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Choosing Kindness

“This morning at six when I awoke, loneliness was sitting on my chest like a dental x-ray apron, even though I was covered in hairy dog love. I prayed, ‘Help. I am sad and lonely, and already it looks from here like today is going to be too long.’ So I did a kindness to myself, as I would have if a troubled friend had confided her loneliness to me: I heated up the milk for my coffee and took the dogs for a short hike in the hills.”

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I love this scene from Anne Lamott’s Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. She wakes up one morning, as we all do sometimes, anxious and lonely. She fears what the next few hours will hold. She cannot deny the heaviness of her loneliness nor the restless and deep longing that comes with it. And then she wrestles with what to do about it.

Anne chooses to engage with what she refers to as “radical self-care.” She imagines she is caring gently for a friend. She offers herself something cozy and comforting to drink. She seeks goodness for herself: beauty and adventure and play. Nothing she chooses is extravagant or expensive or complicated, but there is a simple kind of goodness and nurture.

And before any of these simple things are possible, she does something very important. She allows herself to feel the pain her heart holds. She allows herself to name how heavy and scary the loneliness feels and she engages her heart with such precious words. “Help. I am sad and lonely, and already it looks from here like today is going to be too long.”

Most of our unkindness comes from refusing to engage this place in our own hearts. We shove the feelings away and avoid letting them speak because we are deeply afraid of what comes next. Instead of kindness and gentleness, we choose to be uncaring and even cruel. We numb and silence our needs. We try to satiate our appetite with mindless eating, Instagram, Netflix. We get busy. And when we do engage the pain, we speak harshly to our tenderly aching hearts. We say:

“You shouldn’t be lonely. You’re so needy.”
Shame.

“No wonder you don’t have any friends. You’re such a loser.”
Self-contempt.

“Nobody will think to call you today. Everyone has forgotten about you.”
Despair.

Letting your heart speak, even if only for a moment, is the kindest space you can offer. And once you have listened, you can decide from a place of kindness what to offer yourself. Do you need a walk? Time with a friend? A good meal? Little by little you will teach your heart that it is safe in your gentle care.

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SADness: Seven tips for surviving Seasonal Affective Disorder

 

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This has been a lovely fall in Atlanta, hasn’t it?  For now though, the temperature has dropped, and the wind seems to have blown bare the most beautiful trees in my neighborhood.  Soon it will be cold and dark and the reds and golds of autumn will be replaced by winter’s grays and browns.

This transition to winter can be especially difficult for some, particularly those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder.  The loss of daylight hours wreaks havoc on our circadian rhythms and the levels of certain chemicals in our bodies like serotonin and melatonin.  This change can trigger symptoms of depression, like loss of interest in people or activities, exhaustion, changes in appetite, irritability, hypersensitivity, and hopelessness.

This can be a very frightening change, and yet there are steps you can take to fight back and regain your ability to experience joy and pleasure. Here are 7 tips for how to survive SAD.

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1.  Let the light in.  The loss of exposure to light is no joke.  We need sunlight for so many reasons.  Open your blinds.  Wake up earlier and sit by a bright window while you drink your morning coffee.  Invest in a sunlamp which can help to elevate mood if you’re not able to get enough daylight to meet your needs.

2.  Exercise.  This can be so hard to do when it’s cold and miserable out, but it’s vitally important. Even though it’s cold, bundle up and go on a quick brisk walk.  You will not only feel sunlight on your face, but you will also feel decreased stress and increased motivation and self-confidence.  Studies consistently show that exercise is one of the most effective treatments for depression.

3.  See a therapist.  The winter months are not only depressing, they are also stressful.  The holidays can be fun and fulfilling, but also incredibly draining.  Extensive time with family can trigger unresolved pain and hurt.  For those who have lost family members, the holidays are a trigger for grief.  Combine either of these issues with SAD, and the season can feel hopeless.  Take these feelings as an opportunity to care for yourself by investing in time for personal healing and growth.

4.  Care for yourself medically.  A therapist can also help you determine the severity of your symptoms and whether you may need to take anti-depressants.  Additionally, winter is the season of sickness!  Don’t ignore your physical needs.  If you are feeling under the weather, care for yourself by resting, nourishing yourself well, and seeking medical attention if necessary.  You may need to take time off of school or work in order to recover.

5.  Invest in relationships.  Often, winter can be a time of isolation, especially if you are experiencing symptoms of depression that keep you lonely and scared to reach out to friends.  You may hear depression telling you that you are not fun to be around and you should keep to yourself. This is not true!  The people in your life care about you and probably also feel a bit isolated during the winter.  You may not feel up to much, but try to have a friend over for a warm beverage, like tea or apple cider. There is something about holding a warm drink in your hands when it’s cold outside that makes for good conversation.  Surround yourself with supportive friends even thought it feels scary or tiring.  It will remind you that you are loved.

6.  Pursue small pleasures.  You may not be going to the beach or skiing this winter, but there are lots of small ways that you can experience new and exciting things.  Do you like to cook?  Try something you’ve never made before, like baking bread.  Learn a new hobby like guitar or yoga. Get your creative juices flowing by reading, writing, or painting.  What are some things you’ve always wanted to try?  Winter is the perfect time to pick up something new and practice gratitude for small, enjoyable things.

7.  Hold on to hope.  Always remember that winter eventually ends. Winter seems endless while we are in its midst, but it always turns into spring.  There is always hope!  Be gentle with yourself as you wait for the warmth and beauty that is just around the corner.

To learn more about Adair Swayze, M.A., LAPC, LAMFT and her services, go here.

The Challenger: The Need to Dominate

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Welcome to the final installment of our series examining the nine types of the Enneagram Personality System.  Today we are discussing type eight, the Challenger.  To catch up on previous Enneagram blog posts, follow this link  And to take a free version of the test and find out your type, go here.


Often the most vilified of all the types, eights are driven by the need to be self-reliant and strong.  They are often portrayed as either heroes or villains in literature, dominating others either as a way to protect themselves or their loved ones, to whom they are fiercely loyal.  And this need to dominate is underscored by the basic fear of the eight: of being vulnerable to harm or control by others.  Eights long for assurance of personal freedom and safety. Continue reading “The Challenger: The Need to Dominate”

The Enthusiast: The Need to Avoid Pain

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Welcome to part eight of our series examining the nine types of the Enneagram Personality System.  Today we are discussing type seven, the Enthusiast.  To catch up on previous Enneagram blog posts, follow this link  And to take a free version of the test and find out your type, go here.


Sevens, or enthusiasts, live in search of adventure, excitement, and satisfaction.  They radiate a kind of child-like joy and optimism.  Sevens are playful, relaxed, and have an easy-going charm and sense of humor that make them incredibly likable. They love to plan activities and social events, and are somehow both busy and laid-back.  They have difficulty slowing down and are prone to boredom if they are not sufficiently stimulated by change and newness.  This tendency can sometimes make it difficult for sevens to commit to jobs or relationships, and can also lead them to be creatures of excess in everything they do.  Like nines, who are also avoiders, sevens can be prone to addiction as a way to distract and cope.  At a deep level, they are terrified that if they pause to reflect, then they might feel pain or a gnawing discontent.

Continue reading “The Enthusiast: The Need to Avoid Pain”

The Loyalist: The Need for Security

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Welcome to part six of our series examining the nine types of the Enneagram Personality System.  Today we are discussing type six, the Loyalist.  To catch up on previous Enneagram blog posts, follow this link  And to take a free version of the test and find out your type, go here.


Sixes are one of the most difficult types to identify, not only because the outside presentation can vary widely from person to person, but also within a single individual.  Sixes are often the most gregarious, warm-hearted, and good-humored people on the outside, but internally, experience a constant fear and suspicion, that makes trusting others extremely difficult.  Sixes are known to ascribe to a cynical worldview that says, Who cares if the glass is half empty or half full, it will break anyway! And though they are fearful people, they also tend to act with a fierce kind of courage in crisis.  They are quite used to grappling with fear, and can show an incredible resiliency to it. Continue reading “The Loyalist: The Need for Security”

The Investigator: The Need to Perceive

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Welcome to part six of our series examining the nine types of the Enneagram Personality System.  Today we are discussing type five, the Investigator.  To catch up on previous Enneagram blog posts, follow this link  And to take a free version of the test and find out your type, go here.


Detached, logical, and cool-headed, fives are the most cerebral and internal of all the types.  They are driven by the need to observe and analyze the world from the safety of their own mind.  For this reason, the five is often associated with the owl, who sees all from his carefully selected vantage point, and yet is incredibly difficult to see.  Fives feel safest when they can collect data and draw conclusions without others intruding on their inner world.

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Can you spot the owl, the animal most closely represented with the five?

Continue reading “The Investigator: The Need to Perceive”

The Individualist: The Need to be Special

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Welcome to part five of our series examining the nine types of the Enneagram Personality System.  Today we are discussing type four, the Individualist.  To catch up on previous Enneagram blog posts, follow this link  And to take a free version of the test and find out your type, go here.


Type four is the Individualist, or Romantic.  Fours are artists who see a world full of beauty and pain.  Bob Dylan, William Wordsworth, Edgar Allen Poe, Sylvia Plath: these are fours of varying degrees of health and happiness, but they are alike in their desire to find and express themselves to a world badly in need of authenticity and depth.  The stereotype of the four is the tortured artist, driven mad by his own powerful emotions and self-absorption.  However, fours when healthy can actually be gentle, playful, warm, and incredibly compassionate, able to use their self-awareness to bond easily with others and draw people in. Continue reading “The Individualist: The Need to be Special”