A Note on Awareness and Expectations

Have you ever been really excited to see a movie your friend told you was “the best movie ever” and been sorely disappointed? Or planned to drive somewhere expecting the traffic to be awful and then it was actually a breeze?

Do you think your expectations of the event impacted your experience of it? We have so many expectations and, often, we’re unaware of those expectations and how our expectations influence our experience of the event.

This can extend beyond the mundane, but the mundane events in life are a good place to practice awareness of expectations. So, I wanted to share a note on awareness and expectations based on my own experience. 


Expectations are preconceived ideas or notions we have about something; those expectations may or may not match the outcome.

The other day, I bought a juice that had been highly recommended as one of the top rated juices around. So, I thought the juice was going to be good. Now, good juice to me means it has to taste sweet, and I was looking forward to drinking it. Immediately after the first sip, I thought the juice wasn’t good because it didn’t taste sweet. 

Since I had already bought it, I continued to drink it. After my third or fourth sip, I started thinking  the juice not being sweet doesn’t make it bad. So I began to notice how this new thought seemed to have replaced my original thought, and I started enjoying drinking the juice as my perception had shifted. I then realized that sweetness isn’t the only thing that might make good juice, there are other characteristics that can make juice good. 

Sometimes, our expectations can actually change the way we experience an event.

Now, question: Are we going to let those preconceived ideas dictate how we experience life?

You might be wondering what juice has to do with it – just like with most experiences in life, I had an expectation about something which influenced the way I experienced it and influenced the conclusions I drew about the experience.

This made me realize how many times I’ve had expectations in the past and because things turned out to be different from what I had expected; I didn’t enjoy them or, what’s worse, I have dismissed them. 

Our thoughts directly influence the way we see the world, therefore, how we interact in it. 

So knowing this, are there times that you might benefit from letting go of your expectations? Start over and experience the thing as it’s happening in the moment? I think sometimes it depends on whether or not we are ready to take the leap and make the adjustments so we can be present and lose focus of all those preconceived notions we have about things.

If you feel ready, the next time you catch yourself in an experience where it doesn’t match your expectations, see if you can ask yourself, is there another way to look at this?

It isn’t always possible, and if it doesn’t feel possible to you in the moment, that’s ok! There is still value in practicing asking the question to make space for other possibilities. When we make it a habit to ask ourselves if there is another way to look at things we create awareness around our expectations and, when it is possible to look at something another way, we’re more likely to catch the opportunity.


About the Author

Karina Carvajal Frakt is an Associate Marriage & Family Therapist at True North Psychology in San Jose, CA. In Karina’s words, “I believe everyone has the capacity for healing and transformation within themselves.”


How to Set Boundaries Around COVID Safety this Holiday Season

Do you need to turn down an invitation for Thanksgiving this year?

California is “sounding the alarm” on the spread of COVID, and Dr. Sara Cody (Santa Clara County Public Health Officer) has described eating around a table with people outside of our own household a “very high risk activity.”

If you know you want to roll back plans this year based on this guidance, you might be worried about turning down an invitation for a holiday gathering. If you don’t know what to say to your in-laws, neighbor, sister, mother, uncle… whoever it is that you know an invitation is coming from (or if you’ve already accepted an invitation and want to change your mind), this is for you.

Before we talk about how to approach this conversation, let’s chat about how the stakes got so high.

It can be really mystifying that we’re all looking at the same data yet making vastly different decisions. There are some folks who don’t believe taking precautions is necessary.

If this is the case and you want to assert a boundary, it isn’t worth arguing. You aren’t likely to change anyone’s mind in this circumstance.

There is something else happening though- many more people believe they ARE taking necessary precautions but have made different risk assessments from one another. The information coming from all levels of leadership is not consistent, and humans as individuals are not particularly good at making risk assessments of this nature.

Many people are engaging in different levels of precaution and believe they are being safe. It is important to assert your own boundary with kindness and confidence. If your boundary or precaution is more stringent than someone else’s, that’s okay.

You don’t have to explain it or justify it. If you’re not used to asserting a boundary with someone, you probably know that guilt can feel heavy. This might be hard, but it also might be worth it.

Here are some tips for planning and having what might be a challenging conversation:


1. Know your own boundary.

Do you know that you don’t want to eat dinner with others around a table? Are you comfortable with a 20 minute outdoor, masked and distant conversation? Or is a holiday get-together by video the best option for you? Knowing this before the conversation will allow you to focus on the purpose of the conversation without getting off track into an unwinnable-for-anyone argument.


2. Get on the same page with your household.

Thoughts about risk-taking in this situation can differ among members of your household. If you’re a couple, this may mean going with the boundary of the least comfortable member and then agreeing to assert that boundary together. If your spouse is uncomfortable with dinner with your parents, communicate that you have decided as a family rather than blaming it on just one person.


3. Communicate your boundary without judgment on their choices.

The goal here is to assert your own boundary, and this is something you can be 100% successful with. [If you want to try to encourage your loved ones to make different choices, this is a very different conversation – have it separately] “I am (we are) not comfortable with getting together with folks we don’t live with right now.”


4. Know you do not have to justify your boundary.

If someone asks you why, tries to convince you you’re wrong, or seems frustrated, it’s enough to say, “I am just not comfortable with it.” There isn’t a need to argue about the validity of your boundary OR the basis for their different decision making. You may need to repeat this serval times!


5. Express gratitude in a manner that is true for you.

“We always love our family holidays, and are looking forward to when we feel comfortable seeing everyone together again. We really can’t wait!” If not that’s not true for you, you can also say something like, “Thank you for inviting us!”


6. Validate feelings and express your own (in a way that is true for you).

Here are some options: “I know it’s frustrating and disappointing. I’m disappointed too.” If you aren’t disappointed you can still validate their feelings: “I know it’s frustrating. I’m frustrated with this situation too.”


7. Offer an alternative to maintain a connection.

Make sure it’s one that is available to you, one you’re willing to follow through on, and one that doesn’t cross your boundaries. Here are some examples of things you might say:

  • “The kids and I would love to make pie crust together via video.”
  • “We would love to stop by and drop off dessert for your family dinner.”
  • “Let’s set up a video call on Thanksgiving.” “Let’s do after-dinner virtual games.”
  • “We’d love to do a short outdoors, distance visit with masks.”
  • “Can we take care of your holiday centerpiece and drop off or send flowers?”

Setting boundaries can be frightening because the perceived distance created can feel like a rejection.

Another way to look at boundary-setting is an act of love; being true to your needs and desires is a way of being authentic in any relationship.

You might feel like you have to do it coldly or angrily to get your boundary across, but you can be firm yet gentle and warm. Even if the receiver of your boundary becomes cold or even attacking, validating their hurt and reiterating your care for them will help repair the relationship.

In short, have faith that your authentic self is better than any other version of you!

And if you’re finding that you’d like some support in the difficult task of setting new boundaries, we’d be happy to chat and see how we can help. 


5 Tips for Better Sleep


Are you struggling with sleep? Insomnia is defined by having persistent problems falling and staying asleep.  You might not usually have insomnia, but if you’re having difficulty sleeping right now, there are some things you can do to improve your sleep! Many (most) of us are trying to adjust to new schedules, working from home, working more (or less) hours, having children home from school all day and/or home from college.  If you are struggling with sleep, you are not alone.

Some of my clients have shared that their sleep has actually improved because they are home more, and their schedules are not as stressful and hectic.

But for most of my clients, family and friends they are having more trouble sleeping than usual.  Getting enough quality sleep is essential to our health, both physical and mental. So, if you’re having trouble with sleep, please know that it is a normal response to stress and there are steps you can take to help you sleep better.  Here are Five to consider:

1).  Set a bedtime.

Many of my clients who suffer from insomnia admit they do not have a set bedtime.  Or if they do, it’s vague, “I get to bed around 1 or 2 am.”  Setting a bedtime is similar to setting a deadline, set a bedtime and treat it as you would a deadline for work or school.  Then schedule your evening backwards from the time you choose and push yourself to be in bed by that time.


2).  Say NO to naps. 

I know!  They are so tempting and could be part of the problem.  Long naps most days of the week indicate you are not getting enough nighttime sleep and messes with your sleep/wake cycle, making it very difficult to fall asleep at a reasonable bedtime.  Setting the cycle.  Break it by dragging through a day without a nap and get into bed at a proper bedtime this evening for a better day tomorrow.


3).  NO screen time 1 hour (or more) prior to bedtime. 

Yes, I know and have heard it all – save it.  You were not born with a device in your hand, nothing is THAT important on Social that it can not wait.  Do you REALLY want to see you what your ex is doing?  If it is possible, do not allow your phone to “sleep” in your room with you.

Have a spot in your home that devices go for the night and either turn them to ‘sleep’ or off 1-2 hours prior to getting in bed.  There are lots of nice, relaxing activities you can do without a screen-reading a book or snuggling with your pet or even better, your partner comes to mind.


4).  Avoid caffeine and alcohol most evenings. 

Okay, starting with caffeine, it is a stimulant which is why it is nice to start your day with a cup – it helps to wake you up and feel alert.  Did you know that caffeine can stay in our bodies for over six hours?  Try to avoid drinking caffeine in the afternoon and evening.

Sadly, you might need to limit your chocolate intake for the same reason.  As for alcohol, if you find yourself drinking more than your fair share during this stressful time you are not alone.  There are a number of studies that have shown alcohol reduces our most restorative stage of sleep, REM sleep.


5).  Name it to tame it. 

How are you feeling?  The first homework assignment I give new clients is a feelings wheel, with the instruction to name their feelings.  I will ask the same of you now.  Schedule a time each day (preferably more than once) as a self-check-in and pay attention to or notice how you are feeling.  You might notice you are not feeling one thing at time, rather feelings come in waves and that is okay.

If you are so inclined, it might be helpful to write in a journal or talk to a supportive friend or your partner.

If you have come to the realization that your feelings are overwhelming and all the feels are too big, reach out. We are available to bring therapy to wherever you in San Jose or California with video sessions. We would be honored to help you process your feelings and our ever-changing world.

Yours in Health.



Connection & Kindness in Uncertain Times

By Ellen Ross, PsyD

I’ve been talking to many people over the past two weeks as our lives became dramatically different in a short period of time. Many people are feeling anxious. Anxiety can be unpleasant, painful, and overwhelming.

While most people wouldn’t choose to feel anxiety, we’re living through a global pandemic. It’s okay to feel anxious! Anxiety gives us important information. When we encounter a bear in our path, anxiety is what gears us up to fight that bear!

In this case, however, anxiety has geared us up for a fight when what we need to do to be safe and protect those around us is stay home, keep a safe distance from each other, wash our hands, and avoid touching our faces.

For many, taking the appropriate and recommended precautions can be especially frustrating when our anxiety keeps pumping and telling us to fight. 

Here are some thoughts about actions we can all take to help provide an outlet for anxiety: 

Give yourself permission to feel whatever you’re feeling right now.

Anxious? That’s okay. Grateful? Also okay! Frustrated? Angry? Frightened? All okay. We want to seek the space between pushing the feelings down and diving into them. Try to simply let your feelings be. Do what’s most important to you while carrying those feelings.

Be kind to yourself.

None of us are our best selves right now. Not being 100% is okay! Did you want to make an organic salad for lunch and had frozen pizza instead? That’s okay. Try to do what you need to, and move in the direction of what you know is good for you and your family. But while you’re trying and doing, be kind to yourself. 

Do something physical every day.

Do you love yoga? See if your studio is streaming online classes. Yoga not your thing? Lots of people are offering all kinds of streaming workouts online. Check out  something new. If home workout doesn’t work for you, go for a walk, even if it’s just around the block.

Change your scenery.

If you don’t want to go out at all, that’s okay. Do you have a porch where you can notice spring coming? Do you have a backyard you can chill in? Even a little movement and change of scenery can be beneficial. 

Practice mindfulness.

If you don’t already have a mindfulness practice, start small. Try to breathe deeply into your belly for 30 seconds or a minute at a time. Connect with yourself in the moment and let thoughts and feelings come and go. Notice. When we can be present in the moment with ourselves in any given moment, we will often find that even if we’re not doing great, we’re okay. Practice finding the space where you can connect with the moment. 

Stay connected.

I’ve seen “social distancing doesn’t have to equal emotional distancing” in many places. I don’t know who to credit for it, but I like the sentiment. Do something fun with the family members you live with — even if ‘fun’ looks a little different than usual. Call and talk to people. Listen to how they’re doing and be heard when you tell them how you’re feeling. Reach out and say ‘hi’ to friends and family members you haven’t spoken to in awhile. We don’t have our usual social outlets right now, but there are many other ways for us to connect.

There is uncertainty about when, how, and if the world will go back to normal.

If you’re struggling to adjust to the new circumstances and find that what you usually do is not working, know your neighborhood therapist is available. We transformed the way we deliver support (to provide support via video), and we’re open. If you are currently in California, reach out to us at True North Psychology. Right now, we have video appointments available within a week. 


Want to learn more about video appointments? Click here.

How to Shift your Holiday Obligations into Desires

It’s December. We’re in the thick of it. There’s shopping to be done, there are 100 reasons to run to the store and fight the crowds. There’s planning to accomplish and commitments to be managed. The days are shorter AND it feels like it’s been raining for an eternity here in San Jose. You might feel like there are approximately 1 billion things you HAVE TO do, or maybe there’s just one really big thing you feel like you must do and it’s weighing heavily on you.

For many people spending time with family and others we don’t interact with on a day to day basis is one really big thing that feels like an obligation. I’ve heard this sentiment from so many and it comes in many forms — “My cousin is obnoxious, but I have to invite him,” “I don’t see any way out of going to visit my dad this year,” “I guess I have to let my mom stay with me since she’s flying out here and my brother never will,” or “My partner’s boss will notice if I don’t go to the holiday party.”

Sometimes we just want a holiday season without all the obligation and without feeling dread.

You might be reading this and thinking — “No! Really. There’s no way around inviting my mother-in- law — you can’t possibly be suggesting that I just leave her off the Christmas dinner list?”

Honestly, no, I’m not necessarily suggesting you disinvite your mother-in-law, ditch the visit to your dad, or duck out of the holiday party. I am suggesting it is a possibility! Just for a moment, this thing you’ve decided you MUST do, try and acknowledge that the world will not implode if you didn’t do it. (Did you do it? Really. Think for a moment about not doing the thing you feel you have to do?)

My guess is, your mind provided with you at least one reason why I’m wrong. This reason may be the space where there is a pathway to an identifiable value. This value may be leading you to the “no, really, I have to do it” space. If your mind didn’t provide you with a reason, and all you felt was relief, that might be worth listening to and go to work on figuring out how to say no!

Maybe your mind told you that your partner would simply never hear the end of it if you didn’t invite your mother-in-law. Maybe your mind reminded you that you do really want your dad to know you love him, even if travelling this time of year wouldn’t be your choice. Maybe your obnoxious cousin doesn’t have anywhere else to go and you don’t think people should have to be alone.

There are often values tucked in there, even when it doesn’t feel like it! You may want to be someone who honors your partner’s relationship with their family, or be the child who goes out of their way to let your parent know you love them, or be a person who is welcoming.

If you can’t find and connect with a value for thinking you have to do something, then truly consider not doing it because you don’t have to. It’s also a possibility that there are more important values which would lead you to not doing the thing. If your connection to those values are stronger, listen to them. If you don’t have the bandwidth right now to do the thing, you don’t have to.

If you CAN find and connect with a value-driving the behavior toward the thing you have to do, consider changing the language you use around it. You don’t have to do it, because now you’ve found a value that can allow you to make space for wanting to do it. It’s ok if the language of “I want to do the thing”, makes you cringe, because it can soften the internal struggle anyway.

There may be associated things that you really, really don’t want to deal with (holiday traveling, your challenging family member critiquing your food, your cousin talking about politics), so make space for both to exist. Try saying to yourself, “Even though I know [insert difficult thing] can be challenging, it’s worth it to me because [insert value you identified and feel connected to]”

When you’ve decided to do something that has some real downsides, which have resulted in you telling yourself “I have to do it” and dragging yourself kicking and screaming (internally, right?) it’s helpful to build in some things that may make it easier.

When you go visit your lonely father, is it possible to stay with someone else or in a hotel? If that’s not possible, can you schedule lunch with an old friend or a solo activity like a hike or a museum visit? When you go to the holiday party you don’t really want to go to, can you make an appearance and give yourself permission to gracefully exit after an hour? If your mother-in-law is coming for dinner, can you assign her a task she’s likely to enjoy? Or have your spouse be in charge of entertaining her for some period of time? Find a tangible strategy you can use to engage in the activity you value while also creating a buffer around the difficult part that ratchets up the feelings of dread.

It can be hard to make room for “I want to” when we’re so used to “I have to!” There is no useful way (that I know of) to completely stop our minds from telling us “I have to.” The good news is we can use “I have to” as a flag to stop for a moment and look at the possibility of a value being underneath the “I have to” and make space for “I want to.”

If you want some support in figuring out how to let go of the struggle associated with “I have to” by connecting with your values this holiday season, we are here for you. If you’re looking for support in San Jose, reach out for a consultation today!

This Holiday — Be Present Instead of Buying Presents


Let us focus our attention on a simpler time, 2006 to be exact prior to the invention of the iPhone.

Back when meals with friends and family were more about being together and less about taking selfies of our food. We called our family on phones that were in the house, in some cases attached to walls and if we missed them, we would leave a message to be returned later that day or week. Holiday cards were thoughtfully handwritten and required the person writing to take the time to mindfully think about each person as they wrote a personal note and addressed the envelope. Perfection? Doubtful. Certainly a simpler time.

Am I suggesting you break up with your smartphone?

Not exactly. However, if you are seeking a less stressful holiday season, you might consider being mindful of the impact your phone and other modern habits has on good old-fashioned communication and your relationships.

How present are you during the holiday season? Do you feel so stressed and anxious that you are unable to enjoy time with family and friends? You are not alone if you said yes.

Here are a few ideas of how you and your loved ones can enjoy a more mindful holiday season.

Notice what is good. When someone does something nice, such as: a child smiles and waves at you, your neighbor helps you take your packages in your house, or an old friend called out of the blue and left a nice message. Allow yourself to take a moment so those positive feelings sink in. Give yourself permission to sit with those feelings and truly experience the joy of another person’s kindness.

Sometimes it truly is the little things that make life so rich.

It used to be that when we were standing in line, or at the bus stop, waiting for a child to get out of school we would talk to the humans standing next to us. Sometimes it was small talk about the weather sometimes it was deeper. Even those chats acknowledging we needed rain was a chance for connection and on occasion those kind words or a smile from another person would unknowingly brighten our moods.

Thanksgiving day is a wonderful time to stop and take a moment to remind ourselves of all that we are thankful for – we forget at times, these reminders are there every day if we choose to observe. So much is happening in an instant, if we look up and observe, watch other people, animals or nature you might just witness something wonderful.

Not in the mood to observe, that is okay.

Did you know there is no documented case of a human dying of boredom? It is okay to be bored; it is actually wonderful for our brains to have a moment to think – not watch a video or speak with a friend on speaker in the bathroom stall – just think or don’t – either way, your brain will thank you (not to mention the person in the next bathroom stall).

When you are with a person, give them your FULL attention.

We have all seen the couple out on a date, heads down backlight by the glow of their phones. Ever feel sorry for them? Have you ever been that couple? Technology just might be the one thing that keeps us from being present with those we love.

Consider trying this: Ask your friends and family to consider “checking” their phones in a central location during holiday meals so you can savor the food and company.

Hosting? Great! Make a request ahead of time with your guests explaining mealtime will be a ‘no-phone zone’ and explain you are doing this because you value each guest and their time and wish to celebrate each other. When you are with loved ones be present with them. Look at them when they are speaking, listen to them as if they are the only ones in the room. Active listening is mindful and shows you care.

Stop “should-ing” all over yourself.

The holiday season for some is a season of one obligation after another. Trying to please everyone and live up to impossible expectations can lead to feelings of resentment and exhaustion. Instead of trying to please everyone with the perfect gift, mindfully observe how your feelings of things you ‘should’ do are affecting you. Take the time and space to be present with your feelings, and identify what you want and need this holiday then ask for it. It is the rare person who wishes to run from store to store trying to locate an ideal gift.

Still not feeling it? It might be more than stress. As much as some people look forward to this time of year, for others, it is a time of struggle. Be kind to yourself, be present with your feelings and do not judge yourself. Reach out and ask for help, if you need.

This time of year can be particularly stressful for people who have challenging family dynamics or have recently experienced a break up, the death of a loved one, or another loss.

People may find themselves feeling sad or blue most of the time and for those who worry, they may notice that they are worrying more than usual. The additional pressure and responsibilities that come with this time of year coupled with shorter days and decreased sunlight can have a negative impact on one’s ability to sleep at night and/or increase the desire to isolate from friends and family.

If you are experiencing any of the above situations or feelings of if you feel this time of year is especially difficult for you, know you are not alone. Please reach out for professional help, you are worth it.

Learn more about Shari Grande, LCSW

Tips to Navigate the Most Wonderful Stressful Time of the Year


Happy Holidays!

Let’s agree that the pressure of this time of year can take away from the meaning of the season, replacing it with stress and anxiety.  How I long for the good old days of my youth, where it was customary to wait until Black Friday to officially engage in holiday ciaos, um joy.  That went the way of wearing white after Labor Day.  How to survive, or better thrive?  Try practicing being present during the holiday season.


Pressure to ‘do it all’

Many people find the holidays (looking at you Halloween) are a time of too many commitments.  From Halloween parties at your children’s school, to office dress up events and friends’ weekend long masquerade parties to New Year’s Eve.  Good luck finding a weekend that isn’t jam packed with commitments mid-October-January 2.

This time of year can be tricky for people who want to make the holiday extra special for those they love.  Trying to do it all can lead to feeling as if you are on a treadmill trying to catch . . . what or whom exactly?


Go old school

Why not pick one event (one per person if you have school aged children) and commit to attending it and being present.  Talk to the people you are with, enjoy the event and bring a real camera so you are not tempted to look at your phone or be otherwise distracted.



It’s not just for turkeys. My husband cooks a mean bird and I love to bake.  I will be honest, some years it feels like all that time in the kitchen adds too much stress to my already full plate.  It is okay to take a step back, breathe and order pre-made meals from the local store.  Having guests?  Assign everyone who is coming to eat a shared dish or two – most people want to help out and understand that few of us have double ovens or the bandwidth to cook for a small army of people.

It’s okay to set the expectations for family.

“Uncle Bob we want you to join us, please refrain from asking Ed and Jill when they are going to get married/have a baby/cut their hair. . . We wish for everyone to feel comfortable in our home.”  Explaining to your guests (this goes double for small children) what to expect ahead of time minimizes their anxiety and your stress.


The best-laid plans

I learned to have a backup plan to my back up plan. When my children were little this would consist of a change of clothing (maybe three), favorite toys, extra food (especially if we were going out to eat), music, headphones, etc. As my children grew it meant checking in on their needs – holidays overlap with midterms and finals adding additional stress to teens and young adults’ home from college.  Notify your host ahead of time that you want to come and will need to leave early due to study schedules, etc.


Try something new — Just say “No”

It is okay: If you are overwhelmed, your partner is feeling stressed and anxious or it feels like it is all too much. Take a deep breath, grab your most cozy cow slippers, a bottle of wine, your partner and exhale. Give yourself permission to enjoy the holidays in your own unique way, and at your speed. Deflect the pressure from what others think: rather, make the time meaningful for you, your partner and your family unit.


December Holidays’ true meaning is NOT gifts:

Really, look it up. It is hard for many people to believe but gift receiving is stressful for many people for a variety of reasons.  A nice ‘gift’ for those inclined to do so might be 1:1 time with your loved one doing something they really enjoy. Knowing they have a date with you in March (a notorious lackluster month) can be fun as it provides something for them and you to look forward to.

Not everything went as you hoped or planned? Don’t worry; I have it on good authority the holidays will come again next year!


If you’d like support in San Jose, CA with figuring how to survive and thrive this holiday season, reach out. I would be happy to help!

Learn more about Shari Grande, LCSW