little over a year ago, I signed up for tennis lessons. I had always wanted to play, but just never got around to learning
how. I headed to my first group lesson excited. But there was also this strange nervous feeling deep in my stomach that I
hadn’t anticipated. I am, generally, a pretty confident person. Professionally, I frequently advise people to just get
out there and try something new—whatever it is—and that the thoughts of “what if I fail” are just
that, only thoughts. But going to that first tennis lesson and listening to my own self-doubting mental soundtrack when I
missed a ball or tripped over my own feet gave me a good dose of empathy for kids.
adults, kids don’t have a whole lot of choice about when and if they learn something new. Sure, we may ask them before
signing up for soccer or dance or music instruction.. But readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmetic—well they
don’t have much of a choice. In our culture, kids are going to school and gosh darn it they are going to learn academics.
If I, as a confident, mature adult, experienced doubts learning something new by choice for one hour a week,
can you imagine the kinds of doubts most kids must have when first learning to read, write, and add and subtract for seven
hours a day, five days a week? Those doubts are inevitably compounded for the significant chunk of kiddos for whom reading,
writing, and math does not come easily, or for kids who are dealing with social or emotional difficulties.
So how do we balance the need to help our children learn while supporting them and empathizing with how difficult
and can be to put yourself “out there” and risk vulnerability and failure when trying something new? It is important
to remember that there is no learning without some level of failure. As parents, educators, and other helping adults, we need
to monitor what a child is capable of and let them experience the smaller failures while supporting and encouraging them.
Reminding them that no one learns everything the first time around and that there is nothing lost by trying something new
even if you are not immediately successful may help. Reminding them that they are loved and worthy of love unconditionally goes far. As a society, we tend to place a huge emphasis on accomplishment and goal-driven
behavior. When providing feedback and praise to children, it is important to separate the “person” from the “act”.
For instance, one can say “I am so proud of you because you got 100% on your spelling test! You’re an awesome
speller!”, or one can say “I am so proud of you because you worked so hard to learn your words! You are determined
and applied yourself. That’s something I hope you feel proud about, too.” Though it may seem subtle, the second
response does several important things:
–it places the emphasis on the process of learning and the child’s
application of him/herself to the task
–it takes the emphasis off of the end result (the test score)–ultimately,
the end result (the way we measure learning) is not as important as the act of learning (the process)
him/her to congratulate him/herself, an important skill. Adults don’t always receive external praise and must learn
to provide themselves with their own positive feedback
–it doesn’t define the child by his or her accomplishments—the
first response “you’re an awesome speller” uses a child’s test score to define a portion of their
personhood. The flaw in this logic is that if the children internalize the idea that “I am what I do”, then when
they inevitably do poorly on something, they will incorporate that poor grade into their self-definition, leading potentially
to feelings of low self-esteem/self-worth, shame, and doubt.
With back to school
season here, be mindful of your little ones and everything they are asked to do (without their choice) and with no guarantees
of success. Applaud them for taking risks and putting themselves “out there” as learners, and reframe their perceived
failures as a necessary and expected part of the learning process. Share with them how you as an adult feel nervous when trying
something new and how you sometimes fail but learn through the process. Be empathic when they feel the same way. Above all,
hold them close and love them for who they are and not just for what they do. Happy “Return to School” everyone!
recently put heads together with a family with whom I worked. Despite working diligently on behavior plans at home and regular
attendance in therapy–which seemed to be helping–their son was still having pretty extreme behavior issues. In
some instances, more intense difficulties than prior to commencing treatment, although the problems were happening less frequently.
The parents were confused, frustrated, and worried. Confused and frustrated that things weren’t working consistently,
and worried that their child had some more significant mental health issues than we initially thought. We puzzled it through,
and ultimately made the plan to stick to the course and give things more time. And you know what? Things very rapidly got
In psychology, this phenomenon is known as extinction burst. While that
may sound like something involving dinosaurs and helium balloons, extinction burst refers to the tendency for a behavior to
accelerate in frequency when reinforcement is removed. If you ever took intro to psych, you read about pigeons and rats pushing
and pecking on bars to receive food pellets. The little critters associate the act of pushing/pecking the bar with receiving
the food. They’re no dummies, so they keep pecking/pushing and they get their food more frequently. This is operant
conditioning at it’s most basic–a behavior that is reinforced will tend to be repeated. Once the operant conditioning
learning sequence is complete, the mean old scientist types can decrease how often the behavior is reinforced. For instance,
rather than giving a food pellet for every bar push/peck, the poor hungry critter might get reinforced for every fifth peck,
or every tenth peck, or every thirtieth peck. And how often the food is given may be variable, so that one time it might take
three pecks, another twelve, the next four, the next twenty-seven… you get the idea. A variable reinforced behavior
tends to become the most resistant to change, as the creature must say to itself something like “wow, if I just keep
pushing a few more times I’m sure to get that tasty pellet!” Trying to decrease a previously reinforced behavior
is called extinction. To extinguish a behavior, you stop reinforcing it. Cold turkey. If the behavior was established using
a variable reinforcement schedule, it will take awhile to extinguish. And just before the behavior is extinguished, it tends
to increase. This increase is called extinction burst.
So how does this apply to
people? Our most entrenched behaviors tend to be those that are variably reinforced. Take for instance the child who wants
a candy at the front of the grocery store. Little Joey asks and mom says no. Asks again, mom says no. Asks a third time, mom
says no. Asks a fourth time while mom is busy talking to the checker and she throws up her hands and says in an exasperated
voice “oh for goodness sake yes, get the candy, but this is the last time.” Poor mom. She just created a variable
reinforcement paradigm. And before we all tsk-tsk at her, most of us who’ve gone down the road of parenting have been-there-done-that
at some point! Next time this mom is in the store, little Joey knows to ask multiple times, because at some point mom is sure
to say yes. So next time, he may have to ask many more times before mom gives in. And maybe mom won’t give in, which
will actually result in an increase in asking. Stay the course, brave mom! This is extinction burst, as fun to listen to as
fingernails on a chalkboard for most parents. Try to ignore it, take a deep breath, and know that once you have set a limit
it is so important to stick to that limit if you want to avoid a repeat. Another example of how short term parenting solutions
(giving in to stop the whining) set up long term parenting nightmares (demands every time you are in the store).
Of course, we full grown mature adults are immune to extinction burst, right? Wrong. Think about the last time you
tried to institute a new habit–or quit a bad habit. You may have had an initial strong commitment and motivation to
this new habit. After that initial motivation faded, you may have found it harder and harder to resist the call of your former
ways. That, my friends, is extinction burst. The difference for adults versus children is that we generally hold the keys
to our own reinforcement. We can go to the store and buy that high sugar treat when we are trying to cut back, or we can lounge
on the lazy boy when we know we would do better to excercise. While it is certainly hard for parents to stay the course and
stick to their guns with kids, it can also be hard to constantly keep yourself motivated and stick to your goals. But just
at the moment when you are ready to cave in and can’t seem to persevere, remember extinction burst. You are likely at
the crux of turning a corner from “working on a habit” to “kicking a habit”. Reframe your thinking
around this and try to view the difficulty as a sign of progress–it is! Remember that little rat in your brain, pushing
on that bar, getting more and more frustrated… he’ll stop soon and you’ll have freedom!
This article from Eating Well magazine reviews research on foods that help you sleep. I was quite surprised to see some popular beliefs
about sleep-inducing foods dismissed, and surprised to see what actually has been shown in the lab to increase sleep. Take
a peek and tell me your reaction.
know, I know, this will not be a popular post. But remember, we’re talking about how to improve nighttime sleep
for people with sleep difficulties. I’m not talking about the occasional, Sunday afternoon, big mid-day meal followed
by a snooze on the lazyboy. So before you all start yelling at me that you’ve worked hard and deserve the occasional
nap, hear me, I’m right there with you.
However, if you are having
sleep problems at night and taking regular daytime naps, you may want to consider giving up the afternoon snooze. Hard
to do. If you’re not sleeping regularly at night and feeling sleepy during the day, it seems like a good idea
to get some shut eye. But regular daytime naps do help abate sleepiness, even though they are not necessarily
as restful as a good night’s sleep. When you sleep during the day, you decrease sleepiness, one of the primary
motivators for falling asleep at your desired bedtime.
If you have regular
sleeping difficulties, set a bedtime and a time to wake up that is reasonable and makes sense for your schedule. Get
up at your wake up time, no matter how much or how little sleep you got, and don’t nap during the day. Yes, you
may have a couple of crummy, bone-tired days, but you should eventually begin sleeping better at night. Be reasonable
in the sleep that you request from your body. If you are currently sleeping only 4 hours a night, shoot for a goal of
6 hours of sleep to start with and build your way up to 7 or 8 hours. Trying to start with 8 hours of solid sleep may
set yourself up for some frustrating sheep counting.
As always, talk with your
physician or a mental health provider for more specific ideas to help your situation, and to rule out any medical issues that
may be affecting your sleep. Sweet dreams!
the years, the public service announcement has changed. When I was what we now refer to as a “tween”,
it was the “This is your brain on drugs” PSA with the image of an egg frying in a pan. I guess it worked
since I remember it so well all these years later. Generations younger than me have grown up on Just Say No, the DARE
program, Officer McGruff… and many other prevention programs. The common theme with all of these is that chemicals–call
them drugs, alcohol, substances, whatever–can cause changes in the body. Some of these changes are not pleasant.
Some chemicals–such as medications–that have positive changes (treatment effects) also create negative changes
(side effects). What does all of this have to do with sleep?
Know what you are
putting into your body, whether it is something our society traditionally labels a “substance” (drugs, alcohol,
nicotine), a medication that has an impact on your sleep cycle, or a food or food additive that leads to sleep interference.
Consider herbal preparations as well.
If you are having sleep problems, it
is best not to use any non-prescription substances unless advised by your medical doctor. If prescriptions are impacting
your sleep, discuss that with your doctor. Alcohol, while a depressant, can disrupt your sleep cycle and lead to night
time awakenings and poor sleep quality.
Don’t forget America’s
substance of choice–caffeine. A stimulant, caffeine impacts the nervous and cardiovascular systems. It increases
mental alertness, as well as heart rate and other cardiovascular indicators. Caffeine affects people differently, and
some of us are more sensitive to its effects than others. Large amounts can affect sleep (especially if consumed prior
to bedtime), and can mimic or exacerbate anxiety symptoms. If you are having sleep difficulties, chart how much caffeine
you are consuming and talk with your health care professional about its potential impact on your sleep. There are easy
fixes–switch to decafe altogether, or at least after a certain hour of the day. But if you are consuming a large
amount of caffeine and totally stop your consumption, you can have withdrawal symptoms including headache, fatigue, irritability,
depression, and poor concentration lasting for a couple of days. So you may want to cut back slowly rather than going
cold turkey–or would it be cold java in this case?
Also consider serving sizes
when thinking about how much of a substance you are consuming. Those grande triple espresso mocha soy latte-cinos you
may love are probably WAY more than one serving of coffee. The margarita that arrives in a fishbowl… don’t
kid yourself into letting that count as one drink. Some more interesting info on caffeine can be found here, including serving sizes for various beverages and their caffeine levels. As for alcohol, a serving is one ounce of
hard liquor (that’s about 2 tablespoons), 4 ounces of wine (that is a 1/2 cup, and usually much smaller than most wine
glasses), or 8 ounces of beer (one cup, much less than a frosty mug would hold). Inform yourself so you can make smart
Substances also have very different impacts on developing children’s
and adolescent’s brains as compared to adult brains. A great reference on that topic is the book Just Say Know by Cynthia Kuhn et al. If your child is experiencing
sleep difficulties, look at his or her diet for any hidden caffeine sources, and consider what he or she may be eating or
drinking when not supervised by you.
So Just Say No, and Just Say Yes to taking back
a great tip to remember when you are sorting through mail and the various other piles of paperwork that accumulate in our
lives. Remember ART. Action, Reference, and Trash. This isn’t my acronym, I got it somewhere and now
can’t remember where, but credit is due to some other creative person. Get yourself a two tier paper organizer
(like a traditional “in” and “out” box unit), or some other two section storage item. Action
items go up top and indicate those things you need to DO something with. Things like bills, coupons you intend
to use, permission slips to sign, etc. If you decide to keep time sensitive material, such as bills, in your Action
box, you may want to throw an envelope-sized accordion file divided into weeks of the month into your box.
When bills come in, note the date by which you need to mail them out or schedule an online payment, and file them into the
appropriate week of the month so you don’t fall behind. Throw a book of stamps, return address labels, and
a checkbook into your accordion file and bill paying will become as easy as pie.
indicates things you need to save for a specific, time limited purpose. This could include monthly newsletters,
schedules, seasonal information, school lunch menus, sales flyers you intend to refer back to… you get the idea.
I say “time limited” because items that you need to save for reference FOREVER–insurance policies,
tax information, medical records–require their own special storage spot, preferably in a filing cabinet folder
clearly labeled with the contents. Set an appointment with yourself, preferably once a week but AT LEAST once a
month, to clean out these boxes. Any outdated Reference items can leave. Any Action items that require, well,
Action, are acted upon.
What’s the “T” for? Trash.
If your mail is anything like mine, there is a lot of T in it. Throw that in your recycling pile, properly shredded
of course as necessary. What is truly trash? Any items you don’t need to act on or need to refer back to.
Information that can easily be recreated elsewhere–catalogs, schedules, menus, or statements you can read online–may
also be considered Trash depending of course on how much you reasonably have room to keep. If you are so inspired, use
the amount of trash mail you receive as impetus to take your name off of junk mailing lists, or request that routine
information be emailed to you rather than sent through the mail. You’ll be green AND reduce your paper
related stress level all at the same time!
sleep, perchance to dream-
ay, there’s the rub.” Hamlet–Shakespeare
Once again, the Bard prooves to be an astute observer of the human condition. If he were born 400 years
later, would he still be a writer or would he perhaps be a psychologist? But I digress…
Few things cause as much frustration as failing to get a good night sleep. Most adults need between 7 and 8
hours of sleep a night, while teens need about 9 and a quarter. Many adults do not get their full share of sleep,
and I’d hazard to guess that even more teens are not getting their full 9.25. Sometimes life gets busy
and we aren’t able to have our full measure of sleep, but other times difficulty falling or staying
asleep cut into our precious Z-z-z-z time. Here is the first in a series of tips to help make the most of your
eyes closed time.
Tip 1: Use your bed for sleeping. Your bed is not
a desk, a lazy boy chair, a library, and certainly not a kitchen table. Don’t do work, read, pay bills,
watch tv, have heated phone conversations or discussions, or eat in your bed. Remember the story of Pavlov’s
dogs? Pavlov’s dogs heard a bell and then were presented food. Naturally, they salivated when
they saw the tasty treats master Pavlov had prepared. When this pairing of bell and food was presented many
times, the bell stimulus became associated with food. Later, when the bell was presented without the
food, the dogs would salivate. In psychology, we call that a classically conditioned response. Same goes for your
bed. No, I’m not talking bells and dog spit, stay focused people! This really does have to do with sleep!
The connection you want your body to have with your bed is one of relaxation and sleep.
When you are doing things like reading, watching tv, or working while on your bed, you are associating your bed and all the
cues in your bedroom environment with staying awake, being alert, and focusing. If you are doing work that is
frustrating or having heated phone conversations or arguments on your bed, you are additionally connecting the bed with uncomfortable
feelings. Not conducive to sleep. As much as possible, try to move all these activities out of the bedroom.
Make the bedroom a sleep sanctuary–surround yourself with relaxing and comforting objects and sounds. Associate
the bed with sleeping and relaxation. If you do have difficulty falling asleep, or falling back to sleep upon awakening
in the middle of the night, get up and leave your bedroom. Staying in bed feeling frustrated about an inability to sleep
sets up an association of feeling frustrated with being in bed. Go somewhere else, read, watch tv, play solitaire on
the computer–something relatively mindless that will not further rev up your brain–and return to bed when you
begin to feel sleepy again.
Remember: Bed=sleep, bed=sleep, bed=sleep…
you get the idea.
this was supposed to have posted to the blog a couple of days ago. Bear with me, obviously I’m still learning.
STACY won the starbucks card! Woo-hoo! Thanks all of you for reading and posting. Keep checking back for
more in mental health and positive psychology, and have a great day!
Here is a link to an article reviewing research from the journal Psychology and Aging, which found evidence supporting that couples
who refer to themselves as “we” in the context of arguments fare better than couples who refer to themselves as
“I” and “you”. To me, this highlights the role of cognitive schema–in this case, mental representations
of what being part of a couple means, and the impact of that representation on one’s interpretation of events (such
as arguments). “We” infers team membership and a united goal. If your driving frame of mind is “we-ness”,
that suggests some implicit desire to maintain bonds, serving as motivation towards resolving difficulties
and working together. The article also notes that couples who had been together longer were more likely to be ”we”-couples,
again supporting the idea of the mind frame of a team–either you’ve stuck together a long time because you are
a team, or being together a long time increases the sense of being a team, or some combination of the two. Which leads to
the chicken and the egg question–do “we” couples start happier, thus reinforcing the “we”-ness
and the likelihood of referring to themselves in the plural form? Or do couples who begin with a mental frame of couple
membership as equivalent to being half of a team experience more happiness as a result of this schema? Like many things
in behavioral science, these cyclical questions usually have more complicated answers.
If you haven’t already done so, don’t forget to go here and leave a comment if you want to win some free coffee!
This article reviews research linking deficits in correct interpretation of non-verbal communication with increased risk of social rejection
and becoming a victim of bullying. While I would certainly support the need to address the children who are being the
bullies, this research highlights the importance of stepping in and helping those kids who become the repeated victims and
just can’t seem to navigate the social waters on their own.
that get your attention? I really enjoy writing and this blog is a great vehicle for me to share bits and pieces of
psychology. But I like writing a lot better if I know what I have lovingly written is being read and,
hopefully, helping someone. So here’s a little contest to sweeten the deal. I’ve got a $10 Starbucks
gift card burning a hole in my pocket. It so wants to go live with you on a short-term basis, quickly to be exchanged
for a grande soy mochachino with extra whip and cinnamon sprinkles. Here’s how to make it yours:
1) Subscribe to email updates to my blog, or subscribe through whatever blog reader you use. Leave a
comment telling me you’ve subscribed. If you already subscribed in the past, just tell me you already subscribed.
If you like, tell me what you’d like to read about in the future. Easy-peesey.
2) Get another entry by posting a link to my blog and this contest on your facebook page, or tweet about
it, or send out an email to all your friends and countrymen, or do whatever high-tech social networking thing you do.
Post a second comment telling me how you’re sharing the love and you get your name in the virtual hat not once but twice.
3) Get a third (or fourth or fifth, etc.) entry for each person you refer over
here who subscribes to my blog. He or she obviously will have to put his/her own name in the hat in a comment.
You will then need to put in a comment saying “Joe is my friend, I sent him here,” or, “I’m really
not that fond of Joe but I really like free coffee.” Just remember that you are responsible for whatever impact
your comments have on your relationships, not me.
Potentially, you have as
many chances to get some free coffee as you have friends. Pretty cool. I will leave this contest open until February
7, 2010, at 10pm mountain time. MAKE SURE THERE IS A WAY FOR ME TO CONTACT YOU, OR BE SURE TO CHECK BACK AFTER
THE 7th TO SEE IF YOU WON. If no one claims the prize or I cannot get in touch with them within a week, I
will pick someone else. I will use a random number generator to pick a winner.
And no, it is not that likely that I will check every single entry for truthfulness. But remember, your integrity
is worth more than ten bucks worth of free coffee. And karma always gets ya in the long run. I’m just sayin’.
The fine print: all comments on this blog have to be ”approved”
by me before they will post. So don’t keep posting if you don’t see your comment immediately. If you
don’t see it in 24 hours, post again. Comments with any inappropriate content will be deleted.
Good luck and thanks for reading!
five new strategies under your belt from my last post, are you letting stress roll off your back like water? If not,
never fear. These skills take time to practice, learn, and incorporate into your every day life. Keep working
on them and you’ll see results. Here’s the next five to double your strategies!
6) Make a list. Write it all down and get it out of your head. Letting your mental
to-do list roll around like a crazed tumbleweed in your brain is not good for your psyche. It takes valuable mental
resources to continually process and remember perceived responsibilities. That effort diverts mental resources from
your task at hand, making you less efficient, and potentially increasing your stress level even further. Designate a
notebook or a computer file as your mental download destination–whether it looks like a number list of things to do,
a series of goals, or a list of worries that are taking up valuable cerebral storage space. People often find that this
kind of information is easier to deal with once it’s outside of your head. You can evaluate list items and
cross of things that really aren’t your responsibility. You can evaluate the likelihood of your worries in
a more rational manner. You can make progress towards goals in small steps, rather than being overwhelmed and paralyzed
by staring at the “big deal” ending point. And you can get a better night’s sleep by emptying all
those items from your brain, putting them on paper, and making a deal with yourself to handle them in the morning. They
somehow always look better in the morning.
7) Live in a soothing environment. Most
adults have the privilege of structuring their environments to a certain extent. Certainly there are
some things we cannot control or change. But if we are creative, there are a vast number of things we can change.
I joked with someone the other day about how we covet certain pens while we are at work–a small thing, but the pleasure
of a pen that writes smoothly makes a difference. There are enough other things to think about in your day, a pen
that skips and jumps on the page should not be one of them. In the grander scheme, think of the colors, sounds,
smells, and sights that soothe you and incorporate them into your world. A few personal touches on your desk at
work, your favorite color painted on the bedroom walls, coming home to the relaxing smell of lavender in your home, a calming
playlist queued up in your i-pod… all these things may take a little forethought but not a lot of time or money.
By structuring your environment in a way that is pleasing to you, you are sending YOURSELF a message that you are important
and worthy of such efforts. A stress relieving thought if I ever knew one.
additional consideration in your environment is clutter. Some of us can function just fine with clutter or disorganization,
others can’t. I fall into the second camp. Making the time to re-organize a messy drawer, clear my
desk and file papers appropriately, and de-clutter the junk repositories in my house and office allows me to work more productively.
The environment becomes more visually calming, I’ve minimized any distractions, and I can focus on the task at
8. Limit stressful relationships and experiences.
Again, we don’t have total control over these, but we often have a lot more control than we realize. Learn to
listen to your stress level, your internal stress-o-meter, and figure out when it rises. If you find certain situations
are very stressful for you and you can avoid them without negatively impacting your life responsibilities or important
relationships, do it. Gardening not really your thing but you live in suburbia and “everyone” has a “perfect”
flower garden? Let it go–if you don’t enjoy something and it causes stress, don’t do it. (Plus
you can just tell people your gravel yard is “xeric” and that you are being eco-friendly, very in right now.)
If there are stressful situations you must attend to, try to schedule them so that you are most able to handle them.
If you dislike dental work and need to have 3 teeth filled, you might want to schedule the appointment at a time other than
your yearly performance evaluation at work. If a relationship contributes to your stress level, set boundaries to appropriately
protect yourself from unnecessary stress-exposure. If you have a co-worker with whom you share lunch who constantly
harps on how much she hates the boss, you could gently tell her that you are trying to be more positive at work and you would
prefer not to talk about work related issues on your lunch break. Of course if she then starts harping on her boyfriend,
her dog, and her auto mechanic, you might reconsider your lunch companion options.
Re-evaluate your “stress thoughts”. There is no way I can do justice to cognitive therapy in one paragraph
or less, but that isn’t going to stop me from trying. Find those stress thoughts that replay in your mind like
a skip in a record (remember records?). If they seem to be general senses of dread, flesh them out and give words to
them. Write them down on paper. Now step back and objectively evaluate them. Usually stress thoughts are
general and global, with an overestimation of the likelihood of a negative consequence and an underestimation of our
ability to handle the problem. For instance, ”I always (global) screw up everything (general), now I’m
sure to get fired (most likely overestimation) and there’s nothing I can do about it (most likely underestimation).”
There is usually a more situational and specific interpretation (“I sometimes make mistakes in some areas of my job”)
which can be used to replace the former stressful thought. The next step is to evaluate the likelihood of the perceived
negative consequence and your ability to change that (for instance “Realistically, no one has ever been fired for
setting a meeting on the wrong date. I could explain to my boss about my mistake and offer to make personal
phone calls to apologize and change the dates, in which case he/she might be annoyed but is not
likely to fire me. It may not even register as a “big deal” to him/her. He/she may appreciate my honesty
and perceive me as the trustworthy person whom I am.”) That’s cognitive restructuring in a nut shell.
A moment to learn, a lifetime to practice.
10) Ask for help. There is no
shame in admitting that you are having difficulty handling a situation. Whether it is with your partner, your
kids, your parents, or your work colleagues, you can always identify the areas that are causing you stress and ask for
some assistance. Have a family meeting and come up with goals for delegating housework. Talk to your parents about
the competing obligations of your work life, your own family, and your extended family, and ask them to help you come up with
solutions. Tell your co-worker that you tend to get overwhelmed with a certain task and ask him or her to give you pointers
on how they are able to accomplish it with minimal stress. If the stresses in your life are steadily increasing,
and your ability to handle them diminishing, ask for professional help. Anxiety is no fun to live with, and the great
news is that you don’t have to. Anxiety disorders have one of the best treatment outcomes in mental health
treatment–about 80% with cognitive behavioral therapy alone. So don’t suffer, take charge and take back
what stress has taken from you!
it just me, or does it feel like life moves at breakneck speed from mid-November until the end of the year? Between
planning celebrations, shopping for gifts, traveling, entertaining family and racing betwixt and between, there is not much
time to catch your breath. And the opinion trend of holiday merchandise now hitting the stores along with the Halloween
candy doesn’t help to put on the brakes. So now that it is January, are you able to leave your stress behind with
the crumpled wrapping paper and expired egg nog?
Joking aside, stress is epidemic in
our society. All of us–adults and children–can benefit from learning and using simple strategies to relieve
stress. In honor of 2010, here are my top 10 stress relievers–in two easily digestable installments.
1) Just Breathe. Deceptively simple, but powerful. Breathing from deep
down in your belly–actually using the diaphragm muscle that runs along the bottom of the rib cage–fills your lungs
more fully and can stop the nervous system’s response to stress-related arousal dead in its tracks. Anyone can
do it, but it takes practice to use this style of breathing. Like anything else, it is best to learn a new skill BEFORE
you need to use it, so make deep breathing a part of your every day “repertoire” and it will be second nature
when you feel the stress-o-meter kick up a notch.
That’s relax for those of us born before 1980. Start by using deep breathing exercises and build on those
by learning strategies to relax your muscles and clear your mind of stressful thoughts. There are lots of resources
and materials out there to help with this, whether it is instructions in a book, a recording with guided instructions, or
working with a professional. Guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation are two popular relaxation techniques
that are not difficult to learn. For a few recommended resources, see the resources link on my webpage (www.drkimdwyer.com).
3) Take care of you. Physical illness can contribute to stress
in many ways. When we are sick, most of us aren’t as good at managing stress. Being sick also can create
nw opportunities for stress through missing work and not giving 100% to other responsibilities. To complete the
vicious cycle, long-term stress can contribute to and create physical ailments, while weakening our immune
system. Further, putting off treatment and preventive care can lead to added stress and worry. Do your best
to take care of your health in order to keep medically related stress in check.
4) Blow off some steam. Having a healthy physical outlet can help us direct our stress-related
energy. Nobody needs me to preach on the importance of exercise. Find an exercise regimen that
you can fit into your schedule and that matches your physical abilities and interests. Stick with it
to channel your stress-energy into physical fitness. Be creative when thinking about exercise–dancing around the
living room with your two-year-old could be a very effective workout, and might be a lot more fun to me
than sweating in the gym!
5) Find your mantra. Don’t expect me to give
you a mantra, you have to do that on your own. Find a short, positively worded and empowering statement that will counteract
whatever your mental monologue repeats when you feel stressed. If you are apt to say to yourself “I
can’t do anything right!”, perhaps you can counter that with “I can meet the challenges today is bringing
me.” When selecting a mantra, try not to resort to sarcasm. Repeating “I love my job, I love
my job” when confronted with legitimate coworker and boss issues is not an effective mantra. Brings to mind George
Castanza’s father screaming “SERENITY NOW!” on Seinfeld. Make your mantra something truthful, honest,
and believable. It should help you focus on what you have control over and on the positive actions you can take
in stressful situations.
Still thirsty for more? Stay tuned for numbers
6 through 10!
January. The fitness centers are crowded to overflowing. Even that oft-ignored stair machine in the corner, used
primarily as a clothes horse, has been given it’s once yearly dust-off. Doctors offices are flooded
with calls from people who have put off procedures and well-patient check ups. Vitamin bottles are hoping off the
shelves into shopper’s carriages. The produce aisle never had it so good as people cook healthier meals, to lose
weight, and eat in, to save money. But can you hear it? That slight crack and fuzz, like static on a poorly tuned
radio… that’s the sound of resolutions being broken. Fuzzy, as it has a couple more weeks to grow
before it gains full strength. By late January that static will turn into a great big ear-splitting, grinding
crunch, as resolutions are broken and swept into the giant resolution trash bin in the sky.
Is the problem in vocabulary? I would argue that by calling these once yearly lists “resolutions,”
we are setting ourselves up for failure. “Resolution” means ”a decision to do something or behave
in a certain manner.” The root word, “resolute”, means firm, unyielding, determined. Great qualities,
no doubt, but “unyielding” is, well, unyielding. Not much room for the learning curve. And human beings
that we are–we’ve all got learning curves. When you make a decision to “behave in a certain manner,”
formalize it as a New Year’s Resolution, and believe that your approach to it must be firm and unyielding ,
it will take a lot of steadfast will-power and dogged determination to keep that resolution. Because when you ”slip”
or “cheat”, it’s a whole lot harder to get up and stick to that resolution the next day. Most of us
have good intentions, but to err is, well, human.
Cognitive theorists place a lot of stock
on the way we talk to ourselves–our mental monologue–and the impact of this self-talk on our actions. Unyielding?
Probably not a productive attitude to have towards yourself. If you were teaching a friend how to start a new habit,
and he or she reverted to previous behavior, you probably would not be unyielding. You probably would be encouraging,
remind him or her that everyone makes mistakes, and maybe use the incident as a teachable moment to help motivate further
change. Keeping that similar attitude towards ourselves is invariably more helpful than throwing our hands up in
the air, declaring the resolution “broken”, and returning to less desirable choices.
So don’t make resolutions, set goals. The vocabulary alone is inherently more friendly and positive.
Goals suggest taking steps along the way to a destination, with small steps leading up to larger accomplishments. Good
goals lend themselves to individual, specific objectives. They have measurable outcomes and are worded positively.
So don’t resolve to “stop eating junk food and lose weight”. Set a goal to take a healthier approach
to nutrition and exercise, with objectives of increasing your servings of vegetables by 25% by the end of January, and engaging
in aerobic exercise 3 times a week for 30 minutes. Don’t resolve to “stop wasting money.” Work
towards achieving a specific savings or finance goal, such as reducing credit card debt by paying X amount on every statement
and leaving credit cards under the mattress to resist the temptation to swipe them, or a goal of saving X dollars from each
pay check in order to save up for that vacation you’re dying to take next summer. When your behavior is not
in line with your goal, for instance you blew $30 you were planning to put in savings due to an intense craving for Thai panang
curry (hey, it happens to the best of us), you haven’t “lost”, “cheated”, “slipped”,
or “broken” your resolution. You’ve made a choice that is not consistent with your goal, but you can
restock and make better choices in the future. These deviations from your goal can also tell you important things–like
maybe you are being too restrictive with your budget and need to create a curry allowance–oh, sorry, I’m stuck
on that again. Well, you get the idea.
So embrace January! Take
hold of the urge to start the year fresh, to be better than we were last year, to take good care of our bodies, our families,
our careers, and our financial futures! Go forth and be bold! Set those goals, word them positively, break them
down into manageable steps, and set a realistic time frame for achieving them. Write them down, read through them often,
and revise them as necessary–they’re yours! You are the author AND editor. Feel the power of a positive
focus! Let the choices you make that are not in line with your goals provide you with fuel for thought about your motivations
Which brings me to the end of this post. My very first post on
my very first blog. Time to go cross that resolution– oops, I mean goal!–off of my list! Stay tuned
for more musings on positive mental health, and join my feed for regular updates.