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Clausen Pam Therapist's Corner...Joy is What Happens...

“Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.”       Quote by …Marianne Williamson

My favorite word of the season is JOY.  I announce it all over the house in the letters J O Y, in colors, in glitz and glimmer, and in joyful sounds.  Most important of all I feel it on the inside.  There was a time when this life giving sensation was missing in my life, I lost it, I temporarily forgot what it felt like, and I tried desperately to find it in accumulating  worldly pleasures and avoiding pain whenever I could.  Why is it so difficult for some of us to find that simple  “smile on the inside” that happy, glad to be alive feeling of well-being?

It is my belief that all celebrations are our attempts to find joy, or to practice feeling joy, and to expand the feeling of joy by sharing it with others.  It seems to me that two things happen when we cannot experience the feeling of joy.  One, is the belief that the feeling  comes from “out there”, that somewhere in the world is the key to happiness!  And number two, is the fact that we get overwhelmed by all the stressors coming at us and “forget” how it feels to experience joy.

Here is a mindful practice that could help you remember and rediscover the sensation of joy in the celebration of this season’s holidays.

Find a comfortable, quiet place where you can sit or lie down and focus on your breath.  First just become aware of your breathing.  After a couple minutes of this focus, take a deep breath through your nose – breathe deeply into your abdomen to a count of seven, hold it to a count of four, and slowly let it go through slightly parted lips (a slight smile) to a count of eight.  Repeat this relaxing breathing three or four more times.  On each out breath use a relaxing thought such as “all is good”.  Now scan your body and become aware of any muscle tension or pain sensation present.  Just acknowledge it and let it go.  You might remind yourself that you will come back to it later.  Now another relaxing breath and try to remember …a time when you experienced the feeling of joy, perhaps in the past as a child when you accomplished something new, or with someone who offered you unconditional love, or as you held a new baby in your arms, or beheld a thing of beauty.  You are just remembering.  You are not seeking joy.  You are just remembering how it felt.  It is like a private smile on the inside and to yourself.  It is the blooming of hope.  It is a small light in a dark space.

Now that you remember what joy feels like you are halfway there.  Your next task is to discover the essence of joy in present time.  First, each day for the next seven days make a list of five people and/or things that you are grateful for.  Reread the previous days lists until there a total of thirtyfive gratitudes.  Next, create something meaningful to yourself in celebration of yourself.  Perhaps create a collage or draw a picture or maybe a holiday decoration.  And finally, reach out to a stranger and give them a small spark of joy, such as a friendly greeting, or pay for the coffee or lunch of the person in line behind you, or offer a helping hand.   This is joy.  It is all about the small things, the little moments of attention and awareness that make life meaningful.  This is the balance to the difficult times of life.  It is transient, it is quiet, it is the spark that ignites a flame of happy celebration.

My wish for you is that you experience JOY.    ~ Pam Clausen, Therapist



TCarlsonFrom Our Psychologist...
Hope for The New Year

December can be a very special time for many people, and a sad and stressful time as well. Many individuals experience both positive and negative emotions around the holiday season; joy and peace may be accompanied by worry, sadness, grief, and disappointment. These emotions might vary day by day, or can come all at once. However, if we let them, these emotions both positive and negative, can also serve as important catalysts for reflection and personal growth.

Although we certainly can’t “un-do” the previous year, the beginning of a new calendar year provides another opportunity to "do better".  It can also be a very effective time to make life changes because our motivation for self-improvement is often enhanced this time of year.  In part, this is because the Holiday season has a unique way of reminding us of our core values and of the things that matter to us most. The trick, is to not get so caught up in the hectic nature of the season so that we ignore this valuable opportunity. If we take time to slow down and listen to our inner voice, it can provide clarity about the most precious things in our lives.   If we let it, this voice can guide us to act in a manner consistent with these values, to spend our time where it’s most needed, and to protect what we have. That may be your family, your health, your career, your spirituality, or any other aspect of life that you value dearly.

Fostering this level of clarity at the start of a New Year provides a chance for improved focus and another chance to "get it right." (Whatever "it" might be for you.)  Of course this is never more obvious than in the New Year's Resolution, which some of you may already be thinking about, but I'm not just talking about specific behavioral changes.  Rather, I am encouraging you to think less about what you are “doing” and more about the type of “being” you have become.  Each New Year, (and each new day for that matter) is another chance to re-define yourself.  Each sunrise is another opportunity to be more like the person you want to be; the person you know you can be.  Perhaps you want to be more generous, or kind, more patient, or less self-centered.....  Maybe you’ve been thinking about volunteering or making an important career change.  Perhaps you also have important health goals that you want and need to focus on.  Whatever your specific goals might include, this is the time to re-focus and determine your next step. 

As 2014 approaches, consider yourself to be staring at a blank canvas.   Let yourself be free of mistakes, regrets, and disappointments over the past year, and determine what parts of you, if any, you want to carry forward. Think not just about what you want to do, but who you want to be.  As one of my favorite quotes states, “Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself.” 

Happy creating in the coming year! ~ Dr. Tabitha Carlson, Licensed Clinical Psychologist


Judy Tips from our EAP...Managing Holiday Stress

Although it’s easy to envision a marvelous, relaxed holiday season full of pageantry, positivity, and perfect pies, this is not what the splendor of the season always delivers. For many, this time of year is the most stressful.

If you feel stressed out by the thought of holiday chores, obligations, and the clan dropping in for a spell—or if this year’s circumstances make the holiday season difficult for whatever reason—start preparations now to manage your holiday stress. Along with good tidings come high expectations based on the commercialization of the holiday season, past childhood memories we may long to duplicate, and the expectations of others. If family members count on your “holiday magic” to make every year special—the cooking, cleaning, baking, decorating, and gift-wrapping—you face a bigger challenge letting go or finding balance.

Here’s how to cope better with expectations, demands, and added pressure during the holidays.

It’s the Most Wonderful Decision of All
Make a decision to take charge and tackle holiday stress. This mentally prepares you to enjoy the time while facing demands of the season with better endurance.

Your Priorities
Decide on your priorities to make the season meaningful. Did you miss the tour of homes last year because the Waltons next door had their open house on the same day? The idea here is to plan a few “non-negotiable” events for yourself.

Now the Rest
What activities are important to your brood this year? Seek to trim the “idea tree” to reduce stress from trying to fit it all in. A family meeting to gather ideas can work, and chances are activities you thought everyone still wanted are no longer of interest.

Avoid the Rush
Are holiday lights on the house critical? If yes, go for it, but if it seems more like a “chore” than a pleasurable task, that’s a clue about its priority and importance to you. Activities that feel like chores get delayed. Pay attention to procrastination. It is insight to help you decide whether it’s thumbs up or down on something that seems desirable.

Fight the Blues
If the holidays are a sad time of year because of difficult memories or because a loved one can’t be there, discover your personal intervention strategy. Volunteering for a local charity is an interactive experience, and those who’ve tried it claim it works to lift one’s mood. You’ll feel empowered and more positive, and the experience of helping others anchors you to a memory that lasts.

Navigating Around Family Conflicts
If you can’t avoid holiday gatherings with family members who experience feuds and conflicts, try discussing with kin your desire to avoid conflict. Be up front and ask that differences be set aside. Older adults criticizing teenagers is a famous trigger. So are statements from in-laws that appear critical, interfering, or meddlesome. Self-awareness is power, so you stand a good chance of at least minimizing this behavior.

Take Care of Yourself
What improves your mood—exercise, positive affirmations, alone time? During the year, have you been promising to do something for yourself, but keep putting it off? Do it. The holiday season is a perfect time to reaffirm your love, not only for those you care about but also for yourself.

How Your EAP Can Help
Holiday stress affects everyone differently, so suggestions here may not match what’s unique for you. Don’t face the stress alone. Instead, talk to your organization’s employee assistance program. The EA professional will help you find the resilience and strength you need to face any challenge the holidays may bring.

~ Judy Sandstrom, EAP Coordinator

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