Summer Series Part 3: Mindfulness


As the summer comes to a close, some of us might be excited to move onto the next season, but some of us might be feeling sad or stressed about the upcoming transition. Changes in seasons can bring about lots of emotions for many different reasons. This is why I wanted to focus on mindfulness for the third and final lesson of the Progress Wellness summer series!

Mindfulness is a wonderful skill to practice because when we are feeling worried, stressed, or anxious (like some of us are when seasons change), being present can be difficult. But it can also be very helpful in those very same moments.

So what is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the art of being in the present moment. It’s being aware of where we are and what we are doing, while observing our own thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations, all without reacting to them.

Yet mindfulness can sometimes feel like an abstract idea that’s impossible to attain. But just like any skill set, the more we practice, the better we become. Mindfulness can help reduce anxiety, stress, and depression—and there’s research to back that up! The more we practice mindfulness, the better we feel, and the more present we are.

There are many different ways to practice mindfulness. Often people think practicing mindfulness means they need to meditate, sit still, or close their eyes for a period of time. While some do enjoy practicing mindfulness in that way, there are plenty of other ways we can engage in mindfulness too. And the good news is that we can do most of these things for however long we want, whenever we want—even right now!

Below are some surprising ways people practice mindfulness:

Exercise (running, walking, lifting weights, yoga, etc.)


Working on a puzzle


Naming five things you can see, hear, and touch

Deep breathing exercises

Listening to a guided meditation (in person or digitally)

As you can see, mindfulness comes in many different packages. The idea is to find something that allows you to participate in the moment. For those who enjoy using cooking as a mindfulness strategy, they are fully engaged at that moment, focusing on the smells, tastes, and textures of the dish they are preparing. Or deep breathing exercises help people focus on their breath—each moment they take a deep breath in or out, their mind is present and focused on their body.

During your mindfulness practice, you might notice that your mind wanders off and you begin thinking about something else, maybe about your worries or anxieties. When that happens, just notice it and bring your attention back to the moment. It’s all a natural part of practicing the art of mindfulness.

If you would like to learn more about mindfulness, check out my YouTube channel! I cover this topic in more depth and also demonstrate a quick 30-second mindfulness strategy.

Thinking Your Way to Feeling Better

Progress Wellness: How to Think Positively

It’s a simple fact: Our thoughts affect our mood. And it’s easy to understand why.

Take this moment to notice your mood. How are you feeling?  Now, take a moment and observe your thoughts. What are you thinking?

If you are feeling happy, your thoughts are most likely in the happy category. If you are feeling anxious or stressed, then your thoughts are most likely causing you to have anxious or stressed thoughts.

Thoughts affect our mood. When we think better thoughts, we feel better. Sounds easy, right? Well, it might take a few sentences to explain, but it’s actually hard work.

Thinking our way to feeling better means we make a conscious decision to essentially change how we think about ourselves and the situations we are in. The deeper the negative roots are, the harder it can be to rip them out for good—but it can be done.

Here’s how to start.

Step 1: Track your mood and thoughts each day and write them down. Keep a journal or use your phone. The important thing is to collect your data.

How are you feeling and what are you telling yourself based on that emotion you are experiencing? Start making the connections.

Example: You’ve tracked your mood and observed your thoughts for a few days, and you notice that your dominant emotion is anxiety. Your thoughts are filled with “what if” thoughts:
“What if I can’t get this done on time and my boss fires me?”
“What if this actually does not work out the way I had hoped?”
“What if I make a mistake? I’m going to look stupid.”
“What if I don’t know how to do what’s asked of me, and people realize that I’m not as good as everyone thinks I am?”

I could go on and on with examples of anxious thoughts, but you get the idea. Anxiety creates doubt. If doubt gets in the room, it snowballs and attempts to take up our entire house.

Now that you have data on your emotions and the thoughts connected to those emotions, you can move on to the next step.

Step 2: As you track your thoughts and emotions about yourself or a situation, I want you to ask yourself:
“What would I tell my best friend if they were saying this to themselves? Would I say the exact same thing about them? Or would I offer a different perspective and probably be more kind?”

We are our own worst critics, so most often we wouldn’t dream of saying what we say to ourselves about ourselves to someone else. My guess is you would probably be more realistic and kind to your friend.

Example: Let’s say you think:
“What if I make a mistake? I’m going to look stupid.”

Now, in response, ask yourself this: “If my friend came to me saying that, would I tell that friend, ‘Yes, I hate to tell you this, but if you make a mistake that means you are stupid.’?” Seems pretty harsh and untrue. What might you say instead?

Maybe you’d tell them how making mistakes is how we learn. Or you could remind them that people make mistakes all the time and that in no way do those mistakes define who they are. Or you’d remind them that they’ve been in positions where they did not know something before, and they figured it out. This time is no different. You’d tell them: “You got this!”

Now that you have data and evidence that there is more than the first perspective, you are forced to see alternative ways of looking at your own anxious situation. Now give yourself the same responses you would give your friend. It might not feel as true as it does saying it to someone else, but you have to admit your first viewpoint is not the only answer.

Notice how different these two interpretations of the same situation can be. Notice how you feel taking the first approach compared to the second.

When we are able to create different perspectives, we give ourselves an opportunity to see different outcomes, to challenge assumptions, and to be more realistic and kind to ourselves. We are reality testing instead of allowing our negative mood to dictate what we think and believe.

That’s healthier and more productive. When we think better, we feel better. That’s a fact!

I encourage you to take this month to keep track of your moods and your thoughts, and to challenge any harsh thoughts with “What would I tell my best friend right now?” And then try to listen to those answers.

Think of your brain as a radio. Any time you hear the negative station playing in your mind, make an active choice to change the channel and listen to the better-feeling, more realistic one. It will be an effort for sure. But the more you change the channel, the easier it gets. And over time that new station will become your go-to channel!

How to Find Your Mantra

Life mantra

This month, I wanted to talk about why mantras or positive statements we repeat to ourselves can play an important part in helping us get through challenging times. Mantras can help us feel more centered, grounded, and empowered while we are feeling a bit scared, sad, or even angry.  

In 2017, I discovered that one of my favorite singers (Ani DiFranco) would be performing in Edinburgh. I thought about how fun it would be to see her play and thought I could take this opportunity to make my first solo trip. Although I have flown alone many times, I had always had plans to meet someone on the other end before. But an entire week in Scotland ending with Ani sounded like the perfect adventure!

Until uncertainty and self-doubt emerged, I started to think, “What if I miss my connecting flight? What if I get lost? What if I feel awkward eating dinner alone? What if, what if, what if…”

I knew I wanted to go, but the thought of going also made me feel scared and anxious. I also knew that this challenge would be an opportunity to embrace fear and uncertainty—a great opportunity for personal growth. So that’s when I said to myself, “If something makes me anxious, I am going to do it anyway.” That has been my mantra ever since.

My new mantra helped me move through the fear and book the trip. I am so glad I did it because I had a blast. I met new people. I had dinner alone and loved it. I went on tours and walked around the city. I did not get lost, but I did almost miss my connection on the way back to Boston. I reframed that experience by saying, “If I miss my connection, I can spend a night in Ireland, which wouldn’t be such a bad thing.”

This new mantra has also helped me both personally and professionally.

In my personal life, I’ve been taking risks by joining clubs and attending different events on my own, something I might not have done before. I’ve made good friends out of those experiences. Now I also know that I enjoy dinners alone, and I feel confident taking more social risks.

On the professional side, I have created a blog, written for, Parenting, and I’ve done interviews for,, and many other national media outlets. I have agreed to be a guest on national podcasts and radio stations where I talked about stress and anxiety management. I have even written a stress management course called Breaking Everyday into Slivers Not Chunks: Practical Skills to Manage Every Day Stressors. Doing this work made me feel anxious, nervous, excited, and scared all rolled up into one. I’d never done any of these things before. And I said “yes” to it all.  

Answering “yes” to such opportunities can lead to amazing experiences. But I know it also brings uncertainty and risk, which means I open myself up to fail. I just remind myself that if I do flub or bomb, then at least I’ll learn from it and possibly get a good story out of the experience!

I’ve learned that, sometimes, we have to experience some discomfort in order to grow. If it makes me anxious, I am going to do it anyway.

I’m not talking about being-alone-in-a-dark-alley-at-midnight type of anxiety where there is a likelihood of actual danger. I’m talking about when anxiety tries to convince us that the idea of failure is too strong to take a risk, and tries to force us to make a decision to not go for something we want. 

If it makes me anxious, I am going to do it anyway. This is what I say to myself on a regular basis, and this way of thinking has served me well. I want to pass along this experience in case it helps others like it has helped me.

I encourage you to find a statement, quote, or mantra that you truly feel holds your feet to the fire when there is an opportunity to embrace uncertainty rather than run away from it.

How to Find Your Emotional Balance

How to Find Your Emotional Balance

It has been almost a year since my last blog post. The reason for my hiatus is that I became a mom last April, and trying to set aside time to write has been a challenge. Writing is important to me, but it has also been difficult balancing my new list of priorities.
So I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to talk about the importance of finding our emotional balance and how to tend to it as our lives naturally change.

3 Skills to Help You Cope with Holiday Stress

3 Skills to Help You Cope with Holiday Stress

It’s that time of year again! The holiday season is here, and so is the stress that can come along with it.
It might be deadlines at work, trying to manage kids’ school vacations, figuring out family time, planning ahead to avoid the landmines that may await you at the holiday dinner table, studying for final exams, being alone … the list goes on. The holiday season can bring exciting events, vacation time, and fun family traditions, but it can also be stressful.

How to find the right therapist

Angela Ficken

Are you struggling to find a therapist who you feel can really help you? Are you going to therapy search websites and feeling overwhelmed by all the profiles and information that’s out there?
You’re not alone; I hear about this struggle time and time again. Maybe you’re ready for therapy but aren’t sure how to tell if a therapist is right for you, or perhaps you just don’t feel you’re clicking with your current therapist and want to explore other options. Either way, there are some things you can ask yourself and potential therapists to make sure you find a good fit.
The best therapist for you is someone who fits your personality and who’s able to understand and help you with the particular issues you want to work on. You don’t always find “the one” on the first date. Not every therapist out there is going to be “the one” either.
So what can you do to narrow down the search and have a better chance at finding that therapist who is right for you?
First, ask yourself some questions to help you discover what kind of therapist you’re really looking for:
*Do you prefer to see a male or female therapist? Or does that not matter to you?

*What time are you able to meet? Some therapists have evening and weekend availability, others do not. Do you have a strong day and time preference, or are your hours flexible?

*How important is location to you? Do you want someone close to where you work, study, or live?

*Do you have a preference when it comes to therapy style? For example, would you like a therapist who is proactive during therapy sessions, who makes them feel more like conversations and discussions? Or are you looking for a therapist who is more passive, giving you most of the session to talk and providing small pockets of feedback periodically?

*Do you need to use your insurance for therapy sessions? Or can you afford to pay privately if the therapist you want to see is not on your insurance panel?

*What issues do you want to work on?
Once you understand your own preferences and needs, you can ask any potential therapists the following questions to feel out if they might be a good match for you:
*What is their availability? Does their schedule match yours? 

*Where are they located? Do they have multiple offices?

*How would they describe themselves as a therapist? Are they more passive or proactive in sessions? Are they direct and blunt, or do they carefully guide people toward answers? Some therapists may also have a website that provides more information on who they are as a clinician.

*Do they take insurance? If so, which ones? If not, what is the out-of-pocket fee?

Note: If you need to use your insurance, you can also start your search by calling your health care provider and asking for names of clinicians who are on your insurance panel. This is an easy way to narrow down your initial list of therapists to speak with.      

*Do they treat what you are looking to work on? If so, how long they have been doing this type of work? And what methods do they use in sessions to help?

*Lastly, how do they sound on the phone? Does this person sound like they know what they are talking about? Do they sound helpful? Do you get a feeling that you click? I know some people find using the phone difficult, especially if there is anxiety involved, but I do encourage you to speak with your potential therapists at least once over the phone before scheduling a session.
There’s no 100-percent guarantee that you’ll be able to feel out a good fit just by talking to someone on the phone for 10 minutes and asking them questions, but this process can certainly help you discover what you need and hopefully lead you to a therapist who you think you might find helpful and enjoy working with. 
I know the search for the right therapist can feel like an uphill battle at times. I hope this advice is helpful as you look for a therapist who best fits you and your needs.
As always, I am sending good energy your way.

Life Transitions: Reflections, the Future, and Uncertainty, Oh My!

Life Transitions: Reflections, the Future, and Uncertainty, Oh My!

And, just like that, it's June. The tulips are out, the sun is (hopefully) shining, and the scent of summer is in the air. You know what else spring and summer are good for?

Life transitions! Hooray! … Right?

If you’re a student, you might have just graduated, be heading to graduate school, be preparing to study abroad, or be packing up to head home after a year away on your own for the first time. Or perhaps you are looking for a new job, are newly single, or are reaching a milestone birthday. These are just some examples of big life transitions. These moments can cause excitement, fear, and uncertainty, all rolled up into one big, lovely package.

Skills to Help You Cope Through Loss

How to cope with loss

Coping through loss. Not a very fun sounding newsletter, is it?  But I think it’s an important and meaningful topic, and I hope this issue of the newsletter will help some of you. In recent months I have heard a lot about loss in my practice. Losing of loved ones, ending relationships, leaving college life and feeling shaky about what comes next, and moving on from friends and familiar places.  Loss comes in all different forms, but it’s always difficult. How the heck are we supposed to get through it?!
Regardless of what type of loss it is, emotions can overtake us and try to control what we do or don’t do. Disappointment, shock, depression, anger—they all call out to us in times of loss. And while these emotions are important to pay attention to, it is also important to pay attention to what we need to move through this pain we feel.
There are two skills that I have found particularly helpful in times of loss, and that I recommend you try too.
1). Set aside about 20 minutes (you can even set a timer if you want) and gather what you need to help you just be with whatever feelings arise. Get the aloe tissues ready, a glass of water to stay hydrated, a pillow to hug, or even stuffed animals (we won’t judge). 

Remember to be kind to yourself as you feel all those emotions.  And after that time limit, make sure you have something planned that helps you feel grounded. It could be watching something on Netflix, seeing a friend, taking a hot shower or bath, or listening to music you find soothing. Whatever it is, tend to yourself.

2). Structure can be your best friend in times of pain and loss. The last thing we need is to be on the couch in a dark room all day. (You can do that if you want, but refer to option 1 for some guidelines.) So give yourself some structure. Get out your weekly planner. If you don’t have one, make one. Look at your week and add in your work, school, family, and any other commitments you have to take care of. Then fill in the gaps. When do you want to see friends? When do you want to be alone and cry or journal? When do you want to watch TV or read that book you’ve been meaning to? When do you want to go for a walk or run? 

Scheduling yourself will create a structure that can help you move through emotions thoughtfully, kindly, and with built-in support. Of course, you can always move things around—nothing is ever set in stone. But knowing you have things to look forward to is so important. It’s part of being kind to yourself in a time of loss.

Going through a loss of any kind is a process. Emotions are important, and we need to create space to feel them so we can create space to heal. I hope you find these two methods of creating that space as helpful as I have.
Wishing you all good things.

Emotional Spring Cleaning

Spring Clean Your Life

When you think of spring, you often think of shedding the old and bringing in the new. But that doesn’t have to mean just throwing out those old sweaters to make room for new ones. You can apply the same idea to the emotional clutter you collect and hold on to.

Just like unused clothes in a closet, emotions can take up room you can’t spare in your brain. That’s because you unintentionally hoard emotions like guilt, shame, sadness, and anxiety.

But what purpose does this collection of unfortunate emotions serve? None!

It's time to clean out that closet, weed that garden, take out the trash … you get the idea. It might not be as easy to throw out emotional clutter as it is to donate that ratty old sweater, but it can be done with a little patience and kindness.

Below are three steps to guide you through your emotional spring cleaning.

1. Emotional Sorting

Take those emotions off your mental shelf and look at them one by one. Do you need this emotion right now? Do you enjoy wearing it? If not, toss it into the trash. If you want to hold on to it, ask yourself why you want to keep it and for how long. I find these questions can help separate us from our thoughts and emotions, and help us answer honestly.

If you need some distance, I encourage you to ask these questions out loud. Talking it out can help! When you decide which thoughts and emotions are taking up too much space, you can take the next step in letting them go.

2. Journal

Put those thoughts from the trash pile onto a page. No judgment, no editing (swear words included), no holding back. Writing these thoughts down helps free your mind of any ruminative thinking. After you finish writing it all down, you can choose to keep it, shred it, or throw it out. Throwing out the physical evidence of those emotions can be particularly cathartic for many people.

3. Make a Self-Care List

Practice being kind to yourself. To loosen the grip of negative thoughts and emotions, and fully let go, you also need to put good things into your life. Go to the movies, read a book for fun, go for a walk, or do something you love on your own or with a friend. Make a list of activities that make you happy and pick something from it at least once a week.

Remember that these steps may need to be repeated several times before you feel the full effect of

letting go. Do not give up!

It is hard cleaning out old stuff, even when you desperately want to kick it to the curb. This is especially true of emotions. Be patient with yourself. You can always spend some extra time on Step 3 if you feel stuck.

Sending good energy your way!


Reframing “Should” and Combating Anxiety

Dealing with anxious thoughts

On an average day, “should” statements can motivate us. “I should do my laundry tonight so I have underwear for tomorrow,” or “I should fill up my car with gas so I don’t run out on the drive home tonight.”

But when we are anxious, the word “should” becomes paralyzing.

Have you ever noticed your internal dialogue when you are feeling anxious? If not, next time you are feeling anxiety, see if you can observe your thoughts and catch a “should” statement. “I should be able to write this email perfectly,” or “I should be able to get started and I just can’t do it,” or “I should be able to balance everything on my schedule right now.”

When we ‘’should” ourselves, we judge ourselves based on false assumptions. We assume everyone else is having an easier time, that everyone else would be better or faster at whatever task we are doing in that moment, or that we have to do something in a certain way in order to get it done.

Perhaps you happen to be surrounded by people who enjoy writing and the process of struggling through it, or you’re often around friends who feel comfortable asking people out on dates, or you know people who are legitimately having an easier time doing the same work. But there are more people in your boat than you think.

For many people, “should” stops being helpful when it stops being motivational and is instead followed by some type of expectation. This shift is often triggered by anxiety.

When this happens, I always ask my clients, “Does this statement make you feel good?” I have to say, I can’t remember a time when someone told me that, in their state of anxiety, a “should” statement made them feel good and inspired or got them motivated. If anything, these statements make people feel conflicted or even paralyzed.

So how do we kick these unwanted “should” statements to the curb?

The first step is to catch the “should” statement when it goes through your mind. Notice how you are talking to yourself when you are in a negative emotional state. Then, if you catch a “should” statement, try to soften in with the word “prefer.”

What would you prefer to do? Would you prefer to study, or go on that date, or do something on your own? Would you prefer to get your paperwork done, or take a break and tackle it tomorrow?

Each choice has a consequence, and that’s OK. The choice depends on what feels best for you.

Asking ourselves what we “prefer” to do instead of what we “should” be doing gives us options to choose from and allows us to move away from assumed and sometimes unrealistic expectations. Preference can give you an opportunity to pause and think, “What do I want? What is the best decision for me right now?”

Using “prefer” vs. “should” softens the negative thought and can, therefore help shift your mood and get you moving again.

Next time you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious, see if you can stop for a minute and observe your thoughts. If you catch a “should” statement, see if you can change it into “prefer” instead.

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Politics, Family, and the Holiday Season

Stress Relief

Politics and family. Oy! Talk about a challenging combination. Especially with this year’s election, families may be primed to talk about this hot-button topic. If you anticipate your family bringing up politics, here are some suggestions on how to dodge that bullet this holiday season.

1. If you feel comfortable approaching your family about this before the holidays, you can request to keep this topic off the table. Consider writing an email that says something like: “Hi, family! In celebration of Thanksgiving (or any holiday), let’s table talking politics for the day.” Get everyone to agree, and suggest that if anyone slips up, you will all give them a gentle reminder of the agreement.

2. Changing the conversation can also be a helpful strategy. Try to aim for topics that are fairly benign and relatively easy to engage in. Asking about vacations, fun plans coming up, plans for New Years, or any good books or shows they can recommend are all topics that might hold interest and give room to expand on with follow-up questions.

3. And when all else fails? Remember to take mini breaks. If you need ideas for what mini breaks might work for you, or if you want to develop other skills that could help you avoid stress this holiday season, check out our Progress Wellness newsletter. 


Note, it’s helpful to practice these skills even when you don’t need them, so when you actually start feeling anxious, you know exactly what to do.

1. Journaling can be a wonderful practice, so have a journal and a pen on hand for when you feel anxious or you can use a journal app on your phone as well. When we feel anxious, our thoughts can race or get stuck in our minds, making it difficult to let go of them. Other times, we may fall into thinking about events that made us feel bad or create events that we fear could happen in the future. Journaling is a way to let out those thoughts and put space between you and your anxiety. Writing things down can help you to look at your thoughts by actually seeing them on the page. This allows you to create a dialogue between you and whatever is causing your anxiety. Making these thoughts visible helps you to remember them so that you can analyze them and replace them with more helpful thoughts and action steps. Just like Dumbledore’s pensieve from Harry Potter, where he would put his wand to his head and out would come a memory and then he would file it away to look at later, journaling can help you to do that too. This strategy to pull out thoughts and worries from your mind and put them in visible form helps you to see your situation and your feelings more clearly. This frees up your mind to move into problem-solving mode.

2. Hold something cold in your hand for what I call a “brain break” coping skill. Go to the freezer and grab an ice cube. Hold the ice cube in one hand over the sink. See how long it takes you to notice that you are not able to have any thoughts other than “my hand feels so cold!” Flip the ice into the other hand and notice that experience. As one hand starts to thaw out, the other one gets cold. Maybe you notice where the water melts in your hand actually feels warmer than where the ice is sitting. Then, when you can’t take it anymore, toss the ice in the sink. Holding something cold forces us out of our head (stops ruminative, racing thoughts that are anxiety-driven) and into the moment (where your entire attention is on your hands), giving your brain a break from whatever stress you are swept up in. Sometimes, after tossing the ice into the sink, that “brain break” allows you to regroup, think more clearly, and ask yourself more positive questions, such as “Is what I am thinking helpful? Can I do anything about this now?”

3. Make a playlist of songs that you like that evoke calm, hopeful, happy, or peaceful feelings. Play it regularly such as on the way to work, school, or home, at lunchtime, at night before bed, or at the gym and connect with the music and its calming effects. Then, anytime that you feel anxious, or when you can predict/fear that you may feel anxious, you can press Play and know that you have this remedy set to go.

4. Get enough sleep to counteract your anxiety. Instead of counting sheep, which is difficult to do when your mind is racing at night, try thinking of your favorite recipe. Start by listing out all the ingredients in your mind. Where do you find the items in the market? Think about all the steps you take to make the dish. Anytime you find your mind wandering off to anxiety-land, bring it back to where you left off with your dish. If you do not enjoy cooking, another option similar to this is to imagine you are taking a trip around the world. Where would you start and what places would you see? Where would you stay? What kinds of venues would you like to eat at, shop at, or visit? What would you do in each country and city? Again, if your mind wanders off to anxiety-land, do your best to catch it and bring it back to where you left off. This can feel like a tennis match at times, where just as you bring your attention back, it’s off on the other side of the court. However, like with most things that we put time into, the more we practice, the better we become. Practice increases the chances of this coping skill being successful.

5. Shift your focus outward. When feeling anxious, you might feel your heart pound and your thoughts race. You may feel frozen in place while everything around you starts speeding up. The more we focus our attention on these symptoms, the more anxious we can become. This is when moving your attention from what’s happening inside your body and mind to what’s happening around you can be very helpful. So look up from where you are and name 5 things that you can see, 4 things that you can hear, 3 things that you can touch, 2 things that you can smell, and 1 thing that you enjoy. Doing this can force our mind into the present moment, allowing our brain to slow down, and our heart rate to calm down. This can give you the mental space to think more clearly, and separate from your anxiety messages.

I hope these suggestions are helpful to you. If anxiety is interfering with your well-being, please feel free to contact me to schedule a consultation at