Changing Perspectives Blog
Changing Perspectives Blog
9 Ways To Manage Anxiety During A Quarantine: Letting Go Of Pandemic Perfection
Just the word itself causes many people’s chests to tighten, pulses to quicken, minds to start racing, and their breath to feel more shallow.
It’s not fun.
If you are one of the many people that experience anxiety on a daily basis, you are not alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 20% of the US population struggles with a diagnosis of anxiety. That means that 1 out of every 5 people deals with some level of anxiety. At least you are in good company, right?
Add in a pandemic that requires parents across the country to suddenly home-school their children for the rest of the school year while simultaneously having to either work from home, continue to work their normal jobs as essential employees, or struggle with hours being cut, I’m guessing that the 20% number is more like 75% theses days.
How do we manage the anxiety during a global pandemic?
How can we somehow find ways to control the crushing anxiety when we are quarantined in our own homes and forced to live a version of life much different than the one we had built for ourselves?
How can we prevent the anxiety from becoming a very unwelcome house guest with whom we must spend our lock down?
Here are 9 quick strategies to help you regain a sense of control over your anxiety, despite living in the midst of a global pandemic:
1. Let Go of Perfection
Now is not the time to put pressure on yourself to learn a new language, start a new workout routine, begin that great diet program to “finally” lose the extra body weight, get your house in tip top shape, or become the perfect spouse, employee, or parent.
Now is about surviving and getting through this rough time.
So much of what we are collectively feeling right now is grief. Would you expect perfection, increased motivation, improved concentration, and a chipper mood if a loved one just died? I hope not — because you’d be grieving.
You are grieving now too — think about the things you have lost. Are you missing face to face time with friends, dinners out with your partner, lunches with your colleagues, commutes to your job, watching your children play sports, or attending a group fitness class? If so, you are grieving.
Is your To Do list not getting completed each day? Then the problem is with your list — not with you! You are expecting too much of your grieving self right now.
Reset your expectations right now.
There will be time to expect more of yourself but that time is not now.
2. Rethink Social Media
For many of us, social media has been a bit of a lifeline during quarantine. It has allowed us to connect with our friends, coordinate birthday drive-by parades, laugh at funny tik toks from people that probably shouldn’t be tik tocking (is that a word??), and vent about our feelings. It has kept many of us quite grounded at times.
But, social media has always been a potentially dark place. It is where keyboard warriors go to vent their own emotions and frustrations. It’s where name-calling is worse than any school yard could possibly be. It’s where misinformation spreads like wildfire. It’s also a place where people don’t often change other people’s points of views. Used incorrectly, it can be a place of wasted emotional energy.
If your social media friends, groups, pages, or followed sites are causing increased anxiety from you or are making your own blood boil, hide them, unfollow them, snooze them, or even delete them. There is no sense getting into a conversation about it, alerting them to it, or trying to tough it out. Just delete and move on for now.
Clear your social media so that it can be filled with people and stories that make you feel good — or at least don’t make you feel worse.
3. Make Room For Self Care
When in quarantine, so many of the things that filled our tanks and made us feel good are now off limits. Although it may feel like you don’t need self care because life has maybe slowed down for you, because of everything going on and the heaviness that surrounds every day, self care is actually more important now than ever.
What can you do for yourself? Look at your schedule and block out some time for just you. Go for a walk alone — even if your dogs and your children look at you with sad puppy dog eyes. Get in your car and go for a drive alone. Go sit in your car in a parking lot, roll your windows down, and read a book or listen to a podcast or play some music. Take a nap. Pour yourself a glass of that fancy wine you’ve been saving for a special occasion and watch your favorite movie. You may need to get creative but find a way to take care of yourself each day.
There is no right or wrong way to self -care — it’s just important that you carve out the time and do something for yourself.
4. Say No
After spending so much time in quarantine, many of us have gotten very good at connecting with friends and family virtually. But, what many people are beginning to experience is technology fatigue. There are only so many virtual cocktail parties, group video chats, and Zoom bingo’s we can have before we start to crave some time away from the computer and phone.
It’s ok to turn down some of those many invitations you are receiving from professional colleagues, friends, and family. It’s perfectly acceptable to take some time and NOT connect. In a weird way, many people are socializing MORE now than before the quarantine. Would you be going out this many nights a week or seeing friends in person as often as you are connecting virtually with them?
It’s ok to cut back a bit — even if it’s just for a few days.
5. Get Moving
Physical activity can really help break up long days in quarantine. If you live in an area of the country where even walking or running outside now requires a mask and parks are closed, your best options for getting moving may now require some added creativity and planning.
Maybe you could take an early morning walk around your neighborhood, apartment complex parking lot, or even do laps up and down your own driveway. Or, perhaps your best option to get moving may be inside your own home. With lots of gyms, fitness studios, and online programs finding a way to stay relevant and profitable while not able to operate their physical space, there are many free and reduced options to try online. Have you always wanted to try a Barre, Pound, Zumba, BodyPump, Kickboxing, or any other workout program? You probably can find a way to try them all within the comfort of your own home now. Imagine — no one can see you trip or stumble or struggle with any of the moves!
Choose one way to get moving for at least 10 minutes each day and note how you feel after you have done it.
What do you do when anxiety hits you full force and you can’t catch your breath? Being able to get control of your breathing again is key.
One of my favorite breathing techniques to recommend is one called Square Breathing. Think of this as breathing in a square. There are five steps to square breathing:
1. Inhale for a count of 4.
2. Hold your breath for a count of 4.
3. Exhale for a count of 4.
4. Hold your breath for a count of 4.
5. Repeat steps 1–4.
The Square Breathing technique takes some practicing. You don’t want your counts to be so fast that you hyperventilate. You also don’t want them to be so slow that you almost pass out. It’s best to practice this when not feeling anxious so that you know how to do it when you need it.
Take a few minutes each day to practice being aware of your breathing. It’s amazing what a few good deep breaths can do for our minds and bodies.
7. Point Out the Positive
It is really easy to become overwhelmed by negative information during a global pandemic. But, I promise you, there are positive things out there too — you just may need to look a little harder to find them.
Try to find and read at least one positive, funny, or hopeful news story each day. Try to watch a tv show or movie or read part of a book each week that focuses on a funny, hopeful, or lighthearted story line.
In addition to seeking out the positive, you can choose to BE the positive. Before you share that negative post or meme on your social media page or with your housemates, stop and think about whether it’s worth it. Would it be better to share something funny or bright right now? How would it feel to make someone else smile or laugh right now?
It’s amazing to see what can happen once we start searching for and leaning into the positives and leaning away from the negatives.
8. Focus On Your Thoughts
There is a thing that many of us with anxiety do — it’s called catastrophizing. When we catastrophize, we think about the worst possible thing and worry about it happening to us or our loved ones. We wonder how we would respond and how we can be prepared for the bad thing so that we are never caught off guard.
Become aware of your thought patterns and when you catch yourself starting to fall down the rabbit hole of “what if,” pull yourself back to reality. Ask yourself what value this line of thinking is providing right now. Ask yourself how likely the things you are worried about happening actually are right now. If that’s not enough to stop your catastrophizing, start a “worry journal” and write down your worried thoughts there. Give yourself a limit on how long you can spend reading and writing in your worry journal and make sure you give yourself equal time to write about and think about the positive things in your life, the things you can still have hope about, and the things you look forward to doing in the future.
We don’t have to let our thoughts control us. We can climb into our own brains and begin to take control of our thoughts.
9. Consider Counseling
Even thought many counselors (myself included) have moved their practices to an online format during the pandemic, now is still a good time to begin counseling for the first time. Although meeting a therapist for the first time via video or phone chat may be awkward, it can be a great opportunity to vent, unload, and have someone completely there for YOU for 45 minutes each week. They can also help you explore specific strategies to help manage the anxiety you are feeling now.
How great would it feel to have someone there for you every week, holding supportive space for you, and helping you to develop new strategies for coping? All without having to leave your home!
Although this pandemic and resulting quarantine time may leave you feeling very alone within your own home, remember that you are not alone. There are many people out there who struggle with anxiety even when there isn’t a pandemic. So, don’t be afraid to talk about your feelings with your friends and family — it is very likely that some of them are feeling the very same way.
Anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of and it is not something that has to control you. With practice, you can learn how to turn down those anxious thoughts and have greater enjoyment in your life, even when you life is completely turned upside down from a pandemic.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I start yet another day at my kitchen table, the place where I now can be found trying my hardest to balance the responsibilities of working from home with parenting two children and attempting to serve as their substitute teacher. Any given morning now finds me tackling clinical documentation and billing for my private therapy practice while helping my 14 year old muddle his way through assignments for 8 different subjects in a now completely digital learning environment while also debating the usefulness of responding to a journal prompt about an abandoned fort with my 5th grader.
Each day begins the same in this new Groundhog Day version of life and as I sit down at the kitchen table, I am keenly aware of the fact that I have less than 90 minutes to get at least some “school time” in for my kids before I completely ditch them and lock myself in my home office for 8 back to back psychotherapy sessions. Sure, I’ll pop out for the 10–15 minutes I have between sessions to refill my water glass, throw some food at my boys, put dogs out for a bathroom break, break up whatever dispute has started between the boys, and maybe even find time for a restroom break myself. Then it’s right back to work — headphones in, camera on, therapeutic space live and on the air.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I hold space for patient after patient who is working on the front lines of the COVID19 crisis. ICU nurses, doctors, and social workers all recounting horrible tales of what they are seeing day after day to me in our sessions. Suddenly my practice has become one filled with trauma work as I help my clients find hope, practice self care, and manage their intense fears of the virus.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I sit virtually with new moms who were already struggling with postpartum anxiety and depression and now have lost many of the lifelines we helped them to establish in our work together before the virus changed our world.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as my email and voicemail inboxes swell with former clients who are reaching out for support in light of what the virus has done to their lives.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I attempt to support patients who finally had achieved pregnancy after years of loss and failed IUD cycles and yet now have to attend doctor’s appointments alone and fear that if things get worse they may even have to deliver their babies without their partner present.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as patient after patient shares their fears about what will happen to them now that they have been laid off or furloughed or are no longer feasibly able to retire in a few months as their funds took too big of a hit.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as friends around me face grief, loss, and challenges completely unrelated to COVID19 — things like the sudden deaths of loved ones, health issues, and relationships coming to an end.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I begin to realize that I feel completely and wholly inadequate — utterly only mediocre in all aspects of my life now.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I wonder how I can possibly be the therapist my clients need when one of my ears is always listening to make sure my boys aren’t calling me to help them with something.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I question how I can be the parent my boys need when every day finds me shut up in my office with instructions for them to only bother me if there’s an emergency.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I worry about how I can be the wife my husband needs when he is continuing to manage a 24 hour/day medical service from home 2–3 days/week and then covering at least two 12–14 hour shifts each week. We are two ships passing in the night and when we finally do get to see each other we both are too emotionally spent to even acknowledge each other’s presence.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I try my best to reach out to my friends and family to offer them support and remind them that they are loved but I find my energy at the end of the day is almost completely nonexistent.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I lie awake in bed each night staring at the ceiling, wondering what will happen to us if one of us catches the virus or if my husband loses his job or if the weight of not being able to play sports and see their friends finally catches up with my boys.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I realize yet again that if I am struggling this much, imagine how much more painful life is right now for others.
“I’m one of the lucky ones and it is still ok to not feel ok right now,” I remind myself. Regardless of our individual circumstances, life right now is hard and is not at all like it used to be. Even if you, like me, are one of the lucky ones in all of this, it’s still ok to admit that our situation sucks right now. It’s ok to feel your feelings and wish that things were better for all of us, even for yourself. It’s ok to remind yourself that even though you may be lucky, you still can be hurting.
Life sure is different these days. If you are struggling with the challenges of the current Covid-19 Pandemic and the resulting quarantine, you may find the list of podcast episodes below quite useful.
Episodes include strategies to help your children cope with their anxieties around the changes, suggestions to find a way to still focus on your relationship despite being in quarantine, how to transition to working from home, and techniques to help make homeschooling more effective and less of a challenge.
Top Covid-19/Quarantine Podcast Episodes
Episode 58: Managing Children's Anxieties Around COVID19
Episode 59: Stay At Home Date Ideas: A Pint Sized Perspective
Episode 60: Working From Home: Navigating The New Normal
Episode 61: How To Survive Quarantine As A Couple
Episode 63: Schooling At Home: One Family's Perspective
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, many people throughout the country and around the world are finding themselves rather suddenly working from the confines of their own home. If you are someone who has grown accustomed to commuting to and from your office each day, working alongside others, and being away from home for 9+ hours each day, these changes are big.
Gone are your long, social, chatty daily rides on the train to and from work where you often get to sit with that nice lady from that big finance firm and that kind gentleman from that non-profit education program.
Gone is the hustle and bustle of the subway station after work as you dart quickly through the crowd to catch your standing room only train ride home.
Gone are the opportunities to stand at your coworker’s desk and catch them up on the latest drama with the other soccer moms or the newest item on your cousin’s baby shower registry.
Gone are the lunches in the break room where you belly laugh with your coworkers for 20 minutes each day and commiserate about the latest work directives.
Gone are your hour long car rides alone where you can listen to whatever you want on the radio, whether you are blasting 80’s rock tunes or singling along to 90’s ballads.
Things are going to look very different for a while now. Your work week filled with other people, lots of noise, and hustle and bustle is now a long 5 days filled with very little physical contact with other humans, a lot of silence, and a whole lot of stillness.
At first, these changes might be a nice break from your busy work life but, after a little bit of time, you may find that you are getting antsy and would give almost anything to go back to the way it used to be pre-COVID-19. Despite the challenges of these times, though, if you follow these 10 strategies for transitioning to working from home, you just may find some joy in this new temporary normal.
1. Establish Working Hours
One of the biggest challenges when working from home is that there are suddenly no clear boundaries between work hours and non-work hours. Decide what time your work day will start and what time your work day will end. If you were a commuter, you’ve now gained some extra non-work time at home at both the beginning and end of the day. What can you fill it with that will be fun, relaxing or restorative instead of just filling it with more work? Resist the pressure to start work early or “stay” late.
2. Keep Your Morning Routine
It’s tempting to plan to stay in your pajamas all day (or at least your pajama bottoms if you have some video conference calls). But, resist the urge and instead continue to spend time getting yourself ready for work each morning. Take your shower, make your bed, do your hair, put on your makeup, and wear something that you wouldn’t wear at home on a Saturday morning. Doing so will help your brain to understand that there is a difference between work hours and non-work hours.
3. Set Up Your Work Space
Select an area of your home where you will be comfortable setting up your work space. You may even choose to select multiple areas and move your “office” throughout the day. Be creative. Feel free to order a few things online or re-purpose some wall hangings, art, or pictures from other areas of your home. As the weather gets nicer is there an area outside where you can do some work? Make your work space inviting and personalized.
4. Take Breaks Alone
When you “arrive” to work each day, take a look at your schedule and decide when you will take some breaks and then use those breaks to do something for yourself. Take a quick walk outside. Have a cup of tea in another room. Download a meditation app and do a 5 minute meditation. Read a few pages of a book. It doesn’t really matter what you do as long as it isn’t work or household chores and is something that allows you to relax for just a few minutes.
5. Spend Time With Your Children
If you are one of the vast number of parents who now have children home for weeks and months at a time, you are probably feeling the pull between attending to your work tasks and attending to your children’s needs. Plot out time each day to be with your children where you are not focusing on their at-home learning. Plan to eat lunch with them or take “coffee” breaks with them. Take the dog on a walk with them. Throw the baseball around with them. Be with them and enjoy this once in a lifetime chance to be at home together.
6. Check In With Your Partner
These times are going to put a strain on many relationships. Couples who are used to not seeing each other all day everyday may be in for a bit of a shock with just how much they will be seeing of each other’s faces soon. Or, maybe one member of the couple is an essential employee and can’t be working from home, leaving the other member of the partnership to be feeling a bit more of the responsibility of having to work from home while caring for kids. Maybe this new set up will leave you feeling a financial strain. Chances are, no matter what the circumstances, this is going to be stressful for many couples. Talk with each other about it and find out what you each will need in order to feel supported during this time. Have a little “staff meeting” with each other at the start of each work week and at the end of each work week where you check in about what worked and what could have gone better. Communication is key!
7. Feel Your Feelings
We are living through a time quite unlike anything many of us have ever experienced. No matter how stressful your job, your commute, or your relationships with coworkers may be, having it all change so suddenly can feel traumatic at times. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself feeling anxious, angry, sad, and/or numb. Allow yourself to cry, shout into the shower water, punch a pillow, or just sit and feel nothing. There is a lot of grief in what we are currently experiencing and the only way to deal with grief is to feel it.
8. Reach Out
With limited social gatherings, it is going to be very easy to find yourself feeling isolated and lonely very quickly. Make it a point to reach out to friends via text, Facetime, social apps, and even the good old telephone. Schedule group chats with your friends where you can check in together a little bit without being physically near each other. Maintaining friendships and connections may take a little more effort these days. It’s worth it!
9. Focus On Your Health
It is really tempting with gyms closing and our lives turning inward for a while to open up that bag of chips and throw our diets and exercise plans out the window. The reality is that we need to do the opposite right now. Make a plan for your meals and for at home workouts. Commit to your plan with a friend or your partner and check in regularly. After all, what boosts our immune system more than taking care of our bodies with good nutrition and healthy fitness habits?
10. Change Your Social Media
Many people’s inclination right now might be to limit your use of social media but I think we NEED social media right now. We need to feel connected to each other, part of something bigger. Lean into social media but do it in a completely different way. Hide, snooze, and ignore a whole lot of people for the next 30 days. If you are feeling deeply triggered, irritated, hurt, or angered by someone’s posts, get them off your feed for the time being. There’s no space for that right now. Fill your feed with lightness. Hide the news — you can find it when you need it. Post fun photos. Ask engaging questions. Talk about books, movies, and television. Share helpful tips. Post recipe reviews. Share at home workouts. Social media can be an important lifeline to each other right now if we use it in the right way.
These days ahead of us are going to feel strange, challenging, and sometimes even painful. But, if we are mindful and deliberate in how we approach this time in our life, we just might find that these days could be ones filled with memories, laughter, and a renewed connection to ourselves and the people we love.
7 Ways To Sooth Your Shyness
Article by Mark Tyrrell of Hypnosis Downloads.com
7 Ways to Soothe your Shyness
Shy people instinctively know that they are missing out. Shyness equals lost opportunities, less pleasure and fewer social connections. Shyness can be crippling but there are tried and tested ways to make it a thing of the past.
When I was fifteen I was shy. I recall an attractive girl attempting to engage me in conversation. My shyness made me focus on me instead of her. I heard my own voice but not hers and I thought about what I was trying to say instead of what she was trying to say.
The formula for shyness is "too much focus on the self" plus anxiety. To make it even more unpleasant, sometimes when you are feeling shy you experience physical sensations which 'hijack' your calm logical self.
My pulse raced, my mouth dried up and I felt like the village idiot! I couldn't think what to say so I said nothing apart from making barely audible grunting noises! Cary Grant eat your heart out! When I detected pity in her eyes (or was it contempt, or boredom) I mumbled my excuse and got out of there. I hated being shy and was determined to change it.
How shyness is developed and maintained
Shyness really is a combination of social anxiety and social conditioning. To overcome shyness you need to learn to relax socially. This enables you to direct your attention away from yourself and gives you the space to practice certain conversational skills. In most cases, the heightened emotions of socializing when young simply condition the sufferer to respond to social events with fear, instead of excitement and pleasure.
Relaxed socializing is so pleasurable, not to say productive, but it is an advantage denied to many until they learn to relax. To start reducing your own shyness, I want you to absorb the following tips and ideas and start to put them into practice:
1) Think about the way you feel and behave around familiar people you are comfortable and spontaneous around. It's that feeling transferred to new people and situations that equates to your emerging social confidence.
2) Focus your attention away from yourself. Sure, you can think a little bit about how you are coming across, but if all your focus is on your own words and feelings then you might as well be by yourself. Notice what other people are wearing and make a mental note, listen to their conversation, imagine where they might live, make a point of remembering names. Not only does this give you more to talk about, it also 'dilutes' social anxiety leaving you feeling calmer.
3) Ask people open questions. Many people like to talk about themselves and will find you interesting if you find them interesting. Ask questions that require more than a 'yes'/'no' response such as 'What do you like about this place?' rather than: 'Do you like this place?' Once they've answered use 'add-on' questions connected to the first such as: 'What other places do you like in this city.?' Next you can express your views. This is a great way to get the conversation going. If the conversation doesn't 'take' then no matter, you've done your bit.
4) Stop trusting your imagination so much! Have you ever had an imaginary picture in your mind of a holiday destination only to arrive and find the reality is different from the way you had imagined? That's how reliable imagination is. Stop imagining what others think. I do lots of public speaking and I've long since stopped trying to second guess what others think of me - it's just too painful. Besides, what a person thinks about you has a lot more to do with who they are than who you are.
5) Stop using 'all or nothing' thinking. The 'completely this/completely that' style of thought occurs when you are emotional. People who are depressed, angry or anxious see reality in terms of differing extremes, simplistic all or nothing terms. An angry person is 'right' and you are 'wrong'; the depressed person feels like a 'failure' while others are a 'success'. In reality, life is composed of infinite gray areas. So stop fearing that you might say the 'wrong' thing! Or that people will 'hate' you. Once you start to relax more socially you'll notice much less black or white thinking because anxiety actually causes you to think in all or nothing terms.
6) Take your time. You don't have to blurt things out. Ask questions and if questions are asked of you can take time to consider your response (within reason). Don't just blurt out what you think might be the 'right' answer. A slow answer is a relaxed answer.
7) Finally, use hypnotic rehearsal. Hypnosis is the quickest way to change your instinctive/emotional response to any situation. Only think about meeting others when your mind and body is relaxed. This conditions you to associate relaxation with being around new people. In fact you'll find that when you relax deeply enough often enough whilst hypnotically rehearsing being comfortable around others you'll reach the point where you just can't be shy any more! This is what I call a 'happy inability!'
I now love meeting new people and suspect that my current social confidence would be unrecognizable to my fifteen year old self.
Overcome shyness now at HypnosisDownloads.com
Article by Mark Tyrrell of Hypnosis Downloads.com.
Article by Mark Tyrrell of Hypnosis Downloads.com.
How neediness and emotional insecurity destroy relationships
"Please, clouds, don't rain!" Not going to work, is it?
And neither will trying to reassure someone who just can't be reassured. They will go on fretting, no matter how you plead.
Chronic insecurity in your relationship is a major problem. Why? Because relationships really, deeply matter. Your health, your wellbeing, your happiness are affected by your relationships more than any other factor. And your most intimate relationships have the biggest effect of all.
It's not just the insecure person who suffers
Feeling insecure in a relationship is horrible for the one who is feeling the insecurity. The burden - of fear and obsessive thoughts, of feeling powerless, of awful awareness that all this insecurity may actually itself be destroying what you treasure most - can feel pretty unbearable.
But it's also tough for the person on the receiving end of all that insecurity. The truth is that being involved with a really insecure person can be hell.
This article highlighted what a common problem insecurity is
I wrote an article a while back on overcoming insecurity in relationships and was inundated with feedback from all over the world. The scores of comments on the article itself were just the tip of the iceberg. My inbox overflowed with hundreds more private emails from people wracked by feelings of relationship insecurity.
That article, which explores the reasons for insecurity and offers practical tips to help overcome it, eventually became the springboard for the development of the new 10 steps to overcoming insecurity in relationships course. My article was mainly addressed to those who are themselves feeling insecure in a relationship; but I also got - and still get - hundreds of emails from people who have extremely insecure partners. A common recurring theme of these accounts is how isolating it can feel to find yourself in a relationship with someone who is deeply insecure. And this is one major reason why extreme insecurity can be so damaging.
Why reassuring your insecure partner is almost a lie
Because 'reassurance' is what insecure people want most, and anyone can say reassuring things, it's all too easy for partners (and friends) to offer reassurances that everything is "really okay" in the relationship even when it isn't.This is a kind of denial. And - ironically - the reasons it might not be okay are often the product of the insecurity itself.
Sometimes the only genuine problem in a relationship is the emotional insecurity of one partner and the effect that has on the relationship as a whole. But it's easy to fall into a pattern of always pretending everything is fine, even when the insecurity becomes really damaging. Such pretense becomes isolating and can drive partners further apart. This is how insecurity can damage or even destroy the relationship.
Relationships thrive on intimacy, and intimacy stems from feeling you can safely be yourself with your partner. So what does it feel like to be in a relationship with a very insecure partner?
Worrying about relationship breakup creates it
Insecurity stemming from a fear of losing intimacy can actually bring on that loss of intimacy. Jake, a former client, described it like this:
"I actually feel totally disconnected from Sara now. She doubts my every word, doesn't believe me when I say I've been working, and constantly misinterprets what I say. It's driving me nuts! And the angrier I get, the more insecure she gets. I can't win! I've tried being sympathetic, but now everything has to be on her terms, I have to ask myself all the time - is this going to upset her or not?"
Jake told me how he had started to feel very lonely in his relationship, like he had no one to talk to, because "Talking to Sara is like walking on egg shells - will I say the wrong thing? Will she take it the wrong way?"
He, like many who are close to someone so insecure, found himself getting more and more emotionally distant from Sara. He felt less able to speak to her about how he felt, and less able to relax around her. Loneliness isn't about being alone so much as feeling alone with others - because you feel misunderstood by them - and that's how Jake now felt with Sara. He'd begun to feel trapped, finding it hard to be around her but also hard not to be around her, because he knew how painful it was for her to be wondering where he was or whom he was with.
The painful truth is that insecurity can lead to the death of intimacy in a relationship - the fear of losing something can actually bring about that loss. Trying to force intimacy or love - demanding to know how someone feels, what they are thinking, who they've been talking to, what they are doing - can just drive them further from you.
So what should you do if you are in a relationship with a really insecure person?
How to tell if you have a truly insecure partner
It's vital to figure out whether the person you are with isgenuinely excessively insecure. Some jealousy and insecurity is actually normal in most relationships from time to time - especially in the early stages. Insecure people are often insecure about their insecurity, because they instinctively know how damaging it can be. But if insecurity is a constant and central feature of the relationship then, yes, it is a problem and a potential cause of breakdown. Of course you can reassure your partner, reason with them, and be gentle and loving toward them, but it's important not to make too many adaptations for them. This was the mistake Jake made. He had completely stopped spending any time with his friends without Sara. He rang her on the hour, every hour, when he had to work late. He told her he loved her so many times a day that it was more like a chore rather than a genuine expression of how he felt. And after a while the relationship no longer felt real to him.
If the relationship becomes all about reassuring and not upsetting the insecure partner, you and your needs get sidelined to the point that the relationship can start to feel meaningless for you. Jake and Sara's relationship only improved once Sara herself addressed her insecurity, and learned to trust and relax more with not "having to know" what Jake was thinking or doing all the time. Her self esteem improved and, in turn, he then felt more valued, and no longer trapped or forced to behave in prescribed ways. At last he was being listened to and respected again.
If your insecure partner has enough insight to know they need to change, then you really can encourage them to make those changes that could make such a difference for both of you. Ultimately, no one should have to be constantly "on call" to their partner, or emotionally isolated by them. Good relationships are reciprocal, not one-sided. They flourish when partners trust each other, accept each other, give each other space, forgive each other for failings - and enjoy each other. You and your partner both deserve that. Read more about 10 Steps to Overcome Insecurity in Relationships by Mark Tyrrell
If you are like most people, the term “self-care” has a way of making you roll your eyes. Just last week I read a viral post on social media blasting medical professionals for encouraging patients to practice good self care. Yet, here I am. About to tell YOU to do the very same thing.
So many people have fallen prisoner to the fast paced nature of our lives. We wake up and immediately rush head first into the day. Many of us don’t even have time to sit and eat our breakfast, opting instead for breakfast in the car or not at all. We field phone calls and texts on our way to work or while shuttling the kids to school, shout reminders at our phones, and consider it a luxury when we can take a quick break to use the restroom. The evening routine is much the same, especially for those of you with busy children. It’s a sprint to the finish line of the day, scrambling to get dinner tossed on a table, wrapping everything up for the day, and preparing to do it all the next day. Then our day comes to a screeching halt as we climb into bed and wonder why we can’t seem to be able to fall asleep.
Recently a patient came to me with her head hung in shame as she shared that she has been spending time exploring a new hobby. This new hobby isn’t taking any time away from her family or her responsibilities yet it seemed to her as it had no real value. It wasn’t earning her money. It wasn’t teaching her a new skill. It wasn’t helping anyone. It was just fun. And she felt guilty for having fun. For many of us, we’ve forgotten how to give ourselves permission to slow down, have fun, breathe, and enjoy life.
We need to change our perspective on priorities in life and it starts with our own lives. I challenge each of you to take some time and consider how you can implement at least a few of these 9 strategies for improving self-care:
1. Practice healthy sleep hygiene
How do you approach sleep each night? If you are like most people, you finish whatever tasks need to get done for the evening, brush your teeth, change your clothes, hop into bed and then pick up your phone or turn on the tv. I get the temptation. Scrolling mindlessly through social media or perusing blogs like this one can certainly help us to calm down and make us FEEL like we are preparing ourselves for bed. But, truthfully, these actions are examples of poor sleep hygiene. We don’t chomp on sugary candy while we are brushing our teeth, right? So, why are we activating our brains with electronics when we are trying to get ready for sleep?
Take stock of your bedroom. Could you add an essential oil diffuser, salt lamp, soft lighting via lower watt light bulbs or even flameless candles? How would some relaxing music make you feel at night? What about reading a book (a real book, or on a kindle – not a tablet with harsh lighting)? Think about how we approach bedtime for babies. We turn down the lights, soften our voices, turn on some white noise, darken the room and just make everything a bit cozier. What would happen if you did the same for your own sleep?
2. Nourish your body
I know that you know what foods fuel your body well and what foods you eat because they are convenient and/or satisfy you emotionally. Can you make a commitment to increase your focus on nourishing your body in at least one concrete way? Can you make a concerted effort, for example, to increase your water intake or decrease your soda intake? How would it feel to cut back on your sugar consumption or limit your fast food trips? These changes don’t just happen magically. They need planning. I encourage you to pick one small goal to better nourish your body, write it down and figure out how to stick to it. After a week, check back in with yourself and see how you are feeling.
3. Get moving
Here we are. We are at the part of the list where people start scoffing and scowling at their computers and phones. “If I HAD time to exercise, I wouldn’t NEED to be reading an article on how to improve my self-care!” I get that. I know how minimizing it can feel when someone tells you that if exercise is important to you, you’ll make time for it. I know that there are many of you out there who literally cannot find time or the funds to go to a gym or invest in workout equipment at home. I’m not one of those people that will try to shame you into making it work. What I will ask you though, is can you find 5-10 minutes a few times each week to go for a walk during your lunch break or in your neighborhood? What about while waiting for your children’s games or practices to start? Could you pop on a Zumba, yoga or dance video on YouTube or download an exercise app that will guide you through a quick routine a few nights each week? What would it take to get you to invest just 5-10 minutes in yourself, not to lose weight or burn calories, but just to get moving and give you a break from working and thinking?
4. Get some fresh air
If you want to be super efficient, you can combine tip #3 and tip #4 so that you are getting moving while outside and getting some fresh air ? Even if you are not moving while getting the fresh air, though, just the act of being outside for a few minutes can reap great rewards. Take a few moments to really breathe in the fresh air. What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you see? Is there a spot at your house or at work or in your neighborhood or outside a coffee shop where you could just sit for a few minutes? Extra challenge: don’t look at your phone while doing it. Just be.
5. Remember that “No.” is a complete sentence
We are so quick to say no to ourselves. "No, I can’t take a break." "No, I can’t buy that for myself." "No, I can’t take that trip with my friends." "No, I can’t upset my boss or my coworkers." What would it take for you to give yourself permission to live by the rule that “No.” is a complete sentence? Are you saying yes to people because you feel like you have to? Consider saying no. You can even add filler to the sentence and even add and apology: “No, I’m truly sorry but I can’t.” I’ve seen this shift in thinking become monumental for people. The next time you are asked to do something that you really don’t want to do, think about whether you really NEED to do it. Is it truly worth it? If not, it’s ok to say “No.” You don’t need a “good enough” reason. What do you want to say "No." to in your life right now?
6. Stop the negative self-talk
I explore this concept a lot with my patients when I first meet them and they almost always deny that they do it. “No. I don’t do that. I don’t talk badly about myself.” But, then we get to talking and I start to hear things like “I’m so crazy.” “I don’t know why I do this to myself.” “Ugh. I was so stupid.” “I hate that I’m such a screw up.” Each time it happens, I encourage them to lean into it, to turn that inner negative voice up for a week and really listen for it – not to believe it but to understand where and when it comes into play. Most times, they are shocked to then find that they have a pretty constant loop of negative self-talk running through their heads almost everyday. The first step in stopping that loop is to identify it. Do you have one? Catch yourself next time you find yourself beating yourself up. Would you say something like that to a friend? Probably not. So, why is it ok to be so mean to yourself? Whenever you catch yourself doing it, counter that negative thought with a positive one. For example: “Ugh. I was so stupid. I can’t believe I did that!” can be countered with something like “Ugh. I really am feeling badly about what happened. I have to remember that I am a human and will never be perfect. I will do better next time.”
7. Start a gratitude or reflection journal
When our heads hit the pillow each night, so often our brains start reminding us of all the things we did wrong or didn’t get done. A good way to dull this noise is to prevent it from even starting. At the end of the day, spend a few moments writing in a gratitude or reflection journal. This can be as fancy as a beautiful leather journal with handmade paper or as simple as a cocktail napkin with some scribbled notes or even a note on your phone. Use whatever method is easiest and most meaningful for you. Write down at least 3 things that you are grateful for and/or that you are proud of. Maybe you drank enough water today. Maybe you went on a walk with your kids. Maybe you put down your phone and sat outside with a cup of tea. Maybe you cleaned out a closet. Maybe you had fun with some great friends. Bringing our attention and focus to the positive can be such a healing way to end our day.
I’ve had the great honor of being present with people as they approach the end of their lives. Not a single one has ever told me that they wished they worked more, took less vacations, spent less time with the people that made them happy, or that they regretted the fun moments in their life. Not a single one. Yet, our priorities are so often around work and obligations, making other people money and other people happy. While I’m not at all encouraging you to quit your job or leave behind everyone relying on you, I am telling you that it is ok to give yourself permission to play. Have fun! What would be fun for you? Make it happen
9. Schedule time for yourself and hold it sacred
Take a look at your calendar. When can you squeeze in some time to get moving, get some fresh air, take a bubble bath, read a good book or just take a nap? Find it and book it. Pencil it into your own schedule. No, PEN it into your own schedule and hold it just as sacred as you would an appointment for your children or a meeting with your boss. This means you have to be truly mindful when you initially schedule it but then, no changes! Start small – just a 5 minute block is more than you are doing now.
How it feels to battle depression
Imagine you wake up one morning to an incessant knocking on your front door. You peel yourself out of bed in a groggy stupor, wondering what kind of surprise awaits you on the other side of the door. As you pull open the door, your heart sinks.
There on the doorstep stands your old friend, Mr. Depression. He came without warning. No letter. No phonecall. No email. Not a single little heads up. Even though you are very familiar with Mr. Depression and knew that he could be deciding to visit you again at any moment, you weren't expecting him. Not today. Not now. Yet, here he is, standing on your doorstep with his suitcase in his hand.
In an instant, everything changes.
Mr. Depression breezes by you and barges into your house, bringing with him a dark, heavy cloud that he places directly above your head. That old familiar feeling of self-loathing, hopelessness and dread starts to fill your mind. A heaviness grows in the pit of your stomach while a tightness creeps across your chest. That negative soundtrack in your mind kicks in and you can feel yourself sinking into a dark area.
In a panic, you start to ramble off a few questions for Mr. Depression:
Mr. Depression stays silent and simply stares back at you. He knows that you already know the answers to your questions. As you reflect back on the weeks leading up to this unexpected visit, you might be able to identify some triggers or warning signs; some clues that Mr. Depression was on his way for a visit. Maybe you were overworked. Maybe there was some additional financial stress in your life. Maybe there were some relationship conflicts. Maybe the weather was lousy. Maybe your nutrition and exercise patterns were off. Or, maybe there were no signs.
Sometimes the reasons for Mr. Depression's visits are rooted in our childhood experiences or are the result of trauma. Sometimes Mr. Depression visits us because of life adjustments and losses. Sometimes Mr. Depression is an old family acquaintance who has been passed from generation to generation. Sometimes Mr. Depression shows up for no reason at all. Yet, there he is, in your life. In your house.
Regardless of his origins, Mr. Depression has visited you many times before today. Sometimes he stays for just a day or so but sometimes his stays can be lengthier. When he arrives, he never tells you how long he is going to stick around. Mr. Depression is a terrible houseguest. He is demanding, consuming and completely attached to your hip. He follows you around everywhere you go: to work, places with your children, out with your friends, to the grocery store, in the car. Everywhere. He saps your energy and leaves you feeling completely empty. The longer he is here, the more effort it takes for you to do previously simple tasks like answering texts, getting out of bed, exercising, eating, even brushing your teeth or putting on a bra. Mr. Depression makes everything significantly more challenging and the whole time he is here, he is whispering awful things into your ear - he thinks you are a terrible person; he thinks you are ugly; he thinks you are a bad parent and an awful friend; he thinks you are a failure. The longer he sticks around, the more you start to believe his words.
Often when Mr. Depression comes to visit, you try your best to keep his visit a secret. You don't want your friends to know about your new house guest. Afterall, they might think you are crazy. They might think you are just looking for attention. They might not understand why you can't just grab Mr. Depression's suitcase, toss it out into your front yard and give Mr. Depression a good shove out the front door. They might ask why you can't simply choose to have a visit from Mr. Happy or Mr. Grateful instead. And while you know that your friends will mean well, their questions and advice will probably only tighten Mr. Depression's grip on your life right now.
So, you settle in and try to do the things that have made Mr. Depression leave in the past. Perhaps you adjust some medications, take some trips back to psychotherapy, focus on increasing your coping strategies, increase your self-care efforts and lean on people who are supportive and won't judge you. Over time, like always, Mr. Depression eventually starts to loosen his grip on your life. He stops following you everywhere and eventually one morning you wake up and find that he has left your house in the middle of the night. Of course, he always leaves things behind; little reminders that he was there and that he could be back at any moment.
But what is this visit from Mr. Depression like for the people on the outside, the people unaware of his arrival? For them, they often witness significant changes in their friend; perhaps overnight or perhaps gradually. Their once cheerful, outgoing friend now appears grumpy, irritable and sometimes non-responsive. Texts and phone calls to the friend go unanswered. They begin declining or canceling plans to get together. On the rare occasion that they do engage in social activities, they are a bit of a drag as they talk badly about themselves and focus on the negative. Even their physical appearance seems different. Their social media account activity changes. Friends might think they are being iced out of relationships, that their friend has suddenly become bitchy and uninterested or that it takes too much energy to be around their friend now. All of this means that by the time Mr. Depression finally leaves, he may have already caused some significant damage to relationships.
So, how can we minimize that chances of Mr. Depression destroying our relationships? One good start is to be honest.
For those of you dealing with the unexpected visits from Mr. Depression, consider being honest with those people closest to you. They will notice the changes in you anyways- help them to see what is at the root of these changes. Educate them about your experiences with depression and teach them about what you need in terms of support. If you are struggling with depression and would like additional support, please review The Depression Toolkit.
For friends of someone who might be struggling, be supportive and resist the urge to pass judgement. Remember that the vast majority of individuals would much rather Mr. Depression not be a part of our lives. It's not a choice they make for attention or sympathy or medication prescriptions; It's just part of them. Holding space and providing support for someone with depression can be emotionally exhausting so remember to take care of yourself during those times as well. For additional resources for family and friends, please visit the University of Michigan Depression Center.
For more articles on mental health, depression and self-care, click on the following links:
Now that I am Getting "Me" Back, I have been much more mindful of the concept of balance in my life. For many years, I have grappled with the age old question "Can we really have it all?" While I tend to believe that we can, in fact, have it all, I don't necessarily think we can have it all in total balance all the time. In other words, sometimes something has to be focused on a little less so that our other needs can be addressed. Recently I was reminded via Timehop of how important tracking my macros used to be to me from a physical standpoint and I realized that macros are a great metaphor to how to balance life.
So, what are macros?
I'm sure there is a scientific explanation for macros but you won't find it here. In my experience, macros are components of nutrition - namely carbs, proteins and fats. They are elements that make up the food we eat. Our body needs carbs, proteins and fats each day to help it function at its best. When I was working out 12+ hours/week, my body always functioned best when my average daily intake of food was 40% carbs, 30% fat and 30% protein. Other people's ideal macros may be different. It took some trial and error and experimentation to determine what was best for me. Was I perfect every day? Hell, no. But, it sure felt good when my pretty little macro pie chart was perfect. There was no denying that everything just clicked when those three elements were balanced in the way that worked for me.
So, how does this relate to life? Easy. What are your life macros? What are the components of your life that each are good in their own way but need to be balanced in order for you to function at your best? In other words, what makes up YOU?
My macros include my various roles in life: psychotherapist, clinical supervisor, professor, mother, wife, friend, healthy woman and pet owner (perhaps pet collector?). Are all of my roles equally balanced each day? Hell, no! Are there areas which need to take more of my attention or fill my life more than others in order for me to feel whole? Absolutely!
Are you ready for a small homework assignment? (Sorry, sometimes my CBT and professor sides start to show). Grab a writing utensil and piece of paper. Or, open up a new document on your computer.
1. Make a list of your life macros. Who are you? What is important to you? What are your various roles? What makes you YOU? Write those down.
2. Assign a percentage to each of your life macros. How much of your attention and focus each week gets directed at each macro? Be honest. This should be how things get distributed on average each week, not how you want them to be distributed. Don't forget about your elementary math skills - these percentages need to add up to 100%
3. Are there things that are missing from your list? Things that make you YOU but you are not giving attention to right now? Add those to your list and write "0%" beside them.
4. Draw a pretty little pie chart of your life macros so that it reflects the assigned percentages.
5. Take some time to reflect on your chart. How does it feel? Is it accurate? Are you proud of it? Do you wish it were different? If your pie chart is perfect and you feel totally balanced, bravo! Store that chart somewhere handy and refer to it regularly to make sure you are keeping your life macros in balance. If not, read on...
6. After you have spent some real time reflecting on your macro distribution and chart, make a new one - one that reflects your ideal life macros. What would your ideal life macros be and how much attention would they receive?
7. Now it's time to create an action plan. What would it take to be able to shift your current life macro chart to your ideal one? What small things can you do today to help get your macros moving in a way that works better for you?
Spend some time evaluating your life macros and seeing how making some adjustments might move your life to a more balanced and satisfying state.
For more blog articles on self-care, click on the links below.
Dolphins in the Doldrums
Winter in the northeast is super fun.
Strep, flu, stomach bug and other weird viruses are hitting everyone these days. A quick scroll through social media will show another family down for the count. Facebook has become filled with photos of puke buckets, cans of lysol, and photos of sick children camped out on couches. Suddenly all those political posts don't seem so bad anymore. As if these germs don't pose enough of a challenge though, here in New England in February we also have to contend with blizzards, Nor'easters and snowstorms that are measured in feet rather than inches. Do you know what that means? Snow days. Lots of them.
So, despite the cute snowmen, picturesque snow covered trees, delicious mugs of hot chocolate, and laughing children sledding down hills, It's simply not a fun time of year for many of us. We feel stuck and feel like things will never start moving forward again.
We are in the doldrums.
But, the doldrums are a funny thing. They are a place, actually - a place near the equator where everything is often quite still. The winds and seas are calmer and life feels paused in the doldrums. Somehow over time the term doldrums began to be used for life's slumps - those times in life when we are just stuck: times like the thick of winter in New England. Yet, when I was in the doldrums during my Fall 2000 Semester at Sea I found my days in the doldrums quite magical. I remember sitting on the deck of the Universe Explorer, sun on my face, watching the dolphins gracefully gliding alongside our ship. They loved the stillness of the ocean. Those doldrums were inspirational and recharging for me. There was something beautiful about that stillness.
It can be hard to find the beauty in the winter doldrums though. These doldrums are filled with germs, guilt, white-knuckled driving, power outages, stretches of days without seeing the sunshine and let's not forget about the bitter cold. The winter doldrums suck.
So, as I sit here facing yet another potential snow day (third day in a row), more income lost (self-employed folks don't get paid snow days) and am bracing myself as I wait to see if child #2's recent stomach bug will hit the rest of us (please, God, no), I wonder how I can make the winter doldrums more like the physical doldrums. How can I change my perspective?
Let's face it. We have very little control over what happens to us during the winter doldrums. Aside from frequent hand washing, house cleaning and not sharing drinks, we cannot do too much to avoid the winter germs. We also can't do much about the winter weather either. The only thing we can control is how we react to the situations cast upon us in the winter doldrums.
These winter doldrums will pass. Spring and summer always come. Yes, it may take extra time for the ball fields to be cleared, defrost and be ready for opening day. Yes, we may have more snow days and find our kids in school a bit longer in June. Yes, we may be hit with more illnesses. But, days are already getting longer. Spring is coming.
Maybe the snow days and bugs aren't about interrupting our life. Maybe they can be about mandatory pauses from the rush of our typical days. Remember the dolphins I saw playing in the doldrums all those years ago? Maybe we need to be those dolphins and soak up the playful moments the winter doldrums provide us. Snuggle on the coach with our children, break into the hallway closet's mountain of board games, tackle some home projects, re-arrange some furniture, write, read, play. Slow down. Find the fun. Just be. And, when it gets to be too much, remember another thing I learned from my 100 days living on a ship: looking at the horizon can help cure seasickness. When the winter doldrums just get to be too much for you, turn your eyes towards our horizon - the spring - and remember that we are heading in the right direction. We'll get there. We just need to hold on.
Now, let's talk about sunshine. While we can't make the sun appear, there are some tools for those of us who really need the sunshine. Light therapy started as a treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder, a condition where individuals see increased signs of depression in conjunction with lower exposure to sunlight. Over the years, access to light therapy boxes or lamps has become easier and far more affordable. So, while I cannot make the next snowstorm avoid us, I can bring some sunshine back into my life. I am finally going to purchase one of these lamps for myself and for my office. I've included some links to some highly rated options in case you want to join me in purchasing some sunshine.
In the meantime, find a way to be a dolphin the doldrums!
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What's Your Ice Cube?
I do not have a green thumb. In fact, I am a plant murderer.
I have tried on multiple occasions to start a garden. Aside from an accidental strawberry plant which comes back every year with 4 or 5 normalish strawberries that some yard creature always steals, I cannot keep plants alive.
Cactus? Over-watered it.
Orchid? Under-watered it.
All other flowers? Dead. Dead. Dead. Super dead.
There is one exception though...
This beauty was given to me as a gift by a fellow social worker as a thank you. She knew that keeping plants alive was not a strength for me but she was confident that I could manage with this one. She was right. I haven't killed it. You know why? It's not because I read some planting blogs or joined a facebook gardening group (both of which I did - still didn't help me) or because I believed in myself.
For real. Ice cubes.
This plant doesn't need a lot of watering. Every few days it just needs an ice cube. When it looks a little weak, we give it an extra ice cube. If we forget about it for a few days, it's ok. It lets us know by looking a little less green and a little more droopy. Essentially, it asks us for an ice cube.
So often we get bogged down by life's pressures. Like this little plant, we can start to wither and wilt. We lose our perkiness. Our color starts to fade. We may even lose a few of our leaves. It doesn't mean that we need to be transplanted to a different location or that all hope is lost though. We are telling ourselves and the people around us what we need. An ice cube.
So, what is your ice cube? What is the simple thing that can perk you up or keep you hanging on for one more day? Maybe it's a good book before bed. Maybe it's a hot cup of coffee in the morning before the house comes alive. Maybe it's lunch with a good friend. Maybe it's a lazy Sunday morning in your pjs. Maybe it's a trip to the gym. Maybe it's a text from your partner. What is it for you? What's your ice cube?
Take a few minutes today and get yourself an ice cube.
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Investing in YOU!
I have an investment question for you. Of the following two banks, which would you choose?
So, which option would you choose?
What if the options were not banks but people in your life and what if the funds were not money but emotional energy? Would your choice change? Why?
No. Really. Ask yourself why?
Often in psychotherapy, I start to see patterns among clients. Perhaps it’s the time of year or phases of the moon or something I don’t understand like Mercury in Retrograde or El Nino. Or, maybe it’s just me. Whatever the reason, lately I have seen a pattern emerge in many of my sessions – the expense of emotional energy.
What is emotional energy?
I like to think of emotional energy as money. It’s the emotional cost of doing something. Think about Bank A and Bank B. Now think about the people in your life. Which people would you categorize under Bank A? Which would you categorize under Bank B? Think about your last encounter with someone from Bank A. Maybe it was a phone call, a party, a work meeting, a vacation. How much did it cost you emotionally to participate in that encounter? Did you find yourself emotionally drained afterwards? Did you text someone from Bank B after the encounter and say, “I need a glass of wine. Stat!” Did you go home and overreact by snapping at your spouse or your children? Did you skip a workout because you were too drained? Did you push yourself super hard at the gym because you needed to process the encounter? Did you turn your radio up really loud in your car? Did you cry? If you had any of these responses, then it’s safe to say that the encounter was probably emotionally costly for you. You invested a whole lot of energy into being with that person and you didn’t get anything back of value in return. In fact, it cost you to be with them.
Now, think about your last encounter with someone from Bank B. What was that experience like for you? How much did it cost you emotionally? Did you actually feel that it recharged you emotionally? These are the people we need to be focusing on in our lives. These are the people we need in our lives. They fill us up. They make us rich, emotionally.
But, how do you manage these people in your life that are emotionally costly? How do you handle Bank A? Well, you have three choices:
1. End your relationship with them.
While this is not always a possibility, sometimes it is something that can happen. You can end friendships. You can leave toxic work environments. You can avoid certain family members. Sometimes you can choose Bank B over Bank A. Usually, however, I recommend trying the other options first…
2. Limit your encounters with them.
Perhaps you aren’t ready, don’t want to or simply can’t leave Bank A completely. Are there ways that you can limit your time with Bank A? Can you establish some new boundaries with them? Can you weigh out how much emotional energy will be invested in a certain encounter and perhaps skip it or role play some ways to better balance it beforehand? Can you be honest with them about how you are feeling?
3. Change how you approach them.
The first step in this option is to evaluate WHY your encounters with them are so costly. Take some time and truly explore your previous encounters with these individuals. What is it about the encounters that requires you to invest so much emotional energy? Are you being criticized by them? Are you constantly trying to seek their approval? Do they use up all of your time asking for your advice or complaining to you about their own problems and never give you anything in return? Is there something in the past for which you aren’t able to forgive them?
The second step in this option is to understand HOW your encounters are costly. What is your internal process while you are with them – are you anxious, angry, hurt or feeling some other emotion? What are you thinking in the days leading up to the encounter? What are you thinking during your time with them? What are your immediate thoughts after the encounter?
The third step in this process is to truly accept that the individual will likely NEVER CHANGE. I know what you are thinking – “How does she know? Maybe if I could just be a litt more _____ or a little less ______, I can make them ______ or help them to see ________________.” No. Change is hard and people only change when they want to change. Nothing you say or do is going to make someone love you, respect you, appreciate you, value you or acknowledge you more. Nothing you say or do is going to make someone hurt you, ignore you or let you down less. Stop trying. Stop hoping things will be different. They are who they are and you cannot change that. The only thing you can change is how you choose to interact with them, how you respond to them and how much emotional energy you choose to invest in them.
Let's take a moment to think about and consider the feelings of people from Bank A. They probably are not bad people. (In fact, I often correct my children and tell them that there aren't bad people, only people making bad choices.) They probably aren't aware of how emotionally costly they are to you. They likely think you are overly sensitive or rude or require too much from the people in your life. It's worth considering those thoughts for a while. Are there some changes that you should be making in yourself? Are they right? Do you want to change those things?
If you have people in your life from Bank A and you feel that you are investing a lot of emotional energy in those relationships then you have some soul searching to do. So, pour yourself a cup of coffee or go take a long shower or take a long drive or get out your journal. Do whatever you need to do in order to create some space for you to think and reflect.
Life is too short; far too short. Isn’t it about time you find a way to invest more in yourself?
Five Ways to Reduce Holiday Stress
If you are like me, you probably can feel the growing holiday tension out there and with each passing day, the tension gets thicker and thicker. You know what I mean. You can feel it when you are shopping in the stores. People scurry by each other, avoiding eye contact as they shop for the "perfect" gift. They fight over the last pink stocking in the Target dollar bin (I saw a woman grab one out of a fellow shopper's hand two days ago as she declared "I saw that first!” ). They roll their eyes, sigh loudly and make rude comments about cashiers who are "too slow." They yell at each other over parking spots. They flash each other the middle finger as they cut each other off on the roadways. Yes, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. For sure.
So, with only a few days left until Christmas day, I have a few tips that may help to reduce some of the holiday stress and allow us to enjoy the true spirit of the holidays.
1. Re-evaluate your expectations
Chances are you have a "To Do" list a mile long. I'm going to guess that the bulk of that list contains items that are designed to make other people happy. Are you searching for the perfect gift for your children or partner? Are you planning a perfect family gathering that will allow the family to get along and not argue? Are you hoping to finally get approval and a public acknowledgement of your worth from that family member that never gives it to you? STOP! Sit down with your list and really look at what's important. Maybe you don't need to make a perfect roast for the family on Christmas day. Maybe a crockpot ham would be just fine. Maybe you don't need to bake sugar cookies from scratch. Maybe pre-made dough would be fine. Where can you cut corners and make things a little bit easier? Scaling things back a bit won’t turn you into a Grinch but it may preserve some of your energy…and sanity.
2. Get off social media
Ok. Maybe that's not realistic. But, at least change the way you experience social media. Chances are that at least 75% of the pictures and posts you see on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat are perfected (read: fake) versions of pictures and posts that have been taken, retaken, edited, deleted and re-written at least 5 times. It's not real. For every "perfect" post you see from a contact on social media, there are probably an equal number of imperfect moments from them. So, when you see that super happy family on Facebook and you think "Why can't we be like them?" remember that the same family could have yelled at each other in the car just five minutes before the post. Don't compare yourself to people on social media. And, let's face it, social media can be plain hurtful. Are there posts from people that always tend to hurt your feelings? Posts that will undoubtedly trigger some unpleasant memories? Go ahead and hide those people. Don’t be dramatic and unfriend them or post passive aggressive memes about them, simply hide their posts. You have the ability to control who you see on your feed. Take a few minutes and clean it up.
3. Spend time with your people
You know the people I'm talking about - the people with whom you can be yourself. They accept you - even when your hair and makeup aren't done and you elect to wear sweatpants and a sweatshirt. Schedule time with them where you can just be you. Or, if time is tight, turn to them via phone calls and text messages. Reach out to them when you feel like you are sinking – they are probably feeling the same way!
Look at children. They have this great ability to let stress roll off their shoulders. Most of the children I know are not stressing about finding the perfect gift, planning the perfect party, cooking the perfect meal or breaking the bank with gift giving. You know why? (Well, a big part of that is because children are selfish little creatures - not a bad thing, that's just where they are developmentally.) I think a big part of it is because they know how to play. As I write this, my oldest son is sprawled out on my couch, wearing his pj's and drinking his decaf coffee while he plays video games. (Boy, did I leave myself open right there for a whole lot of judging.) He could not be happier. Later today he will hang out with some of his friends and they will probably do nothing but flip water bottles, make Musicly videos and watch the Pats game. You know what? They will have a blast because they are playing. We could take a page from their book. Take some time to play. What does that look like for you? Just because we are grown-ups doesn't mean we can't have fun.
5. Nurture yourself
Santa probably isn't going to leave you a big fat pile of presents on Christmas day and, if you are a parent, Christmas is sort of all about the kids. So, take some time and do something nice for yourself. Stop and sit at Starbucks by yourself and have a cup of hot chocolate. Get your nails done. Take a nap. Buy yourself a Christmas gift. Take a bubble bath. Go to the gym. Do something for you. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or take up a lot of time but it sure can make a difference and you deserve it!
I know this list isn’t going to remove all of the Christmas stress from your lives. The holidays can be intensely overwhelming and, at times, painful. But, maybe, just maybe, if you take a few minutes and follow some of these tips, you just might find the holidays a little more bearable and, hopefully, even enjoyable.
And, if not, there’s always wine and chocolate.
For more blog articles on stress and self-care, click the links below:
A Snow Day...Minus the Snow
Before I became a parent, I had some basic parenting expectations for myself. For example, I was quite positive that my children:
Once I became a parent, however, that list quickly got tossed into the garbage. Parenting, it turns out, is something that you can never fully prepare for or predict. I am often making things up as I go along, course correcting and adjusting as I evaluate how I am handling the monumental task of parenting. Most days I feel like a total failure but sometimes, every once in a while, everything falls into place and often, when it does, it's because I listened to that little feeling in my gut - my intuition.
Two nights ago, after a weekend full of sports game, field clean up, work, errands and kitchen painting, my 8 year old laid in his bed and sobbed in my arms about how all he wants is "one day to just do nothing." He was tired of school, tired of sports, tired of running errands, tired of having to clean his room. He was tired. His gas tank was empty.
I talk about this concept a lot with my patients - the notion that we are like cars (crude comparison, I know) and if we don't take care of our cars and fill them with fuel, eventually they will sputter and leave us stranded on the side of the road. My little guy was very quickly running out of fuel and was close to breaking down on the side of the road. With my patients, we brainstorm ways to refuel ourselves. For some of us, it's exercise, for others it's time with friends, for others it's time alone. For my insightful 8 year old, he had identified that what would refuel him was a day to just be a kid.
My initial reaction was to validate his feelings and commit to finding a time to take a day off together but as we talked, I felt that feeling. You know the one: that intuitive, instinctive feeling in our bellies or our chests that is left over from evolution. Usually it tells us what we need to know in critical moments - like when we are in danger. But, if we listen, it can also help guide us in our decision making process and let us know which decision is the "right" one. My gut was telling me that I needed to make time now.
I tucked him in to bed and then set to work rearranging my schedule so I could be home the next day. When he woke in the morning, I invited him to stay home with me and have his day off. He smiled bigger than I had seen in a few weeks, hugged me and ran into the living room. I also invited his older brother, who had been fighting off a virus, to stay home as well. It took him a good 30 minutes to make his decision but he also ultimately decided that he could use a day off too.
You read that right. I let my children miss school and neither of them were physically sick. But, I would argue, both of them were mentally and emotionally running out of fuel and needed some time off. After all, mental health and emotional health are just as important as physical health. In fact, they could be MORE important than physical health as it has often been suggested that when we are emotionally and mentally run down, we are more susceptible to illness.
The rules of the day off were quite simple - there were no rules. Also, there had to be fresh baked banana bread (per my 8 year's old request.) We stayed in our pajamas and sweat pants for the day, ate fresh banana bread and just "were." The boys played games, watched tv, played video games, drew, colored and played outside. It was like a snow day, the blizzard kind, where the roads get closed down and everything pauses. Except there was no snow and no need to shovel.
As dinner time rolled around, I found myself reflecting a lot on the day. My boys were smiling and their fuel tanks were refilled. I also noticed that my fuel tank was much more full. Hearing my children just be children and do the work of children - play - was a beautiful thing. If we, as adults, can take a breath and really evaluate our lives, we probably will find that we could benefit from more snow days, minus the snow, in our lives.
No matter how busy our lives are, I strongly believe we all can find a way to fit some snow days into our schedule. Sometimes the laundry, dishes, phone calls, bills, errands and work can wait. Sometimes it is ok to ask others for help. None of my hospice patients have ever looked at me while approaching their final days on Earth and admitted that they wished they had worked more, kept a cleaner house or spent less time with their loved ones. No. It's the opposite. Almost everyone I have been with at the end of their lives shares the same sentiments - it's the small things that matter in the end - time with children doing nothing, time with friends over coffee, tea or wine, lazy mornings with their partner. It turns out that often the things that refuel us are also the things that we treasure and need the most.
So, my challenge to all of you is to tune everything out for 5 minutes. Really. Do it. Let the dishes pile up. Leave the stack of bills on the counter. Leave the laundry in the baskets. Let those calls you need to return wait a few moments. Look around at your life. What is truly most important? What fills your tank? How can you make room in your schedule this week to fit in some of these activities?
I suspect that for many of you, you are running on fumes now. You are flying down the highway at 90 miles an hour, seeing your gas needle nearing closer and closer to "E." Yet, you are ignoring it, hoping that you can run on fumes, "just" a bit longer. Pull over now and fill that tank. Stop putting you and your own needs last. Make your own snow day!
About Changing Perspectives
I often find myself encouraging people to consider changing their perspective or reframe the way in which they view things. This blog is an extension of that practice and is also an opportunity for me to write from a number of different perspectives including clinician, educator, mother, friend and supervisor. Blog topics are also quite varied and changeable. Topics explored include, but are certainly not limited to, grief, parenting, health and wellness and relationships. Join me and explore a number of changing perspectives!