Join Me For This Mindfulness Challenge!

Thanks to Calm for producing this calendar! May is Mental Health Awareness month, I challenge you to join me in this idea for improving or starting your own daily mindfulness practice.

I am setting an alarm in my phone for 8am and 8pm every, reminding me to attend to this calendar. I have also printed it and posted it on my fridge so that it crosses my mind more often. We all need “cues” to remind us to engage in new patterns of behavior. A cue is something that will pop up in your day (such as an alarm) that will remind you to attend to the behavior. This blog, the calendar, a reminder and friends can all join together to serve as cues for one another to practice and learn.

I will do my best each week to blog on the experience, I hope that you can join me and we can hold one another accountable!

women sitting close together
mental health

Should I End My Friendship?

I think we have all faced this painful question at one time or another. As friendships take time to evolve, they can also take time before we realize they’ve imploded. Many blogs and vlogs exist on ending romantic relationships, but what about friendships? Often, our friendships are longer and in some ways more complicated. Our hope is that we have friendships that are emotionally safe, that allow us to feel supported and loved unconditionally, and promotes our growth but what happens if they aren’t?

A healthy friendship is one that:

  • allows you to make your own choices
  • respects your opinions that might be different than their own
  • don’t impede your ability to achieve your own goals
  • encourage you to prioritize self-care
  • they are proud of your success
  • they promote your growth in any/all arenas (spiritually, physically, mentally, academically, etc)

Why might you want to end an unhealthy relationship? The simplest and most clear-cut answer happens when there is a breach of trust: theft, infidelity involving the friend and someone deemed “off limits” or any sort of abuse from the friend towards yourself. The reality is that most of the time, it isn’t that clear-cut; rather, it’s a slow erosion over time that leaves you questioning how you got to this point and what can/should be done about it.

With slow erosion the friendship drifts apart, often time over years. You might find that you no longer feel invigorated when spending time together, you leave feeling badly about yourself, you feel shamed for your choices or interests, or you simply that spending time with that person just doesn’t cross your mind as much anymore. I believe a relationship turns from distant to toxic when the person actively works against the healthy attributes listed in the bulled points above. Signs of a toxic friendship are:

  • they tell you who you can and cannot spend time with
  • they make fun of your interests and/or hobbies and/or put you down
  • they refuse to have discussions about differences; rather they adopt a “my way or the highway” stance that shuts down a conversation and leaves you feeling as though you are walking on eggshells
  • they ignore your requests for self-care (such as a night in, desires to distance yourself from other toxic people, plans to reduce your alcohol consumption, etc.)
  • they tease you about goals that you set in ways that aren’t playful or loving
  • they “one up” you and cause you to dread brining up any of your successes because you have learned that they will take over the conversation and instead of being happy for you, they make it about themselves
  • they never reach out to you or initiate contact

With those factors being explained, hopefully you can see the clear difference between a friendship that builds you up and one that holds you back or actively tears you down.

But how do I do it!? You may have urges to “ghost” the person (meaning just disappear from their life); however, I urge you not to do that. Learning to speak up for yourself is a huge and necessary life task. I encourage you to let them know what has been bothering you (in factual, non-blaming ways) and let them know that you plan to distance yourself to work on your own needs. This might sound like “Rob, I’ve noticed that when we spend time together I fall into some unhealthy thinking patterns and I end up feeling really alone since we’ve grown in different directions (insert example), I’m going to take a few weeks to see if I can sort out my thoughts on the topic. I hope you can understand my need for space” or “Sara, the last few times we have hung out, I have had my feelings hurt by the comments you have made about people who want to be sober and you keep bringing wine over even though I’ve told you that I quit drinking. I need to stop having you over to my house because of this”. Try to stick to “I” statements, such as “I feel, I notice, I’ve been experiencing” etc. instead of “you” statements which tend to make the other person defensive. Now, it is true that the friend might not take this news very well; however, as you were already considering “ghosting” them, I think the skill and confidence you will gain from speaking up is worth it!

What is the cost of ending a toxic relationship:

  • sadness and grieving
  • boredom
  • anxiety
  • vulnerability when trying to meet new people
  • hypervigilance in new relationships
  • second guessing yourself

What is gained when a toxic relationship ends:

  • independence
  • freedom to do/say/wear the things your friend made you feel shame about wanting to do/say/wear
  • time for yourself
  • a healthier sense of self

Once ending a toxic relationship of any type, it’s crucial that you take time to rebuild your sense of self and self-worth. You many have strong urges to distract yourself away from the negative feelings you are feeling; but you need to take the time to heal. This means that you take time for your hobbies and interests, you spend time with people that build you up and you spend some time with yourself – rediscovering who you are and want to be!

unrecognizable women messaging on smartphones after shopping in city
mental health

Is Tik Tok Causing a Problem with Self-Diagnoses?

If you follow me, then you know I love posting a TikTok video here and there! It’s fun and offers encouragement to those who watch them. I hear friends talk about how comforted they are from the validation they feel from the content, they love how much the learn on the app and it’s always good for a laugh when they’re having a rough day! The main concern I have with the app is the surge of self-diagnosis and over-identification with said diagnoses that I’m starting to see.

According to Google trends, searches for mental health disorders that I also see trending on Tik Tok are on the rise and in the last 12 months:

  • Searches for neurodiversity are up 250%
  • Searches for ADHD are up 80%
  • Searches for Tics are up 150%
  • Searches for anxiety are up 250%

Now…some of this is FANTASTIC news! Mental health diagnoses deserve attention, they deserve to be destigmatized and talked about, and they deserve all of the awareness! I am so glad to see such positive and normalized messages on TikTok about the above mentioned diagnoses because it can help people feel accepted and for many it can help them seek help so they don’t’ need to suffer in silence any longer! I love that people might see a set of symptoms explained and realize that they aren’t crazy…they have a chemical imbalance that can be treated!

The concern I have is more around the appropriation (the action of taking something for one’s own use, typically without the owner’s permission) of mental illness by people who think it’s fun/funny/trendy or otherwise gets them more followers/attention. There can be serious medical risks to a person who gets prescribed medication that they don’t need. More commonly though, there are mental health concerns with overly identifying with a mental health condition and making that your primary identity (whether the condition is real or generated).

A healthy identity is comprised of so much more than symptoms. A healthy identity is comprised of your values, beliefs, spirituality, interests, education, history, physical appearance, racial identity, socioeconomic status, etc. To limit your identity to only one piece of you (i.e.: I’m an anxious mess) undersells the amazing person that you/they are! I hope that we can all use social media, including TikTok as a tool and not an identity. We can learn so much about the world by being as connected as we are within social media; just make sure not to pigeonhole yourself!


I Feel Vulnerable

I am starting to feel more empowered to speak up.

I want to speak up about:

– racism (white privilege isn’t an insult! It isn’t anything a white person has done wrong! I don’t fully understand how much easier my life is because I’m white…and yet since having the girls in my life, I can see how real it is. I see how they’re looked at as being “bad” when they misbehave I’m public whereas white kids are “just being kids”. Attend Undivided at Crossroads Church or read White Fragility. Educate yourself. Don’t just take my word for it.- the environment (we are killing our world. Instant gratification and convenience are KILLING our planet and everyone thinks the next generation will take care of it). Watch some documentaries and educate yourself. Don’t just take my word for it.

– gender (my husband is AMAZING and doesn’t treat chores and parenting as woman’s work) …and yet for every single country in the world, women are expected to take care of more unpaid work than men – childcare, housework, cooking, caring for their aging relatives, etc. – while also taking care of their jobs, self-care and marriage. Men get paid more. Women endure procedures without anesthesia that men wouldn’t be expected to. Women are not represented equally in politics. Etc. Read The Moment of Lift. Educate yourself. Don’t just take my word for it.

– healthy living – people are more willing to take a pill than exercise or eat healthier. Parents feed their kids more and more sugar and caffeine. Look at the sugar content of foods vs the World Health Organization or FDAs recommendations. Educate yourself. Don’t just take my word for it.

– screen time for kids – it’s horrible and dangerous for their brains. Read Glow Kids. Educate yourself. Don’t just take my word for it.

My fears are:

1. I’m white so I look like a hypocrite (re: race)

2. I’m a woman so it looks like I’m whining or being “too emotional” (re: gender)

3. You will just roll your eyes and turn back to avoidance and full your news feed with whatever serves your opinions (re: all of it)

4. Someone will ask a question that I don’t know the answer to which will “prove” to you that I’m wrong and you can keep ignoring the points

Thank you.

woman girl animal dog
DBT, mental health

How to Meditate

Everyone has questions about meditation. How to do it, why to do it, when to do it…

Formal Zen meditation is the specific type that I practice and encourage my friends, family, clients, etc. to practice also.  Notice I said practice…yes, sitting upright and still requires PRACTICE! In fact, most people avoid meditation because they’re afraid they will do it wrong or they will be bad at it (just like any other hobby); practice is required with any new task before you can feel competent at it.

The basic components of Zen meditation are:

  • Sit upright and still on meditation cushions (zafu and zabuton) with three points of contact with the floor to stabilize you.  I often sit in the position shown below “on a stool” but using cushions instead of a stool. My three points of contact are shin, shin and butt. Any position you choose needs to be a comfortable position and should not cause straining.  For example, if you cannot get yourself into lotus position, don’t! It is encouraged that you find a position that you can hold for the duration of the meditation without discomfort or your legs falling asleep. Having your rear end elevated (by a cushion, stool or chair) is recommended to reduce any blood flow issues.  Frequent shifting is discouraged, I recommend that you experiment with different positions in your first few weeks.
  • Clear your mind as best you can and focus on either nothing or your breathing. When you are anxious, your mind and body are detached from one another. Focusing on your in breath and outbreath can help realign them.
  • Practice non-attachment and non-judgment when you notice your mind drifting (as it will) by gently bringing your attention back to your breathing. The reality is that your mind will wander and it will wander more when you are new to meditation and/or when your stress is higher.  We can acknowledge this without judging ourselves or the practice.  It is simple, not easy! Many people complain that they feel MORE anxious when they try to quiet their mind…which may be true because they have removed all of the distractions that they normally put between their feelings and their consciousness.  Ride that wave, calmness will follow. It reminds me of snorkeling in choppy water…the water is only choppy until you put your head under the water to see the reef below! Meditation is more about strengthening your “coming back” muscle than your “staying present” muscle!
  • Length of meditation varies, the magic isn’t in the number of minutes; rather it is in the willingness to practice steps 1-3 over and over and over.  Meditation is a muscle that most of us forget we have, thus it is out of shape and needs to be worked consistently over time. I encourage you to start with ten minutes and stay with that time frame until you get comfortable, then challenge yourself to 20!

The benefits of sitting practice are innumerable.  Science finds that:


You can really meditate whenever your want, where-ever you want, with whoever you want. I recommend group meditation in the beginning (look up group meditations in your city and/or on Zoom). Think about how much you cognitively know about exercising and eating healthy vs what you actually do in your day-to-day life, I find that group meditation holds you accountable and achieves better results just as group exercise does!


There is Not a Right Way

Those might be fighting words in our divided society… and I’ll say it again: THERE IS NOT A RIGHT WAY. Why are we so quick to insist that our way is the correct way? Why are we hell-bent on getting people to see our point of view? Why are people willing to end relationships over different opinions on how to achieve a task? Why do schools and workplaces insist on procedures and refuse to allow for creative thinking?

You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way. It doesn’t exist” – Friedrich Nietzhce

I believe that there are many ways to achieve one’s goals. I believe that if we stop judging others we might be able to see that. I encourage you to take some time today (quiet, uninterpreted time) to really ponder this idea.

I’m not going to share any advice on how to achieve this goal…as you see, there are many ways to achieve introspection.


Are You Sure You Want Less Mood Swings?

While we are on the topic of legal, over-the-counter drugs that people consume on a daily basis without any thought to how it will impact their mental health, let’s take a look at caffeine!

I am human…I like coffee as much as the next person! Especially some cold brew iced coffee! I am not innocent; I treat myself to coffee every once in a while. I am very aware of the effects; which is why I limit myself AND take efforts to avoid any excess consumption of caffeine.

Caffeine is a stimulant. It has been studied and found that caffeine is linked to increased anxiety, sleep disturbance, and can lead to symptoms of mania. Caffeine can lead to restlessness, agitation, excitement, rambling thought and speech, and insomnia. For those with psychiatric diagnoses, it exacerbates agitation, psychosis and the above mentioned symptoms. We grab a mug when we want a mood boost (instant gratification) while ignoring the problematic crash and anxiety that is generally sure to follow!

While caffeine isn’t all bad, low doses can improve cognitive functioning and mood, it is common for dependence and abuse to occur. Caffeine withdrawal leads to fatigue, headaches, irritability and depressive symptoms.

If you are already an anxious person or are seeking treatment for an anxiety, sleep, impulse control, or bipolar disorder, I would absolutely recommend that you avoid caffeine. Why fuel the fire?! I personally and professionally do not agree with minors (those under the age of 18) drinking coffee or energy drinks. This means that parents need to say no and have contingencies in place if the rule is breached. I believe there are more holistic methods to improve alertness in all people (Think healthy sleep and exercise)! Teaching kids, teens and young adults to reach for a quick fix has horrific implications later in life (think drugs, promiscuity, risk taking).

Citations and Further reading:

Want to learn more?

Inspiration, mental health

Do You Want to Have Less Mood Swings?

I have a very tricky suggestion for you.

I have a controversial suggestion for you.

You might not like my suggestion…

…but if you really want to have stable moods…

STOP WITH ALL THE SUGAR! My office use to share a parking lot with a certain popular coffee chain. I am not going to lie, I really enjoy this coffee shop. No one will argue with you about the burst of energy, pain reduction, and general feeling of bliss that is experienced when sugar is consumed in rapid quantities, in it’s purest form! What really hurts my heart though, is when my I see people, especially teens, with blended (coffee) SUGAR drinks. I know why they get the drinks; however, I also know the crash they will experience. I know the addiction they will face. I know the mood swings and irritability they (and their loved ones) will endure. If you want to argue that you don’t get those sorts of drinks/treats, I still urge you to look at your weekly intake and average out how much sugar you’re having in a day.

Here’s the deal: A variety of reputable health organizations warn against sugar intake. This is mostly for health concerns; however, as mentioned above, it also impacts mental health. The World Health Organization currently recommends that sugar make up no more than 5% of your total energy intake. The American Heart Association finds the average American consumes 22 teaspoons of added (not natural) sugar per day…that’s 350 calories from added sugar alone. Their recommendation is between 6 -9 teaspoons/day (25-37 grams). There are no bonus points for consistently getting to 25 grams…it is the red line to STAY AWAY FROM. Major problem is that most people surpass that number on a daily basis. The biggest culprits are beverages, cereal and prepackaged snacks.

What we know about consumption of added sugar in a diet (we aren’t talking about fruit here…) is that it leads to your blood sugar spiking and then crashing. The effect of this on the human body is extreme. I will spare you the details other than it leads to a (short) burst of energy followed by a significant dip in mood: increased depression, anxiety, and irritability. Challenge me on that…really…and just use your imagination on what this looks like for someone who repeats the cycle several times per day. A 2014 study by Emory recently found that teens with high fructose diets tend to have increase rates of depressive behaviors (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/11/141118141852.htm).

A 2012 study from UCLA (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1113/jphysiol.2012.230078/full) found that high fructose corn syrup LITERALLY slows brain function, impairs memory and inhibits new learning. So when clients walk into my office high on sugar, I already know they are primed to NOT retain what we are working on. This is a problem when teens and college students are hitting up coffee chains and vending machines on their way to school!

We all know that abusing sugar can lead to diabetes; however high blood sugar has also been linked to increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease later in life. (http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/09/high-blood-sugar-linked-to-dementia/?_r=0) It seems that if the high sugar diet doesn’t seem to cause an effect at the current moment, it certainly increases risks all throughout your life span.

To learn about how sugar becomes addicting like a drug, check out this TED Talk: http://ed.ted.com/lessons/how-sugar-affects-the-brain-nicole-avena

Here are some common sugar contents (things I see in my office often):

Starbucks Grande Vanilla Bean Frappachino 57 grams of sugar
Dunkin Donuts Medium Caramel Iced Coffee 37 grams of sugar
20 oz Coca Cola 65 grams of sugar
20 oz Mountain Dew 77 grams of sugar
Arizona Iced Tea 72 grams of sugar
One package of Skittles 47 grams of sugar
2 Pop Tarts 34 grams of sugar

In conclusion:

This is not a soap box that I stand on. This is not be being a health nut. This is a national crisis in which I see people being more willing to take prescription medications (which carry very real risks of side effects) rather than even TRY to reduce their sugar intake to under 25 grams per day. Parents have an obligation to be mindful of what they are buying and providing for their children. Teens are old enough to learn about the effects of sugar and yet lack the impulse control to moderate their behavior 100% of the time without support. Adults can learn to manage their urges and make healthier choices which will lead to improved mental and physical health, reduced healthcare costs, and improved finances! Please take an honest look at your sugar consumption and it’s possible effect(s) on your moods. The results might, quite literally, be sobering.