<![CDATA[ALEXA PENA, LCSW - Blog]]>Thu, 12 Dec 2019 01:12:16 -0500Weebly<![CDATA[5 Signs You May Be Depressed]]>Wed, 18 Sep 2019 14:07:35 GMThttp://alexapenatherapy.com/blog/5-signs-you-may-be-depressed    
The word "depressed" gets thrown around a lot. Depression is much more than feeling sad or lethargic. Depression varies in intensity, and is something that impacts how you feel at work, home, and in your relationships. 

1. You feel like you're just going through the motions
Depression can bring a feeling of apathy to daily life. We all have off  days, but take a moment and reflect when the last time you felt energized, motivated, or content. If those feelings feel very far away, it may be a good time to speak to a licensed therapist about what’s going on internally. 

2. You haven’t seen or spoken to your friends in ages
Boundaries are crucial for healthy relationships. It can be a good and helpful thing to take time for yourself and your personal self-care, especially during times of high stress. There is a significant difference between maintaining your boundaries for your wellness, and avoiding friends and family. Isolating yourself from your social supports can be a sign of depression. Check in with yourself about the motivation behind the boundaries you’ve been keeping. Do you feel that right now you need downtime to recharge? Or do you feel alone or that no one will understand or care about what you’re experiencing? Depression can impact the way you view yourself and others. If you think you’ve been isolating yourself from your friends, call your best friend, or send them a text saying, “I’ve been feeling alone and overwhelmed. Can we hang out soon?” Communicating your feelings to trusted friends or family can help reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.

3. Things you used to love no longer spark any interest
Think of your favorite pastime or interest. When was the last time you made time for this activity? Or wanted to make time for it? Self-care is hugely important to our wellbeing, but often depression can make those interests and activities feel empty or pointless. 

4. Your self-talk is increasingly critical and you double-guess yourself
Language plays a huge role in our relationships with others and with ourselves. Our internal messages and the language used creates our experience and our reality. Depression can distort this self-talk to be incredibly critical which can perpetuate a cycle of shame and self-loathing. This can also lead to difficulty trusting ourselves when it comes to making decisions. 

5. You have had thoughts about disappearing or dying  
Thoughts that you wish you could disappear or die are not something to minimize. These thoughts indicate that you are not living life the way you want to be and may feel stuck. These thoughts can be overwhelming and frightening, and you do not need to deal with this alone. (Again, for those in the back!) You do not need to deal with this alone. If you are experiencing these thoughts, talk to a trusted friend or family member. The National Suicide Hotline is also available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.
If you are in crisis or thinking of a plan of how to harm yourself, call 911 or go to your local emergency room immediately.

<![CDATA[The Worst Word in Your Vocabulary]]>Mon, 05 Aug 2019 15:34:37 GMThttp://alexapenatherapy.com/blog/the-worst-word-in-your-vocabularyY'all, there are some words in the English language I absolutely despise and at the very top of the list is “should” (cringe). Just six letters and my blood is boiling. Do you know what I mean? Think of the last time you used the word “should”. 

Some common “should”-s:

I should lose 10 pounds. 
I should be in a relationship. 
I should be happier. 
I should be doing better at work. 
I should clean out my closet. 

The word “should” implies a standard that you are falling short of. It implies there is a fault within yourself that prevents you from achieving your goal. (Ouch, right?)  “Should” can (and often does) create a sense of shame. “Should” suggests minimizing your own wants and needs in order to appease someone else’s or achieve a social expectation. 

Yes, we all have obligations and responsibilities. I’m not denying those-- If you say, “Alexa, I should do my taxes”, I’m going to agree because I don’t want you to go to jail for tax evasion. But “should” often indicates so much more than a sense of necessity. 

A single word can convey such discontent which easily becomes a part of our personal narrative of how we view ourselves. 

So what if we replaced “should” with “wish” or “hope” or “want”? 

I want to lose 10 pounds. 
I hope to be in a relationship. 
I want to be happier. 
I wish I was doing better at work. 
I want to clean out my closet. 

Such a small shift can create an entirely different emotional experience. Instead of using language that is comparing yourself to some standard, use language that is more reflective (and accepting!) of where you are. Being able to recognize that maybe you’re not where you want to be right now, but that doesn’t mean you’re stuck there forever. Choose language that is empowering and encouraging of change, instead of language that perpetuates a cycle of self-loathing and shame. 

Language plays a huge role in our relationships with others and with ourselves. I challenge you today to be mindful of the language you use with yourself, and to be aware of when and where you use “should”. When that word pops up, ask yourself what you are wanting and if you can use non-shaming language to express it. 

<![CDATA[Mindfulness 101]]>Mon, 01 Jul 2019 11:46:55 GMThttp://alexapenatherapy.com/blog/mindfulness-101Mindfulness 101
Is it just me or has mindfulness blown up in popularity over the last few years? When I first heard about mindfulness I was intrigued, but this whole idea of “stillness” baffled me. How can I bring stillness to my life when I’ve got places to be and meetings and emails and, well, life! But what I’ve discovered is that you don’t have to be a zen master to incorporate moments of mindfulness into your daily life. Today I’m going to break down the gist of mindfulness, the benefits of a regular practice, and I will throw in some easy ways you can incorporate mindfulness into your day! 

What is Mindfulness?
Bringing awareness to your thoughts and feelings, and intention to your actions (bonus points for doing so non-judgmentally). 

That’s it! 

But it is harder than it sounds. We so often go into auto-pilot mode at work and home-- going through the motions of our day without really registering what we are doing or what our experience is. 

(We’ve all been there!) 

But what if you were intentionally present in those moments? “Intentionally present” looks like being aware of your thoughts and tuning in with yourself. It can also look like bringing awareness to each of your five senses on purpose (What do you smell? Is it pleasant (or not)- does it remind you of anything? What do you taste? What do you hear? What colors, shapes, and textures do you see? What do you feel?-The sun? The strap of your bag on your shoulder? Notice how you distribute weight onto your feet as they hit the pavement). 

How to Be Mindful Today 
When you notice yourself entering auto-pilot mode (for me, it's during my commute), do a full body scan. Mentally scan your body from the top of your head to the soles of your feet, checking in to see if you are holding tension anywhere (shoulders and hands are common offenders!). To take it further, breathe into the areas of tension. If that sounds weird, try thinking to yourself “Breathe In Calm, Breathe Out Stress” (and then do it! Consciously and actively release tension from your body). 

What’s Non-Judgementality? Does it Matter? 
Bringing awareness to your thoughts, feelings, and actions is a muscle that needs to be used over and over to be strengthened. You wouldn’t go to the gym for the first time and pick up the heaviest weight you can find-- you have to build up strength over time in order to lift heavier. It is the same thing with your mental muscles- they need to be used to be strengthened. That is why mindfulness is often referred to as a practice- because it needs to be practiced! It is a practice that will never be perfect, but the point is not perfection. That is where the non-judgmental attitude comes in. 

The human brain is made to think; to judge; to process and analyze data. Being non-judgmental is the opposite of what your brain is hardwired to do! But non-judgmentality can be powerful. Can you imagine being aware of your thoughts and feelings and not condemning them (or yourself)? Non-judgmentality allows us to transition from a place of control and constant critique to a place of observation and acceptance. 

How to Be Mindful Today 
Find one minute free in your day. Seriously- just 60 seconds. Go somewhere you won’t be disturbed (a conference room, the park, your bedroom) and set your timer (and turn off your other phone alerts!) for 60 seconds. During that time, focus on the present moment. Acknowledge thoughts that may come up and instead of engaging  them and getting caught up, observe these thoughts and let them pass. Here is the kicker-- if (and when) your mind drifts and you get caught up with a stray thought, release it and come back to the present moment. Try not to beat yourself up or criticize yourself. The goal is to try to stay in the present moment. The goal is not to quiet your mind and hush all those stray thoughts. The goal is to try to still the judgment and transition to simply observing and being. 

Why Mindfulness?
Mindfulness helps us slow down and reconnect to ourselves-- to our needs, our feelings, our experience. We live in an age of multitasking, where it is often encouraged and celebrated. Being busy, on-the-go constantly, and working 40+ hours per week is often the expectation. But we are not robots! We are dynamically human and have emotional, mental, and physical needs. Mindfulness helps us slow down to connect to those needs which is vital to our well-being and functioning, as well as our happiness and quality of life. Mindfulness helps us remember that we are more than our productivity, to-do lists, and work output. It is a means of practicing self-compassion. It is how we can practice being kinder and gentler with ourselves, and in turn, with others. 

Which the world could use a little more of, right? 

So what do you think of mindfulness? Is it something you already practice regularly? Or is it something you keep hearing about and are still wrapping your mind around? Comment below and tell me what your experience is or if you have any questions! 

<![CDATA[Clearing the Air About Assertiveness]]>Fri, 14 Jun 2019 13:42:15 GMThttp://alexapenatherapy.com/blog/clearing-the-air-about-assertivenessHappy Friday, y’all!

Today we’re talking about feeling seen and how we go about doing that. Whether it's with friends, family, or at work, it is important to feel valued and validated. But what happens when this doesn’t happen? What happens when time and time again we feel ignored or overlooked? Recently I contributed to an UpJourney article called “Why Do People Ignore Me? (9 Potential Reasons According to Experts)”. In the article, I talk about how we can feel overlooked when our needs aren’t being met in the way we need them to be met. This got me thinking about being assertive and all that it entails. Being assertive often gets a bad rap. Assertiveness can be confused with aggression; so it gets bypassed for fear of being viewed as “mean”, “demanding”, or just plain “bitchy”. But the alternative is passivity and minimizing your needs-  not allowing them to be voiced or met.

I have 3 “friends”-- Passive Pam, Assertive Amy and Aggressive Ann. Passive Pam never voices her needs- she often minimizes and avoids acknowledging what she truly wants in order to make others happy.  Though she means well, this keeps people from getting to know her. She may be the friend or coworker who is always taking on more work even though she already has more than enough on her plate. She’s quick to help everyone around her, but doesn’t ask for help herself. She can be a people pleaser. 

Aggressive Ann is the complete opposite of Pam. Aggressive Ann appears to only care about her needs and doesn’t seem to care about the needs of those around her. She’s the coworker that no one wants to work with because she’s difficult to please and refuses to compromise. It's her way or the highway. She knows best--always. 

What Ann and Pam have in common is that their actions harm relationships-- Passive Pam by avoiding honesty and intimacy, and Aggressive Ann by isolating herself and pushing others away. Pam may think that she’s being a good friend or colleague by prioritizing everyone else’s needs, but in doing so she’s sacrificing her own needs and well-being. Ann may think she’s being assertive and doesn’t realize the impact she’s having on others. She may think that she’s helping her team be efficient by telling them what she thinks is best, though not leaving space for anyone else to contribute in a real way.

Somewhere between Aggressive Ann and Passive Pam, we have Assertive Amy. She is able to assert her needs and wants (unlike Pam), but does so in a way that is respectful to the needs of others (unlike Ann). She is a team player, but will be direct if she has any concerns or disagreements with the direction of a project. She’s open to compromising with others, but won’t sacrifice what she feels is significant without making her opinion known.

It is very common that over time, passivity can breed resentment and anger which often leads to a Passive Pam becoming an Aggressive Ann. This might look like someone who is always helping others, while never expressing any needs or wants of their own, getting fed up and pissed off that their needs and wants are never thought of by others. This resentment and anger may then manifest in their relationships in caustic ways, such as holding grudges, sarcastic comments, or complete avoidance (or “ghosting”) of others.

Assertiveness and aggression both have a sense of power about them and this is often what gets them confused. Unlike Passive Pam, Assertive Amy and Aggressive Ann are empowered to self-advocate (though in very different ways). Being assertive can be scary and maybe feel like you’re being mean and demanding, but the alternative is not asking for what you need and, in turn, those needs not being met.

Do you feel more connected to your needs or the needs of others? Are you able to assert what you need in a way that feels safe and honest? What comes up for you when you have to advocate for yourself? Do you feel you have the right to ask for what you need?

I’d love to talk with you more about what comes up when you consider these questions! 
Send me a message!