mindfulness

Weighting to Jump In: How Body Shame Made Me Miss the Party

Photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash

Photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash

A public service announcement for all the women

Ladies, we are heading towards the latter part of summer… and of course season change typically includes a transition in wardrobe, at least in the Northwest. And as a curvy woman, I for one am ready to be done with the pressure to find the most “figure-flattering” swimsuit coverup, and spanx to avoid the uncomfortable chafing that inevitably results from 80-plus degree weather and thick thighs in a dress.

Trending toward body positivity

In general, I believe society is making progress around body inclusivity and size diversity. Big applause for public figures like models Iskra Lawrence and Ashley Graham who are using their beautiful bodies, and more importantly, voices, to speak out against body shaming and diet culture. The publicity around Nike’s effort to support the movement with their full-figured mannequin was epic - and hopefully just the beginning of more clothing companies actively promoting size diversity. 

I’m seeing more unfiltered Instagram accounts and people, not just women, owning their realness. It’s about damn time, but we’ve still got a ways to go. By “we” I mean “we” as a collective and as individuals. We cannot expect change to happen unless we are willing to do our part individually. And I, a mental health professional who works with people struggling with body image and disordered eating, struggled to do my part this summer.

This is my confession. 

How I ended up on a party boat

It was a beautiful Seattle Saturday a couple of weeks back. As a plus-one, I attended a promotional/marketing event for Seafair because my partner works in the hospitality industry. The event was hosted on a partnering company’s boat, which meant swimsuits, skin, and a lot of women who fit the bill for “traditional beauty standards.” I overheard women talking about their month-long cleanses in preparation for the event, two-a-day workout weeks, and compliments on each others’ physiques. Many of these women have become dear friends, and to be clear, I have zero judgement towards anyone who values these things. I’ve noticed this is also how lots of women bond and connect with one another. 

When self consciousness takes over

As we humans tend to do, I got caught up in my head on that boat because I saw no other bodies that looked like mine in swimsuits. I thought to myself, Where are all the Ashley’s and Iskra’s? The diverse women I’ve been flooding my social medias with to drown out the other filtered, photo-CHOPPED ads that otherwise pop up everywhere? I wondered if I’d just created a safety bubble for myself and if actually, the rest of the world really hadn’t expanded beauty ideals. The hard work I’d convinced myself I’d done around accepting my curvy body flew out the porthole. 

A couple of people asked why I was keeping my pants on (they were whooey pants-- the really loose, wide-leg kind that go “whoo whoo” in the wind) and not getting in the water with my friends. I replied self-degradingly, “I might have accepted my cellulite but I’m not sure that the rest of the world is ready for that yet,” and laughed. OMG you guys, the SHAME.

The thing is, I wouldn’t have given a shit if I’d seen anyone with cellulite. In fact, there were probably plenty of women with this NORMAL thingy happening on their skin, and I didn’t even notice because my brain was scanning for data that confirmed my self-conscious thoughts. 

If I could do it all over again

I have some regrets about that day. If I could have a do over, I’ll be brave enough to be the Ashley on that boat...because maybe it would have helped other self-conscious women on that boat rock their water-wear as well. After all, it was really hot, and I was really sweaty and uncomfortable, but my body-conscious anxieties kept me from doing things I actually cared about. My partner spent most of the afternoon floating off the back of the boat, staying cool in the water. Instead of watching my first Blue Angels airshow holding the hand of the person I love most, cooling off in a floaty next to him in the water, I sat on the opposite end of the boat, fully clothed and overheated, and missed out on a memory with him. 

Tapping into my values

While I’m trying to be self-compassionate around not feeling ready to be an Ashley just yet, I allowed my fear of negative judgment to dictate how I chose to live my life that beautiful Seattle Saturday. I was distracted from my personal values of making memories with my best friend, a core concept of Acceptance-Commitment Therapy (ACT). If I had slowed down and checked in with myself, I would remember the Health at Every Size Model (HAES), which emphasizes that every body is a swimsuit body. It de-stigmatizes fatness and people with bigger bodies; it reminds us that fat isn’t bad, nor is it a sound indicator of someone’s health… and certainly not someone’s worth. These are some of the tools I use to help my clients with body image and disordered eating. 

Taking a cue from the boys

What I also didn’t notice that day was any men discussing these subjects. The guys on the boat were rocking their swimmies with all sorts of body types; none were turning down the sandwiches provided to avoid looking bloated, because heaven forbid they were hungry. I didn’t hear any guys commenting on their bodies or shaming themselves. 

Gals - what if we’re mindful about speaking about ourselves unkindly? What would we hear? What if we avoided the calorie conversations at the table or the justifications for wanting the regular sized order instead of the half? We can learn to recognize that these critical thoughts are only thoughts, not absolute truths. 

It is okay and very nurturing to give your body what it needs and wants, which might be salad one day and ice cream the next. When we relinquish the rules and judgement around food and physique, food becomes less of a shame/reward system and begins doing what it’s supposed to: nourishing our bodies so we have the energy to be present for whatever it is we care about for the rest of the beautiful Seattle days to come. 

I am here

I may be a therapist, but I’m not perfect and I’m always learning from my mistakes. If you need someone to help you leave body shaming on the deck while you go for a swim, let’s talk. The party is in the water. 


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Abby Erickson is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor at People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice. She helps people with anxiety and social anxiety learn ways to better manage their angst. She also helps people struggling with low self-esteem and body image issues be comfortable in their own skin. Abby is excited that there are still a few good days of summer left to get a second chance to try out that swimsuit and enjoy the sun.

How I Stopped Procrastinating and Started Meeting my Goals

Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash

Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash

Procrastination at our house 

Over spring break I went on vacation with my family. When I go on vacation, I like to bring books. A lot of them! Mostly nonfiction and one good fiction book. I imagine myself relaxing and reading for hours on end...although this rarely happens. 

On this trip, I brought a book called Solving the Procrastination Puzzle by Timothy A. Pychyl. This particular book was not for me, of course, but for my daughter. You see, my daughter procrastinated her homework just about every night this past school year. Although she would eventually get her homework done that night, she would inevitably lose sleep doing it and would wake up the next day feeling exhausted. The whole cycle would drive me crazy! I would work with her on strategies to plan out her evening, making room for a mental break and then setting a time to get to work. 

Nothing helped. 

My book on procrastination was going to change my daughter’s life! What a helpful and dedicated parent I was! As I started reading about all of the things people procrastinate on - eating healthy, saving for retirement, reaching out to a friend, homework, writing a blog…it suddenly hit me...I am a procrastinator! This is not about my daughter at all. This is about me! Ugh! 

Why do I procrastinate?

What is preventing me from getting the things done that I want and need to get done? I often make excuses that it is too hard, I am not in the mood right now, I will feel like doing it later, I need to do other things first like clean my house, do laundry, declutter...I mentally dismiss my need for doing the task by saying it’s not that important, I don’t really need to do that, there is no rush. 

But deep down, I know I am lying to myself. When I think of doing something I don’t want to do I get a feeling of dread and overwhelm and before I know it, my negative self talk starts to take over. Procrastination makes me feel better by giving me short term relief from doing the dreaded task. 

I temporarily feel better! Only to feel worse later.

Is it really that big of a deal to procrastinate? 

What’s the big deal? Everyone procrastinates, right? The problem is that not only do these undone tasks hang over my head, they make me feel bad about myself and get in the way of my ability to live my best life. When I procrastinate, I am not achieving my goals. This takes a hit to my self esteem. I start to wonder  - why am I not living my life according to my goals and values?

Wow! When I really thought about it, I realized that procrastinating has a huge impact on my life and how I view myself. And I thought this was all about my daughter!

How I get motivated 

As a human and a trained therapist, I consider what’s going to help me get motivated. If I want to help my daughter and my clients, I need to figure out what’s going to help me. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Scheduling time. With a little bit of practice and diligence, I try to schedule when I am going to sit down to get started on a project. Whether it’s at a specific date and time or after a planned activity. 

  • Noticing avoidance patterns. I try to be kind with myself in my expectations and pay attention to what I am saying to myself about my ability to get this task done. When I start to go down the very deceptive path of procrastination...I notice my trigger thoughts of I’ll feel more like doing that tomorrow or first I need to walk my dog and use that as a reason to get started...even if it’s just for twenty minutes. 

  • Managing expectations. I take note of the negative emotions that I am associating with the task and remind myself that I don’t need to do the task perfectly, it just needs to be good enough. This gives me a break from unrealistic expectations. Then...I think of how great it will feel to have the task completed and my goals achieved!

For more tips on increasing motivation, here’s an additional article

What about my daughter?

Even though this has not been helpful in the slightest bit to my daughter, maybe the most helpful thing I can do as a parent is to lead by example. No wonder she procrastinates! I’ve taught her well!

Progress not perfection

Don’t get me wrong...I still procrastinate. In fact this blog was supposed to be done a month ago...but I am working on progress, not perfection!

If you struggle with the pressure to get things done and don’t know where to start, trust me, I understand, and I’m here for you. Let’s figure out what works for you. 


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Kristin O’Hara is a mental health counselor associate at People Bloom Counseling in Redmond Washington. She helps couples find love and connection in their relationship. She also helps people struggling with midlife transitions. She is thankful to have kids who help remind her to be the best version of herself.

Why You Can't Relax In Someone Else's Yard (And What To Do About It)

Photo by CandiceP on Pixabay

Photo by CandiceP on Pixabay

Feeling weird as a guest 

The weather is warming up, which for many of us means travel plans to see old friends, maybe visit the in-laws this summer. I’ve written about the stress of hosting in the past, but it goes both ways: If you find yourself feeling weird as a guest - not knowing what to do with yourself and generally uneasy, you’re not alone.  This definitely falls into the “first world problem” category. But it’s a real thing, and I’m determined to find ways to overcome this mild annoyance.  

Not my own space 

I was visiting a friend recently over the weekend, and I had a bit of down time between activities. I hit the backyard by myself to get some fresh air and to give the host (and her husband and kid) some space. I stretched out on the grass, waiting to feel centered, to feel like myself again. While the sun felt good on my face, and I enjoyed the quiet breeze, I still didn’t get a reprieve from feeling generally uncomfortable. As long as I was in their yard, I couldn’t relax, and definitely couldn’t meditate the way I would in my own space. 

This could come down to classic social anxiety. When you’re already socially anxious, being away from home and someone’s guest exacerbates and highlights the anxiety because there is no escape to your comfort zone.

While I’ve never ended a trip early as a result of it, the thought has crossed my mind. 

Giving up control

Even when you visit the best of friends or notice very thoughtful touches to your stay, the guest is often in a position of less power. You have little control over the plan for the day, when you eat, when you sleep, and when you poop. This can feel chaotic to those of us who like a certain routine. If I can’t unbutton my top button after meals, let alone walk around the house in my undies, do I even want to see Cincinnati?! Well yes, I suppose I do. But the point stands.

Being a guest can take away your sense of agency. You might revert back to a state of helplessness, like a kid waiting for mom to tell you when to wake up, make meals, and take you to soccer. Even when asked what I want to do, I can lose sight of my own needs. I feel like I’m at the whim of the host - they know their town best and I have little idea what I want from a new experience. It’s different when I travel to a new place where I book a hotel room, and decide my itinerary; then I at least have some control over my day. 

All that to say, being a house guest can be disorienting.

The overly accommodating guest 

I’m the kind of introverted extrovert combo that loves people, but doesn’t know what to do with them. Even close friends and family. I’m also an empath, overly in tune with how others are feeling. I would never want my presence to be the cause of any unneeded stress for my host. This in turn makes me feel like I’m imposing, invading their space, in the way, a burden. I feel an incessant need to help and be accommodating. I know this can become annoying, so I check myself and then feel like I’m not helping enough. It’s a vicious cycle of self-censorship and anxiety. 

That makes it hard for me to enjoy my stay and their company.  

5 tips for overcoming guest anxiety

The point of traveling and seeing friends out of town is to have fun! And all my complaints are most definitely fun-killers.  Vacations should be relaxing, so I came up with ways to check all this anxiety and keep a level head:

1.     Get curious. Take an interest in the new and be open to new experiences. Set aside expectations, and try to keep an open mind to whatever ends up happening.

2.     Take a break when you need down time. No one can be non-stop fun all the time. And don’t worry if a nap in the hammock isn’t relaxing like it would be at home. You’re not in your element, and the newness can cause anxiety. That’s ok - frame it as a new experience.

3.     Offer to help, but don’t go over the top. Wash the dishes a couple times, clean up after yourself, but otherwise let the host do their host thing. Chances are, they don’t want you to take over running their home.

4.     Keep the trip short. I’m talking…one weekend. If it turns into a longer trip, find ways to entertain yourself, figure out your own transportation, do some exploring on your own. This will minimize the feeling that you’re a burden, and will give you some stories to share with your hosts about your adventures when you reconvene at the end of the day.

5.     Remember most hosts are happy to have you. They want to show off their city, wow you with a home cooked meal and impress you with the new kitchen remodel. Show your appreciation, and let them know when you’re enjoying yourself.

Get real

We all have a persona we put on when we’re “on” around people, and one that lets loose when no one is around. The irony is that I’m most comfortable, my best self - the one I want to share with others -  when I’m alone. If only I could teleport the relaxed, alone version of myself into someone else’s space for the weekend!

Sometimes visiting friends in new places brings out some realness. Ask yourself (and be honest when you answer): Do you truly like traveling? Do you prefer your own space? Are you curious? Are you open to going along with someone else’s plans?  It’s ok if the answer isn’t a resounding “yes!” 

I know it’s romantic to have a sense of adventure, to be carefree and spontaneous. But it’s also human to want comfort, peace, home, familiarity. Traveling and being a houseguest is revealing - it’s a great way to learn about yourself, your likes, dislikes, and best and worst traits. Think of it as a personal challenge and a learning experience. 

We can help!

I hope you have some fun plans for the summer. But if you just plan to stay in and read a book in the shade with some iced tea, that’s also great. Now if even the thought of going on these trips causes anxiety, we have counselors who can help! Does your relationship need a tune-up before visiting the in-laws? Or, are you feeling anxious seeing your high school friends again and you don’t know what to say? Improving couple relationships and managing social anxiety is our bread and butter, or toast and avocado. 


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Karen Lenz is the Office Whiz Extraordinaire at People Bloom Counseling. She writes blog posts as a human navigating this world, a client sitting across from a therapist, much like you. She is looking forward to a family reunion next weekend to celebrate the 4th, and she’s thankful that it will be at a campground so that no one will have to be concerned about being on their best guest behavior.

What My Husband Taught Me About Self-Care

Photo by twinsfisch on Unsplash

Photo by twinsfisch on Unsplash

It’s been a while

Last week, I woke up with a bad sore throat. It came suddenly, overnight, even though I tried to remedy it in the middle of the night. I verified that pharyngitis is contagious and I either canceled or moved my appointments online. I also gave the people I had scheduled the day after a heads up.

You see, I haven’t been sick like this for almost two years. I remember so because I wrote about it here. As a result, I wish to get better asap, but somehow, I thought I could get better by doing just as much as always...

But, the to-do list!

I had little human contact that day and grocery shopped for food. I added to the pile of dishes in the sink and later on, made a further mess of the kitchen by boiling oatmeal over our gas stovetop. Twice.

Spending most of the day at home, I thought, Well, there’s laundry to do. I can unload the dishes and empty the sink. I can make congee. I can work on the copy on my website. The list goes on. At the end, I did none of that. I crashed on the couch until my husband came home and I told him I hardly did anything. “That’s good. You’re not supposed to. You should be resting.”

Learning from my husband

Then I remember the times when he has been sick and he indeed did very little. He worked minimally, ate, napped and watched episodes on the couch, day after day. He focused his energy on resting and recovering. In fact, when he’s stressed and he still needs to take out the garbage, he will do just that: take out the garbage and leave the recycling for next week. He attended to his priorities and waited on the less important tasks. 

While I can imagine this turning into an argument for some couples, like, “If you’d only help out around the house more!” or, “How am I supposed to know what you need when you’re sick?” I saw it as an opportunity to learn from my husband about self-care.

Not my usual self

Because I haven’t been sick for a while, I’d forgotten how tiring it can be. I don’t have the same level of energy and my mind doesn’t work the same way. Just because I have the time does not mean I can. Just because I can does not mean I should.

My husband encouraged me to cancel my engagements the next day so I could fully rest. I still ended up going to my morning appointment and slipped into the office for some computer work. I did cancel the date to hang out with a nine year old, though by mid-afternoon, I thought about resuming the date because I felt like I could. I’m glad I didn’t. By the time I got home, I was exhausted again. I was on an unexpected call and did a load of laundry that could’ve waited.

Apparently, I haven’t learned my lesson. Head knowledge doesn’t always transfer into actions taken.

Still wanting more

Alas, the next day, I slept in but woke up to learning that one of my favorite local artists will be hosting a booth at the Oddmall in Monroe! We also bought tickets to see Westside Story midday. “Can we do both?” I said enthusiastically, only about 70% recovered. “They’re in opposite directions. It’ll be too much for you to do both,” answered my husband. As if I’d forgotten everything that has transpired the last two days.

So we had a sad, but amazing experience at the musical, got a dinner takeout and came home. I left the dishes and stove cleaning to him and was able to sustain energy until later that evening.

Asking for what I need and want

Aside from doing less and giving myself the permission to rest, I also learned the importance of being clear with my requests, especially when I have less emotional and physical bandwidth. “Hon, I’ll need the pot to make congee. Can you please do the dishes by tomorrow?” This is a more vulnerable and direct ask, compared to, “You’re going to do the dishes, right?” When he doesn’t know my needs, the why and the when, then he isn’t given the opportunity to meet them. He also doesn’t understand why I get upset every time I pass by the boatload in the sink. It’s not just about the dishes. It’s much more than that.

My simplified life

As you read this, you might be thinking, But Ada, you don’t have kids! When you have kids, you don’t get to rest! It’s true, we’re a household of two and our lives are simpler. What’s more, we hear stories from friends that when their kids are in school or daycare, they get sick half the year!

The thing is, while we don’t have little people demanding our attention, the tendency to push myself, to do just as much, to be short with my husband, and to assume that he can read my mind, are still there. At the end of the day, stress will suppress my immune system and an argument with my spouse is the last thing I need when I’m sick.

Flexing a new muscle

As I continue to flex the muscles of doing less and asking more vulnerably in my relationship, I wonder if you might be going through similar things. Just because you have time does not mean you can. Just because you can does not mean you should. 

The counselors here at People Bloom would love to help you flex the muscles of self-care! We can also help you with your relationship, so you can learn to ask more vulnerably for what you want and need.

Don’t wait until you’re under the weather to get help.


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Ada Pang
 is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. When she’s sick, she likes to eat congee, drink hot water with lemon, and watch comedy. She’s sad to have finished the remaining episodes of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency on HBO.

Perfection Sucks (Here's Why)

Photo by Taylor Smith on Unsplash

Photo by Taylor Smith on Unsplash

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy-- the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

-Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

The lens we grew up with

Like many of my clients, I used to struggle with this aching pressure to be “perfect.” To have it all together, be “good”, hard-working...always be there for others in a time of need. That’s because patterns of human behavior are established during early childhood, both directly and indirectly, and we tend to repeat them throughout our lives… unless we are able to gain insight around them. Through lived experiences, these patterns are either confirmed or disputed. Since we’re not always conscious of them, we can go about our lives living out these messages as “truths”. For better or for worse, these beliefs then become the lens by which we understand ourselves and others in the world.

A recovering perfectionist

Hi, I’m Abby and I’m a recovering perfectionist.

My upbringing informed me that I could earn a sense of belonging and “lovability” by being “good” and doing what I thought I was supposed to. I pressured myself to hide insecurities and flaws for fear of rejection. Inevitably, those imperfections revealed themselves at times. When they did, I felt ashamed. In other words, I felt shi*y about myself… like really shi*ty.

Shame is a heavy feeling that makes us want to hide. It tells me that I’m “bad” and it did a number to my self-esteem and growth. The vulnerability in having my flaws and shortcomings be known was terrifying and avoided at all costs. My internalized belief went something like this: “If you really knew me, you wouldn’t like me.”

My shadowy parts were best kept… well, in the shadows.

My clients as my teachers

Enter the power of therapy. No, it’s not what you think. My clients were my teachers!

When I first began working with clients, I felt strangely connected to them as I got to know them. I wondered where it came from and why it felt so different, so much more fulfilling than any of my other relationships at the time. My clients were of different ages, genders, races, cultures, and socio-economic status… one client was just beginning to learn English. We couldn’t have been more “different.” So how was it that I felt so unusually close to them?

Brene’s work was staring me in my face.

Flaws and shortcomings: Please come in!

Clients were showing up and expressing their worries, regrets, greatest insecurities, and deepest fears. I sat with them as they spoke and felt it. They were allowing me to see their shadowy parts and really letting me in. The thoughts and feelings they exposed didn’t make them bad or unlovable… On the contrary, it humanized them and made them relatable and real. Though our stories and struggles were not the same, I was able to connect and feel close to them because of their vulnerability. As I empathize with them, they felt seen and accepted for their authentic selves, comprised of all the black and white and grey in between.

Perfectionism: You may step down now

The experience I gained from my clients prompted me to seek this kind of authenticity in other relationships. Not gonna lie, it was hard. It definitely rocked the boat in some relationships and ended others, but it also created room for more intentional relationships moving forward. I learned that while the image of perfection might attract others’ envy, attention, or idealization… it sure as shit doesn’t foster meaningful relationships or a genuine sense of belonging.

If you look at it from another perspective, the people we think have it all together often makes us feel bad… because we know we don’t. Our self-esteem gets slapped. We probably find relief in the moments when “perfect” people mess up and aren’t so perfect.

Because if even they mess up, perhaps we can too.

Free to be fully me

Once I’d decided enough was enough, there was this sense of liberation in knowing that it was okay to have flaws and screw up and be wrong. The shame subsequently dissipated because I no longer believed the shadowy parts made me “bad.” Negative feelings come and go easier. The sky isn’t falling when I realize I mess up or when I hurt people I care about. The “I’m sorry” doesn’t taste like vinegar.

Free to be fully you

We all feel pressure to conform to an idealized image of ourselves, whatever your version of “perfection” is. Please don’t judge yourself for it… it’s not your fault. And, if you do judge yourself for it… that’s okay too. We can work on that. You might struggle with criticism, difficult relationships or low self-worth. If that’s the case, you can start your journey toward self-acceptance and real connection with others. I’m here to walk alongside you, and your shadow.


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Abby Erickson is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor at People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice. She helps people with anxiety and social anxiety learn ways to better manage their angst. She also helps people struggling with low self-esteem and body image issues be comfortable in their own skin. Abby looks forward to meeting each new client, because each person she meets is an opportunity to grow and learn from each other.



Why It's Not Easy to Just Be Happy

Photo by Geralt on Pixabay

Photo by Geralt on Pixabay

Why can’t I just be happy? This question, or something like it, often comes up frequently during initial sessions with folks I work with. Typically I respond to this question…”Well, what does ‘happiness’ actually mean to you?” In a perfect world...what would that look like, how would you know you’ve reached “happiness?”

Constant happiness, anybody?

Not to burst bubbles - the reality is that we humans are not conditioned to live in a state of happiness at all times… though it may seem that way when looking at the lives of others. Now if we hung out with these “happy” people in different settings, we would likely notice that at times they too find themselves in a space of emotional “meh,” anxiety, sadness or fear. We are conditioned to perform in various environments in order to achieve or avoid certain outcomes. For example, Sara is outgoing, lively and smiling around the office, every day… All. The. Time. She may be hoping that her optimism and great people skills will eventually land her a promotion.

Keeping up the happiness

We also get comfortable with roles we believe we are expected to play. Maybe one day Sara had a rough morning and did allow herself to show up bummed out. Then Jon two cubicles down, continuously pestered her about why she wasn’t “being herself” that day. “What’s going on with you?” Others have now confirmed Sara’s identify as the office’s ‘perky, go-git-er,’ expecting her to show up that way.

The part we don’t see is that Sara, fully human, still has rough days. But, instead of exposing that at work, she goes home, cries with her cat, and downs a bottle-size “glass” of wine (you know the ones I’m talking about). The moral of the story is this: We see others as they think they should be seen, at the expense of not allowing them to show up as they really are.

First things first: survival

Ever considered why 24-7 happiness is not possible? If we look at this through an evolutionary lens, we can conclude that our primitive brain’s most critical goal is survival. We survive by accessing primary resources including food, shelter, water, and sex.* If you don’t accomplish those pursuits, you are screwed. Even if you lived on but were laissez-faire in your approach to survival, your genetic line will likely become lunch.

And here’s something else: Another aspect of survival involves belonging to a group and connecting with others.* Cause’ back then, flying solo didn’t mean strength and independence, it meant YOU DEAD. It meant you literally didn’t have someone to cover your back and it’s you against the saber tooth tiger. Ergo, humans are social creatures: we hunted and gathered together so we could share resources and survive.

Some things haven’t changed

The thing is, that drive-to-seek-resources instinct hasn’t gone away with time.* If anything, we’ve evolved to become more sensitive to threat; the threat just looks different in the modern world. Nowadays we are bombarded with messages that tell us we aren’t good enough the way we are - that we need to be better, buy more, go faster, or be forever alone and unhappy. It’s pretty hard to be happy when society tells us that happiness is only achievable with success and material goods. But even with success and stuff, happiness isn’t guaranteed. Consider all the tragic deaths of celebrities via suicide and overdose… even the people with the most access to resources don’t always reach the “happy” we think we need to find.

Challenging baseline happiness

So does all of this happiness crap just mean we’re modern-day screwed? Fortunately, the answer is no. The good news is, simply becoming aware and practicing certain skills can help us see happiness through a more attainable, realistic frame. We no longer need to pretend to be someone we’re not. We can have the flexibility to feel the ups and downs of our emotions, happiness or otherwise, and make choices that make for a meaningful life.

Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a type of therapy that tackles a lot of misconceptions about happiness. With practice, ACT helps to rewire our brains and experiences, guiding us to respond to positive and negative emotions in healthier ways.* I work with these concepts regularly and teach tools to help you be Gucci (Millennial phrase I guess… Urban Dictionary told me it means “good”. Last I checked that was just another kind of bag I can’t afford, but whatever). We can work together to figure out what’s really important to ya in your life and help you find your true, genuine “happy.”

*Borrowed from The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris (2007)


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Abby Erickson is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor at People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice. She helps people with anxiety and social anxiety learn ways to better manage their angst. She also helps people struggling with low self-esteem and body image issues be comfortable in their own skin. When she’s not in the therapy room, Abby finds her moments of happiness from working out, reading, or hitting up an acoustic show with a glass of vino in hand.

The Emotional Roller Coaster of Tidying Up

Photo by tu tu on Unsplash

Photo by tu tu on Unsplash

Marie Kondo has spread spring cleaning fever across the nation with her Netflix show Tidying Up. If you’ve been watching and think you might want to venture on your tidying up journey, maybe my experience will inspire you to take the plunge. I read Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying up a few years ago and followed through with her KonMarie method to declutter my life.  

Don’t let the title fool you - there is no magic trick it; the process is tedious, emotionally draining and physically exhausting. But the result is absolutely magical. The KonMarie method helps you declutter with mindfulness and intention, and it might just be the most rewarding project you’ll ever set your mind to.

How do people become collectors?

As the daughter of an immigrant mom from the old country, I inherited a tendency to hang on to things. Growing up, everyone in my family had their own collections - I collected stickers and stationary;  my older siblings saved stamps and coins, my dad had his books. At the dinner table, we did not waste a drop of food and ate leftovers for weeks. We complied treasures at yard sales every weekend, and never threw functional things away, because “you never know if you’ll need it.”

Not only do I hold onto practical items, but I’m also sentimental - and not just for heirlooms from childhood or memorabilia. I’ll attach sentimental value to a shopping list from my adult life 10 years ago because it reminds me what I bought when I was living in that brownstone apartment in downtown Portland. If I don’t keep it, how else will I remember those days?

If your stuff is piling up and you don’t know where anything is, it’s probably contributing to your stress. But anyone who gets attached to things knows that their stuff is more than that. Stuff symbolizes important times, events, rites of passage, and sometimes it just brings us comfort.

When life forces you to make a change

My first indication that I had a problem was my fridge. You open my freezer at your own risk (of avalanche). The wake-up call was when my boyfriend cleaned out my fridge and found enough expired condiments and rotting food to fill a black 55 gallon garbage bag. Seeing it all in the bag was a shock!

I had become my mother.

I was actually upset with him for throwing away ancient freezer-burned food. I was strangely attached to it, because I bought it at some point for a reason, and I felt connected to it. And I felt embarrassed. A whole slew of emotions come out when you’re confronted with your own hoarding tendencies.  But I understood that my attachment to 3 year old frozen veggie dogs was ridiculous - and that was my turning point. Once the food was in the bag, I felt like a weight had been lifted. I wanted to face my clutter demons all over the house.

At the time I read Kondo’s book, I was moving from an 1100 sq ft apartment with storage where I lived on my own, to an 800 sq ft space with no storage that I’d be sharing with my boyfriend.  I had no choice but to downsize, which was a great motivator. If you’re about to embark on the great tidying, it helps telling yourself you have to downsize as you go through your stuff - even if you don’t. Someday you might, and if you have too much stuff, it’ll just be more work for you, later.

The Joy of Giving

Parting with my stuff was hard, but what made saying goodbye easier was knowing that my things would be more appreciated elsewhere. On the day I moved, I had a giveaway “free-sale” and got to see my old stuff spark joy in others. My Anatomy and Physiology textbook was going to a college student who would continue to use it. Craft supplies went to a kindergarten teacher and a mother of young kids. Tennis rackets were going to a couple of best friends in high school. My old pottery work that I wasn’t too proud of was going to be treasured in someone else’s kitchen. My stuff was doing a lot more good with others than in dark corners of my closets.

This brought me joy.

The decluttering process

The KonMarie method guides you step by step on how to part ways with different types of items, starting with clothes. Clothes can be overwhelming to sort at first, but become easier the more you do it. I had collected so many items in my 20s that I kept into my 30s -  vintage dresses alone made a mound that took up my whole queen bed.

It took me weeks to sort through clothes, and it was tedious at first. The difficulty came from the feeling that by getting rid of things from my past, I’m dismissing my former self. But the beauty of this method is that you get to honor those items by parting with them lovingly, thanking them for their service. While this may sound corny, showing gratitude was crucial for sentimental folks like myself who get attached to things.

I kept only items that “sparked joy” that I wanted to bring with me to the future. I got rid of about 75% of my clothes and have no regrets. Now I know where all my clothes are, and I wear only things that fit well and represent who I am now and who I want to be. While it’s not perfect, I take pride in the organization that I’ve kept up. That’s part of the magic: once you’ve started a system that makes your life easier, you never go back to keeping things in unruly piles.

Reckoning with your past and present

Sorting through old papers was emotionally draining, but the epiphanies I had as a result were truly life changing. I attach so much importance to papers. I used to keep all my homework, notes and essays from college. School papers represented what I learned -  ideas that changed me and helped me grow as a person. Would throwing away these things be a denial of my own identity? And was it even my identity now that 15 years have passed? Am I the person I hoped to become 15 years ago? These thoughts fully spiraled into an identity crisis as I sat on my bedroom floor buried in piles of paper, overwhelmed and emotionally distraught. When I watch the Netflix show and see people go through similar struggles while sorting, I realize how universal this feeling is.

When you find things from your past, you’re forced to reckon with who you were, who you are now, and all the ways you’ve changed. Going through it was an important ritual for me in order to accept my current life and let go of the past. It was time to forward. What I discovered was this: I can get rid of things and still know who I am, and accept how I’ve changed from who I used to be. If you watch the show, you see that other people find self acceptance through this process. The work is brutal, but they come through this process better in the end: free of things that used to hold them back.

How I parted with sentimental items: the power of one

I used to keep brochures from a good play, invitations to friends’ weddings, academic journals from interesting college classes. Written documents represented my life and I honored those times through keepsakes that spark nostalgia, but not necessarily joy. Ultimately, it’s not sustainable to keep everything as a memento.

I took the time to glance at each document and process how it made me feel. I chose the one item that represented each time in my life, or each person I wanted to remember best. I only kept one example of an essay from each important class, one love letter from each relationship, one birthday card from a good friend. I took pictures of documents and journaled how it felt to read old letters. I extracted the memories from items, without having to keep them - and said goodbye.

In the end I consolidated 4 banker boxes of paper to just one box of items I cherish most. I’m thankful to have gone through this, because now when I look at that box, I no longer feel the overwhelm, guilt and avoidance I used to feel. Prized possession are inside. There is something cathartic and therapeutic about going through old stuff. Once you do it, you’ll get it out of your system and feel better - like a good cry.

Loving your space and mental clarity

We moved to our first home since my tidying days, which meant that I got to bring only things we love into our permanent space. We’ve curated our things and keep only our most valued and precious items that spark joy. My partner’s favorite photos from art school and only my presentable pottery pieces are displayed. We feel at peace when we spend time in our home together. We have our spaces for doing art, for relaxation, for working. My mind is less cluttered as a result of a cleaner house. We can concentrate, relax, and breathe in our space, and this has done wonders for our mental health and our relationship.

If you’re feeling the burden of too much stuff, Kondo’s book is a good place to start. It could plant the seed for a magical transformation in your life.  

And, if you feel like your emotional life is too cluttered, call our therapy office. Our therapists will be glad to help.


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Karen Lenz is the Office Whiz Extraordinaire at People Bloom Counseling. She writes blog posts as a human navigating this world, a client sitting across from a therapist, much like you. She is thankful to get to share her experiences with you. Her Tuesday evening plans involve doing laundry, an activity she now enjoys because every shirt has its place, and every sock has its partner. She hopes you can find your joy in decluttering too.



Goal Setting in 2019: Increasing your Motivation for Change

Photo by Luis Quintero on Unsplash

Photo by Luis Quintero on Unsplash

It’s the first week of New Year’s and a lot of people like you are thinking about New Year’s resolutions, goal setting, and life hacking in 2019. There’s something about a new year that hits the restart button for us. It’s 1st quarter again, the challenges of 2018 are behind us, and the hope for a new beginning ahead.

Last year, I rained on your New Year’s parade by reminding you of the realities of setting new year’s resolutions. This year I’ll share with you my struggles, how I keep at it, and urge you to move towards your goals for a better health, relationship, and life.

My burden to bear

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when my shoulder pain started. Has it been there for six or nine months? Mostly definitely after the two fender benders. Being in front of the computer most days doesn’t help. Leaning towards my clients during emotionally intense moments doesn’t either. I wake up everyday sensing the pain in my right shoulder. I make every effort to sleep only on my back. Nonetheless, I couldn’t lift my arm in the morning without significant strain.

Not a very good patient

You see, I get PT and massage every two weeks. The problem is, I don’t always follow through with recommendations. PT exercises will only take 10-15 min to complete each day, but I’m not a very good patient.*

*took a break to do one of six exercises

They’re not fun, quite boring actually, and I need to rest in between exercises before starting over. Sometimes I go off to do something else in between, leaving the TheraBands wedged between closed doors. It wasn’t until I tried to go to the bathroom and wondered why the door was shut did I realize, “Oh, PT exercises…”

The costs of staying the same

Aside from the significant pain I feel when I first open my eyes, I feel like a crab fumbling around as I dress myself. I need help getting the bed ready for house guests because my arm tires easily from pulling and lifting. I feel the strain when I do meal prep, carry heavy things, and reach for longer than 10 seconds. During yoga, I couldn’t lower myself all the way down from plank pose without my knees also coming down. I hesitate starting Orangetheory not knowing if my body will get upset with me the next day.

What I’ve tried

So I’ve read everything under the sun about setting SMARTER goals*, goals that are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Risky, Time-stamped, Exciting and Relevant. I even note PT exercises on my quarterly planner as a recurring goal. I tried to carry a TheraBand with me to work so I can do these exercises where I spend the most time, only to bring it home, untouched. I tried to set aside time in the morning before breakfast or right when I come home, but when that time passes, I’d tell myself, “I guess I’ll have to wait until tomorrow...”

The worst of it was when I tried to tie it to something that I routinely do, like, “If I don’t do my exercises, then I can’t floss either.” Yes, very strange indeed. Other people might have flossing as one of their goals; for me, I can’t go to bed without flossing. It just feels wrong. And yet, I did it one time because that was how much I didn’t want to do my exercises. I swiftly separated the associations between these two activities.

It just wasn’t working.

Why this matters

I don’t have an epic tale to tell you, one filled with a triumphant overcome, of a body free of pain and discomfort. What I will tell you is a daily reminder of why it’s important to do my exercises and why it matters that I experience less pain.

I want to spend less time commuting to this or that appointment. I want to be able to carry a Camelbak with 2 liters of water and to do so with ease when I hike in New Zealand next month. I want to start Orangetheory and see that my body is capable of healing from what has developed into more of a chronic problem. I want to put my arm around my husband’s waist like he does mine when we’re walking side-by-side.

The truth of the matter is, this shoulder pain has really limited me and I don’t want to live like this.

What’s working

I no longer set a definite time for when I need to do my exercises. My TheraBands are readily available and you don’t know this but I actually completed all my exercises for the day in between writing this blog. Every time I pass up an opportunity to do my exercises, I ask myself, “Why not now?” and use that minute to do a prep. I vary the order of the exercises so they feel fresh to me. Over time, I notice less pain, greater range of motion and that encourages me to keep going.

I still fall back into my old ways but I know it’s never too late to pick it back up. And, I don’t have to wait until it’s the beginning of a new year, the beginning of a new quarter, or the beginning of a new anything to do so. It can happen right here, right now.

But, that’s me. So, what about you?

Let’s talk change

I’d encourage you to reflect on the following questions** as you set goals for 2019:

  1. Why do you want to make this change?

  2. Are you capable of this change?

  3. How might this benefit you?

  4. Why does this change matter to you?

Can you remember why you’d be willing to disrupt your routine to make this change, even when it’s inconvenient, boring, uncomfortable, or even painful? What are the costs of things staying exactly the same? What might you gain if you put one foot in front of the other? If you give up soon after the new year’s, who is there to support you to get you back on track?

When you ponder these questions and answer truthfully, it’ll firm up your “why” for making this change. When you’re invested in the process and the outcome, it’ll increase your motivation to see your goals to the end. But don’t stop there: While you can read and think about goal setting all day long, the most important step is still taking actions towards the things that matter to you. As you eat, live and breathe the change you want for your life, ask yourself, “How do I like this new normal?”

You can always tweak and adjust as you go.

Change is slow

No one likes to take it slow. Everyone, to some degree, want things to happen yesterday, with lasting effects and little effort. Sorry to break it to you, but Rebecca Solnit, an American writer, says it best -

“Even earthquakes are the consequences of tensions built up over long spans of time, imperceptibly, incrementally. You don’t notice the buildup, just the release. You see a sick person, an old person, a dying person, the sight sinks in, and somewhere down the road you change your life. In movies and novels, people change suddenly and permanently, which is convenient and dramatic but not much like life, where you gain distance on something, relapse, resolve, try again, and move along in stops, starts, and stutters. Change is mostly slow.”

If you want to make sustainable changes that will last throughout the year, we’re here to help. We’ll be truly human, seeing you through your “stops, starts and stutters” without judgment, while moving you closer to the life you want to live. Give us a call today.

* Borrowed from The Full Focus Planner
** Borrowed from Motivational Interviewing


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Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. A day after writing this blog, she went to her first Orangetheory class. For the next few days, she walked around the office like a crab. She will go back. “You’re not out of shape,” says Jake who checked her in, “We just need to get you feeling stronger.” So it is.


Holidays Gone Awry (It's Gonna Be Ok)

Photo by Nicholas Peloso on Unsplash

Photo by Nicholas Peloso on Unsplash

“How was your Thanksgiving?” That question got thrown around a lot in the office lately. After the long weekend, we all caught each other up on our getaways, covering riveting topics like visiting the in-laws, kids back from college, and winter driving conditions. This conversation escalated to another fun one: swapping stories of holidays gone awry.

We can do our best, but we’re only human. As our last post indicated, the holidays are such high pressure events, full of stress and expectations. We want to make things perfect; we want to make things “right,” but at what expense? Could the holidays be wonderful because we’ve created memories based on something gone wrong?

Here at People Bloom, we’re outing ourselves with a collection of stories of our own holidays gone wrong. We live to tell the tale, and we still managed to get our family and friends around us.

Without indicating who’s who, perhaps you can guess which story belonged to whom…

Muddy all over

There was the time I was responsible for bringing stuffing, rolls, and picking up cousin Lisa for my boyfriend Jay’s parent’s dinner. I got all the cooking done with plenty of time to spare and started to head out, but my car wouldn’t budge. At the time I was living in Portland’s west slope, a famously hilly and muddy part of town. The tires were spinning out and the more I revved the more they sank. Growing up in Idaho, I knew a thing or two about tires spinning out in snow…but mud?!

Long story short, I had to get my neighbors involved in pushing me out of the mud, interrupting their T-day dinner. I got mud splatter all up my white pants, and was nearly two hours late to dinner. This was before cell phones, or at least before everyone and their mother had one. I wasn’t able to call the hosts to tell them I’ll be late because Jay, who was already there, didn’t have a cell phone and I didn’t have his mother’s number. They kindly waited for me to start (and for the stuffing and rolls) and I felt awful that I postponed dinner for so long. They were one of those wholesome all American happy families that had their act together, so disappointing them felt extra mortifying.

. . .

Our dog was in the soup

It was over Thanksgiving when I was playing with the family dog. Frank was new to us, a German Shepherd we’ve gone back to the breeder to visit time and again before we finally brought him home. It was hard to keep my hands off of him when he was swirling around us in all of the festivities!

Between laying out the table settings and checking the ham in the oven, I gave Frank a really good tummy rub. Our bonding time was interrupted when mom called me over to debone the turkey for the broth. Dad has gotten most of the meat off and we wanted to start the broth for the next day. Without thinking twice, I used my fairy fingers to work my way through the carcass. It wasn’t until half way through did I realize I’d forgotten to wash my hands after playing with the dog all day!

My sister ratted me out and I got a good scolding. Yes, it was gross, but the good news is no one got sick that holiday. We’re still family, right?

. . .

Still got married

One year, I had to choose between my future wife and Thanksgiving dinner. I was supposed to attend my own wedding rehearsal, which was scheduled right before Thanksgiving dinner, but the two events were on opposite sides of town. I was living in LA as the time, and my best man and I headed out but realized there was no chance of making it to the rehearsal with LA traffic on the 405. This story predates the cell phone, so I wasn’t able to report my whereabouts to my fiancée. I ended up turning around and going to the Thanksgiving dinner at my sister’s house, opting to miss my own wedding rehearsal.

Imagine the stress that must have caused - the thoughts that must have ran through my fiancée's head - did he get cold feet and run off? Did he crash and was stuck in a ditch? Nope. Just LA traffic. Everyone met up later that night, so I was able to explain myself. I did get married the next day; it’s not like I blew that too. Karen told me I’m lucky to be married. It’s funny now, but it was definitely stressful at the time.

. . .

Know your countertops

As a couple, my partner and I would go to his Uncle Steven’s for Thanksgiving every year. There’d be all kinds of chips and dips, salads and five different dressings, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, oven roasted veggies, jello and of course turkey. Dad would bring dried persimmons, sourced from his tree and dried in his backyard while I’d supply chocolates of all kind from Seattle.

The “young people” try to be helpful in the kitchen and this particular year, we were handling something in and out of the oven. Corian, quartz, granite, they look about the same, right? Well, we don’t actually know when this happened or who was responsible but someone placed the hot oven tray directly on the corian countertop. As it turns out, Corian doesn’t take heat well and it left a huge crack! It cost Auntie Kathy $500 to fix and we didn’t hear about it until years later.

. . .

Who needs turkey, anyway?

Our family friend this Thanksgiving recounted the story of the year they dropped the turkey. They salvaged what they could, but it sure detracted from some of the illusion of holiday magic. The nice thing is, there are always so many other dishes to serve, people hardly miss it.

A few years back, just when we perfected our turkey recipe, we bought an expensive new barbecue grill. Naturally we had to try out “baking” the turkey in it! I stuffed it with my signature stuffing: bread cubes, raisins, sage, yellow onions, celery and butter. I followed the instructions but something went horribly, terribly wrong! I scorched the turkey and it was inedible.

Lesson learned: Always test out a new appliance, like a barbecue, before the holidays, ideally for a less consequential meal.

It’s gonna be okay

Yes, it’s disappointing when you work so hard to host your loved ones and it ends in disaster. But it sure makes memories for years to come! If America’s Funniest Home Videos taught us anything, it’s that these holiday flops happen all the time to families across the country.  Something about the extra pressure to get something right almost guarantees that a mishap will happen. And it turns into comedy gold! Families often look back and laugh, because…wouldn’t you?

Will you be that family this holiday and create memories regardless of what happens? Happy holidays to you and yours from the tribe here at People Bloom!


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Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. Her favorite tradition is to give gifts whenever she sees fit and not to wait for the holidays.

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Bob Russell is a therapist at People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. He helps teens and their families thrive through the adolescent years. He also helps twenty somethings figure out their place in life. He does all the meal planning and cooking in the home and likes his holidays low key with immediate family.

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Karen Lenz is the Executive Assistant at People Bloom Counseling. She’s the office admin whiz - not a therapist. She writes blog posts as a human navigating this world, a client sitting across from a therapist, much like you. She is quite the cook and baker and her kitchen smells ah-mazing over the holidays!

A Case For Doing Less This Holiday Season

Photo by Andy Chilton on Unsplash

Photo by Andy Chilton on Unsplash

I’m declaring “holiday stress” a national mental health crisis. I just read one of those 5 tips to reduce holiday stress articles, and one suggestion for letting off steam was to go to a private place to scream out all your pent-up rage. Really, Cosmo? This is solid advice for a med student about to take their board exams…but the holidays should never reach this level of stress!

The pressure we put on ourselves to make the holidays magical is massive. For many of us, it comes from a place of caring; let’s make it special for the kids, create memories, carry on a sense of tradition and obligation, impress others, and strive for perfection. The holidays are a people-pleaser’s dream come true and a perfectionist’s worst nightmare.

Manage expectations

I want you to try something. I want you to visualize how you hope your holiday dinner with the family will go. Do you have it? Good. Do you feel all warm and safe, picturing joy and peace, the kids caroling in the snow and the smell of gingerbread wafting through the house? Good news, you’re an optimist.

Or on the other hand, does the thought of the holidays fill you with a sense of dread, worrying about getting it all done in time, how to handle Uncle Bill’s political rants, or the kids throwing tantrums in front of the guests? Well, I guess you’re more of a realist.  

Ada, one of our therapists here at People Bloom once had a client who talked about Thanksgiving going “exactly as planned.” The turkey came out just right, everyone had a great time and no one argued. He was retirement age and that was the first time it has ever happened. Ada’s advice to him was, “You need to mark that on the calendar because that’s not going to be a common occurrence!”

At any rate, regardless of how you visualized your holiday this year, now I want you to erase it! Yes, you heard me; erase the expectation. Things never go quite as we imagine they will. Going into holiday festivities with no expectation, and with no anticipation of the worst will clear your mind of the worries. All you can do is face the next few weeks with an open heart. Have a plan, but be willing to hold onto the plan loosely and do your best. This brings us to the next question: how do you do your best without burning yourself out? 

Managing emotional labor

When it’s time to plan for the holidays, you know that if you don’t do it, it won’t get done. So you take it on yourself to do it all, and do it right.  I know there’s a part of you that enjoys the adrenaline rush, and the thrill of bringing joy and delight to your family. But there’s another part too: the tired part, the part that doesn’t always feel appreciated for going above and beyond, the disappointed part when things often do not turn out as planned.

If you’re running the household, things are busy enough. The holidays take busy to the next level, which can leave you feeling stretched too thin and wondering if it’s worth the effort you tirelessly put in.

Questioning traditions

If the holiday hustle and bustle leaves you tired and worn out, ask yourself…

Who am I doing all this for?
Do these people matter? If it’s distant relatives and acquaintances you only see once a year, can you imagine taking some pressure off yourself to impress?

Why am doing this?
Focus on what makes the holidays meaningful to you. When you really delve deep, it’s not about anything external. The holidays are about faith for some, as well as family time, gratitude and a sense of community. All the consumerism and chaos that go beyond this is societal, self-imposed and likely unnecessary/slightly awful.

What will happen if I DON’T do everything on the list?
So, there will be two pies instead of three, there won’t be a handcrafted wreath on the door, Aunt Gloria won’t get a Christmas card, and the kids won’t get 28 presents each. And everyone will survive. I promise the world won’t end.

Drop unnecessary rituals. I know you always made 17 varieties of toffee brittle to give to every member of the extended family. They treasure it when they receive it, but nothing in the world order is changed if they don’t get their sugar fix. Ask yourself why you feel compelled to do so much for others. Is it because you have boundless energy and it brings you joy? Or is it a sense of obligation? If it’s the latter, you know what to do. Or not to do, in this case.

A relaxed host is a happy host

 If you’re hosting the big dinner, take on what you can and let the rest fall by the wayside. You could tear your hair out making sure every traditional dish makes it to the table, but your guests will be more impressed by a simple meal with a relaxed and happy you than a decadent six-course meal with a stressed out, frantic and exhausted you.

If your holiday dinner is not already a potluck, consider making it a potluck. No, really. And don’t worry if a dish doesn’t get made or there is an uneven and ungodly amount of candied yams. Food is food! For too long we’ve worried ourselves silly balancing out the meal with obsessive precision! Even if things have been that way for years past, who’s to say it has to stay that way for this holiday onward?

No one expects perfection but you. Few people notice the lengths you went to for that perfect cornucopia centerpiece. Being known as the Martha Stewart of the clan just makes people take your attention to detail for granted. If they do notice that you’ve stopped doing something, that is an opportunity for you to explain new traditions and to focus on the things that matter more: relationships.

If you do less, the truth is, the holidays won’t look like they usually do, but the person who notices this most is you, and others will be forgiving - a lack of décor or mismatched silverware is the last thing on their minds.  Who knows, if your holiday guests notice that you are too tired to go the extra mile this year, there’s a good chance they’ll pick up the slack. And even if they don’t - the key is to know that’s ok too.

Asking for help

As the hostess with the mostess, you make it look easy, but gathering everyone together can be overwhelming, even for you. Make your life easier by asking for help.  It doesn’t make you helpless - on the contrary, it’s empowering to assert yourself and request a favor here and there.

You don’t have to do it all. Delegate tasks that others can do. People at family gatherings often feel like lumps on a log - restless and eager to help. Keep them busy with tasks that don’t need you - let them take drink orders, add festive music to the playlist, greet guests at the door and take coats.

Feeling present

When you do less, you notice more. I noticed how much more centered I feel when I can just…be among people who I cherish, without planning, controlling and feeling responsible for their fun. Gathering as a family is hard enough in itself - you already checked the box. You celebrated the holidays. Whatever happens, happens.

So take a little off your plate this year. No, don’t literally take food off your plate. Go ahead and eat that third helping of turkey. And if no one stepped up to cook a turkey - a store bought rotisserie isn’t the worst thing that can happen to your family. You’ll see things turn out just fine even when you let it go.

This holiday season, make this your new mantra: simplicity is key, and good enough is good enough.


Karen Lenz People Bloom Counseling Redmond Executive Assistant.png

 Karen Lenz is the Executive Assistant at People Bloom Counseling. She’s the office admin whiz - not a therapist. She writes blog posts as a human navigating this world, a client sitting across from a therapist, much like you. She is thankful to get to share her experiences with you, and she’s starting to realize that when things go all wrong at Thanksgiving, that’s part of the fun because it makes a great story to re-tell at every family dinner for generations to come.