Tag: counseling

The Brain is Not a Self-Driving Vehicle

Picture this: It’s a busy evening in the city and you just called for a taxi. You open the door and slide into the back seat and expect to be greeted with the usual, “where to?” from the cab driver. Except you look up and there is no driver. Uhmmmm…excuse me?!  This isn’t a self-driving vehicle — you literally just watched the driver open the door and step out, with the meter running, when you got in. Bizarre, no? No more strange than what we allow to happen to our thought patterns on a daily basis.  Brain science is leading to greater understanding that just like the heart is an organ designed to beat, the brain is an organ designed to generate thoughts.  The problem is: your brain could care less what it thinks about!

We are meant to take the wheel. And just like anything else, it takes time to learn to steer this runaway train (am I the only one who has felt this way?).

When we allow our thoughts to drive, we often find ourselves in sketchy back alleys, on streets with potholes, taking pointless detours and multiple right turns, and stopping by every fast-food restaurant and liquor store on our way to our destination…which is what? Our brain, unless purposefully directed, does not inherently have goals in mind!

We were meant to be in the driver’s seat, taking control of our thoughts, and evaluating the thoughts our brain is generating.  I know… sounds exhausting, “I have to think about what I’m thinking about?  Yikes!”  Yet think about the alternative: do you want to continue just being a passenger (dare I say prisoner) to the organ of your brain?

While “training” our brains does take some effort to produce a physical change (new neuropathways), your future self will thank you.  Now you may think I’m talking distant future, a year or two from now, but I’m not!  I’m talking only 30-90 days from now. As with any new physical training, it is best you feed yourself well, get the right amount of sleep (7-8hrs), and healthy blood flow to your brain through exercise to set yourself up for success.

Now for the good news!  Once our brains have been taught to steer to the beautiful scenic drives, you can start to relax and enjoy the drive more and more.  That’s right! New neuropathways are formed where they previously weren’t, and with practice and time, the brain starts to follow these new roads automatically. That’s not to say that you can go back to snoozing in the backseat, but it does help to know that those anxious thoughts may not always plague you.


Courtney is a Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern at The Holistic Mental Health Clinic in St. Petersburg, FL. If you would like to learn how to put your hands on the wheel and learn to steer your brain you can contact Courtney at 727-520-9447 or by email.

Your Essential Holiday Survival Guide: 3 Ways to Maintain Sanity, Hold onto Your Peace, and Thrive During this Holiday Season (Election-Year Edition!)

Allow me to paint the festive picture for you: The day is December 25th, exactly 46 days since the presidential election. Your extended family is gathered around your exquisitely decorated dining room table, that you’ve proudly compared to an Anthropologie mall display window. You know your manners. Never politics or religion at the dinner table. But Uncle Bob JUST WON’T STOP going on and on about gun rights, email scandals, wall-building, and did I just hear him say something about internment camps?!

Your grandfather is 76 years old and in the latter throes of dementia. He can’t help but comment on your brother’s new girlfriend’s weight gain, suggesting a bun-in-the-oven as he passes the rolls. You can feel the heat of her embarrassment from across the table and silently curse your decision to place the sweet, naïve fawn so close to a social grenade.

Your mother is fussing over your youngest sister, the world traveler who just won’t settle down and have a family. Normally, mom compares your life’s accomplishments to hers, unknowingly (?) causing a rift and further resentment between you and your sister. Today, gratefully, she refrains from bringing you into the mix and merely laments not having enough grandchildren to spoil.

And to top it all off, you just can’t shake that same feeling that seems to crop up every single year around this time: the melancholy, the heaviness, the fog, the inherent sadness that you just can’t define – that “meh” feeling that leaves you both emotion-less and with a surge of emotions just below your 2nd-glass-of-wine “cool” exterior.

Here are my top 3 essentials for surviving the holidays with grace and style:

1. Rein in Your Expectations

Take a step back and ask yourself, “are my expectations stealing my joy?”  

Practice gratefulness for things just the way they are.  Often the imperfections of the event become the laugh out loud stories you can enjoy together for many years to come.

Less truly is more. Identify areas where you can cut back:

  • If you love sending out Christmas cards, go for it!  If the thought of buying, addressing, licking and stamping cards makes you break out in a cold sweat, don’t feel bad about skipping the annual Christmas cards this year.
  • Delegate tasks.  For many of us, asking for help is a learned skill.  Take a deep breath and use this holiday season as your first steps toward new learning.
  • Take a few precious moments to rejuvenate yourself for your next round of tackling that to-do list. Create a quiet space for yourself (even if it’s the bathroom for 5 minutes), and practice mindfulness.

2.  Form and Maintain Healthy Boundaries

Practice assertive communication and consider this truth: often saying no to someone means saying yes to yourself. Remember your etiquette and don’t expect others to remember theirs (Did someone say “throwback tip #1?!?).

Zoom out, as opposed to zoning out; go big picture and rise above the fodder.  Ask yourself, what is the experience I want to have in this moment; what is the memory I want to create?  Hold onto that vision, then think and act accordingly.  Even if not all of your family and friends follow, you can rest assured that you acted wisely.   Be firm, yet kind. Model the golden rule.

3.  Remember that You’re Not Alone.

If this time of year seems to always be accompanied by a dense fog that blankets all of the festivities like a heavy snow, you’re not the only one. Instead of seeking relief in another cup of Uncle Eddie’s eggnog, seek the company of others.

  • Talk to friends.Talking with friends has real health benefits. In one study, women who did not have at least one close friend were found to have increased  psychological dysfunction such as anxiety, depression, sleep and eating disorders.  So call a friend and make some time for the two of you to be healthier together!
  • Talk to strangers. This may seem weird and counter-intuitive, but that’s the point!  Most of us think that talking with strangers will be of no benefit to us and that we are probably intruding, interrupting, or otherwise annoying the other person.  However, research shows us that when we talk to strangers, both us and the other person benefit. So, be that odd person who strikes up random conversations with someone in line at the supermarket. That “random conversation” may be just what someone else needs to make it through a season that often reminds so many of us of family conflict, drama, and loss.
  •  Talk to your Higher Power (Or whatever name you call Him or Her). Studies document the health benefits to having a spiritual connection.I like to focus on the personal, intimate connection.  You don’t have to go anywhere special or get dressed up.  You just have to open yourself up to have an intimate conversation.  Reflect on your life and the times you can acknowledge that you were not alone; perhaps it was the times that you were most stressed out and frustrated, seeing only one outcome. Maybe you thought you knew how things needed to be resolved, but come to find out, the way the situation unfolded was actually quite fine.  Invite Spirit into your life in a meaningful way that only a “heart to heart” conversation can bring.  You will be healthier and happier for it.
  • Talk to a professional counselor.  The holidays can be an especially difficult time for many people despite their best intentions.  Neuroscience is showing us that people who seek the assistance of a professional are getting more than just feeling better; they may even be getting a healthier brain!Finding a professional you trust and feel comfortable talking with can lead you to a happier and healthier 2017.


Courtney is a Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern at The Holistic Mental Health Clinic in St. Petersburg, FL. You can reach her at 727-520-9447 or by email at courtney@thmhc.com.