Self Care

Let values, not Expectations, be your Guide to Gift Giving this Christmas

Lauren Ashburn, LPTA, PCES and I talk about common stressors related to holiday gift giving.

I love getting to go LIVE with Lauren. Check out our latest discussion about how to manage expectations around gift giving. Especially when it comes to wanting to buy everything on our children! Learn to distinguish between expectations and values. We discuss some concrete steps for learning to let our values be our guide to gift giving, not expectations. 

The Importance of Setting an Energy Budget to Avoid Holiday Burnout

12/3/2021 Written by Amanda Averbeck, MS, LMFT Associate. Interviewed by Lauren Ashburn, LPTA, PCES

My Friend, Lauren Ashburn, LPTA, PCES and I met LIVE yesterday to discuss the benefits of setting an energy budget for the holidays to avoid burnout and crankiness! Lauren is a Licensed Physical Therapist Assistant and a Wholistic Wellness Coach passionate about helping people become their best selves, physically and emotionally. Read below for the “Sparks Notes” version of our transcript.

Lauren: What does people pleasing look like? How can it manifest as emotions?

Excellent question. People pleasing often feels like stress, worry, resentment, tension in our body, and tension in our relationships. It often comes with an expectation that we will “not let other’s down” or “be the strong one” or “keep it together for everyone else”. The problem with people pleasing manifests when it is always the go to move to manage stress and discomfort. Often people pleasers have a high rate of burn out, chronic anxiety, depression, and even physical health issues.

You’ll know you are people pleasing if you literally put your own desires and needs on the back burner so you can fulfill other people’s needs and wants. For example, you know it’s going to be a long week at work and come Friday you will just want to stay home watching a Christmas movie in your flannel pajamas, but you said “yes” to an invitation to go to your neighbor’s Christmas party. You are friendly with your neighbor and love chatting with them, but you ultimately said “yes” because you were afraid of hurting their feelings and making your neighbor interaction weird. You knew they would see your car in the driveway and know you had “nothing” going

Except you did have plans. You had plans with yourself to relax. People pleasers will continually stand themselves up and discount their need for self-care to meet other people’s expectations.

Lauren: What are the benefits of boundary setting/making an energy budget? How can it reduce people pleasing?

I love the term, energy budget. It has a different connotation than boundaries. Often when I say the word boundaries to people pleasers the response is, “I know” with a sigh and an eye roll. People pleasers typically know they need boundaries, they may also see the benefit of boundaries and protecting their energy and time, but they don’t know how to do it in a way that feels right for them.  

Boundaries often comes with a focus on what you are NOT going to do. Whereas an energy budget focuses on what you WANT or are WILLING to do. When you fill your time with activities you desire, then check to see if you have time for other invitations, you can gain clarity about when to say “yes” and when to say “no thank you.”

When you live with an energy budget you stay in your body’s and mind’s capacity for activity or social engagements. By doing this you can more fully enjoy the events and moments you choose. In contrast when we do more than our body and mind can contain, we may show up physically, but emotionally we are worn out, resentful, and lacking the capacity for the experience. As a result, our good intentions of going to please backfires. Others may perceive that we are emotionally “closed off” because we are just a little bit cranky or have a glazed look to our eyes.

Lauren: what are some techniques we can utilize to be present and make conscious decisions that best serve us VS saying yes to please those around us?

1) I like to use the analogy of a jar full of rocks and pebbles, with rocks representing the things we want to do and the pebbles representing our obligations.

First, determine the size of your container. Are you an extravert? You may have a quart size Mason jar. If you are an introvert, you may have a pint-sized jar.

Concretely determining the size of your container may look like knowing how many weekends and week nights you realistically have free for Holiday activities.  

Next make a list of the things you WANT to do this Christmas season. Make sure to account for rest, Christmas movies, snuggles, sipping hot chocolate and looking at the tree. You can create this list individually, as a couple, or in a family meeting. The idea is to brainstorm and understand what is most important to you and your family during the holiday season.

Then make the list of your obligations for the Holiday season. (Maybe there is no way to get out of going to Aunt Franny’s annual Egg Nog and Caroling event without damaging the relationship.)

Then rank them. Let the most important things be the biggest rocks that take up the most time in your schedule.

Then fill in with the obligations or pebbles as they fit. (BE SURE TO schedule transition time. Time to eat. Time to sleep.)

2) Another technique that can be used when a spontaneous invitation comes your way is to tune in with yourself when you get an invite. Is your first gut response “NO”? Then don’t say “yes” or even “maybe”. “Maybe” may lead to a space of time where you talk yourself into going even though you don’t want to. Instead, politely decline and share your appreciating for the invite. Say, “I already have plans, thank you for thinking of me.” (REMEMBER: plans to do nothing are real plans!)

3) If you are someone who tends to give a knee jerk “Yes” to every invitation, buying yourself some time to think may benefit you. This might be a time to say, “Maybe. Let me check my calendar.” Then tune in with yourself do you really want to go? Look at your calendar. Can you realistically say “yes” and still have energy for the things you have already determined are a priority? Then go for it! If the answer to either of those questions is “no”, stick to your energy budget and decline with regret. “AW man! I wish I could go! I would have had a good time. Maybe next time.”


In the LIVE we also took time to answer viewer questions, such as, “What to do when your spouse has a high energy budget, but you don’t?” Check out our discussion on Lauren Ashburn’s Instagram page Wellnessflowbylo

If you want more individual support while determining your energy budget this holiday season you can schedule an appointment with me at

Reduce Depression with the Attitude of Gratitude

Written by Amanda Averbeck, MS, LMFT Associate 10/18/2021

I frequently see people posting 30 days gratitude in the month of November. Its easy to get into the spirit of gratitude when there is a holiday dedicated to the practice, but what if you held on to gratitude year-round?

Research has shown that listing at least 3 items that you are truly grateful for every day can be as powerful as an antidepressant in improving your mood? (Emmons & McCullough, 2003)

I mean truly grateful, as in Authentically grateful. Not a list of things for which you think you SHOULD be grateful. But a list of things that brought a smile to your face, a swell of joy in your heart, and left you with a sense of peace afterward.

As you are on the lookout for these moments of gratitude you are automatically building your mindfulness muscle. Give your self permission to really savor these moments of gratitude when they happen and later when you write them down. Strengthening a practice of noticing these moments will build new neural pathways in your brain so you will more easily recognize positivity in your environment (Drigas & Karyotaki, 2018).

As a species we are already wired to see what is wrong in our environment (Brewer, 2021). To stay alive, we need to be fine-tuned to potential hazards. As a result, our brains are not automatically wired to seek out the positive. We must intentionally train our brains to do that. When we build the conscious habit of seeing the light, it balances our perspective of the dark, protecting us from developing depression or long-term anxiety.

So don’t stop at 30 days of gratitude. Make it 365 days. The more you do it, the more it will become automatic.

Please note: This article is intended to uplift and inspire the reader and be a supplement to counseling. Contact me if you would like an appointment. If you are experiencing and emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.


Brewer, J. (2021). Unwinding anxiety: New science shows how to break the cycles of worry and fear to heal your mind. Vermilion.

Drigas, A. S., Karyotaki, M., & Skianis, C. An Integrated Approach to Neuro-development, Neuroplasticity and Cognitive Improvement. International Journal of Recent Contributions from Engineering, Science & IT (IJES), 6(3), 4.

Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377–389.

Managing Holiday Stress with Play

Written by Amanda Averbeck, MS, LMFT Associate; Based on the science of play as reported by the National Institute for Play

It’s just around the corner. October is the start of a three-month holiday season that starts with Halloween and culminates with the New Year and a resolution to reset after the hustle, bustle, and stress.

It’s easy to get sucked into family drama, become irritated about travel inconveniences, feel pressure to buy presents, or keep up with traditions that promise fond memories. Before you know it, anxiety levels soar. Instead of counting down to Christmas with cheer, you might find yourself consumed with checking off your to-do list, longing for the madness to end. The family gatherings and activities that might have been enjoyed, become tainted with anxiety, stress, relationship tension, and a risk of depression or burnout. Which now that I mention them, are the things that bring people to my office. (Fun fact: therapy offices are usually busiest between Halloween and New Year’s. I don’t think this a coincidence.)

This year save yourself the grief and stay off the therapy couch with one of the most powerful antidotes to stress: play. Yes play. Yes, even for adults. Especially for adults. It’s a short cut to that “reset button” promised in New Year’s Day. You don’t have to wait three months to hit it.

Forgotten how to play? I’ll refresh your memory. Remember when you were a kid and you couldn’t wait for Saturday morning because you were going to spend hours doing…well, whatever it was you loved to do. Maybe it was reading comics, skipping rocks, or running with the neighborhood kids. I’ll let you fill in the blank. Whatever it was, you couldn’t get enough of it. It would consume your mind, so you lost track of time. Afterwards you probably felt refreshed. That’s play. Stress and anxiety are future oriented and riddled with “what ifs”. Play is one of the quickest ways to re-engage with and enjoy the here and now.

Halloween provides fabulous opportunities for engaging in many types of play. Attunement play is simply being with someone as they engage in play. For example, being with your kids while they enjoy their costumes. Social play includes friends, such as a Halloween party. Creative play gets us in touch with the fantastical, such wearing your own costume and playing the part while trick or treating with your kids. You can engage your whole body in play by walking through a haunted house or re-enacting the music video “Thriller”. Even telling ghost stories is a type of play! Giving yourself permission to enjoy these activities gives your mind a chance to relax.

As adults we use our cognition frequently to make plans, especially during the holidays. While I appreciate a well thought out plan, I also know that hyper focusing on the details might overheat our brains. Skip the mental breakdown this year. Carve out time out for play! See what I did there? I told you to “carve” time, like you would carve a pumpkin! Haha. Word play!

You want more than play for your mental health this holiday season? I am available for individual, couple, or group therapy appointments. 

What's Going On Beneath The Surface?

Written by Amanda Averbeck, MS, LMFT Associate; Based on Satir Transformational Systemic Therapy

When things don’t go your way, do you get stuck in a rumination rut, replaying the event over and over in your mind? While this behavior is well intentioned (usually you are trying to learn from your mistakes), constantly reviewing what went wrong in the past or planning to prevent similar events in the future can lead to depression and anxiety.

Do yourself a favor. Next time you have a distressing day or event, process it by asking yourself these questions*.

Observe your answers like you would observe a thought during meditation—nonjudgmentally.

1)     How are you feeling right now about what happened?

2)     How are you feeling about feeling that way?

3)     As a result of what happened, how do you see yourself right now?

4)     How do you think others see you as a result of what happened? How is that affecting you?

5)     What were you hoping would happen?

6)     What do you think others were hoping for? How is that affecting the way you are processing this event?

7)     What are you hoping for or need right now? Do it.

Please note: If you notice the above questions leading to defensiveness or distressing feelings, please consider counseling to explore further. Together we can overcome what is preventing you from consciously choose the change you want. Learn more at

*Based on the work of Virginia Satir