a running list of my accomplishments to which I add as needed. The notebook pages are made from stone paper—that’s right, paper made from stone! I titled the notebook “Etched in Stone” to help me remember my ability to contribute to my dreams and to the world in which I live. Self-celebration is a gift to yourself you can enjoy regardless of the presence of others.

Sometimes, you may have to shut down the critical voices yammering at you whether the person(s) is(are) sitting in the same room with you or the voice is from a memory. If self-celebration is daunting for you, talk to someone you trust—therapist, primary care provider, religious leader, spiritual director, friend, or family member. Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center is here for you. Clinicians offering a vast array of support and guidance welcome you. To begin your journey toward healing, click here. See my article, “How To Choose A Therapist” (August, 2020)

I usually emphasize that a fancy journal is unnecessary. For self-celebration, however, I encourage you to find a journal that makes you smile and want to snuggle or that makes you feel powerful. It does not matter if you purchase your journal at a dollar store or at a bookstore in the mall. Or, if you are crafty, create a journal and embellish the cover and give your journal a name or title. The importance is in how the journal makes you feel each time you write. Stock up on colorful ink pens, pencils, and highlighters, and glitter. Use whatever color fits your mood at the time or color-code your entries.

Several years ago, I bought a charming journal based entirely on its visual appeal: a top-down image of a dragonfly set against a multi-color background. The nubby-textured brown-gray cover welcomed the dragonfly in without swallowing it. I liked the satiny feel of the muted green-grey pages, with a dragonfly in an upper corner of each page, perfect for brown ink. If you have not tried brown ink, I encourage you to do so. The journal lay in a drawer with other to-be-used-one-of-these-days companions while I waited for the “perfect” theme, that moment of worthiness of such a delightful book.

On June 9, 2020, I wrote the first entry: to dedicate my Dragonfly Journal to my emotional health and evolution. I claimed my dignity as a human being, proud of my abilities, innate as well as learned. I declared my intention to write only good stuff—Gifts of the Day, affirmations, mantras. Envision gratitude on steroids with lots of friends. All entries are positive words. Such as, “I safely arrived to and from all my destinations today,” rather than, “I didn’t have any traffic or shopping problems.” This was a bit tricky at first. The exercise helped me redefine my experiences and self-messages. I had to create a new vocabulary.

Here are some tips for Celebrating Wonderful You every day.

  • Use your celebration journal ONLY for the good stuff—unexpected acts of generosity, great parking spaces, getting home fifteen minutes before the thunderstorm rumbled overhead, a medical appointment with good news. Use your regular journal for working through experiences, problem-solving, and exploring your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
  • Write a list of everything you do well or love doing—from “I like the way I fold bath towels to I am an accomplished, respected astrophysicist with twenty years of experience”. Or, perhaps, you were present for a friend or completed an intense training. Be sure to number them so you can see the magnitude of your achievements, in quality as well as quantity.
  • Pause at least ten seconds between each item—set a timer if necessary—and sink into the pleasure of the moment.
  • Write just enough description that you will fully recall the experience when you reread the entry.
  • Each day, write at least one entry that expresses a minimum of five Gifts of the Day–more powerful than “Things I’m grateful for.” You will have so many Gifts on some days, remembering them all will be a challenge. That’s a good thing, a very good thing. Carry a small notebook with you always.
  • Use your social media or videoconferencing platform if you deem it appropriate.
  • If you have a videoconferencing account open a meeting and host a one-on-one session with yourself, with or without the video feature on.
  • Celebrate yourself as often as you want, anytime, anywhere. You do not have to say a word out loud, but I encourage you to do so. Hearing praise directed at you in your own voice can be quite powerful. Record it on your phone or computer and replay it whenever you need a boost
  • Celebrate your achievement repeatedly for as long as you like—just a smile is a celebration, an affirmation, a statement of enjoyment, about yourself. Sometimes, an inner smile is all you need.
  • Apply the wisdom of reaching your goal to the rest of your life.
  • Revisit your entries when you need a boost of confidence and say, “Wow, I rock!”

We continually seek meaning and fulfillment from our experiences. The achieving can sometimes overshadow the achievement. When we take time to be mindful and appreciative of the journey on our way to the destination, we invite meaning and fulfillment into the doing, which slows down the frenetic pace and sets us on a path of discovery as we achieve. In this respect, the journey is the goal as much as the destination. We do not have to be shy or embarrassed about who we are and what we do to live our life in fullness and contribute to the world in which we live, whatever that looks like for each of us.

Achieve. Enjoy. Celebrate. Repeat.

Billie’s blog index: www.dmpcc.org/Billie

Save or Savor?

 

by Jim Hayes, Executive Director

February 2021 — This quote found me as I was working through a gratitude reflection over the Thanksgiving holiday. It continues to nourish my thoughts and I’m wondering why.

One of my strategies for surviving this pandemic has been to try to stay in the moment rather than letting anxious thoughts overwhelm the day. My rational mind reminds my lizard brain that if anxiety drives the bus, I might miss the beauty of a moment or a day. This is especially true in the midst of a pandemic, which has heightened anxiety for most of us. Each day, no matter the external context, is rooted in the everlasting now. I do my best to savor the moment.

Among the moments to savor are the stories of some incredible people who have contributed to the Center over the years. For a variety of reasons, a number of our “wisdom figures” chose to retire over the last few months. They all seem to be enjoying retirement immensely! We have all been nourished by their efforts and ought to take a moment to savor the wonder of how they made us better by offering their many gifts to help us advance our mission.

Susan Ackelson joined us in 1996. She helped so many people as a therapist, but also served as Clinical Director. She did so much to help us appreciate the significance of holistic healing by paying attention to not only the mind, but the spirit and body through her sensory motor work.

Susan Koehler, P.A., came in 2014. Her years of service may not have been as long as some of the others on this list, but the services she provided represented a significant shift in our work. She started as a consultant helping us to better understand how psychiatry might help our patients, but later joined us as a prescriber. Along with Dr. Geoffrey Hills, Susan provided a wonderful resource by having in house prescribers.

Diane McClanahan joined us as the first full time director of Leadership and Spiritual Life in 2013. She established a number of new programs that not only benefitted the Center, but numerous communities of faith around the state. She also served many people as a trusted spiritual director.

Kathy Reardon allowed us to write a significant piece of appreciation in an earlier newsletter. She joined us in 2001. Her contributions are well documented, but my savoring of the Center’s work would be incomplete if I didn’t reflect once again on her contributions in healing touch, spiritual direction, and the establishment of the Prairie Fire spiritual formation program.

Roberta Yoder just retired last month. She joined us in 1996 as a career counselor. She has been a faithful and inspiring leader in what was virtually a one person program. So many people have Roberta to thank for discovering fulfilling careers. I always enjoyed my conversations with her around the topic of vocation. She certainly found a way to use her many gifts in the service of others.

There’s a bit of grief as I write this and reflect on these esteemed and highly valued colleagues. I miss them. Again, they all had a variety of reasons for why retirement made sense at this point in their lives and they left on the best of terms and continue to support the Center in a variety of ways. My savoring relates to the inspiration they continue to provide to so many. On a personal level, they certainly nourished my spirit in unique ways.

I have to provide one final bit of savoring by recognizing that we lost Larry Sonner on November 27th  to COVID-19.  He was retired from a variety of roles as a United Methodist Elder. One of his many contributions of a life lived well was to facilitate the gatherings of the supervisors in our training program for 25 years. We are so grateful for the many quality therapists he helped to shape in that quarter century. He and Sue, his spouse, contributed to the Center in many ways over the years. We offer our sympathy to her and the family, even as we celebrate the wonder of all that Larry did with his many gifts.

My reflections don’t even include other stakeholders and donors we’ve lost in 2020. The list is long and I’m afraid I’d forget someone if I started listing individuals. I’ll save that reflection for another time.

Savor these stories!

But we should also heed White’s advice to improve (or save) the world.

Even in the midst of a pandemic, we need to hold ourselves accountable to stewarding the gifts bestowed on us by creation. When I think of the many contributions over 100 staff and innumerable donors have added over the 49 year history of the Center, I am energized by their memories as I consider our role in advancing our important work. Along with the board and staff, I hope that we find ways to make a difference as we strive to serve the many needs in our community, especially related to holistic and mental health.

The world stands in need of improvement—maybe even a little bit of saving. You’ll be hearing from me in 2021 about strategies we have for writing the next chapter of the history of the Center. It will take all of us, using the many gifts we hold as a community, to affect positive social change. We are grateful for others who have done it before us, but also take seriously our responsibility to respond generously as well.

Thank you for all you’ve done to help us continue to serve in a challenging year. Savor the wonder of it all so that we might all be inspired to do a bit of “saving” in 2021.

Blessings,

To read more of Jim’s blogs, click HERE.

Learn how Bank of America cares for their employees!

The Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center recently partnered with Bank of America to offer wellness services to BOA employees.

October 2020 – It’s called preventative maintenance, an upstream approach to health and well-being.

Corporations and organizations are very aware of the many difficulties and challenges employees are facing during the pandemic and the chronic, long-term stress it is causing. One of the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center’s generous donors, Bank of America, is taking a proactive approach.

Bank of America staff in Iowa have launched a series of physical and emotional wellness opportunities for their teammates called Get Iowa Moving.  They are running four different activities every other week from September through October. Activities include, walking outdoors, guided mindfulness meditation, chair yoga, and desk exercises. All sessions begin with a reminder of the benefits and programs the bank offers and how to take advantage of them, especially though their employee networks. Bank of America knows that members of their employee networks feel more connected and engaged at work, which is an important component of overall wellness.

Annie Brandt

“I was talking with my market president about ways we can connect with our team in this virtual world, and she reminded me of her often repeated mantra, ‘Move your body, heal your mind.’  I thought of the things Bank of America is offering teammates across the country like chair yoga and guided mindfulness meditation. I thought it could be a fun way to further engage our Iowa teammates if we made it local and special for us.”  Says, Annie Brandt, Bank of America Senior Vice President and Market Manager for Iowa.  Annie is also a long-time supporter of the Center, 2019 Women Helping Women co-chair and volunteer.

Would you like to get your team involved in preventative healthcare? Learn more about the Center’s mindfulness offerings HERE.

Allison Peet

Written by Allison Peet, certified Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction instructor.

What is Trauma Sensitive Yoga?

Kathe Irvine, L.I.S.W., Certified Yoga Instructor, and Yoga Coordinator at the Center.

By Kathe Irvine, L.I.S.W., trained Trauma Sensitive Yoga provider at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

Trauma Sensitive Yoga (TSY) is an evidence based treatment for complex trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is used with children, youth and adults in Iowa and throughout the world. Some participants engage with Trauma Sensitive Yoga as part of a holistic approach to healing from trauma, a complement to their ongoing counseling. And others participate as an extension of their yoga practice. Anyone can participate, regardless of their level of physical abilities and experience. The goal is healing.

Although Trauma Sensitive Yoga employs physical forms and movements, the emphasis is not on the external expression or appearance (i.e. doing it “right”), or receiving the approval of an external authority. Rather, the focus is on the internal experience of the participant. This shift in orientation, from the external to the internal, is a key attribute of Trauma Sensitive Yoga as a complementary treatment for complex trauma, and has been empirically validated. With this approach, the power resides within the individual, not the facilitator. (Although it is important to practice with a qualified facilitator.)

Elements of Trauma Sensitive Yoga include:

  • Evidence-Based Practice: Trauma Sensitive Yoga is an empirically validated, adjunctive clinical treatment for complex trauma or chronic treatment-resistant Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. TSY has foundations in both Trauma Theory and Hatha Yoga with an emphasis on body-based yoga forms and breathing practices.
  • Sensitive Techniques: Trauma Sensitive Yoga participants are invited to notice and feel sensations within their body throughout the practice. Participants are then encouraged to make choices about what they do and how they move with their body based on what they sense. This supports participants to investigate what choice feels supportive for them, taking cues from their own individual experience.
  • Inquiry-Based Exploration: The approach applies choice and body-centered self-awareness to support a recovery process, a gentle intervention that initiates healing through people regaining a relationship with the present moment and their body. The language used throughout a yoga session is invitational and encourages curiosity to explore what one might feel in different parts of their body based on the form they are choosing to take.

The goal of Trauma Sensitive Yoga is to befriend, reconnect with and feel empowered in your body. In a safe and predictable environment, you are invited to notice sensations, experiment with movement and breathing, and practice making choices about what is right for you. Further, by focusing on the felt sense of the body to inform choice- making, Trauma Sensitive Yoga enables participants to restore their connection of mind and body and cultivate a sense of agency that is compromised as a result of trauma.

“Is Trauma Senstive Yoga right for me?” If you’re asking the question, you may be a good candidate for this treatment method. Consult with your counselor, or register for one of our classes at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center. More information here: https://dmpcc.org/classes-events/

Kathe Irvine, L.I.S.W., is a licensed independent social worker. She earned her undergraduate degree in sociology and women’s studies from the University of Northern Iowa and her Master of Social Work degree from the University of Iowa. Kathe provides counseling and psychotherapy to individuals as well as couples and families. She is trained trauma sensitive yoga provider. Kathe has a special interest in providing holistic care to resolve issues of grief, trauma, life transitions, divorce, anxiety and depression. Kathe is a member of  the National Association of Social Workers.

More health tips from the Center: www.dmpcc.org/healthtips

What is Calling You in 2018?

Billie Wade, writer

special to the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center, January 2018

by Billie Wade

We’ve survived the holidays. We made it through January 1. 2018 has arrived. Each new year holds possibilities that life will be somehow different than in the past.

We now face the blank slate between New Year’s Day and Memorial Day. Most of nature is dormant. The excitement of the holidays is over, and life has resumed at a less frenetic pace. We may feel bored, unusually tired, or just a bit out of sorts. Some people made epic New Year’s resolutions that seem daunting as life or second thoughts get in the way or perhaps they’ve lost their appeal. The shine has worn off. The grand letdown happens every year. We may feel a sense of dread as we envision weather-related confinement.

Despite the long five-month stretch, each month has moments of distinction that help ease the transition. January and February are perhaps the most desolate, but the two months combined are only nine weeks, and the time passes quickly. March brings the beginning of Daylight Savings Time and the first day of Spring. Trees and plants bud in April and herald the welcome return of songbirds. May shows off huge blooms of peonies—pink, white, and deep red—and fills the air with the fragrant blossoms of lilacs. Life is stretching itself awake after a long winter snooze. When I look at the stretch and remember what each month offers, the time passes easier as I’m less restless, less anxious, and less depressed.

The transition from winter into spring is a time for refreshing, recuperating, rejuvenating and transforming. On the surface, everything is drab, brown, and gray. Underneath, however, new life is resting until the warm rains of Spring signal that it’s time to come forth. We may look out our windows and see drifts of sparkling snow and icy sidewalks. Or, we may have escaped to a warm climate. We may have plenty to do to ward off cabin fever. Or, we may wonder what we can do to occupy the time. We have a stellar opportunity to create new practices and habits that serve us, an ideal time to ask the deeper questions about what matters most and how we want our lives to unfold over the next twelve months. What is calling us?

I’ve made plans to improve two big areas of my life in 2018, my health and my writing. There is so much more I want to accomplish, but I take care not to overwhelm myself and invite shutdown.

Early in 2017, I created a list of forty-eight life questions to explore. I spend time contemplating the state of my life now, and what I want from life moving forward. I then delve into identifying the steps to turn each into a manageable goal with realistic action steps. What follows are variations of some of the questions.

What do I want my attitude to be in 2018? This is possibly the most important and the most difficult question to ask. Attitude is one area of my life where I have control. How I approach life’s drawbacks can mean the difference between peace and serenity, and hopelessness and despair. I adjust my attitude by getting as much information about my situation as possible, journaling, and talking to people I trust.

What do I want to affirm in 2018? I reflect on 2017 and think about epiphanies and insights that brought focus and clarity to my life. I’m learning to ask for help and to be vulnerable with the people in my life who love and care about me. In the process, I’m affirming that I’m worth the time and attention of other people.

How do I want to spend my time in 2018? Every year has 525,600 minutes, 1,440 minutes per day. Those minutes tick away whether I notice them, or they pass by without getting my attention. I want to engage in activities that are important to me, that bring me joy and peace and evoke a sense of awe and wonder. I want to invite experiences into my life that transform me emotionally and spiritually. I want to invite more play and recreation into my life.

Who are the people I want in my life? I look at the relationships in my life and determine whether they support or cause me pain. Relationships are complex, and I can’t always create a desirable distance between another person and me. I take care to ensure that I am safe before making drastic changes to my relationships. I consider such factors as how much the relationship means to me and how I can deal with the situation in ways that maintain dignity for everyone involved.

What do I want to do differently in 2018? I turn my attention to my intentions, goals, and dreams and choose with care activities that nurture me. I map out doable steps to help me attain my definition of success in my endeavors.

The winter months with the shortened amount of daylight can put the strongest emotional resolve to the test. Dark days and cloudy skies can contribute to a host of emotional issues. Living with emotional upheaval or pain and chronic issues can mean just getting through the day is progress. I try to remember that, back on December 21, the beginning of Winter and the shortest day of the year, meant that subsequent days would become increasingly longer and that sunlight in abundance would return. I know that the darkness and time of dormancy are temporary.

We can look forward to this time of year with a spirit of appreciating and celebrating the seasonal changes. We can welcome each change as an unfolding of the ever-flowing energy of life. We can participate in the transitions and match the rhythm of nature with our own. May 2018 be a year of renewal for you.

Billie Wade is a gregarious introvert whose primary interests are writing, lifelong learning, personal development, and how we all are affected by life’s vagaries. Issues facing black people, women, the LGBTQ community, and aging adults are of particular concern to her. She enjoys open-hearted dialogue with diverse people. The opinions expressed here are her own.

Heath Tip: Coping with Illness during the Holidays

Dr. Christine Dietz

By Christine A. Dietz, Ph.D., L.I.S.W., Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

 

Living with cancer or a chronic illness is challenging at the best of times, but especially during the winter holidays. Although it may be a joyful time of year, when we are ill we may feel too tired, depressed or anxious to celebrate. We may also feel overwhelmed with expectations (ours or others’) to do everything we’ve always done. We may feel obligated to be happy and cheerful while feeling sad and scared inside. How can we celebrate a meaningful holiday season while dealing with illness?

Holidays are “holy” days – days of holiness and days of wholeness, days to which we bring our whole selves. The words “holiness” and “wholeness” are connected in many languages, as are the words “wholeness” and “wellness.” Holiness means bringing our whole selves to whatever we are doing, from whatever state of wellness we are in at present. If we need to receive more than give at a particular time, then wholeness means acknowledging that and making decisions and plans that reflect our needs to receive as well as give.

The winter holidays take place at the solstice, when the days have reached their shortest point and light begins to increase.  One meaning of these holidays is to celebrate light in darkness, the turn from the darkest days toward ever increasing light. This is expressed in different ways in different religious traditions – by lighting candles, celebrating the solstice or the newness of birth. These holidays bring attention to the coexistence of both light and darkness. Making room for that both/and thinking can help us celebrate meaningful holidays while dealing with illness. Maybe we can be both tired and grateful for the love of family. Maybe we can participate in a holiday celebration and also attend to needs for rest and quiet. By being mindful of our needs and experiences in each moment, we will be better able to determine how we want to participate in holiday celebrations.

As you consider how you want to celebrate this year, it is helpful to think about what these holidays mean to you. You may want to reflect on some or all of the following questions:

  1. What is special about this holiday for you?
  2. What are its most important aspects?
  3. What family or personal traditions are most meaningful to you in this holiday?
  4. What do you need from this holiday this year?
  5. What balance would you like to achieve between giving and receiving? What would you like to give? What would you like to receive?
  6. How might you bring holiness into this holiday?

Holidays can be stressful, even when they are very meaningful. This can be particularly true when you or a loved one is dealing with cancer or another chronic illness. When we are depressed or anxious, the holidays can be a time of dread, especially when we have high expectations that we feel unable to meet. Allow time for rest and reflection as well as time to be with whatever painful feelings arise during this time. Take extra care to find a supportive person with whom to share these feelings. Try to cultivate a both/and perspective: I can feel sad AND loving at the same time; I may be anxious AND I can still enjoy this holiday music/event/tradition, etc. And avoid overdoing – overspending, overexerting, over-expecting.

Here are some things to consider as the holidays approach:

  1. Focus on the most meaningful aspects and traditions of the holiday. Develop your own rituals, such as a gratitude practice or sharing meaningful stories and memories, to celebrate these moments.
  2. Don’t try to make this holiday season exactly the same in previous years – adapt your celebration to fit your current health situation.
  3. Use this opportunity to develop more meaningful and less stressful traditions.
  4. Rest even more than usual – emotional stress is exhausting.
  5. This year, learn to receive. Connect to spiritual teachings about receiving within your tradition. Allow others the joy of giving to you.
  6. Delegate some of your usual tasks and responsibilities to others.
  7. Use stress management techniques – breathing, mindfulness, relaxation, visualization, journaling, body work and exercise.

With attention to the holiness of the holidays as well as our own wholeness and wellness, we can create meaningful holiday celebrations, in spite of illness.

Christine Dietz is a licensed independent social worker, spiritual director and Reiki Master. She is the Center’s Director of Clinical Training. She received her M.S.W. from the University of Iowa and her Ph.D. in Sociology from the State University of New York at Buffalo. She is a graduate of the Lev Shomea Training Program for Spiritual Direction in the Jewish Tradition. Christine’s focus in counseling is on helping people reconnect to their innate wholeness and renew their sense of hope and possibility. She works with people experiencing anxiety, depression, OCD, trauma, life transitions, chronic illness, grief and loss, and relationship issues. She also offers individual and group spiritual direction to people from all faith traditions. She is a member of the National Association of Social Workers and Spiritual Directors International.

For more Health tips from the Center: www.dmpcc.org/healthtips

Post 3 :: Men/Boys and Mental Health: Suicide Prevention Awareness

Scott Young, Ph.D.

By Dr. Scott Young, licensed psychologist at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

(September 2017) Hi All! For our blog topic this month, I want to open a discussion about a tough topic. September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and while this is an important topic for us all to consider, it is especially important to open a dialogue with boys and men about suicide. For various reasons, we know from the Center for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) that girls and women are far more likely (3x) to ATTEMPT suicide during the course of their lives; however, we also know that boys and men are far more likely to COMPLETE suicide (3.5-4x) than girls and women.

Furthermore, we know from a recent study at the University of Iowa, that farmers have been particularly vulnerable to the lure of suicide since the farm crisis of the 80s and continuing today. I’d like to give just a few more statistics to drive home how important this discussion really is to we Iowans. Suicide is the 9th leading cause of death overall, here in Iowa, and is the 2nd leading cause of death among Iowans age 15-34. In my clinical practice, I’ve also seen a deeply troubling trend toward more suicidality among our teenagers.

The above statistics make a chill run down my spine, and are very sobering. They also highlight some opportunities for all of us, male and female, to examine how we can play a part in changing the lives those statistics represent. It is within all our power to educate ourselves on risk factors, signs of risk for suicide, and ways to help ourselves and/or others who face thoughts of suicide. To that end, I’d like to share some thoughts and resources in the hopes they may prove helpful to you.

  • No one is immune to the effects of suicide. While I’ve shared above some demographic information about particular risks, anyone can be struggling!
  • Most people who experience suicidal thoughts are in great pain and/or have suffered great loss, such as loss of job, romantic partnership, respect, or legal freedoms. To view people who struggle with suicidal thoughts and behaviors as “weak” downplays their pain, and ignores that we all could find ourselves in their shoes.
  • People who have supportive relationships and communities, including religious and spiritual communities, are less likely to suicide. They are also more likely to receive treatment for underlying physical and mental health concerns that put them at risk for suicide.
  • When in doubt, don’t hesitate to talk about suicide! There is no evidence that asking someone or talking about suicide “puts the idea in their head.” Since males can often receive messages about being the “strong silent type”, we especially need others to check in with us about suicide so we can feel ok to open up. Even if someone is shocked or mad on the surface because you asked, doesn’t mean you were wrong to ask out of care and concern.
  • Men are less likely to seek help for many health concerns, especially traditional mental health help. Don’t assume that anyone who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts is getting help, or that others know and are taking care of that person!
  • There are supports available. Whether for you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, reaching out for help can be the most difficult and important thing. Resources for help can be found through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at: https://afsp.org/find-support/. You can also seek emergency assistance from a local hospital or 911 call, and non-emergency assistance from the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center at (515) 274-4006.
  • For more information, please see the following resources:

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Men/boys and mental health, more blog posts here: www.dmpcc.org/men

 

Survivor of Suicide Loss Support Group for women and men: 

The Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center offers a monthly support group for survivors of suicide loss. It matters not how long ago your loss. For more information: www.dmpcc.org/survivor

Health Tip: 3 tips to starting a mindfulness meditation practice

by Allison Peet, Certified Mindfulness Instructor at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

Mindfulness for Beginners – 4-week course begins August 10th!

The word “mindfulness” has become very much of a buzz word these days. It’s new, hip, totally the rage, and also 2,600 years old. Neuroscience is finally confirming what so many people have known for centuries from their own direct experience and practice, that mindfulness meditation can help you reduce stress and help keep your brain young.* Many of us are almost always in “doing” mode: the constant multi-tasking and busyness of life and glued to our smart phones as to not miss a text, meeting or notification. Add in job, family, and relationship stress…toxic stress can really take its toll on our minds and bodies. Meditation can seem like a pretty foreign topic, but it’s surprisingly and beautifully simple. Simple…. but not easy.

Mindfulness is a solution to our chaotic lives. It’s a way of waking up out of auto-pilot and taking back our innate, human ability to fully “be” in the moments of our lives, that can only be experienced directly in the “now”. Mindfulness is an ancient practice that has been introduced into secular settings like public schools, businesses like Google, Twitter and General Mills, hospitals, and even the military. According to the founder of the 40-year-old MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) program, Jon Kabat-Zinn: “Mindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives. It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment. We feel more alive. We also gain immediate access to our own powerful inner resources for insight, transformation, and healing.” Which, turns out to be much easier said than done. Here are a few tips if you’re interested in beginning a meditation practice:

  1. Start Small: Know Your Why – If you don’t know why you want to start a meditation practice, you’ll never stick to it. Take a few moments to really ask yourself why you’re doing this. Maybe it’s because you want to be less reactive to your kids, show up more fully for your spouse, reduce stress, find more peace of mind, or you want to be kinder and gentler to yourself. Meditation can be difficult at times, and the payoffs don’t show themselves immediately. Knowing your why can keep you on track, even if you don’t feel like it – you remember the bigger reason of your commitment. Once you begin to feel the benefits, these moments help motivate you to keep going. Anyone has 5-10 minutes in their day – try a simple awareness of breathing meditation. One of my favorite meditation apps is called Insight Timer, plus it’s free!
  2. Take One Bite: Mindful Eating – Eating is a wonderful opportunity to experience mindfulness since we do it multiple times per day. Eating has become so familiar that we hardly notice the explosion of flavors, textures, aromas and the simple, but powerful pleasure of taking in nourishment. Take back your lunch break – sit and Just. Eat. Don’t distract yourself with technology, driving, working at your computer, or even talking with someone. Start by sitting down with your meal and taking three mindful breaths before you take your first bite. Using your five senses, simply pay attention to the process of eating. When your mind wanders, note what’s on your mind and acknowledge that you were involved in another storyline, place or time. Then, bring your attention back to the present, using eating as the object of awareness. Can “just eating” be enough for you without trying to add in more stuff?
  3. Take a class – There is so much power and motivation in holding yourself accountable in community.  Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction is a 40-year old program that has been proven to reduce symptoms of stress. The course is for adults who’ve never practiced meditation as well as seasoned practitioners. It’s intended to make the practice your own, incorporate it into your life, and support you in creating and maintaining a regular meditation practice. MBSR is designed to recognize and put to use our inner psychological resources to respond to toxic stress, increase stress hardiness, focus, creativity, regulate emotions, and allow a greater sense of self-care and well-being.  It that feels a bit too much, take my intro class, Mindfulness for Beginners – a 4-week taste of the healing power of mindfulness.

 

Allison Peet, BA, RYT200 is a certified MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) Instructor trained at the UMass Center for Mindfulness where MBSR was created by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, and the Mindfulness Center at Brown University. Both schools are the gold standard for exceptional mindfulness training. She’s taught since 2016 and has nearly 120 graduates of the course that have reduced perceived toxic stress levels an average of 37%. She is trained through Mindful Schools and teaches mindfulness to youth, K-12 and is a registered yoga instructor. She’s completed multiple week-long silent meditation retreats and has a daily practice. Allison has a personal path of living and working with chronic stress and anxiety which is why she started her own business in 2015, From Within Wellness, LLC, to benefit others. She is committed to creating a more mindful community by helping people develop pragmatic life skills in attentional strength, present moment awareness, self-compassion, and stress resiliency.

 

Learn more about Allison Peet’s mindfulness classes here.

www.dmpcc.org/mindfulness

*Resources

Mindfulness May Keep Brains Young (2009)

“A study by Dr. Eileen Luders at UCLA School of Medicine, published in Neurolmage, shows that long-term mindfulness practitioners have greater brain volume, stronger neural connections, and less atrophy than non-practitioners. This suggests mindfulness may keep brains young and even help prevent dementia.” Vol 45, Issue 3, Apil 15, 2009: Pg 672-678

Mindfulness Reduces Stress (2010)

A study conducted by Britta Holzel at Massachusetts General Hospital, and published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neroscience, finds that mindfulness-based stress reduction can lead to structural changes in the amygdala, a brain structure that plays a crucial role in stress responses.” Vol. 5, Issue 1: Pg 11-17

Understanding and treating “self-injury”

by Alison Li, L.I.S.W., therapist at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

Alison Li, L.I.S.W.

(June 2017) People cope with stress and emotional pain in many ways: exercise, alcohol, eating chocolate, meditation, using drugs, therapy, self-injury. All of these can be effective coping mechanisms in the short-term; not all, however, are effective in the long-term.

Self-injury, also called deliberate self-harm, is the act of intentionally hurting one’s body for purposes that are not socially recognized, and without suicidal intent. The most common form is cutting, although it can take many forms. It usually starts early in life, around adolescence. Studies have found that 12-24 percent of young adults have self-injured, and that around 6 – 8 percent chronically self-injure.

The reasons for self-injuring are diverse, but share a common theme of providing a release or relief for overwhelming negative emotion or emotional pressure. Sometimes, it is a way of feeling physical pain in the face of overwhelming emotional pain, or as a way to “feel something” when an individual feels emotionally numb. It can also be used as a means of coping with anxiety.

Self-injury is often misunderstood as suicidal behavior. In fact, individuals who self-injure are doing so in order to cope with overwhelming negative feelings, and most studies find that self-injury is often used as means of avoiding suicide. Self-injury is also often misunderstood by family and friends as a means of getting attention, or as “manipulative” behavior. While attention is often a result of an individual injuring themselves, this is usually an unintended outcome – most people who self-injure do so in private, make great attempts to hide their injuries, and often feel shame or guilt about the injurious behavior.

Effective treatment of chronic self-injury ideally involves working with a therapist to address not only the cutting or injurious behavior, but also the underlying triggers and causes. In addition, it can be very helpful for family members to participate in the therapy, in order to educate themselves about how to best support their loved one through the recovery process.

To learn more about self-injury, an excellent resource is the Cornell Research Program on Self-injury and Recovery. They provide information for individuals who self-injure, as well as family, friends, and youth serving professionals. They can be found online at http://www.selfinjury.bctr.cornell.edu.

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Alison Li is one of 26 clinicians at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center. One of her treatment specialties is self-injury. To make an appointment with her, or another counselor at the Center, call 515-270-4006. The Center’s mission is to bring hope, healing and understanding to people of all ages through mental health counseling, psychiatry and education. For more information please visit our website: www.dmpcc.org or find us on Facebook.

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For more Health tips from the Center: www.dmpcc.org/healthtips