Inspiration, mental health, Uncategorized

Why Can’t I Reach My Goals?

Let’s face it…change is difficult, complex, and overwhelming at times. Everyone struggles with different parts of the change process, and I have found a visual reference (no citation was given for me to provide) that will help you find where you might missing the stepping stone to achieve the meaningful change that you want in life!

If you have read this far then I know you want change. Change is the outcome of the top row; if you follow the equation provided, you are likely to experience change. The reality is though, that we often end up trying to change but get confused, anxious, resistant, frustrated or we end up preparing to change but never actually doing it (false start)! I will walk you through the grid below; however, you first need to identify what one situation is that you are struggling to get change with, and which of the 5 outcomes you keep ending up with (aside from the change).

After defining the concepts below, I will walk you through my problem with consistent exercise as it can be an uphill battle for me, and I have experienced all of the listed outcomes during different seasons of life!

Key concepts needed:

Vision

Vision is what you want to see your life become. It is the goal you set for yourself. Your personal vision is an idealistic future that you are setting for yourself related to one facet of life. Your vision helps for you to identify what to strive for and what you want to achieve. Having a vision will empower you to steer all relevant decisions toward achievement of the idealized future. This is important it will allow you to know when you’ve achieved your goal! Articulating your vision should ideally help you feel motivated and will comfort your anxiety by defining the goal.

A vision statement is generally short, sweet and to the point. It is generally simple enough for anyone to read and understand; this is important for you as well, I do not want you to read it months later and forget what you meant by the words you used! Vision statements will require time to achieve; I’d suggest setting personal goals that take at least one year to achieve but don’t extend beyond a five-year goal. We need to set something that is achievable in a time frame that keeps us motivated AND that is realistic. Change does not happen overnight and I see many people stumble with this…we all want the quick fix.

An ideal vision statement contains measurable components, a personal component that makes sense based on your circumstances, and how it will improve connection to others.

As you can see in the grid, if you do not have clearly defined vision statement, you will end up with confusion! You are likely to jump on fad bandwagons (fitness, diets, trends, etc.) and you will lack direction overall in life. A vision statement is a necessary part of change!

For my vision related to my physical fitness, I state: My vision is: I will feel able to keep up with my kids and husband when hiking the National Parks and will live my life with minimal joint pain and exhaustion. I will be saying “yes” more than I say “no” as it relates to physical activities with those I love.

Skills

Skills, skills, skills. We are taught a lot of things in elementary school. I can sing the 50 United States in alphabetical order, I can tell you random facts about history and I can tell you about primary, secondary and tertiary colors…but did we learn how to problem solve, budget or communicate….? (nope!). It is not your fault if you are lacking in the skills needed to achieve your goal but it is something you can work to change.

I love how normalized self-help books, blogs and topics are in our world. If you feel that you need the skills associated with achieving goals, I’d encourage you to check out my book Adulting Well for practical and relatable help in different life domains (if you tell me you are buying as a result of this blog post, I will gladly sign it for you)!

Skills are required to gain the confidence needed to tackle difficult goals and not end up in the pit of anxious despair, beating yourself up! There is not one magic skill; rather you will have to continually assess and reassess where you are in life and alter your course accordantly.

I gained the skills needed to achieve my goals in several ways: I consult with personal trainers every few years to fine tune my plan, I have accountability buddies in my life to help remind me to get to the gym and eat well, in seasons where my motivation is lacking I find fitness classes to be helpful.

Incentives

Humans are animals. Animals can be trained. To be trained, animals need reinforcement. A reinforcer is anything that is likely to increase the odds of the behavior happening again. A positive reinforcer is something given that you want (treat, item, kind words, sticker) and a negative reinforcer is the removal of something that you want removed (removal of an unpleasant task, removal of discomfort, removal of guilt). The reinforcer can come from an external source such as an accountability partner, a spouse, a friend, or a paid professional or from within yourself. I suggest building in both!

I have noticed that we are quicker to jump to self-punishment instead of reinforcers. We think that it will help motivate us; however, research and your own experience continues to prove that idea WRONG. If beating yourself up with your words and actions helped, we would all be perfectly productive in our goals! Scientific research has shown again and again that punishment is the least effective method for changing behavior. If you would like to learn more on this, check out Karen Pryor’s book Don’t Shoot The Dog.

Without incentives animals/humans do not engage in behaviors that are difficult or cause discomfort. Without incentives, you will be resistant to change and can end up being resentful of the change! Resistance is not the desired outcome, change is.

In order to reinforce myself for my goal of increasing and maintaining consistent physical exercise, I use a few reinforcers. I have a behavior chart in my journal in which I check off the days that I exercise (my definition of exercise is important. Initially I gave myself credit if I went to the gym, went on a hike or bike ride, or walked 7000 steps per day. As I found myself achieving the goal most days, I raised the bar and separated exercise from 7000 steps per day. I wanted 7000 steps to be my baseline and wanted to do physical exercise at least four times per week. My other rewards have included but are not limited to a new water bottle/workout clothes after hitting pre-defined goals, allowing myself to watch a show only after I exercise, certain “gym-only” playlists, encouragement from my friends, kids and husband, positive self-talk and self-encouragement, and noticing my gains such as improved energy and stamina. Please notice that there is not one answer, there will need to be a variety of reinforcers that come together for the benefit of incentivizing your success.

Resources

What in the world do we mean by resources? Resources are assets that can be pulled from by a person or function effectively. Without resources you will be very frustrated because you will not be able to achieve your goals! If your goal requires you to pay a fee, the needed resource is money. If your goal includes producing artwork, your resource would be the art supplies. If your goal includes socializing, your resources might include therapy to learn the anxiety management skills.

Your resources are the items, funds, and/or people required to achieve the goal. I say required to highlight the fact that without the appropriate resources, you will not be able to achieve the goal! You can have a clear vision, great motivators, and amazing skills; but without the resources required, the goal will be intangible.

The resources I needed to achieve my goal included: the money required for a Beachbody on Demand subscription for at home workouts (as I have three kids and cannot always get to a gym), the money for a gym membership to Planet Fitness for days that I can get to the gym, weights and at home workout gear which I purchased used, workout clothing and a water bottle. Money was a resource needed for each step of the way. When money was tight, I skipped the Beachbody subscription and used free workouts on Youtube which was adequate; however, Wifi and a device were still needed resources. Time is also a needed resource, so I have had to hone my time management skills to make time.

Action Plan

Our action plan needs to take reality into account. It is not realistic that you will move from A to Z with ease. It is not likely that you will avoid the storms and unexpected barriers that life throws at us (which often require skill and resources to overcome). Full acceptance that there will be unpredicted upsets will allow you to develop and action plan that builds in the needed coping skills and reinforcers to move past the storms without giving up.

Examples of these pitfalls include but are certainly not limited to family crisis, financial difficulties, medical problems and injury, hormonal fluctuations, dips in motivation, temptations to engage in other activities. I encourage you to do introspection on what has gotten in the way in the past to be sure you add them to your plan.

Aside from your awareness and plan for the pitfalls, your action plan needs to be a specific set of steps that attend to all logistical concerns you can think of the where, what, when, how, and who of your goal. An action plan needs to be broken down into a simple, easy to follow set of guidelines and steps. Your action plan likely needs to include:

  • a list of people you can delegate tasks to.
  • the logistics of who, what, when, where and how.
  • your supporters and reinforcers and how/when you will use them.
  • a clearly defined outcome so that you will know whether you met your goal.
  • clearly defined steps to take to achieve identified tasks.

Without an action plan, you will end up experiencing “false starts”. You might hear yourself say “I intending to change but never actually change” or “I’ve wanted this for years; I don’t know why I can’t get myself to do it”. Without an action plan, the goal remains too vague and abstract.

My action plan includes sitting down on Sunday evening to review my schedule (including my kids and husband’s) and the weather. I plug in times that I can get to the gym (bearing in mind that I need a two-hour window at minimum to be able to drive to and from the gym, workout, shower and do my hair and make up for the next part of my day. If I have a shorter window, I often do go to the gym still but have a plan to only do weights and to try not to sweat since I will not have time for the shower. The weather comes into play because we look for a few “pick days” to engage in outdoor activities which count as exercise: hiking, biking, swimming. My action plan for the night before includes planning what I am going to wear at the gym, whether I need to take it to work with me, and planning food so that I have the energy to go. My action plan includes communicating the proposed schedule to my husband so that he can let me know if he sees any barriers. I have also noticed that I have a habit of driving to the gym but sitting in my car and scrolling social media before I go in (thus wasting my time resource). I have addressed that by making social media an incentive: if I work hard at the gym, I allow myself down time on the stationary bike to cool down and scroll.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I believe you can do this. I believe you can make meaningful change. This grid can help guide you and help you to identify stumbling blocks PRIOR to them causing you to face plant. I encourage you to take some time to journal on the points mentioned here so that you can make the changes that you want to see in your life!

Inspiration, Journaling, mental health, parenting

How Do You Do It ALL???

I’m sitting here on my back patio listening to my 2 year old cry because I am not pushing her on the swing, my 6 year old is asking 5 questions per minute that I’m half-heartedly trying to answer, and my 8 year old was forced against her will to being her Barbie’s outside to play. I am home with my kids while my husband got to have his early morning photography time – something we try to build in once or twice per week. I am trying to work on this blog and grow my business (Your Mental Restoration).

I don’t do it all. I won’t do it all. I cannot possibly do everything and I accept that! I CAN choose where my attention goes. I CAN give myself permission to feel accomplished when I tackle something mindfully. In this moment, I am empowering my children to learn to play self-sufficiently (against their will), I am empowering myself to carve out time for my interests and values and I am empowering my husband to grow his photography business by practicing his skills. I could choose to look at the scenario through a fatalistic lens: I’m failing as a mom because my kids want my attention and I am not giving it. I am failing as a housekeeper because the chores are not being attended to. I am failing as a writer because I have distractions. I fundamentally reject the fatalistic lens. I believe it comes from comparison (ahem Instagram feed) and the belief that other moms, other wives, other writers, etc. are somehow achieving their goals without any barriers. I reject that notion because I talk openly with others and that allows me to know their truth: it isn’t true! Instead of letting shame take over and convince you that you struggle more than anyone else does, I invite you to talk with your friends, peers, and families about the realities of their lives. I think you will find validation and comfort in the fact that they are also having to choose what to prioritize and what to ignore. They have to choose not to beat themselves up for their perceived failures.

Everyone struggles to juggle the identities, roles and tasks in their lives.

How many basketballs do you think you could hold?

I’d venture to say that at any given time, I could probably hold three…but not well. I think of the various life “shoulds”, to-do list tasks, expectations and roles as metaphorical basketballs. I cannot hold them all at once. If I try to hold too many at once, I end up dropping them and making a fool of myself! I CAN decide which ones I choose to pick up and carry, I CAN decide what I am going to prioritize and where I am going to put my attention. This morning, I’m carrying my “writer ball”, “mom ball” and “self-care ball”. I can switch between making the three of them my top priority (when I get stuck on writing, I play with my kids!) None of them are getting my full attention; however, because I am willing to accept the limitations of time, I absolve myself of any guilt related to the state of my house, my inbox, my friendships, etc. I’ll pick up those balls later…

So how do I do it all? I don’t! I do what I can, when I can. I allow myself the freedom to NOT have intense levels of guilt and shame over the things I do not do, while allowing myself to feel pride and satisfaction in the tasks that I DO accomplish.

crop housewife cleaning surface near sink
Inspiration, mental health

How to Negotiate a Fair Division of Domestic Labor with your Spouse

Resentment, animosity, jealousy, hurt and loneliness are not words anyone wants to use to describe the partnership they have with your spouse. What do spouses fight over? Marriage failure statistics do not agree on the primary reasons for divorce. I have seen money troubles, communication difficulties, and an uneven distribution of weight in the relationship as some of the most frequently cited reasons from couples counselors and divorce attorneys alike.  If we look into those reasons, it wouldn’t be difficult deduce that the concept of domestic labor disputes are a common thread! Feelings of inequality in a relationship will lead to resentment, animosity, jealousy, hurt and emotional loneliness.  From there it is not a far leap to end up with an affair, substance abuse or domestic violence (three of the other top cited reasons for divorce.)  

If this topic is important to you and you have not yet read The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates, you need to. You can find a summary of her key points here, however I’d recommend a full read. Melinda covers a lot of ground in this book on gender inequities around the world; however, I want to tune-in particularly to the equality gap found within domestic labor in the home.  Melinda refers to tasks such as cooking, cleaning, child rearing, and running errands as “unpaid work” and in this article I am using the term “domestic labor”, they are one in the same.  Melinda cites research that finds a gap in all cultures (in India for example it’s 6:1 with women doing 6 hours of unpaid work per day and men doing 1, in the United States the ration is 4:2.5.  There is clearly a disparity that needs to be addressed and openly discussed in homes across the world. 

My stance, albeit controversial, is that there is not a way to have a truly even distribution of domestic labor and furthermore, trying to achieve a truly even distribution will reek havoc on your marriage as one person will always feel like they did more. Someone will feel that their load of laundry had more socks in it, the day they mowed the lawn was hotter, the kids were harder to control when they had them… 

A marriage is a partnership, it is a mutually agreed upon relationship in which you and your spouse agree to work toward common goals.  These common goals include keeping the house, maintaining the the yard, parenting the children, etc. all in agreed upon conditions.  In general, I agree that there should be an equal division of labor…over a long period of time (such a a year).  I suggest looking at longer periods of time because it is a normal life occurrence for each partner to have natural ebbs and flows in their career/paid workload (such as tax season for an accountant), their health (perhaps pregnancy or after an injury or surgery), or the demands of their extended family (such as taking care of their ailing parents). Partners need to have faith that if their partner is not able to keep up their end of the workload for periods of time, there is not a personal insult attached.  The tides will turn back to normal and there will also be times where the workload tips completely in the other direction.  

All of that being said, if you look at a longer chunk of time (such as one year) and feel the balance is lacking, it is time for a conversation.  Gaslighting, excuses, defensiveness and blame would all be red flags.  A respectful conversation about workload can and should happen several times throughout the year to share feelings and prevent the build up of negativity. 

Inspiration

New month, Happy June!

First off, I love new months. I am a: goal setter, a bullet journal-er, an eternal optimist when it comes to setting goals for myself. I love a fresh to-do list, a new challenge and a clean slate. I like thinking of what can be accomplished in 30 days and what aspects of my life I’d like to fine tune. I think of life as an eternal juggling act in which I have a lot of interests but I sink my attention into the ones that are falling below the metaphorical red line.

This month I am targeting walking and writing. I have noticed that I’ve been less active lately (my excuse is 2 years old and either walks very slowly or wants carried…) and I’d like to remedy that with more walking. I have an amazingly supportive husband who would be cool with me taking a walk anytime I want, I have fun kids who would love to go around the block more often, and I do have the ability to be patient with little legs, there is no good excuse. I am targeting the writing process to help myself write with more consistency and crank out my second book in less than four years (my goal is one year)!

I REALLY love June also because…

  • Pride month – celebration of diversity and equality, a stance against discrimination
LGBTQ Pride Month FAQs Sheet Template
  • Juneteenth – celebration of the end of slavery in the US! Please learn more about this day…just this tiny infographic helps you to see the injustice that it took TWO AND A HALF YEARS for news to reach the south that the Emancipation Proclamation was signed and in effect, ending slavery.
  • Summer – pools, vacations, shorts, etc
2021 Summer Camp Guide - Berks County Living
  • my birth month – I have always loved having a summer birthday!
Let's Party: How to Make Birthdays Special Without Leaving the House

Inspiration, mental health

Coping At Your Desk Job

If you find yourself stuck at a desk for much of your day, I’m sure you are familiar with the slump and boredom that can take over as the day goes on. You might find that you come into work in a decent mood; however, as you sit all day and your posture suffers, you might also find that your mood suffers as well! Sitting in a slumpped position restricts blood flow and communicates to your brain that you have no energy and need no energy. The mind-body connection is real and powerful!

I have two secret weapons to overcome the monotony of sitting all day, remember…as a therapist, I sit on my butt all day…I’m a pro!

Secret weapon #1: your joints

Your joints? Yes! Dictionary.com defines a joint as: the place at which two things, or separate parts of one thing, are joined or united, either rigidly or in such a way as to permit motion. I especially want you to think about the last part of the definition. Joints can keep you rigid or help you move, which do you want to be described as? If you don’t move your body, you will become physically and mentally rigid/stuck as the day goes on. I suggest you get up and move every hour; squats, yoga, stretching, walking, jumping jacks, wall push-ups, etc.

Your joints are your friend. They allow you to move and achieve your goals. You can be their friend and encourage them to move and flex. Treat your joints as if they are your best friend because they fulfill many of the same roles as a best friend does! Friends and joints both:

  • support you
  • lift you up
  • help you grow
  • enable movement
  • allow you to reach things

Why would you ignore and sabotage a friend that helps you in so many ways?!

Secret weapon #2: your five senses

Let’s go back to basics. Your five senses are: tasting, touching, seeing, smelling, and hearing. When you are emotionally dysregulated (angry, irritable, anxious, sad, uneasy, worried, depressed, etc) it can be hard to just “snap out of it” from sheer willpower alone. If it were easy, “just relax” would be great advice instead of the start of many fights. This is where your second set of secret weapons comes into play: using your five senses.

Your five senses are always with you and can mostly be used “on the sly” in “ninja-fashion” which relieves any pressure that you might look weird. My desk is covered in items that will help me regulate my emotions via my sensory system! Here’s a list of what I have within arms reach:

  • iced water
  • gum
  • scented and unscented lotion
  • affirmation cards
  • visually pleasing paintings
  • essential oil inhaler
  • essential oil roller
  • squishes
  • compression gloves
  • wrist rest
  • snacks
  • gel pens
  • hard candy
  • stone with quote on it
  • singing bowl

When I am feeling anxious, I am quick to reach for lotions, essential oil items, and ice water. When I am sad or depressed, I am likely to use invigorating scents, affirmation cards and hard candy. When I am angry, my “go to” is calming lotion scents, doodling with gel pens, and using my singing bowl. Over time, you will learn which types of items help you in different situations. It’s important to go into it with an experimental mindset, open to any possible outcomes, and engage fully in the experience.

Move and soothe. That’s my suggestion, try it for a week and let me know how it goes!

Inspiration, mental health

Busy Isn’t Cute

How are you?

  • Things have been so busy, you?

How’s life been?

  • You know how it is, busy!

How’s the family?

  • Oh you know, busy, busy!

Do these brief conversation snippets sound familiar?

We live in a culture and time that seems to place value on productivity and outcomes more than values. Many industries even place productivity requirement and pay for performance mandates on their employees for “motivation”. We brag to one another about how much we have accomplished rather than sharing about our down time. When people ask how we are, the socially acceptable answer generally has something to do with how busy we are (as shown above). We over-enroll our children in extra curricular activities starting in preschool and we overbook ourselves at the same time. Gone are free weekends, gone are lazy Sundays, gone are snow days (hello virtual learning) and summer vacations.

I regularly see people wearing shirts that say things like:

“Hot mess express”, “I run on coffee, chaos, & curse words”, “But first, coffee”, “This is my circus, these are my monkeys”, “I can’t, busy doing mom things”, “my brain has too many tabs open”, “you must be exhausted by watching me do everything”

…and it seems that (while the shirts are good for a laugh) they tend to glamorize being overly busy and living a stressed out life. I am willing to be the bearer of bad news for you: it’s not cute. It’s not cute to overwhelm yourself, it’s not attractive to wear your physical and mental health into the ground, overbooking yourself and/or your family isn’t something to brag about, I don’t envy your lifestyle of being late and surviving on Chick-Fil-A and Starbucks.

Mindfulness is a key component to living a life that is more enjoyable and serenity; adopting a “busy” identity is not compatible with mindfulness. Being busy is the epitome of living on “auto-pilot” and living in a way that leaves you avoiding your emotions. When you are consistently running around and panicking about the logistics of your schedule, you don’t have any time for introspection or self-exploration. The result of this will likely be a very anxious baseline and perfectionistic tendencies. When you DO have free time, it will likely be uncomfortable and you will fill it with other task-oriented behaviors – rigid vacation itinerary, spring cleaning, taking on DIY home improvement project, etc. — and if you can’t do task-oriented behaviors, you will likely have an emotional breakdown of sorts because you don’t know how to handle down time.

Does this sound familiar? Do you want to live differently?

Task oriented behaviors live on one extreme —-Emotionally fueled behaviors are the other extreme. Noticing that they are two ends of a spectrum can help you see that there is a lot of grey zone in the middle! Just because you aren’t tackling things off of your to-do list doesn’t mean that you are an impulsive mess! Just because you feel overwhelmed, doesn’t mean you aren’t getting things done in your world. The grey zone is the goal. Finding ways to honor your emotional experience while also honoring your goals each week. Overly identifying with either extreme is dangerous and risky.

My challenge to you is to take a quite moment to think about how you have been living. How would you answer the first three questions in this post? What changes could you make to slow down and enjoy moments each day? Don’t start with a whole day yet, we don’t want any emotional breakdowns….you can work up to longer time frames. Some ideas might be:

  • listen to calming music
  • take a bath
  • allow yourself to sit and read
  • give yourself a manicure
  • get a massage
  • go for a walk
  • sit outside in the morning and enjoy a mug of tea
  • sit outside in the evening and enjoy a mug of tea
  • stretch

Inspiration, mental health

Are You Burnt Out or Overwhelmed?

I have had a lot of life happening over the past three months…

  • I published my first book
  • I quit my corporate job
  • I launched my own business as a therapist
  • I launched Wellness Boxes on this website
  • I started selling at local vendor fairs
  • I launched a Podcast
  • I joined TikTok

I’m sure there were more but that’s enough to think about right now! In all of the chaos, I don’t feel like I ever properly introduced my Wellness Boxes!

What is a Wellness Box?

A wellness box is a gift box of mental wellness items, targeted at a particular demographic. This could be a gift for yourself (my favorite reason you should purchase one!) or a loved one.

I have two wellness boxes established (and more planned…)

  1. For those who are anxious. This box is sourced from USA women owned businesses and is luxury self care kit! If you like pampering yourself and need a reason to unwind, this box is for you. This box has 8 items within it, a retail value of $62, yours for $38.
  2. For those who are burnt out on life and need a little bit of fun, a reminder to smile and a box full of levity, this box of 13 items, with a retail value of $44, is yours for $30!

I would love to launch my third wellness box; however, I’d like to see a little bit more interest in the concept first! I chose to go with my own Wellness Box idea instead of subscription boxes because I don’t want to be a part of anyone being roped into a monthly fee. I have also personally subscribed to a few subscription boxes to see what was out there and I was sadly disappointed – they didn’t seem to follow any sort of pattern or theme! I want you to know that I hate wasting my money and I do not want you to waste yours!

Find yours here!

photo of woman looking at the mirror
Inspiration, mental health

Three Ways to Increase Self-Esteem

  1. Get a hobby –

Seriously, find something – anything – that you are good at or want to be good at and that you enjoy or want to enjoy. Don’t overthink this step. We live in a diverse world with diverse offerings and there is a place for you. Do you have a “weird” idea…GREAT! Do you have a “basic” idea…GREAT! Take off with it.

When you spend time doing a hobby, it starts to give you an identity. If you could see yourself being the guy that makes birdhouses, the girl that bakes or the person who knits kittens with adorable little noses, then gather your supplies and make time in your schedule to get it going.

I enjoy going to vender markets and craft fairs. It never ceases to amaze me the creative and unique things people come up with to sell! This past weekend I went to one and saw booths selling:

  • Bookmarks made from parts of old books
  • Journals made from old kids books
  • Candles poured into teacups
  • Birdhouses from repurposed wood
  • Thrift store finds being upcycled again at a “sustainable boutique”
  • Maps cut into shapes and framed

I like to follow crafters and unique hobbies on social media and some of them include:

  • mudlarking (look it up)
  • repurposing furniture
  • podcasters
  • poets
  • doodlers
  • fitness experts
  • dieticians
  • mental health advocates

I tell you this so that you have a very small set of examples available to you. You could try anything from fencing to stamp collecting! The more you engage in the hobby, the more it will give you the message that you are interesting, you have things to talk about, you are worthy of people’s time and attention and you have a purpose!

2. Treat your body with kindness –

Low self-esteem generally leads people to degrade their bodies and personalities. I hear self-deprecating jokes, no self-love and I see people engaging in harmful habits, because they just don’t care. They don’t seem to think that they are worth their own time, attention and kindness.

Harmful habits include (but are certainly not limited to) being promiscuous, smoking/vaping, avoidance of exercise, not eating in healthy ways, overspending, self-harm, making jokes at your own expense, not trying new things, and binge watching television series.

Treating your body with kindness is a skill that takes time to develop. Making choices to nurture your body instead of damaging your body will feel foreign and uncomfortable initially. Kristin Neff’s work on self-compassion is a great place to start. Just like learning any new activity, you might not feel very successful initially; however, with practice you will develop a stronger set of muscles.

Treating your body with kindness might include:

  • drinking more water or hot tea
  • meditating
  • taking a bath
  • using those face masks you have gotten as gifts
  • going for a walk on your lunch break or after dinner
  • eating vegetables
  • putting lotion on your skin
  • telling yourself positive messages
  • using affirmation cards
  • stretching
  • reading
  • creating art
  • organizing your area

Give yourself the message that you are loved and worth of your own love, time, and affection.

Change what you see

I believe that television and social media can be visual toxins. If you see people complaining and judging on social media, if you follow “The Jones” or “Suzie Sunshine” and feel you will never be enough, if you watch the evening news and/or violent and vulgar shows, then you might find your thoughts turning to darker topics more often than you’d like. It might be trendy to take in these negative viewing options and it may be topic of conversation commonly; however, these types of shows generally fuel judgmental chatter.

Judgment begets judgment. If at first you start judging others (i.e. from watching the news or social media), it’s only a matter of time before that judgment turns inward toward yourself. Judging then leads to anger (at others) and shame (at yourself). Taking in negative will make you negative.

I urge you to unfollow and/or block pages and people that make you feel badly about yourself on social media. Delete social media accounts that are only used for comparison or unhealthy habits. If you are going to be on social media, be sure to follow positive accounts that inspire, encourage or amaze you! You can follow artists, mental health advocates, friends and/or pages that educate you. If you are going to watch television or movies, be sure to watch content that is funny, heart-warming, or educational.

Try these three steps for a month and see how you feel about yourself then!

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.

DBT, Inspiration, mental health

The Right Kind of Fun

Are you having any fun? Are you having the right kind of fun?

In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), we talk about “accumulating positives” as a skill to reduce vulnerabilities. What the heck does that even mean?? A vulnerability is something that happens in life that makes you more susceptible to falling into emotion mind (being overly emotional/impulsive). This factors are often things from that day: poor sleep, hunger, physical pain, argument with someone, traffic, etc. but they can involve historical events/traumas/memories. I think of these as the “straws” that build up and ultimately “break the camels back”.

Accumulating positives can help you to build up a coat of armor against the vulnerabilities that will inevitably happen throughout our days and weeks. Have you even noticed how much more emotional you are when you are physically ill or in pain? The same irritability starts to creep up when we go longer periods of time without socializing, engaging in hobbies and/or having fun!

Accumulating positives is split into two portions: short-term and long-term. Below we will look ast each idea!

Short-term:

First you must evaluate what things you enjoy in life! What is clearly fun to one person in life does equate to fun for another. You can find a list of pleasant/fun events here which could be a useful guide. For short-term accumulating positives, it’s important that the choices are realistic (climate, time of year, your financial situation, etc) and could be available without much delay. It is also very important that you throw yourself into actually enjoying the activity! We are very good at worrying… about whether we deserve it, what else we should be doing with our time, whether we can afford it, if we look silly and are being judged, etc. In order to reap the benefits, we need to give our brains a break and really allow ourselves to mindfully enjoy the experience!

A few of my personal favorite ways to accumulate positives are:

  • hiking
  • reading
  • laying in the hammock
  • taking a bath
  • creating art
  • writing

If we don’t make time (yes, schedule it), it’s unlikely to happen, which results in our moods dipping slowly and steadily over time. Depression and irritability will slowly creep up on you and before you know it, you’re not a very fun person to be around!

Long-Term

Accumulating long-term positives takes a little more effort to plan. First and foremost, you need to identify some of your core values! Luckily, values lists are fairly easy to find online…you can check out this one, this one or this one! It can be tempting to choose 20-30 values because they all sound so good; however, I encourage you to pick no more than five core values. My family has chosen our five core values and we posted them up in our dining room, when making major (and minor) choices, I try to be sure the decision aligns with one of our values.

After you identify your core values, DBT has a great format for walking you through the steps of breaking ONE identified value down into goals, steps and baby steps! After all, we don’t get anywhere overnight!

  • Step One: Pick one of the values to work on first (this does not mean the others are not important)
  • Step Two: Identify some goals associated with the value
  • Step Three: Pick one of the goals (this does not mean the others are not important)
  • Step Four: Identify some steps needed to work toward that goal
  • Step Five: Pick one step to work on now (this does not mean the others are not important)
  • Step Six: Identify any baby steps that might be needed to work toward that first step
  • Step Seven: Pick ONE action to take THIS WEEK!

When you start taking steps toward larger goals that are aligned with your own values, it’s called values-based living and it is a huge leap away from depression, low self-worth and lack of identity. Values-based living will also help you feel insulated and protected from negative events because your confidence, self-worth and self-esteem will be intact!