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How to Release Control and Let Things Go

How to Release Control and Let Things Go

Rachel Harder, M.A., LMFTC is a therapist, life coach and couples counselor who helps you find passion and joy in yourself and your relationships. She supports you in creating meaning and happiness, and not only facing your challenges — but triumphantly overcoming them.

The Control Crisis

Have you ever found yourself on the receiving end of the advice “Just let it go!” or “There’s nothing you can do about it, so why worry?” How difficult is that to hear!? This is especially true if you’re a proactive person who is good at thinking through different scenarios. Shouldn’t you do everything you can to avoid possible problems, or have things go the way you want them to?

So when people tell you to back off, you might start to wonder; “Don’t they understand what I’m going through?” Maybe you even start to think, “There must be something more I can do.” You probably notice worry, anxiety, and stress start to build, as you rattle over your different options, accounting for all the unknown variables.

The Relationship Between Anxiety and Control

I commonly hear folks discuss intense worry and distress because of circumstances we can’t control ranging from that friend who just won’t take your helpful advice to family members who don’t respect your boundaries. We are constantly being confronted with unpleasant situations that we often have little to no control over. This is especially true in relationships. What do we do with the anxiety this produces?

First, you might start to notice the paradox that takes place: we attempt to control circumstances to alleviate anxiety or stress, but in holding onto control (especially when we try to control what we have no power over) it only serves to increase anxiety and stress.THEN to compound the situation, the circumstances we most deeply desire to control are usually the ones we can’t! What a mess! [More on this: Are You Stuck in a Codependent Relationship?]

Well, here’s the good news: First, you’re not alone and secondly, there are some things you can do about it! I want to share with you three quick tips to let go of control (and in letting go of control, you may actually start to feel more in control… I know it sounds crazy).

How to Let Go Of Things You Can’t Control

Tip 1: Identify Situations Where You Have Control… and Where You Don’t

The What: An easy rule of thumb is: you are in control of yourself. It may also be helpful to create the distinction between what you can control and what you may be able to impact.

For example, you can’t control if your coworker is willing to be a team player, but you may be able to impact this behavior by voicing your needs (i.e. you are in control of how you want to respond and how you want to manage the stress your coworker’s behavior causes you). [More about Emotional Intelligence in the workplace].

The How: You might try doing a check-in with yourself when you notice stress is on the rise. Ask yourself what am I in control of right now? I sometimes encourage folks to actually write out an exhaustive list of their concerns and go through each item and identify what they can control. Once you identify the “uncontrollables,” you can start to practice the next tip!

Tip 2: Give Yourself Permission to Let Go

The What: Sometimes we feel worrying is one way we can control for the uncontrollable. (As in, “If I worry about it enough, I’ll be prepared,” or “Worrying is better than doing nothing.”) Instead of churning in worry, try giving yourself permission to let go. Let go of the need to hold on to the unknown. Remind yourself that you will know what to do if a crisis arises. Trust yourself. You’ve got this! Even in moments where that feels impossible.

The How: Try reciting mantras such as:

“It’s okay for me to let this go.”

“I don’t need to hold onto this.”

“I have done everything I can do.”

You can also ask a loved one for support with this. Sometimes we might need reassurance, that we have indeed, done everything we can do, until we’re able to provide this reassurance to ourselves.

Tip 3: Radical Acceptance

The What: When we are unable to reframe or change the experience, we may need to rely on radical acceptance. This concept tells us there may be times we need to accept circumstances that we don’t like. (I know, yuck!).

The key with this is knowing that acceptance does not mean approval or giving up. Simply put, it means we can see the circumstances for what they are. In doing this; we reduce the suffering we experience. (I get that this sounds counterintuitive).

The How: Try slowing down (for example: deep breathing) and creating room for the reality of the situation to exist as well as the idea that accepting that situation is uncomfortable (there’s room for both of these things to exist).

Think of it this way: If you’re stuck in traffic maybe you start to feel angry, and you notice yourself questioning “Why isn’t that car moving!?” Or perhaps you try switching lanes or honking. You might notice your pulse is quickening and the frustration is surging through you.

OR if you embrace Radical Acceptance you could try saying to yourself, “I’m doing everything I can do, I can’t control the car in front of me, and I’m stuck in traffic right now and that stinks.”

Which experience results in less emotional stress? (Pssst…it’s the one where we accept what is, while simultaneously acknowledging it’s not enjoyable).

Managing Anxiety + Releasing Control = Inner Peace

The key with all of these tips is to practice, practice, practice and go slow. It can be incredibly challenging to let go, especially in situations that aren’t comfortable. Take your time, and give yourself credit for what you’re already doing. I hope through using these strategies you may find yourself regaining control by relinquishing it.

Remember- everyone is doing the best they can in the moment (this includes you!).

All the best,
Rachel Harder, M.A., LMFT-C

How to Strengthen Your Relationship

How to Strengthen Your Relationship

Rachel is an expert couples counselor, therapist and life coach with Growing Self Counseling & Coaching who specializes in helping you find passion and joy in yourself and your relationships. She supports you in creating meaning and happiness, and not only facing your challenges — but triumphantly overcoming them.

Want a Fantastic Relationship? You Can Bank On It.

In my couples therapy and marriage counseling sessions, I often hear couples talk about times when they had so much fun with one another and felt incredibly connected, and moments where problems felt smaller, and arguments were more manageable. Couples in these situations often wonder, “How did this happen?” but more importantly “How do we get that back? I want to have fun with my partner again; I’m so sick of arguing all the time!” If any of this feels remotely familiar to you, then you might want to take a look at your emotional bank account.

Now before we do that, let me back up and give you a little more information.

Strategies To Strengthen Your Relationship

The Research: Dr. John Gottman is one of the premier researchers in the field of evidence based marriage and family therapy. Through decades of research into what makes relationships work (and what ruins them) he’s found that it’s not enough to ONLY address conflict resolution; we also need to look at friendship and shared meaning in order to truly strengthen our partnerships.

Conflict resolution, friendship and shared meaning: These three relational areas have a bi-directional influence on one another- meaning if we look at strategies to strengthen the friendship between you and your partner, we’re also likely to improve your ability to resolve conflict (and vice versa). You might wonder, why is that?

Well, let’s look at it this way — think of your very best friend (this might even be your partner); now think of a friend who you have an “ok but not terribly strong” relationship with. Which person do you think you’d be able to resolve conflict with more effectively?
Most likely, the individual you feel closer to and have a stronger friendship with — you have a greater baseline understanding of one another, there’s investment in that relationship,etc.

Investing In Your Relationship

Why It Matters: Now here’s why this matters- you have a shared bank account with your partner (and no, I’m not talking about your actual checking account). What I’m talking about is your emotional bank account. This is a shared account between you and your partner. When you and your partner have positive interactions, you make deposits into this account. When you and your partner have negative interactions, you make withdrawals from the account. Like any bank account, the goal is to keep the balance high.

However, there is a curveball in this whole situation. The ratio of withdrawals to deposits is not even. We require five positive interactions (deposits) to outweigh one negative interaction (withdrawals). This means it’s really important to stock up so you can handle withdrawals, without going into the negative. You might wonder, how do we stock up our account?

Double Down On The Positive in Your Relationship

What You Can Do About It: Well, let’s piece this all together! The reason I blather on about the importance of friendship and shared meaning in the relationship, is because we can foster these areas on a daily basis, thus making DEPOSITS AND MORE DEPOSITS.

So what is a “positive” interaction? It can range from noticing your partner’s bids for connection, asking your partner about their day, a quick kiss, or even giving them a compliment. Take a moment to reflect on what might make your partner feel loved and supported on a daily basis and show this through your daily interactions.

Research indicates that small, positive, and consistent daily interactions are more effective instrengthening the relationship than the occasional grand gesture. The key is to notice when your partner is investing in the relationship and to make an active effort to do the same.

So, if you maintain a high balance in your bank account (at least 5:1), you will be able to more effectively resolve conflict (your account will not go into the “negative” every time there’s an argument). With all this being said, you should take the time to develop strategies to resolve conflict effectively, but don’t forget fostering fun and friendship within your relationship are just as important. And you can take that to the bank!

Sincerely,

Rachel Harder, M.A., LMFT-C

How to Stop Worrying: Seven Tips to Manage Stress

How to Stop Worrying: Seven Tips to Manage Stress

Rachel Harder is a marriage counselor, life coach and therapist with Growing Self Counseling and Coaching who specializes in helping you find passion and joy in yourself and your relationships. She supports you in creating meaning and happiness, and not only facing your challenges — but triumphantly overcoming them.  Learn more about Rachel.

Are You a World-Class Worrier?

Have you ever found yourself laying in bed and worrying: “Did I set my alarm?  What all do I need to get done tomorrow? Agh, I forgot I have a meeting! I hope my boss won’t say anything about that project. How will I have time to stop by the grocery store and get to the gym!? Maybe I should cut the gym out?” 

Well you get the picture, the worries, to-do lists, and questions can go on and on. If this scenario sounds familiar to you, you may be a pro-worrier. You may notice worrying is impacting your relationships and your overall happiness. So, put your to-do lists aside and take a deep breath! We’re going to talk about

dealing with worry and stress.

Let’s start with a little background about why stress can have such a big impact. Stress is a “normal,” biological, bodily response. It helps to trigger our “fight or flight” response, which protects us in potentially dangerous situations. This is great! It means your body is functioning effectively! What’s not great is when we experience this response over an extended period of time. This can negatively impact our nervous and immune systems.

When we practice strategies to reduce our stress and worry levels, it can also have a positive impact on how our bodies are functioning from a physiological perspective, improving overall wellness. Now let’s get to the good stuff. I’m reaching into my cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques tool bag to bring you Seven Skills for Stress. I use these with my therapy and life coaching clients all the time, and I know they work. Try using these to help mitigate some of that worry!

Seven Skills to Manage Stress

  1. Prioritize:Do you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by everything that needs to get done and worrying about how you will accomplish all of it? Taking a look at what needs to get done versus what we would like to get done can be helpful. For example, picking your kids up from school likely needs to get done, but do you NEED to vacuum the floors, or can it wait?
  2. Delegate:You might be thinking, “I’m uncomfortable with asking for help.” However, try to remember you are one part of a greater system, and in order for that system to run smoothly, all pieces need to be up and running. You can prioritize high-stress or high-need tasks and delegate! If they are necessary tasks of daily living for your household, you can ask for some support. This can be talking to a friend or asking your partner to make dinner. Remember, bids for attention connect!
  3. “This or That” Thinking: Often worry can be rooted in dichotomous thinking (sometimes called “black and white” thinking). This means we may say to ourselves, “This has to happen, or that will happen.” When we think in this way we eliminate the opportunity for flexibility. You essentially have sent the message to your body, if this does not get done now, there is danger! Take a moment and ask yourself is there another option?  What’s the middle ground? [Learn more about helpful vs. unhelpful thinking styles in our online Happiness Class.]
  4. What’s the Worst that Could Happen?: Let’s face it- it can be incredibly easy to catastrophize. How many of us play out “the worst case scenario,” just so we’re prepared…”just in case.” Take a moment and first practice noticing when you’re jumping to the worst-case scenario, then ask yourself, “Is this really a likely outcome?” Are there other more positive outcomes that are equally as likely?
  5. What’s the Evidence?: Ask yourself is there any past evidence to support that I cannot handle or manage the tasks at hand? Chances are, there will not be much evidence to support that in times of intense worry you won’t be able to formulate a plan of action. Remember: You got this!
  6. Explore Activities That Work For You: Oftentimes when you’re stressed, the activities that give you a sense of relaxation fall to the wayside. Try to remember that taking care of you allows you to be present for others in your life. Try integrating activities into your daily schedule that give you some relief; this could range from taking five minutes to just breathe to going for a run outside.
  7. What Can I Control?: Oftentimes we worry about things we do not have control over. Take the pressure off of yourself to control the uncontrollable! All you can control is yourself. When you notice your thoughts pushing you to analyze all of the external circumstances, bring yourself back to the simple (or not so simple) question of “What is within my control?”

Managing worry and stress is all about finding what works for you! Everyone experiences and deals with stress differently. Remember we can’t control that stress is a biological response but you do have control over how you’d like to manage it. If you’ve been struggling with stress and worry lately, and would like some personal support in managing it just get in touch with me: I’m always here to talk.

All the best,
Rachel Harder, M.A., LMFTC

Relationship Lost Its “Spark?” Here’s How to Create Long-Lasting “Sizzle!”

Relationship Lost Its “Spark?” Here’s How to Create Long-Lasting “Sizzle!”

How to Keep Romance Alive…

Everyone loves the feeling of being in love and why wouldn’t we? It’s exciting, fun, and full of potential. There might be romance, spontaneity, not to mention our brains are releasing all kinds of chemicals that make us feel really good. Well, what happens when that slows down as inevitably happens in long-term relationships? How do we work to hold onto that elusive “spark?”

In working with couples, for marriage counseling, couples therapy, and premarital counseling, we often talk through the struggle to maintain chemistry and connection, especially within long-term relationships. It can be hard to keep romance alive. Now, there are a lot of reasons for this (one being it’s tough work, and life somehow has a way of becoming extraordinarily busy and complex!). However, I find there are a few common misconceptions that couples are often holding onto, that can hold them back from bringing some of that sizzle back into their relationship.

Misconception One: I know everything about my partner, and things feel boring!

The Reality: We as humans are typically excited by “new” things. It makes sense that as the “newness” wears off and we shift into a more comfortable pattern of being with our partner, it becomes more challenging to hold onto the excitement. Here’s the thing- You may know A LOT about your partner, but challenge yourself a little…do you really know everything? We’re constantly changing and so is our partner. This means we can make room to get to know our partner as they continue to grow and change.

Try This: Approach your partner with genuine curiosity and no, I’m not just talking about asking them how their day was (although this is a good place to start). What I mean by this is practice deepening conversations and place assumptions about how your partner might respond to the side. In doing this, you make room to experience your partner differently. This, in turn, might put a little excitement back into your relationship.

Misconception Two: If romance were going to happen, it just should, organically.

The Reality: It’s easy for romance and spontaneity to become lumped together. Often newness and surprise illicit feelings (and even hormones) we’d associate with “the spark.” Here’s the thing, romance can be planned and it doesn’t have to take a whole lot of time. For many people, life becomes so busy and it can feel “awkward” to schedule time for the relationship. However, actively creating time and space to connect with your partner is critical. It’s nearly impossible to reconnect if you don’t make time to do it.

Try This: Create a schedule and routine that will be conducive to spending meaningful time together. For example, schedule 10 minutes to check-in with your partner at the end of the day. Reflect on what has created romance in the past and actively seek ways to re-integrate this into your current circumstances. Remember: romance does not have to be equated with spontaneity or be something totally elaborate — make romance work for you!

Misconception Three: They should just know (what I want/need/feel).

The Reality: This is probably one of the most common statements I hear in working with couples counseling clients. Of course, we’d love for our partner to be so well attuned to us, they automatically know what we think, feel, and need. Here’s the kicker that really throws a wrench in that expectation — no one is a mind reader. Your partner will not inherently know your needs (as much as we’d like them to).

Try This: First, think about what can you control? What you can control is yourself. This means you have a couple options. You can either continue to communicate as you are (i.e., not communicate) and hope your partner will eventually catch on OR you can directly communicate to your partner about what you need whether that’s a date night or a kiss goodnight. Think about what makes you feel loved and let your partner in on the secret!

When giving your partner feedback try to provide specific, action-oriented feedback (e.g. “When you take time to check-in with me, I feel connected to you. Can we work together to make that happen more often?”). Reframe this as an opportunity to teach your partner how to love you, in a way that’s meaningful.

The “spark” that ignited your relationship, although exciting, often tends to flicker in and out and requires minimal work to maintain. What does require work is to maintain the flame that erupted because of that spark. My hope is that in dispelling some of these misconceptions you can begin to work toward throwing some kindling on that flame and reignite the enthusiasm and excitement in your relationship.

Yours truely,

Rachel Harder, M.A., LMFT-C

Hold the Phone! Is Technology Hurting Your Relationships?

Hold the Phone! Is Technology Hurting Your Relationships?

Power Off Your Phone and Power Up Your Relationships

It’s true that everyone’s lives these days are fueled and enhanced by technology.  How often have you stepped on a bus, been out at a restaurant, or have been sitting in your own home, only to look around and notice that everyone around you is staring down into the screen of a phone?

One of the most interesting aspects of technology is that we can simultaneously use it to both connect and to disconnect.

You may notice that by texting your partner in the middle of a hard-work day, you’re able to get that instant validation. It feels good! Perhaps, in that same scenario you play a quick game of Candy Crush to distract yourself from the mounting stress and pressure. This also feels good! You might then ask what’s the problem? This is clearly a tool to meet many needs at once.

Here’s the thing: oftentimes, unchecked technology use can prevent us from connecting with each other… and ourselves.

Imagine (or maybe you don’t have to imagine — because you’re actually doing this right now) you’re sitting on the couch next to your partner, as they’re scrolling through various social media accounts, playing games, etc. Is this someone you feel connected to? No, of course not.

Our phones can create a physical and emotional barrier. While we may be striving for connection through texting, checking Facebook, or sending an email, we are quite possibly ignoring our most important relationships and the greatest opportunities for connection as we do so. 

It’s also possible that through the distraction of social media (or whatever your technological vice may be), you are able to disconnect from your own internal process, so you don’t have to deal. First, we all do it and, let’s face it, sometimes a little distraction is necessary.

However, you may find that the more time you spend looking through pictures of everyone else’s “perfect” lives or tuning out those pesky emotions through virtual realities, the worse you feel. Why? Because in the minutes or hours you spent immersed in technology, you actually lost connection with those moments and — quite possibly — with yourself.

Here are two tips to help you manage your technology use so that it doesn’t interfere with your most important connections: 

    • First, acknowledge and notice what impact technology is having on your connections. (It looks different for everyone). Remember, the instant gratification that is often associated with technology is not always better. After all, it can leave us just as quickly. Challenge yourself to remember that the “connection” you experience from viewing other people’s lives through the picture-perfect lens of social media skews reality.

 

  • Secondly, set reasonable boundaries for yourself or household around technology use. For example, creating “no phone zones” like at the dinner table, or in bed will allow you to connect with your partner. Also having setting aside specific screen-free times of day to check-in with your partner can drastically improve your connection.

Actively make a choice to engage and connect with those around you…you have the power! Once you are able to peel your eyes away from that friendly glow, you may just find there’s another human right in front of you or better yet, you may even find yourself.

All the best,
Rachel Harder, M.A., LMFT-C

Growing Self Counseling & Coaching
Growing Self