Tuesday, December 16, 2014

If you’re not having a “great” day, is it your fault?

Can anyone identify when the seemingly standard farewell changed from “Have a nice day,” to “Have a great day?” And did people’s experiences of their day actually get better either during or after that transition?

Just recently I saw a Coca-Cola™ advertisement on a billboard with, of course, two young, active, incredibly good-looking people, obviously having a great day, that said, “Open happiness.” And I wondered, how many people actually feel happier after they open a Coke? Most importantly, however, I wondered if anyone felt worse because opening a Coke didn’t make them happier.

Now the reader may want to assure me that, of course, people are not really influenced to believe such magical cause-and-effect relationships as the world of advertising consistently tries to persuade us to believe; we know that opening up a bottle of Coke won’t actually lead to happiness. But, do we?

Consumer culture, which abuts nearly our every move, exhorts us constantly to do, eat, drink, bet, buy, or go, generally promising that to do so would make us somehow better off, happier, ensuring a better (now even, perhaps, “great”) day. My question is whether the underlying message leads us to question that, if we are not having a “great day,” is it our fault for not doing so?

Many people suggest that greetings and farewells are usually experienced as benign transactions. When our coworkers greet us in the morning with, “Hi, how are you?” they don’t really want to hear that we just learned that the sewer pipe needs to be replaced, do they? Or that our spouse ran through a list of irritations about us just before we left the house. The “How are you?”, “Fine” exchange doesn’t set up the expectation that we are doing “great,” however. “Fine” is a generally benign word; “great” tends to set up a different, hyperbolic expectation.

I wish to present some anecdotal evidence to support my concern about a possible unforeseen negative consequence of changing “Fine” to “Good,” to “Great.” Sometimes, when I hear that one of my clients is feeling down or depressed, I ask her if she can distinguish what percentage of her is just the feeling, and what percentage is feeling badly about having the feeling.

My experience is that, most of the time, she identifies a greater percentage of the latter than the former, sometimes with twice the percentage in the “feeling badly about feeling badly” portion of the equation. I then suggest that the portion that she probably has some immediate control over is the “feeling badly about feeling badly” portion. What if she just allowed herself to feel the feeling? To just feel sad, or lonely, or angry, and let go of the negative judgment for having such feelings?

The desire to avoid negative feelings is common, but the drive to avoid them all together is also, unfortunately, common. This drive sometimes leads to addictive behaviors (the kinds of behavior we are encouraged to engage in by consumerism--do, eat, drink, bet, buy, and go). If you are not feeling good (or better yet, great!), there is surely something you could be paying for that would change that.

Author Ann Wilson Schaef contemplated this connection in her 1987 book, When Society Becomes an Addict. Schaef observes the United States culture as a whole to be a breeding ground of addiction and describes the enormous challenge of trying to live a healthy and engaged life in a culture that promotes addiction (i.e. the pursuit of feeling “great”, often at the expense of reality).

So what is the cost of running from sadness, loneliness, anger, and other normal feelings while chasing that fun-filled, happy, “great-day” life? When people actively seek the avoidance of negative feelings, it can inadvertently lead to an even worse experience: clinical depression. Sadness and loneliness are a normal part of the experience of being human; depression need not be. The perennial exhortation to “Have a great day,” may unwittingly lead some people to feelings of self-doubt: “Why aren’t I having a great day?” and then, “What’s wrong with me for not having a great day?” and finally, possibly, “It’s my fault for not having a great day.”

So I’ll stick with “Have a nice day.” Although, come to think of it, I generally prefer people to have whatever kind of day they’re having anyway, without feeling badly about it.

By Lise Osvold, Ph.D; Psychologist at Grew, Morter & Hartye P.A. in Raleigh, NC. She works with adults and adolescents in individual, group and family therapy, and has special interest in working with people with eating disorders.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Self-Hypnosis Training Group for Cancer Patients

We are excited to announce that GMH staff member Deborah Planting is leading a Self-Hypnosis training group for cancer patients and their caregivers through her affiliation with Medical Hypnosis Consultants PLLC at Duke Raleigh Cancer Center.  

Learn how to use Self-Hypnosis to help in managing your illness and the symptoms, reducing pain and stress, controlling the side effects of medications and radiation therapies, and generally enhancing quality of life.
When:  Thursdays 5:30 – 7:00 PM, January 8 – January 29, 2015 (4 weeks)
Location: Duke Raleigh Cancer Center, Duke Raleigh Hospital, Medical Office Building #7,    Cancer Center Board Room, 3404 Wake Forest Road, Raleigh
Register: Leave a message at Duke Raleigh Cancer Center: (919) 862-5984.                                 Group is limited to 12 participants
Fee: Free to cancer patients; caregivers are welcome on a space-available basis 
Offered by: the Duke Raleigh Cancer Center                       
Taught by: Medical Hypnosis Consultants, PLLC
 Led by: Deborah Planting, M.A., L.P.A., Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

There is No Try

In the Star Wars movie The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda says, “There is no try.”

Try is such a strange word.   Try means to make an attempt or effort to do something.  In other words, “to try” something implies the possibility of failure.  And nobody wants to fail.

When I was 8 years old, I learned about the difference between “trying” and “doing.”  A part of the curriculum of my summer camp was to learn how to dive from a very high diving board.  I was petrified.  That first day, I slowly began to climb the long ladder up to the board.  At one point I was so scared that I told the counselor I couldn’t do it anymore.  He had told us previously that we should “Never say, ‘I can’t.’ Always say, ‘I’ll try.’” 

At that moment, he agreed that I could stop climbing because at least I “had tried.”   The next day I did the same.  I really “tried,” but felt I just couldn’t make it to the top.  And then I caught on.  As long as I “tried,” I would never have to actually jump off that scary diving board.  And guess what?  I never did.

If you “try” to change a habit, you either change it in a given moment or you don’t.  We sometimes attempt to create the perception of action by “talking about trying” but the truth is, it’s only once action has been taken that anything has been accomplished.

And thus, I agree with Yoda: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

By Deborah Planting, L.P.A. at Grew, Morter & Hartye in Raleigh, NC. She works with individuals using cognitive behavioral therapy and solution-focused techniques.  She is a certified Clinical Hypnotherapist and has received extensive training in Neurofeedback.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Mindfulness: Accepting the Present Moment

I recently attended the two-day workshop “The Power of Mindfulness: Mindfulness Inside and Outside the Therapy Hour” by Ronald Siegel, Psy.D.  I walked into this workshop knowing that mindfulness is the practice of present-moment awareness; however, I walked out of this workshop with a greater appreciation of the importance of accepting whatever it is that we find when we focus our awareness in this way.

Mindfulness is practiced by focusing one’s attention in an open-hearted and non-judgmental way.  Beginners (and non-beginners alike) will often focus attention on the breath—on the expansion and contraction of the belly, on the sensation of air moving in and out at the tip of the nose, or even on the subtle sounds that air makes as it moves up and down our throats.  The most important and powerful part of practicing mindfulness is gently nudging our attention back to the breath when we find that it has wandered (and it will wander a lot!).  Students of meditation will often worry that they “aren’t doing it right” if they notice a wandering mind.  But it is through the very act of catching our wandering minds and inviting our attention back to the breath that mindfulness skills are most powerfully developed.   

Practicing mindfulness can be done formally through sitting or walking meditations, or informally, as we move around through the day.  A great place to practice informal mindfulness is when we are completing the basic “chores” of life, such as laundry, cooking, cleaning or taking a shower.  These are the simple activities that we typically try to “rush through” as our minds become distracted by what’s happened in the past, or what might happen in the future.  We can practice mindfulness when, even for a few moments, we bring awareness to these simple activities; when we notice how our bodies feel, when we notice where our thoughts tend to go, and when we notice the automatic reactions we tend to have toward ourselves when we notice these things!  When we can practice noticing our judgmental thoughts without judgment (“Interesting, I just had the thought I’m no good at this…”), we are really on our way to deepening these skills.

After participating in Dr. Siegel’s workshop, it was clear to me how important it is to make mindfulness more of a priority in both my personal life as well as in my clinical practice. I came away from this workshop thinking about all of the roles that I play in my life including granddaughter, daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend, and psychologist as well as all of the activities that I participate in on a daily basis. It is often difficult to focus on each of these parts of my life independently; however, practicing mindfulness gives me a chance to do that, if only for a few moments.

If you are interested in additional information on mindfulness, or to obtain recordings of mindfulness practice instructions, please visit:

By Amy Quinn, Psy.D; Psychologist at Grew, Morter & Hartye, P.A. in Raleigh, NC.  She works with adults who are experiencing difficulties in a variety of areas including ADHD/ADD, anxiety, depression, grief and loss, and interpersonal relationships.

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