Signs your stress is too high:

1. Feeling stress during things that would normally bring you joy.
What it may mean:
When stress is very high or goes on for too long, it can create anxiety, which is more complex and pervasive than stress. Anxiety begins to color our experience more thoroughly than stress and makes it difficult to see what is real or remember our highest values.

2. Finding yourself engaging less socially or getting less value from previously fulfilling relationships.
What it may mean:
Quality relationships and social engagements are a marker of a full and open life. Isolation can come from stress, anxiety and depression. Isolation can diminish our sense of worthiness and increase negative self talk without people we care about to distract us and support us.

3. Generalized hopelessness. If you hear yourself being generally negative and or thinking hopeless thoughts.
What is may mean:
Stress can also initiate depression. Stress over time can change how our brains process experiences that we may normally tolerate or even find engaging.

4. Changes in how you present and care for yourself and your space. If you find your hygiene, exercise, self care routines or care for your personal spaces are dwindling or inversely, you are becoming hyper vigilant about how you present yourself, you may be being impacted by your stress.
What it may mean:
It may be an externalized sign of overwhelm and a sign of diminished sense of competence and well being. To either let go of care routines or to become hyper vigilant in your appearances is a sign to re-assess.


There are three things that are key to maintaining desire and fire in a longterm relationship.

1. Each person in the relationship is responsible for continuing to make themselves feel sexy. That means they may work out, eat well, engage in a certain hobby, continue to be curious in their work or spend time with friends, whatever it is that makes them feel confident, attractive and sexy in and of themselves. Each person needs to feel that they are sexually attractive. We usually think of it as our partners responsibility to attract us, but it is far more effective for each of us to care for our own sexuality and the confidence that we are desirable.

2. Maintaining novelty in the relationship. This is generally going to be small things over the long-term.
It could be going on a long weekend vacation or a new restaurant. New events and experiences together.
​It also involves talking to your partner like they are new person sometimes. Asking about subtle parts of their life that you would ask about if you were on a date, rather than assuming that you know what’s going on in their lives. Asking about their dreams, hopes and fears, or what has been especially satisfying lately can refresh your curiosity and interest in them. It shows them that you not only care, but that you expect that they are growing and changing in ways you want to know about. This helps you see each other with fresh eyes and acknowledge how each of you is always changing and actually evolving into a new version of yourselves. It normalizes growth and change in the relationship, which makes room for each person to be most alive, engaging and therefore attractive.

3. Go toward disagreements. When there is conflict in the relationship, it is essential that it is worked through immediately, so that no one holds onto things. Resentment is the ultimate killer of desire and excitement. The two preceding points will do nothing if this one has not been attended to.

Finally, while we must remember we are in this for the long run. Attending to what we want right now even if it is in a small way, assures that desire isn’t entirely prolonged and gives us a sense of hope, anticipation and motivation for creating those bigger servings of passion that fires our desires and attraction toward each other.


Sometimes after some loss, loss of a loved one, loss of a dream, loss of a way of living, we find ourselves looking in the mirror and the person looking back looks like us, but doesn’t feel like us. Times when we do the things we always do and hear our voice and see our actions knowing them as our own, but they still feel empty, void of us. The alive self in us is missing and what remains is pain, confusion and hope that often feels less and less every day.

What is so haunting about this is that we can remember ourselves, we know that we were whole in the past, that this is not normal and it does not feel okay. There is such a deep ache and fear beneath these times that it often seems as if they should not be happening, like something is wrong and that we are probably the one that made it go wrong.

This idea that this ‘should’ not be happening is especially painful and this is important…this is the thing to hold onto; the truth is it ‘should’ be happening.

Think of it like this. We are a boat in the ocean and the chaos and pain is a storm. Storms ‘should’ happen, they should be intense sometimes, especially when big changes in weather have happened. No one would say that a storm in the ocean shouldn’t be happening or that the boat is failing by not stopping the storm. It is a cheesy metaphor, but is not inaccurate. We do not get to control when the storm starts, ends or how it goes. We just bounce and maybe even thrash about until it is done.

So basically, if it ‘should’ be happening, then the awful internal story about how we’re a failure for being a mess for so long is not true. If thinking we are failing is not true and it hurts us to think it, we could maybe stop saying that to ourselves.

When we find ourselves saying ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me” or “I don’t know how to make it stop”, we could note that these are just scary facts of a reality, that we are in fact scared and sad, but that we are not failing.

In reality, something we do not like and that feels sad and scary if happening, that is not the same as failing at life. Finally, (warning this may make you want to smack someone) what if some things that are awful feeling are just the right things, what if the things that feel bad are not a sign something is wrong.

Instead, maybe some of the important things in life just hurt and are scary…then nothing is wrong. Then we settle in and look for quality people and places to hold us while we weather the storm, maybe that is all there is to be done. Maybe it would be the slightest bit easier if we stop pretending we have a choice..

May we find the people and places that help you weather our storms.

*NOTE: these times can be so devastating and painful that folks may not want to live through them. If this is genuinely where you or a loved one are at, it’s time to get help from a professional.

Number one thing to do when you’re going through hell.

Sometimes it’s our turn to go through hell. Whatever version of it you are going through, this will help. Fair advertising, there is no way out all together. You’ve got to go through. But, if you have to go through anyway, you may as well have one thing to focus on, one thing to be sure of.

The thing to do; Find people who love you. I’m serious. People who really love you and love you well. People who aren’t freaked out by you freaking out and who don’t need you to be okay.

This can take a bit. Especially if you haven’t been through hell before so you haven’t had to test your loved ones in this way. Be as open as you can, you may be surprised who the stand out people are in this category.

Then; let them help you. By help I mean, let them be near you, do things for you that you don’t want to do, and listen to you or be quiet with you. Drop your baggage about ‘not being a burden’ and just take all the time and care people will give you.

Being alone too much in the darkness of hell can really shake your sanity and makes hell so much more painful. You will need some alone time as you go through the very soul shaking darkest bits, but in between company (however crappy company you are to others) is important for your sanity and to feel loved.

Know it will be different eventually. Not soon enough and not tied up all pretty like a movie, but simply as a facet of time, eventually things will be change. When they are different and you can feel your self again, you will be glad that you didn’t go it all alone. This hell you are going through, will change your life forever. How lovely to let some people come through it with you and even better that they would.

How to support someone who is grieving.

Grief is a necessary part of living a full life. The best way to support someone who is grieving is to appreciate that their grief is part of having loved and invested ourselves in the world and in people. We don’t have grief if we didn’t care.
Grief is complex and can take a long time to move through, far longer then the time we tend to support people in our culture. So first off, be patient. In some cases it can be years of heart ache, particularly with loss of a partner or family member.
For the person going through it, there is a loss of identity and orientation to the world that is both painful and confusing. In the acute stages ,it can be hard for the person to think clearly, they may feel numb, distant or just not like themselves. Allowing people to be how they are and not making efforts to make them feel ‘better’ but rather making every effort to listen when they want to talk and not to push it when they don’t is ideal.
You are trying to be there for them, so ask what they want. Don’t make assumptions. You have to ask yourself what you are comfortable and capable with in terms of supporting this person in their grief.
Do you feel comfortable listening to and appreciating their difficult emotions (pain, anger, fear, etc) without changing them? Or are you better suited to make food and run errands for them or to take them to a movie? Be honest with yourself. If you are dying to hear how they feel and they don’t want to talk, are you able to set your needs aside and just be with them however they ask you to be?
The biggest thing about other people’s big life experiences is that they tend to make us feel a lot of things too. So if we have certain things we want to feel or don’t want to feel, we may not be able to make room for whatever they need.
So first, get clear with yourself about what your own comfort and needs are around their experience. If their experience is upsetting you, you could be looking for support for yourself rather then looking to support them.

Most of all be patient with the person and your relationship with them. They may be grumpy, weepy or distant. They may seem like themselves when it seems they should be upset. There is no precise formula. Being sincere is always the best bet, which also means if how you are is normally not very connecting or is goofy, that’s likely your best bet now.

One of the tough tings about grief is that is can be isolating because people don’t know what to say or how to be, so they avoid you or are super weird. Just be there and be yourself, your willingness to do that in the hard times means more than thinking of the right thing to say.

On that topic, what should you say? Ask if they want to talk about it in a direct way when its a good to talk. If they don’t, ask if they want to talk about something else. If they choose to connect with anyone on in nearly any way, that is success. You may not talk at all about ‘the elephant in the room’ but if you are there with that person doing what they like, you are helping.

Most of all, remember they are in charge of their grief, they are the only ones who can go through it. Trust them.

Fighting is an essential part of intimacy.

A colleague of mine, Katherine Schafler a Psychotherapist in NYC, wrote a great blog about fighting with your partner, which I wanted to share with all of you. It reminded me of two things, one a mentor telling me as long as a couple it still fighting there is hope, and two John Gottman’s amazing research on couples and intimacy. He has spent decades watching couples and tracking if they last the test of time. One of the key attributes for couples who stayed together was that they fought more often than couples who didn’t. Of course, the kind of fighting is important, but he points out that fighting often means they don’t let things fester, so they are able to live in the present unburdened by the weight of old wounds. Katherine outlines a ‘good fight’ and the value of fighting to enrich a relationship in the article below, she says fighting can either be constructive or destructive, its good stuff. So please, read on.



Mental health issues highlighted in very real ways in S-Town podcast

Recently I was asked by a writer at ‘SheKnows.com’ about my thoughts on the mental health issues raised in a rich new podcast called S-Town. The resulting article is linked here. It has some thoughtful angles on mental health and our ability and motivations for helping people.



S-Town podcast


How to have a better panic attack

One thing I most appreciate is when I get to help people change their relationship to their panic attacks. The reality is that we can’t always make them stop. Sometimes our best bet is to learn how to get through them better. I wrote this because I and so many people I love, know what it’s like to suffer from panic attacks. I wrote this hoping to help diminish both the suffering and taboo of panic attacks.

This is how it starts for me. My breath gets tight, I can’t focus and I can’t think. Oh no, oh no, oh no! It’s a panic attack. It literally feels like I am dying. Maybe I know what triggered it, maybe I don’t, it doesn’t really matter now. It’s here, consuming me. So, what do I do now? Panic, right? There are some other options either in addition to panicking or instead of panicking.

What is a panic attack

To understand better what those options are and why they are the best choices, we should do a quick overview of what a panic attack is. There are quite a few ways to think of it, but for brevity and clarity, let’s think of it in terms of the nervous system. A panic attack is when something triggers our nervous system into fight, flight or freeze mode. This means that the animal part of our brain is turned on high and the rational part of our brain is turned low or off. Our brain begins sending out chemical messengers that will help us run from or fight the perceived danger. This process speeds up our heartbeat, it makes our breathing get shallow and our rational brain (pre­frontal cortex) turns down/off because it’s too slow for the kind of response time we need if we are being chased by a lion. If there was actually a lion or real danger, this would be a great response because the hyper­arousal of our nervous system would turn us into a super fighter, runner or enable us to hide in stillness. The only problem is the definition of panic attack means that there isn’t actually a lion, but our whole body is behaving as if there is one.

Where to be the change

So, here are some options for when our body tells us something life threatening is happening and really our partner just left for milk without telling us or whatever seemingly random thing has triggered our panic. These are three steps that are generally progressive over an extended period of time that will help us have more tolerable panic attacks.Step One: Try to notice that we are having a panic attack. This sounds simple but often our rational brain is turned so low that we can’t even see what is happening, we just feel like we are dying. Beginning to say; ‘oh, this is panic attack’ is a significant first step in easing our rational thinking back online. Maybe over time we can say ‘this is a panic attack and it will end’. The panic attack still plays it’s course, but there is a tiny part of our brain that can see that it is a panic attack and this is the part that we want to grow. Maybe we begin to watch it and find the patterns even as it is happening. Things like; ‘oh, I start out anxious and then I always get angry and toward the end I feel sad and guilty.’ Panic attacks have cycles and patterns. If we can get to know your panic attacks, this fundamentally changes our perspective of the experience. We begin to notice when the attack is over. Even say it out loud; ‘that panic attack is over now.’ At this point we are not trying to stop them at all. As this part of our brain grows, the watching and labeling part, the observer, it will make the subsequent steps possible.

Then what?

Change one thing. Once we can name it ‘panic attack’ when it’s happening and we can notice when it stops, then we may be able to make some small choice during the panic attack. Still, the choice is not to skip the panic, but maybe to stand outside in the sun and wait it out, or tell our partner that we are having a panic attack or even just say to yourself: ‘I love you just as you are.’ The small change in the panic attack cycle will not likely feel momentous when it happens, but be assured, to be able to consciously change any part of that cycle is indicative of momentous change in our brain. In the beginning we may find that we can make the change sometimes and other times we can’t. Be patient, this change is slow but it is lasting. Play with change for a while. Notice how different changes affect the panic cycle, notice what is easy to change and what is harder. This skill and the information we gather is changing our brain. Literally, we are changing the neural connections and therefore the way our brain functions. It even looks different in a high resolution brain scan. These changes will make the last step possible.


Step Three: More choice. In step two we have begun to exercise choice in the panic process. Now we go for more challenging choices. Some of which could get us out of a panic attack and some of which just won’t. It takes a significant amount of learning and patience to figure out what gets us into a panic attack and what can shift it. By this point we know our panic attacks. We know the awful parts and the parts that maybe even feel somewhat bad in a good way. By becoming familiar with our panic attacks we will know what choices we can make mid-­panic to make it feel a little less intense. Everyone finds different points and styles to make their panic attacks more tolerable. Some folks will be able to direct it early so it doesn’t get as bad and others find ways to dial them down mid­-panic.It is impossible to say that every person who has panic attacks could someday cease to have them, but these steps can be very effective in helping us have a better panic attack. Put another way, it becomes a panic attack that is a bit more on our own terms. Imagine getting to create some requests of our panic attacks. For most of us, panic attacks are a bit less scary and mysterious when we can name them, watch them and make even small requests, if only some of the time. May we all know our panic attacks and find some space for choice.

Gen practices at North Boulder Counseling in Boulder, CO. She focuses on major transitions and anxiety, giving clients of all ages practical ways to address the issues compromising their well being. She has a present centered approach that appreciates the complexities of life. https://www.northbouldercounseling.com/

Creativity creates a path through pain

I was excited to share the article linked below about Syrian refugee children using art as therapy as a path through their pain and trauma. Both because of the power of art and play to offer a path through our pain and because of the understated point in the article about human resilience and our drive toward wellness. Have you ever watched a child draw or play for hours? They are solving problems, cultivating creativity and moving emotions. I do not want to idealize the life of a child. Really a child’s life can be incredibly challenging. Just think of the life events they meet each day with the limited skills and understanding of a new person in this life. It must be confusing and frustrating just like our adult lives can be. So course, they may need support in some cases, but it reminds me of how it is our human default to make every effort toward a life that makes sense and is satisfying in whatever ways we can find. This article reminds me that people hurt, people heal and everyone if working hard in their lives in whatever ways they can find to do well.