Finding Your Joyful Center

Remember who you are and what makes your life your own– your joys, your successes, your prideful moments and times of celebration, the people and pets you love, and those who love you. Write them down or talk to a loved one to actualize it in the here and now.

Go outside and walk upon the earth, grass, dirt, and sand. Feel the earth and wind on your face and body. Smell the salt air near the shore and the browning leaves underfoot as they crunch while you walk. Look to the clouds, the sky, the sun and moon as they consistently mark time here on earth and revel in their unfathomable intelligence, guidance, and beauty.

Seek strength in friends, family and pets–spend time together in laughter, remembering what matters to you and your loved ones. Hug each other–we are here for one another–mind, body, and spirit.

Consciously and intentionally surround yourself with the things that bring you joy and do the things you love to do. Play your favorite music, watch your favorite movies, see your best friend, have a favorite meal, treat yourself to self-care routines that you may not do so often.

Reach out with the good that’s inside you instead of holding it back. Help those in need. “Be the Change you wish to see in the world” (Gandhi). Play your favorite music and let yourself sing or dance to it. Let go of the thoughts and feel for a change.

Breathe deeply and pay attention to how your body feels as you breathe. Consciously relax your body as you fill your lungs with cool, cleansing air, breathe out stress and tension.

Surround yourself with positive messages. Take a break from the news–take a walk or read a good book instead.

Peace to All

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Positive Steps Forward (Part 3 of 3) Behaviors for Change

(please see parts 1 and 2 at right under “self-help articles” or just scroll down)

  • Schedule FUN. Yes, write it down on the calendar. Ask yourself what activities have brought you joy in the past and plan time to do it. Children automatically turn life into fun—be more kid-like and lose yourself in a fun activity. Let go and see what happens.
  • Make the airwaves around you positive and uplifting. Listen to your favorite music daily or start listening to an uplifting pod-cast, radio show, or positive TV show. Limit the amount of typical news (tv or newsprint) you digest daily or take a week-long news break altogether.
  • Get creative. All humans are capable of creation, creativity, and art. Find something you like to do creatively and make time for it. It can be something like fine art, dance, videography, crafts, puzzles, games, writing, photography, etc. Doing it in a group setting such as a knitting circle, or taking a crafting class at the library can be doubly beneficial.
  • Volunteer your time for a meaningful cause. When you engage with and support entities (the earth, humankind, or animals), the meaning of life and your perspective shifts and benefits all involved. Try it and see.
  • Take a day off (or more) when you need to. Mental health is as important as physical health but no one feels OK about taking a day off for feeling sad or stressed. Be aware of when you’ve reached your limit before you do get physically sick by taking a day off from work or make sure to schedule that much-needed vacation time off.
  • Clean up or de-clutter your surroundings. You may not realize it, but that clutter not only creates impassable hallways and collects dust, but clouds our thoughts and weighs heavily on our minds. When you are cleaning up, pay attention to the here-and-now, the way the water feels on your hands as you wash dishes, the sound of the cloth on cleared off shelves, the way clean smells. Schedule a time to de-clutter each week to keep up with it.
  • Get out in nature. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, whether it’s in your backyard, at the seashore or the public park. Getting out in nature is beneficial for mental health—the sun is warming your face, the leaves whisper in the trees, the birds sing, waves surge at your feet. When was the last time you took in the peaceful sights and sounds of our earth? Find out what you’ve been missing!
  • Schedule a visit to your MD for a full physical—blood work and everything. Your physical health plays a big role in your mental health and visa versa—it’s all connected. Also, certain vitamin deficiencies and health conditions can impact your mental and emotional wellbeing. It’s worth checking out.
  • Join a social group—religious prayer groups/gatherings, community improvement, self-help or peer support groups. Whatever may interest you, find it and start making connections. Ask for or search the web for groups in your area.

 Which ones will you make into positive life habits?___________________________________

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(Please see part 1 at right under “self help articles”)

  1.  Engage in Positive Self Talk each day or when you catch yourself thinking negative or irrational thoughts. “Just because I got one bad grade, doesn’t mean I’m a screw-up in everything.” “I can do this.” “I faced my fears before, I can do it again.” “I can get through this”. If this doesn’t come easily, just imagine what your best friend, a supportive family member, or your guardian angel might say to you.
  2. Meditate daily for 15 minutes or more. Meditation actually changes our brain chemistry and brain waves. It can help calm run-away thoughts, obsessive thinking, stress and depression. It can increase empathy and resilience in the face of stress too. Ask to try meditation in session.
  3. Journal your thoughts and feelings –write them down then go back and re-read them to spot any negative or irrational thoughts and replace them with positive ones (take out your list of cognitive distortions for help).
  4. Catch yourself using “should” statements—“I should be better at this”, “I should have taken that job”, “I should be making more money by now”. Should statement only imply guilt and place undue blame on you. Should statements are not useful anyway—there’s no way to go back or do something different. Replace shoulds with positive statements: “Everyone makes mistakes,” “I’m learning and doing my best.”
  5. Actively engage in therapy or schedule an appointment soon. Bring with you questions, plans, progress toward goals, frustrations, and suggestions so we can talk about them and make changes that’ll help you the most in the least amount of time.
  6. Choose any one or more of the above:_______________________________
    Write down your intention: For example, “Journaling will help me uncover stubborn negative beliefs so I can be free of them for good.”
    How will I remember to adopt this change? For example, “I will keep my journal near my bed to help me remember to write daily.”
    What do I notice after adopting this change? Is there anything I need to do to make this work better for me?
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Positive Steps Forward: Bodily Sensations (part 1 of 3)

Don’t let fall’s chill wind stop you from staying well and mentally healthy.  Take a stand against stress and depression by taking Positive Steps Forward!  This is part 1 of 3 Positive Steps Forward guides that help you decide which changes (body, thoughts, or behaviors) you choose to adopt for wellness.  Which one’s will you adopt?  See below to deepen your healing experience.  Stay tuned for part 2 and 3.

POSITIVE STEPS FORWARD

To change the way your body feels (Sensations)

  • Drink enough water for your body: 8-10 glasses each day
  • Sleep 8-10 hours per night—this is really, really important for optimal health. If you’re not getting good sleep, see your doctor.
  • Deep diaphragmatic breathing when needed or at intervals throughout the day.
  • Massage your hands and feet each morning before starting the day and at night before bed.
  • Alternate Nostril Breathing 3 minutes per day or as needed for centering/stress relief
  • Meditate or engage in mindfulness at least 5 minutes each day, best for 15 min. Add chanting, a mantra, or simply hum the word OM (vibrational healing).
  • Exercise for at least 20 minutes per day—the type of exercise is your choice.   Try walking around the block twice after dinner, yoga or simple stretches.
  • Eat healthy foods that are kind to you and the planet and taste good too. Listen to your body for signs to start and stop eating. See a nutritionist for specific diets.
  • Laugh—purposefully rent a funny movie, talk to a lighthearted friend, read a comic strip, or listen to Jim Gaffigan on Youtube or take out his CD from the library—he’s hilarious.
  • Try guided passive relaxation on CD, DVD, Youtube, or on a smartphone APP. Or ask for it at your next session.
  • Plan a visit to a Chiropractor or Massage Therapist for spinal re-alignment and stress relief (only as indicated).
  • Sing along with the radio. Does it really matter if you can’t hold a tune? Nope.
  • Take a hot shower and be mindful of how the water feels on your skin. Let all other thoughts—especially the negative ones—be washed down the drain each time you shower.
  • Bask in the sun for a little while each day (weather permitting ;).
  1. Choose any one or more of the above examples of change.
  2. Write down your positive intention: For example, “Deep, mindful breathing settles my nerves whenever I need it”.
  3. How will I remember to adopt this change? For example, “I will keep a post-it note in various places to help me remember to deep breathe”.
  4. What do I notice after adopting this change? Is there anything I need to do to make this work better for me?
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Snow Day Survival Guide

Today is a snow day. “Yeah!” The kids cheer. “No school!”  You remember these coveted snow days when you were in grade school. You would abandon schoolbooks for snow forts and hot chocolate, for vegging in front of the TV or playing hours of video games in your PJ’s. It was a gift from nature.

For some, a snow day doesn’t seem like a gift or automatically joyous occasion.  You may feel slightly unsettled, maybe a little panicked, or sad about it. Today’s snow day may feel more like a worry: the car getting stuck, the work missed, the catch-up you’ll have to endure when you go back, the electricity going out and getting cold, entertaining and taking care of family members, not to mention caring for yourself. You want to curl up under the covers, but even that gives you a guilt trip. What now? Here are some survival tips to get you through the mental mess a snow day can create.

  1. Don’t ignore the nagging, unsettled feelings or melancholia. Put them to the challenge instead by acknowledging them, uncovering them, and washing them away using mindfulness. It’s simple really. We spend so much time avoiding uncomfortable feelings, redirecting them, denying them, and finding distractions. We turn on the TV or curl back up under the covers, but the uncomfortable feelings return or worsen, the panic rises. Pick a quiet, sunny or warm spot in your home and take a seat. Relax into the chair, loosen your shoulders, and breathe from your diaphragm. Feel the breath relax your body. Take as many slow deep breaths you need to feel calm and clear your mind of the negative chatter. If this is especially hard, fill your mind with positive thoughts and affirmations instead (“This is a day meant for me.”) or a healing mantra (“peace,” “love,” “safe”). You will find that all the answers, peace, and calm you needed were actually inside of you the whole time. Mindful attention with loving kindness helps this wisdom come to the surface. What will you uncover? It just may change the course of the entire day for the better.
  1. Push against the feeling to hibernate and get your body moving. Getting your blood pumping and lungs breathing will remind your body that it’s daytime–time to be awake. That way, when it’s time to go to sleep, your body will be happy to do so and you’ll avoid the stress of a sleepless night. How? Vacuum the house, shovel snow, make something, turn on the music and dance, and run up and down the stairs every hour, walk the dog, knead bread dough. This is a win-win—your body and mind reap the benefits of movement and your house gets cleaned, or driveway shoveled, etc. Exercise also increases feel-good chemicals in your brain and body.
  1. Get creative. It’s easy to plop down in front of the TV or computer but it’s not as enriching or motivating and healing than creating something. We all have the ability to create, but don’t have the same interests or ability levels. Today, ability doesn’t matter. Find something you like to create and get down to it. The hardest part may be setting your mind to it. Get the paints out, pull out the cookbook or scrapbook, dust off the piano, uncover the journal and pen, or open your blog and type. It may help to put on your favorite music to serenade you and get your creative juices flowing. Let the activity itself take over—time spent in positive attention and not in worry. You may find that it swallows up most of your snow day and provides the stimulation needed to stay positive until tomorrow.

Today’s snow day or any change in the structure of the day/week can be stressful. Instead of bucking the winds and swells of change, stand at the helm, take the wheel and set a healing course for creativity and mindfulness. Bon voyage!

*If you are experiencing extreme emotions such as with depression or anxiety and don’t feel like you can handle it on your own, or feel at risk for self-harm, please contact your therapist or healthcare provider, a good friend or family member to access appropriate support.

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Falling Softly from the Peak of Summer

Viceroy ButterflyThe summer is ending.  There I said it.  I’ve been trying to deny it, but the more I deny it, the more I see the telltale signs: the crickets chirp throughout the day and night now, the blackbirds flock and fly between the tops of the oak trees whistling and chatting to each other, the breeze is slightly unsettling now and I have to wrestle with the option of throwing on a jacket, and then there’s that odd craving for apple-cider donuts and candy corn.

Summer is a time of heat, light and color, energy, movement, and life.  And so, when it turns to leave, as it always does, warm turns to cool, light to shadow, fuchsia and turquoise turn to grey, taupe, and rust, the bike-ride gets replaced by the knitting project, and cinnamon and clove scents now override those of passion fruit and honeysuckle.  The life energy that made spring possible is transformed, hibernated, suspended, metamorphosed.

For many of us, but not all, the Summer-Fall transformation is a tough one.  Here are four ideas to consider in order to create a transition that is meaningful, and easier on the mind, and the body.

  1. “Change” is hard–Think “Metamorphosis” instead.  The word metamorphosis itself conjures images of butterflies—the quintessentially summer jewels that flit about our green gardens—and science class where we memorized the steps involved in a magical transformation.  Summer never leaves abruptly and autumn never arrives overnight—it is a magical transformation of the earth, it’s natural life, energy and light.  Metamorphosis implies that the change itself is worth our attention and can be valued and met with awe.  When we view the transition from summer to fall with gratitude, optimism and positive regard, it can seem quite amazing and beautiful.  And so it goes that when we meet, greet, understand, and accept what we ultimately want to escape, we may also be transformed—our fear of change is dissolved, and the blessings and beauty of the season come to us.
  2. Going Inward.  Summer is a time spent outside in the fresh air, bathing in natural bodies of water, our skin and eyes take in more sun and light, and in our homes and workplaces, the doors and windows are open to let the breezes in.  But when cool weather comes, and the sun’s rays diminish in intensity and time, we go inside, turn inward, shut in.  This doesn’t have to be a time to shut down, but can be a time of self-inspection, deepening, and sheltering.  Dust off the journal that you had no time to write in in summer and start listening to your inside voice more intently.  Now’s the time to read that self-help book you’ve been meaning to read too.  This can be a time of renewed self-focused activity, understanding, and planning.
  3. Keep friends close and family rituals alive.  Humans are grounded by the people around us—family and friends, and even co-workers can be grounding—and by the rituals that bring meaning and awareness to our lives.  Don’t forget about the healing power and strength these connections have on our lives—plan on being a part of them during transitions.  Get out and plan a day of apple or pumpkin picking with friends and/or family.  Celebrate religious or spiritual holidays with the people you care about.  Plan dinners with family when the sun is long gone and the harvest moon hovers on the horizon.
  4. Get back to healthy eating and healthy coping.  Pull out the vitamins again, dust off the treadmill for indoor exercise, ready the hat, gloves, and under layers for outside exercise, and stock your kitchen with warming, calming herbal teas, and root veggies for stews and soups.  Stress increases around back-to-school time, and planning begins again in earnest at work.  Plan ahead to lessen stress this fall.  Prepare the kids, their bedtimes, and their backpacks and snacks BEFORE school starts so that you are not stressing out last minute.  “Tune in” to calm down and maintain balance.  For instance, find 5-15 minutes daily to meditate, practice deep breathing or a few yoga poses for grounding, journal your thoughts every morning or night, post affirmations around the house, find calming aromas and scents to enjoy inside—clove and cinnamon, pumpkin spice, and apple cider.

So, do you think you can make the most of a seasonal change this year?  Yes you can.  Please share your thoughts, your successes, and your strategies for undergoing your own summer-to-fall metamorphosis.

Disclaimer: These suggestions are no substitute for actual medical or psychological care—please see your PCP or therapist as needed for your personal wellbeing.

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If Journals Could Talk…

Have you ever wondered what your journal would say if it could write you back?  Have you ever wished it would?

What would your journal write if it could…

  • answer all the questions you ask
  • offer genuine support when you are sad
  • cheer you on when you’re triumphant
  • challenge your beliefs when you’re stuck, and
  • help find your laughter when you thought you’d lost it?

That’d be a handy journal in deed.

If journals could talk…they’d say all the right things, they’d support your dreams and desires, know when to ask questions, know when to back off and just let you “vent”.  And guess what?

That kind of journalling does exist right here in the virtual world.  It’s called e-therapy, email therapy, or online therapy.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Online therapy via email is a kind of psychotherapy that’s more intense and goal-driven than your average journal writing practice, and a little less rigorous or structured as face-to-face or traditional psychotherapy.  For some, it’s exactly what you need when you can’t spend the time or money driving across town to a therapist’s office, or keeping up with appointments with a busy family schedule.

And it’s really cool to turn on the computer, open your email, and find one sent just for you, from someone who cares about you–unconditionally.  You’ll see it’s an email unlike the spam you delete without opening, or this month’s telephone bill, but an entry full of healing, hope, love, and encouragement.

Is email therapy something you want to try or tell a friend about?  Email me to ask a question, or click here and find out more. 

In the meantime, Be Well…

Lisa Brandi LCSW, Blog, Phone, and Email Therapy

Lisa Brandi LCSW, Blog, Phone, and Email Therapy

 

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You Can Do It!

“From now on we live in a world where man has walked on the Moon. It’s not a miracle; we just decided to go.” –Tom Hanks

Oh, come on. It’s not as easy as just deciding to “walk on the moon”.

Or is it?

You can do it

One hot summer day, my family and I decided to hike up a mountain in New York’s Hudson Valley.  Rob and I grabbed bottled water and protein bars, quelled the protests from the kids, and started hiking along a small lake on a well-worn path. Eventually—hours later—and with some amount of encouragement, and stops along the way, we made it to the top.  As I looked down from the thinning skies, where the turkey vultures circle and glide, I spied the silvery lake from which we began our ascent.  Huh.  Perspective is everything.  It marks not only space in miles hiked, but grounds the viewer in the experience and challenge of miles spanned, of the achievement and the perseverance that got you there. How is it done?  One decisive step at a time.

We, all too often, underestimate the power of our intensions, decisions, our will and determination.  A simple affirmation comes to mind: I can do it.  And all too often, the chatty downers who dwell in our heads say: I can’t do it.  What have you been wanting to do, but haven’t?  Is it as simple as placing one foot in front of the other and taking the first step? Making the first move?  Maybe it’s as simple as saying “I can do it” and letting the universe show you how.  How will you know if you don’t try?

Tell me—What are you going to do that you’ve been putting off or denying yourself now that you know you can?

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First Thoughts, An Experiment in Loving-Kindness

lovingkindness pic 2One day last week I woke up with a terrible thought and a dreadful feeling: Ugh, the pain and suffering of winter never ends.  I can’t take this anymore!  I stopped to ponder this thought: Wow, that was a terrible thought! I wonder if my very first thoughts affect the rest of my day?

How many mornings do you wake thinking terrible thoughts?  Does it affect your entire day?

So, then I got to thinking. Those terrible thoughts don’t motivate me to get up and get going, but actually make me want to push the snooze button, or call in sick, or…cry.  What if my very first thought was something much more hopeful, or supportive of whatever was to come that day?

So, you’re thinking—Lisa Brandi doesn’t have thoughts like that.  She breathes happiness and song and skips through her day.  Not quite.  But I do have a lot of self-help skills (comes with being a social worker) and the awareness to change my thoughts (that I work at daily).  You can do it too!

Let’s start with that first thought of the day.  Yup, It’s time for an experiment.  Try this…Put a pen or pencil and a notebook, journal, post-it, dry cleaner receipt, napkin, or whatever, next to your bed so that you can write down your first thought of the day.  Now, just knowing you’re going to do this may skew the data.  That’s OK, and may cultivate enough awareness to get you thinking differently without the writing.   Read on anyway….

OK, now onto the Loving-Kindness part. You’ve written down your first thought.  Ask yourself: Is it a positive, loving, kind, motivational, affirmative thought?  (Examples: My body is incredible and healthy and will get me through the snow and ice outside with grace and flare.  Or… I’m a lovable and loving individual who attracts the right kind of people to be my friends.)  If these are indeed your thoughts, (wow, are they detailed!), wonderful, you’re on the right track.   Continue to cultivate those kinds of thoughts every day, build on them, write them down, re-read them, think them every morning, BE them.

If your thoughts weren’t that positive, please don’t be down on yourself about it.  Do something about it.  In fact, do something about it now.  Take your negative, terrible, depressing thought and re-write it. Don’t skip this part!  If you can’t think of what to write, write this or something like it: This day holds great promise, love, friendship, and healing for me. Loving-kindness starts this day, within me and all around me.

Don’t quit now!  You’re almost done.  You’ve got to read it out loud.  Now read it again and believe it, feel it loosen the muscles in your neck and face, let it transform you, ground you, become you.

What does that feel like?  Is it a foreign thought or feeling?  Does it make you want to cry?  It’s OK if it does—crying lets go of some of the stress or hurt you carry.  So many of us are used to the put-downs, negative, and hurtful thoughts that we think and tell ourselves, that it sounds strange to say something positive or loving.

The object of this experiment is to become aware of our automatic thoughts and actively replace them with kind and loving thoughts.  The kinds of thoughts that can help us get through the day, to smile more, to be useful and productive, feel better, and help others feel better too.

Have you heard of “loving-kindness”?  It has roots in many religious and spiritual traditions—Judaism, Catholicism, and Buddhism.  It means essentially the same thing too—to love and express love for self and others with a kind and open heart.  Loving-kindness is also a meditative practice to overcome anger, increase insight and awareness, and have healthier relationships—in our families, work-places, communities, and ultimately, our world (Venerable Sujiva, 1996-2012).

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You’ve just read a blog filled with loving-kindness for my friends, family, colleagues, clients, readers of the blogosphere, surfers of the web, and everyone else on planet Earth.  Check back for more practical thoughts on Loving-Kindness!  This post is just the beginning of a series dedicated to cultivating loving-kindness through everyday experiences.

Lisa Brandi LCSW, Online, Phone, and Email Therapy

Lisa Brandi LCSW, Online, Phone, and Email Therapy

 

 

 

 

 

 

References: [1] Venerable Sujiva. (1996-2012). Metta bhavana–cultivation of loving-kindness. Retrieved from http://www.buddhanet.net/metta01.htm

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Sick Day Solutions

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So you’re trying to decide whether to call in sick huh?  Feeling awful is bad enough, but now you have to deal with calling in, explain what you’d rather not to your boss, and miss work for one, two, maybe three days depending on the severity of your symptoms.  It’s not only upsetting to your body, but to your mental and emotional state as well.

Do you ever feel upset or sad, anxious, or out-of-sorts when you call in.  You’re not alone.  For many people, getting sick and having to request a day or so off is very stressful and for many, not a option taken lightly.  Requesting a day off for some comes with guilt, anxiety or worry, and increased stress.  That’s all you need on top of being sick.  Let’s break it down and work it out, so that the next time you need to call in, you can do so with confidence and can focus on getting better. Let’s THINK POSITIVE…

Helpful Thoughts for Sick Days (when you just can’t come up with them yourself)

1.  Staying home is taking care of yourself.  You’re sick–your body needs the rest, fluids, medicine, care, and comfort now.  Your body is telling you something–listen and lie down, ask for help from loved ones, or get yourself to the doctor to get better sooner.

2. Staying home is taking care of your co-workers too.  When you’re not there, sneezing in the office space and sharing your germs, it helps keep co-workers, clients, and customers from catching what you have when you are contagious.

3.  You have the time, it’s yours, you’ve earned it by working there–take it and leave the guilt at the office.  Sick time is a benefit for you to take when you need to.  If taking a day off is taking a cut out of your pay, think of it this way–if you don’t take care of yourself now, your illness may get worse, increasing the likelihood of being forced to take more days off in the future.  No excuses, take the day.

4.  Do you need a “mental health day”?  Sometimes we feel emotionally “sick” although don’t necessarily think about taking a day off to feel better.  Let’s say you’ve had a terrible night’s sleep and wake up feeling upset, groggy, grouchy, or just plain sad.  You may have other reasons to feel sad or anxious–maybe you recently experienced a major life change, trauma, stressor, or loss.  It’s OK to take care of your emotional health and take a “mental health day”.  Use the day to work on yourself:  meditate, recite some positive affirmations, listen to uplifting songs, read some self-affirming literature, or talk things out with friends/family.

5.  Can you really do good work at work when you’re emotionally or physically sick?  No, not really.  You might just exhaust yourself more by forcing yourself to go in.  Don’t waste the day being useless at work and don’t wait for your boss to kick you out and home.  Advocate for yourself when you know you need to–call in.

6.  If you feel like you need to call in more days than you actually work, you may need to look closely at your job or career choice, your physical condition, or your mental/emotional health.  Is your body telling you what you’re having trouble coming to terms with yourself?  Are you struggling at work?  Need to look for a new job?  Will you go back to school to learn a new trade, or can you simply talk to your supervisor about a change in position?  Visit your Primary Care Physcian or see a Licensed Therapist to talk more about your situation.  You may need to take a closer look at your physical and mental health to get the support to get back to work and feel better soon.

BE WELL,

Lisa Brandi LCSW

Lisa Brandi LCSW, Online, Phone, and Email Therapy

Lisa Brandi LCSW, Online, Phone, and Email Therapy

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