Month: January 2012

The Art of Positive Thinking

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We have all had those days where we wake up on the wrong side of the bed and find fault with everything for no reason at all.   The weather is not what you had hoped, nothing sounds good for breakfast, you don’t want to work, you don’t want to stay home, your spouse is annoying you, etc.   On days like that, it feels you just can’t win. It is often said that what we put out into the world is what we get back in return.  So with a little effort and a few simple skills, maybe you can turn your mood around, or get some good feelings back as a return on your investment in the positive!

  • At the first sign of negative feelings, stop and take a few minutes to simply breathe.  Breathe in the good, breathe out the bad.
  • First thing in the morning, think of something for which you are thankful.  At the end of the day, do the same.
  • When you find yourself angry or frustrated about a situation, ask yourself how you can find meaning in it.  What is the opportunity in the problem?  What can you learn from it?
  • Remember that no matter what happens, be it a small dilemma or an unexpected disaster, you always have a choice in the way you handle it.
  • When feeling overwhelmed, try to take a step back and look at things more objectively.  Taking a different perspective can change things dramatically.
  • Smile at someone.  Most likely, they will smile back at you!
  • Have a sense of humor about some of life’s foibles.  They often make for good stories later.
  •  In every busy day, take a few moments to enjoy the world around you.  Notice the crisp, sparkling snow or the sound of a breeze, or even the smell of a freshly mowed lawn.  The world is full of simple pleasures if you choose to look for them.

Positive thinking is a choice, and it is a choice we are all free to make.  Give it a try to see how it creates good feelings for you and those around you.  Chances are, the good energy you put into it will be returned tenfold!

Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC


Taking Time for Yourself

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Over the years, I have seen many people come in for therapy to work on feeling happier.  They are sad, struggling in relationships, recovering from divorce or struggling with parenting.  Yet, in their struggles they have forgotten about themselves.  Their focus has been outward on relationships and pressures, but stopping, turning attention inward, and nurturing themselves has been overlooked.  Without properly nurturing ourselves, we run out of fuel faster, leaving us with nothing to give.  We also may run into difficulty genuinely feeling good about others if we have forgotten how to feel good about ourselves, or have allotted no time for ourselves, hence causing friction in our relationships.

Take for example, the case of Julia, a thirty-something mother who works part-time and has two young children.  Her states that her marriage is good, although both she and her husband seem to always be busy or exhausted and in recent years have had very little time to devote to their relationship.  Julia is feeling sad and lonely, in spite of the constant time spent with her children or work.  She also is feeling anxious, worrying excessively about her health or her children’s health.  After spending some time hearing about her frustrations, I ask her how she spends her “alone time” and how she feels about that time, and about herself.  Not surprisingly, Julia really has to think about it.  She has no “alone time” and really has taken little to no time to consider how she feels about who she was before her life became so busy, who she has become, or who she wants to be.  She has lost touch with herself and her feelings of individuality.  In doing so, she has also lost some enjoyment of the simple pleasures that life offers.

At our very core is the need to love ourselves and enjoy our journey.  Enjoyment doesn’t always mean “fun,” but often means simply finding time for peace and contentment.  It can be as simple as a sense of satisfaction for a job well done or taking pleasure in a beautiful sunny day.  Without this, our mood can become dark or overwhelmed, triggering anxiety or depression.  If any of these feelings ring true for you, here are some ways you can break the cycle of self-neglect:

  •  Take action right away when you become aware of having overlooked yourself.  It is much easier to get back to feeling good if you make some changes early on, rather than letting the bad feelings affect relationships.
  • Make it a habit to spend at least 20 minutes alone each day doing something you enjoy.  It could be exercising, soaking in a hot bath, reading a book, or working on a craft.  As long as you enjoy it, and do not feel demands from others when doing it, then it can be extremely helpful in allowing you to regroup and center yourself.
  • Try not to judge yourself.  This is a hard one, as judging comes so naturally for most of us, particularly in this competitive society.  Nevertheless, particularly during your alone time,  allow your thoughts and feelings to flow without judgment of whether they are good are bad, productive or unproductive.  Thoughts and feelings just happen, and, at times, it is good to let them float in and out of your soul just like the clouds passing through the sky.
  • Try to be your own best parent.  How would you compliment your child for a job well done? Try to do the same for yourself.  The same thing holds true for consoling.  If you have had a bad day, comfort yourself with kind words or by wrapping yourself in a warm blanket and relaxing.  It is healthy to nurture ourselves and love ourselves just as we would our child.
  • Be open to accepting that you are human and will make mistakes.  By accepting your shortcomings, making amends, and moving on, you are carrying less weight and are more apt to forgive others.  This goes a long way towards contributing to happiness.

Remember that finding joy in life is often about taking pleasure in the small things and about loving yourself.  Setting aside time to be still and listen to the voice inside is a habit worth nurturing, and is one that can lead to satisfaction and peace both within yourself and in your relationships.


Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC



Learning to Manage Difficult Emotions

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We’ve all had those moments in life when we become so enraged we feel we could explode, or so upset we want to spread our misery to those around us.  However, if we don’t effectively manage those extreme feelings, the destruction we cause can be the source of much regret.  Take for example a woman who becomes increasingly irritated with her husband for arriving home late from work several days in a row.  Although she says nothing for several weeks, she eventually lets it all out in a huge explosion, citing everything he has done wrong during the course of the last few years.  She is threatening divorce, feeling there is just no hope for the marriage, feeling unheard.  After the hostility subsides, she is aware she has alienated her husband as a result of the attack, and has completely lost the focus of what initially irritated her.  She feels guilty and angry towards herself for acting that way and blowing things out of proportion.  Her husband is now focused on her attack as opposed to what he did to upset her, and she is then even more adamant that the next time she will not say anything and keep it to herself.  The destructive cycle continues.

The difficulty in handling emotions comes when we confuse “managing” our feelings with “suppressing” our feelings.  Feelings just happen.  They aren’t right or wrong, good or bad.  But, the way we choose to act on those sensations is something to evaluate.  We can voice our sentiments productively or destructively; and, therein we find the problem, or the solution.

When we suppress our feelings, or believe we should suppress our feelings, the negative emotions build.  We become more frustrated, more irritated, feel less understood and more isolated.  The feelings can morph into theories of victimization and helplessness.  We become a volcano that is ready to spew or one that has already exploded.  This can lead to the attitude of great remorse, and subsequent guilt, which in turn begins the cycle all over again.  On the other hand, if we allow our emotions to rule us, acting on every impulse, we often suffer the same consequences:  shame, isolation and frustration.  So how can we learn to balance our emotions with logic in an effort to productively cope with difficult feelings while still allowing ourselves to experience frustration, anger, sadness or other complex moods?  The following are a few tips to help you learn to make the most out the ever-changing climate of emotions:

  •  When you feel strong emotions, articulate what they are.  Do you feel sad?  Frustrated? Angry?  How would you describe the feeling? Write down what you feel.
  • Think to past experiences of expressing this emotion.  What has worked well, and what has not.  Let experience guide you.
  • Go for a walk, get involved in another activity, and then reassess your feelings later.  Many times, you will find the issue at hand wasn’t really that important and your anger, sadness, irritation has subsided.
  • Speak about your feelings using “I statements.”  “I feel angry, sad, etc.”
  • Set clear boundaries.  Sometimes people are afraid to set clear boundaries for themselves because they don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings.  Yet when those unspoken boundaries are violated, they are angry, sad or hurt and act with hostility towards the other.  Rather than create such animosity, feel confident in articulating your boundaries as long as you are clear, confident, and calm when explaining them.
  • Think in terms of what you can control—yourself.  Trying to behave in a way that will get your partner or friend to do what you want is completely unproductive.  They will always have the freedom to choose their actions, as will you.  What you can do is express yourself, and your choices for how you choose to conduct your life.  You have the choice to stay in a relationship in which the other person’s choices are not in keeping with yours, or to not be in such a relationship.  However, controlling their choices and their behavior will be difficult, if not impossible.
  • Remember that emotions are like the weather: they are guaranteed to change.

There are many tactics for handling difficult emotions.  It is important to allow yourself the freedom to feel them, yet it also good to be careful to strike a balance between feeling and expressing them productively.  Part of the richness of life comes from the variety of experiences we have, both easy and difficult, good and bad.  All of these experiences and their affiliated emotions are the dynamics from which we learn and grow.  Each time we confidently and thoughtfully express ourselves, we grow in maturity and self-esteem.  As with anything, only through practice can we improve on the skill, but it is worth the effort as we learn to recognize our own inner strength!


Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC