A Guide to Thriving in the Holiday Season Single

During the holidays, single individuals have the unique opportunity to take up new traditions, cultivate a sense of home and celebrate the relationships that they do have.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! This month is full of dinners, parties, events, service, and gatherings.  Because the holiday season is very couple- and family-oriented, it is incredibly easy for those who are single to feel down and lonely. I want to share some ideas for how you can make the holidays truly wonderful even if you do not have a significant other. 

Instead of focusing on your loneliness (which is easy to do), try viewing your singleness as a gift this holiday season. As a fellow single person, I believe that during the holidays, we have the unique opportunity to take up new traditions, cultivate a sense of home and celebrate the relationships we do have. I have compiled a list of several practical ways to get started!

  1. Holiday dates. Sure, dating is hard, but there are so many fun activities you can do around the holiday season. Instead of shying away from dating this time of year, take advantage of it! Ask a friend, or someone you have had your eye on, on a fun, low pressure date. Nutcracker and cocoa? Sign me up!
  2. Volunteer. There are a million opportunities to give around the holidays. I encourage you to serve at a soup kitchen, participate in a food drive, volunteer at an animal shelter, be a part of Sub-for-Santa, or do whatever you enjoy to make someone else’s season better. Giving heals the soul and will certainly invite the spirit of Christmas into your life.
  3. Organize your space. There is nothing better than starting the new year feeling organized and less cluttered. Make your living space somewhere you want to be by cleaning and making it homey. You can also do some good by donating things you do not need to a local charity (or selling them to make a few extra bucks).
  4. “TREAT YO’SELF.” Tom Haverford from Parks and Rec would tell you to buy yourself that gift you have been eyeballing. Schedule a spa day. Pamper yourself with a nice massage, manipedi, facial, whatever will loosen you up. Treat yo’self!
  5. Take a solo trip. If you can swing it financially, think about doing some traveling by yourself. No need to plan a huge, expensive excursion; consider exploring a new city — even if it is just for a night or two. 
  6. Hand make/bake presents. If you have several people you need a gift for, consider getting creative and making something. Creativity is a healthy outlet and also a form of self-care. Plus who would not want a tiny loaf of your homemade zucchini bread?!
  7. Create your own traditions. You do not have to wait until you have a significant other to start a tradition. You can start practices that bring joy to your life, no matter your relationship status. Buy a Christmas tree for your apartment, host an annual holiday movie night, volunteer at a local homeless shelter… the options are endless! One of my favorite things is to simply turn off all my lights,  turn on my Christmas tree lights, and curl up under my Sherpa blanket at the end of a long day and watch a holiday movie. 
  8. Embrace spending time alone. Learning to enjoy being alone is a journey. And although the holiday season can be a lonely one, it is also a great time to reflect on yourself. With extra time off during the winter, you have an excellent opportunity to spend time with yourself, pursue your passions, and make goals. Take time to be introspective; you may find it helpful to journal and reflect on the highs and the lows of the year, and what you want the next year to look like! 
  9. Remember that there’s nothing wrong with being single. Everyone spends time being single. It is a natural stage of life, and some are in this stage longer than others. If you are feeling discouraged and are tempted to stay home, I urge you to be brave enough to go into spaces where you might be the odd one out. Try to embrace your stage of life without feeling jealous or bitter. You can desire the kind of relationship that someone else has without letting that desire drive you to bitterness. 
  10. Focus outward. Ask yourself, how can I make this holiday better for others? It sounds really basic, but I have discovered that focusing on other people’s happiness makes me much less concerned with my own. It is nearly impossible to feel bad about myself when I am taking care of others. 

Regardless of whether you are single because you have broken off a long-term partnership or have been single your whole life, I hope that these tips encourage you to view your singleness not as an inconvenience, but as a blessing–full of beauty and opportunities for growth.  Make the most of what remains this holiday season by volunteering, taking care of yourself, creating your own traditions, and spending time with loved ones. You do not need a significant other to have the best holidays ever. Happiest holidays to you and yours!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Finding Your Strengths

Finding Your Strengths - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville Therapist

Finding Your Strengths - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville TherapistIf you’ve ever been asked the question “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” in a job interview or on a date, you probably immediately noticed your heart racing. While acknowledging weaknesses can be quite easy, recognizing and articulating one’s strengths is quite difficult. Let’s change that, starting with YOU, today!

Just last week, I was talking with a friend who had been at a blogging conference. She took a class where they spent some time focusing on articulating one’s strengths…and it was super hard for her. She told me, “I can list off right now fifty weaknesses I have, and areas where I am trying to improve, but I cannot tell you one single thing I am good at!”

Why? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why is it so easy to see the bad and nearly impossible to notice our strengths? I have not been able to stop thinking about this concept ever since, and so I am dedicating this blog post to discovering your strengths.

  1. Take time to understand yourself.

I have written previously about the power of journaling; it is a great way to become more self-aware and reflective about your abilities. First, look for skill-based strengths. Take several days or even a week to write things you spend your time doing; you may even rate these activities. From this, you may learn:

  • I enjoy doing laundry and cleaning. I am an organized, tidy person.
  • I find research papers interesting; I am driven to always be learning and growing.
  • I don’t love washing/vacuuming my car, but I clean it weekly. I am consistent.

Then, search deeper, and examine your values. Search for personality-based strengths. What is important to you? What governs your choices? Or if this is too abstract, think about individuals you respect and why; what traits do they posses that you value?

  • I let my waitress know she undercharged me last night. I am honest. Integrity is important to me.
  • Even though my life is busy, I found time to take the neighbors dinner to me because I try to be a kind, thoughtful person.
  • I really admire Marilee’s ability to give her full attention to others. That is something I am actively working to turn into a strength of mine.

Evaluating how you spend your time will tell you a great deal about yourself. Take the time to be introspective and you will discover things you did not already know about yourself.

  1. Ask others to identify your strengths.

I enjoy giving my clients the homework assignment where they ask others to help them identify their strengths. This is beneficial and insightful to anyone and everyone, and I recommend you give it a whirl! To start, think of people in every aspect of your life (work, old jobs, and former teachers, as well as friends and family). Send the individuals you’ve selected an email asking them to give you particular instances where they saw you use your strengths. Make sure to mention that these strengths can be skill-based or personality-based. You will likely be surprised by all you can learn about yourself from the perspective of others!

  1. Make said strengths easy to articulate.

Now, you likely have several ideas about things you excel in, but you may not know exactly how to articulate that. I would like to recommend fitting it into one of the following three phrases:

I AM _________

I HAVE _________

I CAN _________

If you enjoy talking with others, that can be, “I am personable.” If you are good at meeting deadlines, you could say, “I am punctual.” If you found you are able to remain calm in stressful situations– ”I can prioritize and manage stress effectively,” etc.

  1. Verbalize strengths. Repeat them. Believe them. Live them.

At the end of February, I posted about affirmations, and the strength we can summon by regularly affirming such powerful statements. Might I recommend repeating your I am/I have/I can statements? Set a time to regularly repeat your affirmations. Reminding yourself who you are and what you are good at is invaluable. Yes, we should never be complacent with where we are, and we should always strive to improve. Recognizing your strengths will help you capitalize on them and even strengthen them.

Everyone has gifts, strengths, and talents…everyone! They just take time to discover. Even though it is easier to recognize strengths when things are going well, It is just as important to recognize strengths in times when you feel discouraged or insignificant. You have worth! I urge you to seek out your strengths so you can be comfortable in your own skin, and build upon these to become the person you want to be. As always, should you need help in this regard, or with any aspect of your personal emotional health, my door is open. I thoroughly enjoy helping my clients build their self-esteem in order to be emotionally healthy. Please feel free to contact me today or simply click here to schedule a session.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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The Beauty of Journaling

Cluff Counseling - The Beauty of Journaling

Cluff Counseling - The Beauty of JournalingSome of the most influential people in history kept detailed journals of their lives. Those journals are both a permanent record for posterity, as well as a cathartic release for the people writing them. Even if you don’t think you need either, keeping a journal has benefits you can enjoy immediately.

Imagine you had a friend you could share everything with–literally everything: when you feel frustrated or hurt by your partner, when you are stressed because of work, when you feel guilty after making a mistake or hurting someone else, or even just when you feel discouraged because of social media comparisons. Yes, you may have a friend, family member, or a partner in whom you can confide, but that person may not always be available and/or what you are facing may be too private, at times, to discuss with others. This is the beauty of journaling.

Journaling is powerful. It is an incredible tool that we can tap into when life is overwhelming, wonderful, or anything in between. When stressful events occur, writing through emotions and feelings has long been known to cause improvements in health and psychological well-being. This is because expressive writing reduces intrusive and avoidant thoughts about negative events and improves working memory. In addition to stress management, these enhancements free up our cognitive resources for other mental activities. There are so many positive benefits to journaling, but today I would like to focus on the following four:

  1. Journaling helps you organize. To do’s, goals, and dreams come out while journaling; it is all part of your stream of consciousness. Not only that, but if you are facing a problem in life, journaling can help you problem solve. A clear plan of action often surfaces when journaling, which is so helpful if you are feeling scattered, disorganized, or overwhelmed!
  2. Journaling clears your emotions. As you write freely in your journal, you will experience reduced feelings of scatteredness, increase focus and stability, release pent-up feelings and emotions, bridge outer events and inner thinking, and detach from the past. There is no greater way to be present in day-to-day life than to regularly clear your emotions and start with a clean slate. In fact, you can even reduce your stress by journaling!
  3. Journaling solidifies learning. I cannot tell you how many times I have read something I learned but had forgotten from my own journal. Writing down experiences and lessons learned reinforces them, and enables you to remember details you might not otherwise remember.
  4. Journaling leads to gratitude. No matter what mood you are in when you begin writing, journaling has the power to naturally steer you towards thankfulness–towards appreciating what you do have and strengths you do possess. When we pause to consider all the good in our life (and I recommend taking the time to write down your gratitude list), a cascading effect occurs and we inevitably realize we have more than we originally considered.

So how can you get started? There are infinite options! In the resources section below, I included one of my favorite possibilities, “The Five Minute Journal.” There are prompts divided into a morning section (to start your day off awesome), as well as a night section (to reflect on what happened throughout the day). Prompts include things like, “I am grateful for…,” “What would make today great..?” “Daily affirmations: I am…,” “3 amazing things that happened today,” and, “How could I have made today better…?” These prompts foster meaningful thought and do not take much time to answer.  A quick google search will render many additional ideas on how you can get started writing in your journal today.

There is great power in picking up a pen and writing freely in your journal for a few minutes every day. While some sources recommend writing for 20-30 minutes at least once day, I often tell my clients to start with what feels natural. If you want to write for five minutes at the start of your day, try it. If you prefer summarizing the day before going to bed, go for it! I recently started bullet journaling because it seemed easier than paragraphs; though many of my entries morph into traditional journaling format, I enjoy following what feels natural to me. Let your creativity run free and journal the way that feels most natural to you–that is how you will get the most out of it. If you have questions about journaling or would like to schedule a session, please do not hesitate to contact me or set up a session today!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Doing the Things You Enjoy Can Help Your Anxiety

Cluff Counseling - Hobbies for Anxiety Relief

Cluff Counseling, DFW Marriage and Family Therapy - Hobbies for Anxiety ReliefLife is stressful. Whether it is deadlines at work, final exams in school, a breakup with a significant other, or simply the daily rig-a-ma-roll of life, chances are high that you feel anxious from time to time. Anxiety is a normal part of life in our society; everyone experiences it in some degree or another. In fact, 40 million American adults deal with an anxiety disorder of some kind! The question is not if or when you will feel your heart palpitating, have weak legs, or feel queasy about an impending event… the real question is how you will deal with your anxiety when you experience it. In this blog post I will share 6 hobbies that can help keep that anxiety at bay…or at least keep it at a manageable level.

It is not uncommon for my clients to deal with anxiety–I would say 4 out of 5 struggle with a degree of anxiety in some area of their life. In most cases, my clients simply need guidance for managing their anxiety. Some of my other clients, however, have more severe anxiety, and I may recommend medication in order for them to find and achieve balance and equilibrium. I often tell these clients that life with severe anxiety without medication is like drowning… you are disoriented and cannot tell up from down, as you struggle for breath.  On the other hand, life with severe anxiety with medication is like swimming with your head above the water… you are in control, you have air in your lungs, and you can see clearly. Medication will not take your anxiety away; instead, it will help you cope better and be in control of your life. Such cases where medication is needed require a diagnosis from a certified individual, like me, a licensed therapist. Optimal results come when medication is coupled with counseling and self-care.  If you feel you have chronic anxiety, come see me for an assessment and to begin creating a plan to address your anxiety.

Certain hobbies have been found to naturally help clients overcome and alleviate anxiety. When participating in hobbies to help combat anxiety, you are in control. Choose something you like and you are interested in. Here are six suggestions to get your started:

  • Paint or write in a journal. Take a break from the endless social media scrolling, and release your inner artist. There is something so therapeutic about creating with paint and/or words!
  • Joy read or watch an engaging TV show. Escape your own troubles momentarily by losing yourself in other people’s stories.
  • Get outside. Barrie Sueskind, a therapist specializing in anxiety, says this is her go-to: “Fresh air and sunlight are proven mood boosters.”
  • Practice mindfulness. This is all about quieting the madness in your head while still being present. Yoga, meditation, or even a quick walk can steady those racing thoughts.
  • Work out. No secret here–exercise is great for curbing stress, depression, and anxiety!
  • Take a self-improvement class. Yes, you are experiencing anxiety because life is busy and stressful… so adding an extraneous class to the mix may seem counter-productive. However, improving your cooking skills, learning a language, or learning a new hobby is an incredible way to focus on the present and not worry about the future!

Remember, these are merely suggestions. You are in the driver’s seat and can control what and how much you do to ward off those feelings of anxiousness…because they will come! If you have questions, or feel your anxiety is interfering with your ability to enjoy life, contact me today.

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