Sunday, December 12, 2010

Living with Passion

Are you tired of going through the motions but not really being fulfilled? Do you know there is a difference between existing and living, a difference between being stuck and finding soul satisfaction? I want to encourage you in this season of your life to not settle for anything less than a passionate, purposeful life. If you are not excited about your present and your future, it is time to change course. Life is a gift and if you are not embracing it, you are missing out unnecessarily. From a mental health perspective, there are a number of strategies you can use to revive the passion in your life.

1. Value your life. When you truly consider life as a gift instead of a series of set-backs, you will begin to live more fully. Just imagine how you would live differently if you really valued your life. How would your eating, rest, self-care, relationships, and job situation have to change if you valued your life? Once you get clarity on these things, start to align your actions with your values.

2. Move from dreaming to doing. To live with passion means that you move beyond the thought realm and go into action. There are those who spend a lifetime dreaming, wishing, praying, and waiting for change to come. You can bring significant change to your life now. It is within your reach. Future plans are good but it is important for you to activate your plan in the present. Take steps to build your life’s bridge from where you are now to where you would like to be.

3. Invest time in the things that bring passion to your life. Time management is crucial for living a passionate life. Without it, your time, energy, and resources will all go to doing things you think you need to do to pay bills that don’t seem to go away. Carve out time for the things that feed your spirit. Make time for the things that inspire your passion and ignite your fire. If you cannot do it full time you need to give it some time. Without that you will feel perpetually bitter, drained, and distracted. Bring your purpose and passion into focus instead of constantly making them an afterthought.

4. Develop relationships with passionate people. There are people who will try to put your fire out and then there are those who motivate you to shine even brighter. Being in the presence of passionate people, talking with them, sharing your heart, and hearing their heart speak, fuels your passion. Eliminate draining relationships and seek kindred spirits. Passionate people help you to re-connect with your imagination and possibility.

5. Choose faith over fear. Fear stifles our passion. It makes us focus on the “can’t” instead of the “can”. It focuses on the limitation instead of the possibility. Living with passion requires that you dive in and believe that you can swim and that you deserve to experience deeper waters. Aren’t you tired of hanging out on the shallow end of the pool? You were made for more. Pursue your bliss and don’t become the one person blocking you from a passionate life.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Being a Leader People Want to Follow

There is one thing to have a great idea or vision. It is a different thing to be able to mobilize and lead people over time to make dreams into reality. The manner in which you treat people can either launch you into unimagined success or set you back in immeasurable ways. Great leadership is not an accident. It takes intentions, self-awareness, sensitivity, strength, and hard work. Some of these skills may seem to come naturally to you. In fact it is likely that you have either been blessed to witness good leadership and you have adopted some of what you’ve seen or you have had the misfortune of experiencing bad leadership and are very intentional of not becoming what you have seen. Psychologists have examined a number of components that together can create a great leader. I have summarized some of these mental health leadership tips below for you to consider.

1. Self-awareness. It is very important for you to be aware of your strengths, growth areas, and personality style. People who are clueless about themselves are likely to engage in self-sabotaging behavior such as not recognizing how their behavior is affecting others or not getting help in areas that are clear weaknesses. Know yourself so you can grow yourself. Self-knowledge is critical for self-development.

2. Vision and purpose. If you are not clear about what you are trying to do, it will be impossible to get others excited about it. It is not a good idea to focus on fluff without substance. The substance is the detailed vision, plan, and goal. A leader without a mission will not be a leader for long. Clarity is necessary for effective leadership.

3. Commitment. Leaders don’t quit. When things get tough, leaders rise to the occasion. People will place their trust in those who do not easily lose faith or perspective. If you continuously start things but never finish you will develop a reputation for being flaky and people will not trust your vision or your leadership. Perseverance is a fundamental quality for good leaders.

4. Respectful. People respond based on how they are treated. If you are gifted with the opportunity to lead do not adopt a demeaning, arrogant, or condescending attitude. Confidence is not the same as operating with a sense of entitlement. Talk to people with respect. Consider people’s ideas and feelings respectful. Carry yourself with respect. Have enough respect for the project that you won’t let ego get in the way of accomplishing the goal. Strength and humility can co-exist and it is vital that you nurture both qualities.

5. Team work. Team work makes the dream work. If you don’t learn to delegate and share the load you will end up doing everything by yourself. A lone ranger may become a successful person but that is not leadership. Determine the strengths of those around you and then create space for people to shine, grow, and thrive. When the team does well everyone wins. A leader who cannot let go of any aspect of the project will drain the enthusiasm from the group and make everyone overly dependent on the leader to the point that failure is only a matter of time.

Learn from the good and bad examples of leadership you have seen. Commit to a spirit of excellence by being open to continual learning. Great leadership is not a destination but a journey. Take steps each day in the direction of your dreams.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dealing with High-Drama People

There are some people who thrive on high drama. They like to create it. They feel most comfortable when they’re surrounded by it. Constant drama is not only a lot of work for the individual who is creating it but it is also very draining for those who are around them. It usually doesn’t take long to recognize when you’re dealing with a high drama person. Here are some of the signs:
• The person has the capacity to make the smallest issues into a major event.
• The person usually dominates every conversation.
• When the person does withdraw, they do it in a very attention grabbing way that manages to focus all energy toward them.
• They seem to always be on stage or putting on a performance.
• They find it easier to see the negative than the positive.
• They have a way of speaking to people that creates tension.

If you have a friend or family member who is a drama starter, it can be very difficult to manage. There are a number of possible reasons for their behavior. The person may:
• Create drama as a distraction from dealing with their real issues.
• Have grown up with constant put-downs and have never learned how to be positive or affirming.
• Feel insecure and need constant attention to convince them that they are valued.
• Confuse peaceful with boring and create drama to entertain themselves and others.

For those who are in relationship with high drama people, here are some pointers:
1. Be very clear about your relationship with the person. You can be the supportive friend, family member, or spouse but you cannot be their therapist.
2. You have to set up healthy boundaries to both take care of yourself and also to discourage unhealthy dynamics in the relationship.
3. Aim to be a stable, grounded person not someone who feeds off of the drama and escalates it. Do not give the person the message that their job is to entertain you. Be the kind of friend that doesn’t pressure them to perform.
4. Develop a healthy sense of yourself so you don’t let the drama cause you to doubt yourself or your worth.
5. Set limits. While it is good to be supportive, if the high drama person is being disrespectful or abusive, don’t feel you have to suffer in silence. Take the space and time you need to think honestly about the level of contact you want to maintain with the person. If you need to reduce the time you spend with the person, it doesn’t mean you are a bad person. It means you are taking steps to protect and preserve your emotional well-being.

Most importantly, don’t get caught up in the drama. Take a step back so you can see things clearly.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Addressing Addictions: Are your habits out of control?

Do you find it hard to stop engaging in self-destructive behaviors? Would you say you have an addiction to cigarettes, alcohol, other drugs, food, gambling, pornography, chocolate, caffeine, or the internet? While some addictions may have more serious consequences than others, it is important to take note of any personal habits that are out of control. We should be concerned about our well-being when we engage excessively in activities to give us pleasure and relief from stress and pressure but the behaviors actually in the long-run diminish our physical and/or mental health.

Some personality traits have been associated with addictions. They are:
- Impulsive behavior, difficulty delaying gratification.
- A high value of breaking rules.
- A sense of social isolation.
- A sense of heightened stress.

Here are some warning signs to consider:
1. You find yourself moving from one unhealthy habit to another.
2. Drinking or drugs have led to problems in your job or relationships.
3. You have a parent who struggled with addictions.
4. Your life tends to be full of drama.
5. You have difficulty making meaningful relationships.
6. You often feel out of control in one or more areas of your life.
7. You become obsessed with things quickly.
8. You lie about your habits to your friends and family.

If you are concerned that you may have an addictive personality, here are some things you can do:
1. Identify which things you feel you could develop an addiction to and avoid them before they become addictions.
2. Focus your energies on healthy activities to replace the unhealthy strategies that you are using to cope.
3. Learn relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, prayer, muscle relaxation, and exercise in moderation.
4. Write down the negative thoughts you have when you feel pulled to engage in the addictive behavior. Then write down an argument against those negative thoughts. Instead of accepting negativity, resist by trying to look at the situation in another way.
5. Break down the things you need to do into doable small goals so you don’t feel so overwhelmed.
6. Educate yourself. Find information on-line or in the library about the substance or habit to which you are developing an addiction. Information is empowering and can help give you strength to work toward healing.
7. Consider seeking professional help. Addictions are challenging but you don’t have to face it alone.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Recognizing the Warning Signs of an Abusive Relationship

Domestic violence and dating violence are wide-spread issues that affect people of all backgrounds. An abusive relationship can be emotionally, verbally, sexually, or physically abusive. Often the abuse starts off small and then escalates. Abuse in a relationship is not just about someone losing their temper. It is about power and control. It is based on their belief that they have the right to control and abuse you. Unfortunately many of us miss the warning signs that demonstrate a pattern of unhealthy behaviors. We often hope the behaviors will go away or hope that they are not a big deal. It is very important to learn to detect the warning signs so you can get to a safe place, physically and emotionally. Abusive people will try to date many people. The key is to trust yourself enough to know when someone is crossing the line. It is true that all relationships will have disagreements but abuse, violation, and violence are never acceptable.

Here are some important warning signs that you may be with an abusive partner:
Do you:
• Feel afraid of your partner much of the time?
• Avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?
• Feel that you can’t do anything right for your partner?
• Believe that you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?
• Wonder if you’re the one who is crazy?
• Feel emotionally numb or helpless?

Do the following descriptions describe your partner?
• Extreme jealousy
• Constant insults or ridicule
• Telling you what you can and can’t do
• Financial Control
• Possessiveness or controlling behavior
• Making false accusations
• Keeping you from seeing or talking with family and friends

Does your partner:
• Humiliate or yell at you?
• Treat you so badly that you’re embarrassed for your friends or family to see?
• Ignore or put down your opinions or accomplishments?
• Blame you for his own abusive behavior?
• See you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?
• Hurt you, or threaten to hurt or kill you?
• Threaten to take your children away or harm them?
• Destroy your belongings?
• Threaten to commit suicide if you leave?
• Force you to have sex?
• Destroy your belongings?

If you answered “yes” to one, a few, or all of the questions, here are some steps for you to consider.
1. Break the isolation and shame by finding a safe person. You may want to confide in a friend, family member, therapist, police officer, or co-worker. Make sure it is someone you feel you can trust.
2. Remind yourself that the abuse is not your fault. There is no action that justifies abusive behavior.
3. Think about the possibility of getting out of the relationship. Consider the safety issues and the practical issues of where you would go and how you would go.
4. Look on-line or contact the local police station to find out available resources in your area. Resources may include counseling, housing, childcare, transportation, and legal advocacy.
5. Remember healthy relationships are based on love, respect, and trust. If those things are absent, you are not in a healthy relationship.
6. Be patient with yourself. It can be a very difficult and frightening experience to think about leaving an abusive person.
7. Consider counseling for yourself and see if your partner is willing to go to counseling. It is recommended that you both go individually instead of having sessions together.
8. Get more assistance by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Setting Boundaries

An important skill to develop is learning to set boundaries personally and professionally. This goes against the people pleasing mentality which requires that we attempt to be all things to all people while neglecting ourselves. If you notice yourself feeling frustrated, taken advantage of, overworked, overextended, resentful, and/or constantly tired, you may need to start setting more boundaries.

Here are few mental health tips for setting boundaries.
1. When a request is made of you take time to think about it instead of always giving an instant “yes”. You need to consider your other responsibilities, if this is in line with your purpose and life goals, if you have the skill and energy to successfully complete the task, and what place does it have in the grand scheme of things.

2. When you decide to say “no” do so without regret or guilt. When we exude guilt it leaves the door open for the person to continue to ask. You can communicate compassionately but clearly that you are unable to fulfill the request.

3. Setting physical boundaries is also important. If you feel someone is violating your physical space, speak up and attempt to physically move. Your body is a temple and worthy of respect and protection. If you are uncomfortable, trust that feeling and do what you can to interrupt the behavior or touch that is making you uncomfortable. The person may or may not mean any harm but if they are a touchy feely person and that makes you anxious or uncomfortable, the only way they will know it is if you let them know it.

4. Setting personal boundaries is also important. If someone asks you questions about a personal matter that you don’t feel comfortable answering, resist the automatic response that leads to answering now and regretting it later. You can say directly that you do not wish to have that conversation with them, you can change the subject, or you can simply walk away or end the phone call. When someone is attempting to bully or intimidate you, the behavior will often escalate until we shift it. Do what you can to end the intrusive pattern early.

5. Break the silence. Often when we remain silent the intrusions on our emotional and physical space multiple. Learn to speak up and express how you feel. Communication is an integral component to setting boundaries. Communicate directly and honestly to ensure the person knows the specific behavior that makes you uncomfortable and which you would like to stop.

6. When someone crosses your boundaries or otherwise takes advantage of you, do not pretend to yourself or to them that it didn’t happen. This masking or denial only serves to erase the impact of the earlier communication. People unfortunately do not always take words seriously. If it is important to you, be prepared to follow up with action. This is not threatening or manipulation but taking steps to protect and respect yourself and your feelings.

7. Celebrate yourself when you set boundaries instead of getting caught up in a guilt trip. It is a sign of strength and emotional maturity when you are able to set healthy boundaries. When you affirm yourself for doing this, it will become easier and easier.

 You are not responsible for everyone’s happiness.
 You do not have to constantly be on the go to be valuable or good enough.
 You can take important steps to preserve your well-being.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Restoring Relationships After Infidelity

One of the most devastating experiences in a relationship is infidelity. Whether it was emotional or physical, one time or many, the issue of broken trust and violated commitments can create deep wounds. It is important for both partners to take action toward honesty, restoration, and healing. The healing process can take two very different pathways. One pathway is when you and your partner are trying to save the relationship and the other is when you are trying to heal after the break-up.

If you are trying to save the relationship or marriage after your partner has been unfaithful, here are a few key pointers from a mental health perspective: (A future blog will address healing from infidelity when the relationship is over.)

1. The unfaithful partner must be willing to cut off the affair and do the work required to regain your trust. You can not heal from a wound that continues to be deepened by on-going infidelity. To move forward, the affair needs to be in the past.

2. When someone has broken your trust, you will likely have a range of feelings, including but not limited to anger, sadness, frustration, fear, and numbness. It is important that you and your partner recognize that this is normal and healthy.

3. You both must recognize that restoration will take a lot of time and effort. There will be reminders or triggers that bring the pain back. There will be ups and downs and times where you feel things are going backward. You both will need to have patience with the process.

4. The unfaithful partner needs to take responsibility for the choices he or she has made. It is inadequate and immature to simply blame your partner or the person with whom you had the affair. While issues in the marriage may have contributed to relationship difficulties in the end the unfaithful partner made a choice – a choice that was a violation of trust and the emotional as well as physical safety of the partner. The partner who was unfaithful needs to do some serious soul searching about the choices they have made and then take action to increase accountability and trustworthiness.

5. While some partners don’t want to know any details, if you do want to know any details you should ask your partner. Unanswered questions and pressure to quickly press fast forward can increase feelings of distrust and distress. While facing the realities of the infidelity, you should also both go and get tested for sexually transmitted diseases. A part of facing the truth is facing the truth about the fact that your physical health has been compromised.

6. Both partners will have to work to rebuild the relationship. You will both need to work on your individual concerns as well as any issues within the relationship. To assist in this process, you may find it helpful to speak with a professional counselor.

7. The person who has been cheated on should express what they need from their partner to assist in the restoration. While you want the partner who was unfaithful to take initiative, if you need something and don’t share it, you can set yourself up for further disappointment and set your partner up for frustration and feelings of hopelessness.

8. Forgiveness is an important component of the recovery process but it is not the first step. When people feel forced by their partner or an internal moral code to quickly forgive, it is often premature and not authentic. You need to allow space and time to work toward forgiveness so that it will be sincere. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that what happened doesn’t matter it means that while it hurt you are ready to turn the page and work toward the future.

9. Spend time together doing things besides talking about the infidelity. If you want to have something to work toward, you will need to see that the two of you can build something that is more positive than the wounds of the past.

10. Be honest about the positive and negative aspects of the relationship. We can often fall into two traps. Either we idealize the relationship and fight for something that was never good for us or we may see everything through the lens of the infidelity and forgot about the good things about our partner and our relationship. You should both be honest with yourselves and each other about what needs to be fixed and what should be celebrated.

Healing and restoration are possible but you have to both want it and be willing to work for it.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Healing from Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is a pervasive issue that violates our humanity. Sexual contact is not consensual when there is use of coercion, force, threat of force, manipulation, or deception. When someone or a group of people have engaged in sexual activities against your will, there can be many long lasting effects. These effects may include but are not limited to depression, anxiety, substance dependence, eating disorders, difficulties with intimacy, distrust, post traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal thoughts, plans, or behaviors. It is important for sexual assault survivors to know that the violation hurts and affects us deeply but it does not have to have the final say in your life. There are many survivors among us who have found healing, recovery, and empowerment from various sources.

Here are a few approaches to healing that you may want to explore:

1. Counseling – Sexual assault can often leave you feeling isolated and misunderstood. It can be helpful to talk with someone who really has an understanding of what sexual assault is, how it affects you, and helpful strategies to assist your recovery.

2. Self-help education – As with other issues, knowledge is powerful. It is important to read about sexual assault and there is much information available on the web, in bookstores, and in your local library. When you aren’t aware of how sexual assault affects you and how to effectively cope with these effects, you can end up blaming yourself and condemning yourself. It’s important to recognize the dynamics of sexual assault so you can gain strength for the journey to wholeness.

3. Express yourself - Sexual assault can bring great feelings of shame and self blame. This can result in silence and secrecy. When we hold things it, the negative consequences can multiply. It is important to find helpful ways to express what you are feeling and thinking. This may be done a number of ways such as talking to friends and family members, engaging in artistic expression, journaling, and praying. Don’t hold it in. It was not your fault and you don’t have to hide your story.

4. Hotlines – Rape crisis centers and other advocacy agencies provide nationwide crisis hotlines. You can talk to an advocate on the phone and even have an advocate accompany you through the medical and legal processes if you choose to make use of those options. Flashbacks and panic attacks can be very distressing. Having someone you can call anytime who will respond with compassion and understanding is very critical.

5. Self care – It is so important for you not to neglect yourself. Even when it is difficult, try to rest, eat healthy foods, and avoid unhealthy coping strategies such as cutting and binging. We interrupt the ripple of assault when we refuse to treat ourselves as if we are worthless. You are valuable and deserve love and respect even when that is not what you have always received.

6. See your strengths – Instead of focusing your energy on self blame and critique, celebrate the ways you have survived. While it has not always been easy to recognize we should honor the fact that we have tried to survive and recover.

It is important to pursue healing by any means necessary. There are many pathways available to you, including but not limited to spirituality, group therapy, activism/social justice work, and medication to help manage your symptoms as you work through the recovery process. You deserve the opportunity to find the pathway that works for you. Sexual assault is a “comma” in your life and is not the “period”. You can shape the next chapter of your life and you don’t have to do it alone. Dedicate yourself to moving from victim to victor.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

10 Tips for Improving your Relationship

There is much attention given to the issues of being attractive, flirting, and dating. Much less attention is given to how to sustain a healthy, happy relationship. This requires important skills that many of us did not observe growing up. Here are a few tips from a mental health perspective.

1. Seek wellness. Our emotional stress and strain can create stress and strain on the relationship. When you feel better about yourself, you are able to be a better partner. Take care of yourself in ways that work for you. These can include quiet time, journaling, counseling, praying, exercising, engaging in activities that you enjoy, and getting rest.

2. Give genuine compliments. We often are quick to point out the things that are wrong with the relationship or to even stop talking at all. It is important to recognize and appreciate the things your partner is doing right. You want your relationship to be a place of emotional safety and nourishment for both of you. Be sure to do your part in giving affirmation, compliments, and validation.

3. Broaden your world. We all want to be heard, understood, and respected. Even if they are not your primary interests, learn about the things that interest your partner. Talk with them about their hopes, dreams, and disappointments; also be open in sharing your world with them.

4. Spontaneity. People sometimes feel a relationship is boring but we have the capacity to interrupt the routine. Plan something out of the ordinary, be willing to step out of the regular pattern, and spice up your love life.

5. Forgiveness. We are not perfect and our partners are perfect. As long as you are not being abused or abusing your partner, you need to learn not to cling to the past. Words and inconsiderate behaviors hurt us but if you are going to keep an active hold on the past you will not be free to build a future with your partner. Letting go of the past doesn’t mean that it was OK for the person to do what they did but it means your love and respect for each other in the present is stronger than the errors of the past. (If there is abuse of any kind, I recommend individual counseling for both of you.)

6. Quality Time. Spend time doing an activity together. Cooking, praying, talking, walking, dancing, and laughing. If we are not careful we can grow a part and that is when many people start turning to others instead of to each other. While you will face stress together, you don’t want the relationship to be defined by stress. You want to have a strong foundation and connection so you can get through the storms of life together. You build this strength by spending good times together.

7. Communicate and compromise. One of the greatest parts of thorough pre-marital counseling is the segment on expectations. Often we have expectations about roles, responsibilities, and routines that we have not communicated. These expectations may come from our parents, our past relationships, our dreams, or even from media portrayals of relationships. You need to express yourself, your needs, hopes, fantasies, fears, and concerns. You have to also know that no matter how alike you and your partner are your expectations will not be identical in every area. There has to be room for compromise recognizing that you are two different people who are learning to love each other.

8. Emotional and physical intimacy. If you are closed off from each other you can easily slip into the role of roommates who live under the same roof but are actually quite distant. Be willing to open up emotionally. To grow in trust we have to be willing to be honest and risk vulnerability to another person. To truly be loved we have to be known and we can’t be known if we are living a lie. Intimacy means take the mask off, come of the stage, and be free to be you. Intimacy is also physical affection. Work on getting comfortable with your sexuality. Reclaim your passion and creativity. Constant fatigue, holding grudges, and discomfort with our changing bodies can be barriers to physical intimacy. Be intentional about nurturing every aspect of the relationship, including the heart, mind, body, and spirit.

9. Being comfortable does not mean being cruel. Sometimes we can start to take each other for granted. Being honest is not the same as being mean-spirited or inconsiderate. Consider your partner’s feelings and do not operate in such a way that assumes they aren’t going anywhere so you can do whatever you want. Yes you want to be yourself but being real does not replace kindness and respect.

10. Social justice and community empowerment. Instead of getting caught up in a narrow view of life, engage in community work together. It is a wonderful thing to come together around something larger than you. This may include volunteering with those who are homeless or suffering in other ways, creating artwork together, attend community organizing events together, purchasing and giving donations together, assisting with a youth program together, or participating in walks together that are aimed at raising awareness and funds for a particular cause. These larger issues can play a special role in bringing us closer to each other as we remember our shared values and compassion.

Healthy, lasting relationships require sustained efforts. When you both put in the effort, you reap the benefits of being authentically known, loved, and celebrated. It’s possible and every relationship can be improved when we commit fully to the process.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Friends: No time for fake ones

One of the most important human needs is the connection found in positive relationships. We strive to be understood, respected, valued, appreciated, and loved. Many of us have friendships from the various stages of our lives: childhood, young adulthood, and beyond. Friendship is an important aspect of our lives. When it is healthy it is a source of inspiration, joy, support, and strength. Unfortunately, the wounds caused by insincere “friends” can also be the most hurtful. Most of us have had friendships that did not last and that resulted in some negative feelings. To help prevent some potential hurt, let us consider some warning signs that someone may not actually be a true friend.

1. One-sided. It is very important for friendship to be mutual. Both people need to have concern and respect for each other and both people need to desire contact and communication. If you have to initiate all of the conversations and times together, you should step back and think honestly about whether the other person truly wants the friendship.

2. Jealousy. A friend is happy for your successes. They want the best in life for you and are the main ones leading the parade to celebrate when things are going well in your life. If someone’s insecurity, envy, competitive spirit, makes it hard for them to enjoy your happiness, this is a major warning sign. If you have to start keeping your good news a secret for fear that they will get sad, angry, or distant, something is seriously wrong with the nature of the relationship.

3. Put downs disguised as jokes. The gift of friendship is that we can truly be honest with each other. If you really want feedback on something you said, something you wore, something you are thinking about doing, you can trust a real friend to tell you the truth. This is important but when things go too far and a person constantly puts you down there is a problem. Being in the presence of a friend makes you feel better about yourself not worse. A sense of humor is wonderful but someone who enjoys constantly making jokes at your expense is not really concerned for your feelings. Even if someone says, it is just their personality, remember we are all responsible for our words. Taking opportunities to cut someone down for entertainment is not an indicator of real friendship.

4. Watch your back. If you know someone is not trustworthy, you have to ask yourself why you continue to confide in them. If someone shares things you ask them not to share, if they talk about you to others, and if you cannot trust them in the presence of your romantic partner, this person is not your friend. A friend is someone who has your back not someone you have to fear will stab you in the back.

5. Wing clipper. Friends encourage you to grow, mature, thrive, and soar. They want you to live a happy and healthy life. If someone discourages you from doing positive things and encourages you to engage in negative behaviors, this is not a positive friendship. A friend honors the changes you try to make to live a better life instead of dragging you back to the bad habits of the past.

All of these warning signs represent both things we should avoid in others and in ourselves. To attract good friends we have to also strive to be a good friend. If someone is not being a good friend to you, you may want to first have an honest conversation with them to see if things can get better. If there is no improvement, it may be time to create some space and time in your life for more healthy friendships to develop. Most importantly, don’t let unhealthy friendships of the past cause you to cut off your willingness to trust someone new in the future. Isolation is not the answer. We just have to move forward with wisdom knowing that there are other people out there who value good friends.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Breaking the Cycle

Many of us were exposed to some things as children that were inappropriate at the least and abusive at the worst. These things may include but are not limited to early exposure to alcohol, guns, drugs, sexual activity, pornography, graphic language, adult-themed movies, or other issues from which we should have been protected. Those of us with insight can see some of the negative ways those early experiences affected our views of ourselves, other people, sexuality, violence, trust, and safety. If we are not careful we can repeat this cycle and expose the children and youth in our care to the same unhealthy experiences. There are a few important strategies to help us to stop the cycle.

1. Recognize the things that you were exposed to that were not healthy or appropriate. When we make excuses for these things we set ourselves up to create confusion in someone else’s life. So do not credit bad situations for making you the great person you are today. You are who you are because you worked hard to deal with those issues not because those things were good for you. We often don’t want to see our parents or caretakers in a negative light so we minimize things that were really out of order. If we continue to operate out of denial we are very likely to continue the patterns of dysfunction. So not in a spiteful way but in a honest way think back and consider what are things you wish had been done differently to better protect you.

2. Be honest with yourself about the impact those experiences have had on your life. When we continue to say I don’t see the harm in children being exposed to adult experiences, we are not living in a healthy place emotionally. It is the inability to acknowledge the harm that puts people at risk from moving from victims to perpetrators. The truth is there are long term consequences to starting smoking, drinking, getting high, watching violence and pornography, and participating in adult conversations and activities at an early age. It affects us on many levels and we have to see those wounds clearly so we can be motivated to interrupt these cycles to the best of our ability.

3. Look for the warning signs. We have to be vigilant, be careful about who we allow access to the children in our home, community, schools, Churches, etc. Some people have unhealthy intentions and some may have good intentions but have bad judgment. When we are na├»ve and live with blinders on refusing to see what we or others are doing, we create more unhealthy cycles. We never want to be the ones who refuse to see, refuse to believe, refuse to respond, and refuse to speak up. Many inappropriate things happen because of bystanders – those who sit back and say nothing. It may feel easier to remain silence and simply hope and pray it is not what we think it is but silence is a choice. It is a choice that supports the endangerment or disrespect of those who are most vulnerable.

The final and most important aspect of stopping these cycles is to create positive experiences for the young people who are around us. Our best memories are not just based on the absence of the negative but the presence of positive people. Positive adults who can bring safety, affirmation, insight, inspiration, and encouragement make all the difference. You have the capacity to be a life changer, not just for yourself but for someone from the next generation. Just because we experienced dysfunction doesn’t mean we have to continue it. Break the chain. Start a new legacy of wholeness, healthiness, and ha

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Power over Painful Memories

All of us have had painful experiences in our past. Many times we are able to push forward with our lives but when we haven’t deal with these difficult memories, they continue to dominate our thinking. Even those, who have tried to deal with these memories, will have times when disturbing thoughts and feelings come up. Psychologists call reminders of these painful memories “triggers”. A trigger may be a particular smell, a person, people who remind you of a person, a place, a specific touch, the time of year/anniversary of the event, getting close to a person/intimacy, or having a child who turns the age that we were at the time of the event. It is normal for there to be things that remind us of the past. The key is for us to find healthy ways of navigating these memories.

1. Find healthy ways to express the things that happened in your past. This may be through journaling or talking to someone who you can trust such as a counselor. Trying to push it out of your mind is not a long term solution.

2. Remember that distracting yourself from the memory with unhealthy tools such as drinking, smoking, eating, engaging in risky sexual activities, compulsive shopping, or gambling end up leading to more problems.

3. Be patient with yourself, recognizing that difficult wounds have a lasting impression even if they happened as a child.

4. Remind yourself that the memory affects you but doesn’t define you. In other words there is more to you than your past.

5. Start to be aware of what triggers you have so you can be prepared. If you get upset around the same each year, begin engaging in self care activities before that date so you better manage the distress. For example, you may want to create a healthy ritual for remembering but not getting stuck in the past or you may want to make plans with people who are safe and affirming. Another example is sexual intimacy. If it is difficult for you because it reminds you of the past, try to keep your eyes open so you can see that the present is not the past.

6. Instead of focusing all of your energy on the negative, make a list of the good that has happened in your life as well as the good you want for your future.

7. To combat the tendency for self-blame and shame, consider the positive traits about yourself. You are a survivor and quite possibly there are even ways you have grown and thrived. Don’t allow the pain of the past to diminish your view of yourself or your possibility.

8. Commit to living positively and renew that commitment each day. Even if you don’t feel like it, let yourself rest, eat something healthy, work to build good relationships, invest in your mental and physical health, and pursue your purpose.

Memories are powerful. The past is beyond our control but you do have the capacity to shape your present. Allow yourself to acknowledge the past, to work through it, and to affirm the gift of the present. Healing is a process that requires patience and perseverance. Don’t give up.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Healing Your Hunger: Addressing Emotional Eating

Most of us have had times when we ate not because we were actually hungry but because we had unmet emotional needs. We sometimes eat when we are sad, anxious, bored, lonely, or even happy. Eating for any reason other than physical hunger is called emotional eating. We often turn to comfort foods such as ice cream, chocolate, cookies, pizza, steak, or chips. An occasional chocolate bar does not harm us but many of us eat high calorie diets and do not exercise. This results in us being overweight or even obese. There are some important strategies, from a mental health perspective, to empower you to have a healthier relationship with food and your body temple.

1. Recognize when you are experiencing emotional hunger versus physical hunger. Emotional hunger is often sudden instead of gradual. It results in a craving for a specific food as opposed to simply the need to eat in general. Additionally emotional eating continues even after your body is physically full and afterward we often feel guilty for what we have eaten.

2. Educate yourself on the negative consequences of being overweight or obese. The consequences include but are not limited to increased depression, eating disorders, body image dissatisfaction, heart disease, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and low self esteem. In America, being overweight cuts off our lives by approximately five years.

3. It is next important to recognize your eating triggers. What are the situations that result in you engaging in emotional eating? Examples include eating socially to cover feelings of inadequacy, eating to fill the void when one is stressed, bored, angry, tired, or depressed, eating simply because the food is there, eating after a series of negative thoughts about yourself, or excessive eating after you have denied yourself food by skipping meals. These are just a few examples. Each person has to determine for themselves the circumstances, thoughts, and feelings that often precede emotional eating.

4. It is the important to practice using other strategies to handle your issues. One strategy is distraction such as reading, going for a walk, taking a bubble bath, exercising, playing a game, talking to a friend, doing housework, or other pleasurable activities to pass the time. Besides distraction, you may want to also consider meditation, problem solving, and talking about the issue with a counselor or other trusted person.

5. Eliminate or reduce your consumption of high fat foods, highly processed foods, and fast foods. Eat more fruits and vegetables and drink more water.

6. Engage in regular exercise. Over 60% of Americans don’t get sufficient physical exercise. Walk more, go to the gym, exercise in your home, and engage in outdoor physical activity. It is recommended that you exercise 3 – 5 times a week for 30 to 60 minutes. Cut back on sedentary activities such as hours of television, movies, video games, and sitting at a desk all day without any physical activity.

7. Get in environments and around people that are motivating not discouraging or sabotaging.

8. If and when you have a set-back, don’t surrender. Falling off of your program is not a reason to give up totally. Each day is a new opportunity to take care of you: mind, body, and spirit.

Your body temple is sacred. Heal the wounds of the past and present. Take responsibility for your eating and exercise. Choose self care over shame and freedom over food bondage. Yes you can!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Dealing with Anger

Anger is a healthy emotion that can sometimes be expressed in unhealthy ways. Some of us are consumed with anger and we have aggressive outbursts while others of us swallow our anger and it eats us up on the inside. Anger is a feeling that can range from mild irritation to intense rage. It is a natural response to situations where we feel threatened, harmed, wronged, or disrespected. We may also become angry when we feel another person is being threatened or harmed. Sometimes we may become angry with ourselves or with issues that we feel are blocking our desires or goals.

While some of us have been taught from family, cultural, or religious teachings that anger is unacceptable, it is important to know that anger is healthy when it is expressed in a healthy way. When something unjust has occurred it is natural to become angry about it. We just have to make sure that we use the outrage to motivate us in a positive way and not in a way that does harm to ourselves or to others.

Many of us have only seen violent anger so we avoid anger at all costs. The price for this is hefty and weighs us down emotionally. From a mental health perspective it is important that we learn to express our anger instead of either denying it or allowing it to lead to explosive outbursts.

1. Seek to avoid destructive anger. Destructive expressions of anger are abusive, out of control, shame inducing, or violent. Examples of this can include hitting a person, destroying their property, stalking, seeking revenge, and verbal assaults in person or on-line. Destructive expressions of anger can lead to loss of relationships, loss of employment, loss of self respect, and loss of perspective.

2. Acknowledge and understand your anger. Denial is not healthy. When we don’t allow ourselves to be aware of and express our anger, if it finally comes out it is often intense and out of control. This is demonstrated when we sit on issues for years and then when the person does one additional small thing we blow up with the rage that has been mounting for a long time. This is not a healthy or effective strategy for handling difficulties. You need to be honest with yourself about the fact that you are angry and then determine the real source of your anger. Is the anger in part masking fear, disappointment, sadness, or insecurity? Is the anger truly at the person you are directing it toward or is it really about something else? To heal it you have to face it. To address it you have to acknowledge it.

3. Express your anger in constructive ways. Constructive outlets for anger include but are not limited to writing, talking, exercise, spiritual practice, and safe confrontation/mediation. Other constructive activities are seeking justice, promoting practical solutions, and working to prevent the circumstance from happening to others. Some final strategies people use are reducing or eliminating time with the person who provokes the anger in your life, focusing on the positive aspects to one’s current circumstance, praying, going to counseling, reading self help books, and finding the humor (not mean-spirited sarcasm) in the midst of the storm.

Get a handle on your anger. People who learn to successfully manage their anger have better communication skills, increased energy levels, strengthened relationships, improved physical and mental health, increased self esteem, more effective coping skills, and are able to see things from different perspectives. Don’t’ allow yourself to get stuck in anger. Work through it, on your own or with a counselor. By honestly dealing with your anger you can avoid emotional self sabotage. Exhale.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Positive Parenting

Positive Parenting
Parenting is a lifelong commitment that transforms lives and shapes future generations. It is very challenging to be an effective parent. There are so many ways that we can fall short of the goal. The key is to learn from the past and be intentional about the way we go forward. Here are a few pointers from a mental health perspective.

1. To raise a confident child, you need to build your confidence. Children pay attention to not only what we say but we do. We are important role models in our child’s lives. We often pass on our habits to our children. This includes our approach to relationships, eating, television, education, finances, coping, substances, and spirituality. Children are thinkers and will not duplicate us exactly but the way we live does have an impact. Heal your issues so you don’t pass on unhealthy habits to the next generation. Along with teaching our children important values with our words, we need to also demonstrate our values in the way we live.

2. Express your love and respect for your child with your words and actions. Tell them that you love them, that you are proud of them, and that you believe in them. Then follow up your words with actions. Spend quality time with them and let them know that you enjoy being with them. When your children feel like a burden or feel unloved they will start looking for attention in negative ways or from negative people. A child who knows what love and respect feel like will go into the world knowing they have value instead of constantly feeling defeated or unworthy.

3. Set your children up for success. Develop their talents and skills by teaching them what you know and getting them involved in programs that build on their abilities. When we leave our children’s development up to other adults like teachers, we miss an important opportunity to invest in the success of our children. It is also important that you not burden your children with the belief that they have to fulfill your dreams. Empower them to explore, recognize, and pursue their gifts, potential, and passion.

4. Be careful about who you give access to your children. Negative peer groups or abusive people are often those who have had free unmonitored access to our children. Pay attention to warning signs and honor your children by making their safety a priority. There may be things that you miss initially but you have a responsibility to take action as soon as you become aware of the situation. With your response you communicate to your child that they deserve respect and safety. This also applies to our behavior. If you are engaging in unhealthy behaviors this also can put your child at risk. Consider the changes you need to make in your habits, conversation, and relationships for your child to be protected and empowered.

5. Give them responsibilities. It is not appropriate to make your children into little adults or to make them the parent. However it is a good idea to give your children responsibilities or chores that are appropriate to their age. This can teach them a sense of confidence in their abilities and their role as a part of the family team.

6. Have expectations, rewards, and consequences for your child. People often perform at the level of expectation. Let your child know your expectation for their academic success, for their behavior and manners, as well as for their hygiene and self-care. Make a point of catching your child doing the right thing instead of waiting to point out their mistakes. Praise them for the good they do so they don’t equate attention with negativity. However when they do not meet expectations there should be appropriate consequences. We have to make sure the consequences are appropriate for their age and for the level of their misbehavior. When we yell about everything the child will no longer take it seriously. They will assume they can’t win. Simultaneously if you tell a child what the rules of the house are and when the rules are broken there is no response, they will also not take you seriously. Let me say clearly that there is no excuse for abuse. Hurting a child, punching a child, calling a child a derogatory name, and locking a child in a closet are not acceptable consequences regardless of their behavior. Consequences are necessary but make sure the child knows that you have not stopped loving them. Children may behave badly at times but we want to make sure they know they are not bad people.

7. Empower them to survive the storms of life. The reality is all people no matter how well they were raised will face difficulty. The key is to not allow the difficulties to define you or destroy you. Let children see how you make it through difficult times. Teach them faith, hope, and perseverance.

Keep growing and working to be the best parent you can be. Learn from what your parents or guardians did well and also remember the things you wish had been different. You can make the difference in the life of your children. Remember to also take care of your health, spiritually, mentally, and physically. When you feel good you will be better able to encourage positivity in your child. Be encouraged. Parenting is a challenge but it is also a beautiful gift.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Forgiveness is a Process

We need to understand that forgiveness is a process and when it comes from a healthy place it takes time. Often people who proclaim instant forgiveness haven’t given themselves time and space to really work through what has happened. Many of us feel a moral or religious urgency to forgive but we must make sure we are being honest with ourselves and honoring our true feelings.

Forgiveness can be liberating. It can free us and keep us from being stuck in the past but in order for it to truly be effective, it needs to be something we have faced not simply something we have stifled.

What are some signs that you still need to work through the issue?
1. You can’t think about it or talk about it without becoming overwhelmed.
2. Someone hurt you or your children but you feel the need to protect them by making their feelings your first priority.
3. You have a lot of physical ailments or somatic complaints. Somatic complaints are bodily symptoms that have no medical explanation such as migraines, digestive issues, and muscle ache.
4. You still blame yourself for the actions of the other person.
5. You are struggling with depression, PTSD, or panic attacks.
6. You are engaging in harmful activities such as unsafe sexual practices, harmful eating habits, substance abuse, or an inability to sleep through the night.
7. Your emotions feel out of control. You either experience very extreme, uncontrollable outbursts or you are totally numb.
8. You can’t figure out why you’re not happy.
9. You are often in unhealthy, exploitive relationships.

So what are some good steps to take in the process toward forgiveness?
1. Be honest with yourself and if it is safe be honest with the person about how the experience has affected you. Trying to bury your feelings only distracts you from the healing work that needs to be done.

2. Find constructive ways not destructive ways to release your anger. Instead of turning to violence, vengeance, or other negative behaviors try some healthy strategies. Some things that may help are journaling, talking to those you trust, exercise, getting active in your community, spiritual activities, and expressing yourself through artistic expression.

3. Accept that you may never know the reason for what has happened. Sometimes we say we can’t move forward until we know why. The truth is the person who did it may not really understand the reason for their behavior. Instead of handing your healing over to them for an explanation accept the fact that your growth is not dependent on their process.

4. Use thought stopping. When you find yourself replaying the event over and over in your mind, begin to actively take control over your thinking. Focus your energy on what is going right in your life and begin to imagine the life you would like to create for yourself.

5. If you have made a decision to forgive, be patient with yourself. There are times when things will remind you of what happened. Understand that this is a part of the process but with each season your ability to survive the memories will grow stronger.

6. Remember that forgiving the person doesn’t mean that what happened is OK or acceptable. The act or actions were wrong but you may choose to not make the event the center of your life.

7. Consider what empowering lessons you can learn from the experience. What have you learned about yourself, about the other person, about relationships, about life in general?

8. If you feel stuck, consider speaking with a counselor. Therapy is a helpful place to work through difficult experiences and to determine how to best move forward with your life.

In essence, forgiveness is not just something to do merely out of obligation to the other person. When it is authentic, forgiveness can be freedom for you. You can be liberated so that the past no longer has the final say in your life. Living life controlled by anger, grief, and despair, is no way to really live. You deserve more and more is possible. Begin now. Exhale.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Reawaken Your Passion

Sometimes we lose ourselves by being caught up in the business of life. We can become so busy, so distracted, so caught up in the routine of our daily activities, that we forget our fire. Consider now the things that used to bring you joy, excitement, passion, purpose. Consider now the parts of you that you have let slip away. Some aspects of ourselves were for a season and we are content to close those chapters of our lives, but there are other parts of us that we need to reclaim, rediscover, and revive. It may be some relationships you have neglected, it may be your artistic expression, or it may be self care strategies you used to do to nurture your mind, body, or spirit. Now is the perfect time for a divine pause – a season to reflect on the person you have become and the parts of you that need to be pulled out of the shade into the sunshine.

So with all that you have on your plate, how can you reclaim your bliss? Here are a few strategies:

1. Separate the external expectations from the internal call. There are so many voices, opinions, “shoulds” that bombard our spirits and chip away at our understanding of ourselves. At some point, you have to shut out what you have been convinced you need to do and get back to your core. What is your calling, your purpose, your passion? Deferred dreams peer out of the closets of our mind’s eye, begging to be unleashed. Dare to dream again. Dare to respond to your inner voice.

2. Cut out the fluff and take responsibility for managing your time. To make time for your dreams, destiny, bliss, you will need to harness the courage to say “no” to distraction, fear, drama, and extreme self sacrifice. What are you willing to change so you can carve out time for the things that really matter to you? When you get clear about your priorities and honest about what you need in your life, it will become much easier to see the things, people, activities that need to go. Carve out space so you can live again, grow again, and sing again.

3. Get in the presence of inspiring people. When you are on the treadmill of life and surrounded by people who live on the treadmill, it becomes easy to lose sight of the things that speak to your spirit. Get in the presence of those who inspire you, encourage you, provoke thought, illicit creativity, and remind you to live with passion. People who show up fully to life motivate others to do the same. To shift your life you need to be around those who are willing to walk outside of the lines and who are not uncomfortable or intimidated by those who refuse to stay in the box. To re-shape your life you may need to re-shape your relationship circle.

4. Have periodic check-ins with yourself. We have to be vigilant about not losing ourselves. It is so easy to slowly but surely forget about the things that bring fire to our lives. The next thing you know, years have passed and you didn’t realize you were living below your possibility. Make a point to stop and evaluate where you are and where you want to be. It is never too late to reclaim your fire.

Remember that life fulfillment can be a priority and not just an afterthought. Yes you have obligations, responsibilities, bills, commitments, but it is vital that you not give up you. Having a completed to-do list while stifling your soul is not the way you want to live. You deserve more and you can have more. The key is to live with balance. There are things you need to do but on that list consider including things that truly feed your spirit. Pursue your passion, stir up your gifts, and unleash your possibility.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Dealing with Difficult People

Whether the difficult people in your life are co-workers, family, or unreliable friends, you have to take responsibility for your well-being. It is often said, we can’t control the actions of others but we do have a say in how we respond. To be honest, difficult people can cause stress, confusion, anger, disappointment, frustration, and irritation. When we are not careful, we can allow difficult people to bring us to a place where we are out of character, out of integrity, and out of control. It is very important that we develop skills and strategies that promote our mental health, clarity, and empowerment. Here are a few pointers:

1. Acknowledge that the person is bringing confusion and drama into your life. At some point we have to acknowledge the elephant in the room, be clear about not making or accepting excuses, and see people for who they are. Knowledge is power and when we operate from a place of denial we surrender our power. So the first step is to be honest with yourself about the person and the difficulty that they create.

2. Try to hear the person out so you can distinguish reality from drama, truth from lies, and helpful feedback from hateration. The reality is sometimes even negative people may have an honest issue. So instead of dismissing everything they say, listen first to determine if their comments have any value.

3. If you determine the person is just bringing chaos and drama, ignore them, shut it down, and end the conversation. When you argue with difficult people, the confusion and anger gets magnified. You don’t have to try to convince them of anything, especially if they make it clear that they are willing to hear you out. Boundaries are an important sign of self respect so you should love and respect yourself enough to avoid entertaining people whose intentions are to harm or hinder you.

4. When the person continues to cross the line, you should truly consider taking an action. Determine the safest and most effective strategy. This may be confronting the person about their behavior, documenting what is happening, filing a report, pressing charges, obtaining a restraining order, or asking someone to mediate the situation. You don’t have to handle it alone and honestly some people when ignored begin to escalate their negative behavior. Your safety, emotionally and physically, are important so don’t let fear or pride keep you from asking for help.

5. Be aware that forgiving doesn’t have to always mean forgetting. From your moral, religious, spiritual, or personal code you may find it important to forgive people. Forgiveness can be a gift to yourself and others but you also don’t want to pretend a character issue doesn’t exist and as a result become vulnerable to continuous violation and disrespect. So while you may choose to forgive, you should also remain observant to determine if the person has truly grown to the place where they deserve the trust of close friendship.

6. Finally make sure to engage in activities to take care of yourself. You may need to reduce or eliminate contact with the person. You should also engage in activities that affirm you, inspire you, and nurture you. The stress and drama can weigh you down so be intentional about making your mental health a priority.

We all encounter difficult people but don’t forget you still have choices you can make to protect your peace of mind.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Avoiding Burnout

Burnout is emotional and physical exhaustion brought on by excessive stress and overwhelming life demands. Signs that you are burned out are feelings of unhappiness, detachment, helplessness, and constant lack of energy. Too often we run ourselves into the ground trying to do too much with too little time. Burnout can be very dangerous for our mental and physical health. It can result in depression, panic attacks, migraine headaches, digestion problems, difficulty with sleep, and the ruin of relationships. It is very important to try to prevent burnout before it happens. Here are a few pointers to empower you to live effectively without constantly running on empty.

1. Take a day or a few days off. Often there is not someone who will say to you, “You look like you could use a break.” We have to say it to ourselves. Even if you don’t have money to go somewhere you can take a mental vacation. Sleep late, eat healthy meals, talk about something besides work, and enjoy a silent walk. Do something fun and restorative such as watching a movie, taking a dance class, going to a spiritual service, catching up with old friends, or reading a good book.
2. Learn to say no. You can’t do everything for everyone. You can say “no” in a polite way but it should be clear and firm. Unfortunately some people will use you until you set a limit so it’s time to start setting boundaries.
3. Consider making a change. If your relationship or job is constantly stressing you out and there doesn’t appear to be any sign of change, you need to ask yourself if now might be the time to make a change. Relationships and careers are work but if they are compromising your health, mentally or physically, you need to step back and take an honest look at your situation. Change is difficult but your health is worth it.
4. Each day take a break from technology. Turn off your cell phone and computer for a set amount of time so you can rest, relax, and enjoy time away from the pressures of social and work demands.
5. Set realistic goals and a realistic schedule. We set ourselves up for daily disappointment when we create timelines that are unattainable. Do what you can and celebrate what you do.
6. Ask for help. You don’t have to carry everything alone. Seek help from co-workers, family, and friends. You can also request help from professionals such as ministers, therapists, and financial planners.
7. Bring sunlight to your social life. Cut out time with draining people. Surround yourself with people that are positive and who bring light, joy, and inspiration to your life. (Make sure you bring those same things to their life so that it is a healthy and mutual relationship and not one-sided.)
Burnout affects your mind, emotions, body, and spirit. To preserve your health it is important that you take active steps to reduce your stress and improve your ability to cope. Don’t wait until your health is compromised. Give yourself permission to press pause now.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Life after a Breakup

The end of a relationship can be a very difficult time emotionally, socially, and even financially. A breakup provides a natural time to press pause and reflect both on the past and on the possibilities for the future. Sometimes we can feel that things can never get better after a serious relationship ends. We question ourselves, our ability to love, and the possibility of ever finding someone who can truly love us. Here are a few mental health pointers to assist and empower you in the aftermath of a breakup or divorce.

1. Allow yourself space and time to experience a range of feelings. You may feel relieved, angry, sad, confused, numb, or even happy. Relationships are complicated and the ending of a relationship is also usually quite complicated. It is natural that there are parts of the relationship that you will mourn, whether it is the loss of good times you shared together or the hopes that you had for a lifetime of love and commitment. There are times when we fall in love with the idea of the person or the person’s potential even more than who the person is in the present. It is important that you distinguish between the two. Be honest with yourself about what you have lost and what you never had. Along with the grief and loss it is also natural that you may feel angry for things that were done, relieved that the tension has decreased (if it has), or numb/empty. Be compassionate with yourself and honest with yourself about how you feel.

2. Don’t distract yourself by engaging in unhealthy behaviors or engaging in unhealthy relationships. It is not a good idea to cope by jumping into another relationship or attempting to escape with drugs, alcohol, food, or cigarettes. Along with not rushing into things or running from issues, it is also a good idea to take a time out before making any major life decisions.

3. Surround yourself with positive people. It doesn’t have to be a lot of people just make sure they are people who are safe, supportive, and encouraging. You don’t have to face this next chapter of your life alone. Fight through the depression, shame, and isolation. Reach out to others and let them help you. This includes family, friends, and mental health professionals.

4. Learn from the past. Consider what this relationship has taught you about yourself, about relationships, and about others. While none of us are perfect, we should all strive to make each relationship better than the last. We bring to the table the benefit of our gained wisdom from past experiences. The key is to not end up in dysfunctional patterns where we continue to repeat negative thoughts and behaviors instead of learning from them. What can you take from this situation as you prepare to move forward?

5. Get excited about your future. While you need to give yourself space and time to grieve the past, you also don’t want to get stuck in the past. Start to make plans for your future, try new hobbies, reach out to meet new people, and re-discover the things that used to bring you joy.

6. Start and maintain a healthy routine. Take care of yourself. You deserve it. Even if you don’t feel like it, get up out of bed, try to eat good food, exercise, engage in activities that nurture you, and find ways to express yourself (talking to trusted friends and/or journaling, etc.). Put away things that remind you of the relationship such as pictures. Your actions affect your feelings so sometimes you have to fake it until you make it. Don’t surrender to the blues. Fight to get reinvested in living, dreaming, loving, and laughing. Remember if it feels overwhelming, you don’t have to handle it alone. Seek out friends, support groups, or a counselor to help you get back on track.

Life is for the living and there is still a lot of life available to you. The past is powerful and can be painful but remember you still have the power to create the next chapter of your life. Give yourself permission to turn the page.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Humor is Healing

Often we take things too seriously. We stress to the point of losing our hair, our appetite, and our perspective. While there are intense and horrific things that happen in life, there are also moments of joy that we miss because we are living life with our heads hung low. Children laugh so much more than adults and the older they get the less they laugh. There is much that we can learn from them.

On today commit to bringing your joy back, getting back the beauty of laughter, and finding the rainbow after the storm. One popular quote on the Internet beckons us to not wait until after the storm but to learn how to dance in the rain. I’d like to share with you some of the mental health benefits of humor and then let you know a few things you can do to make your heart smile again.

How Humor Can Heal:
1. Laughter can overpower anxiety. When you are laughing it is physiologically impossible to feel anxious or anger. True laughter takes over your entire body. It is a great release for pent up emotions.
2. Smiles and laughter can also reduce stress. When you let go of the stress you are holding, you have more energy to pursue the things that really matter to you.
3. Humor allows you to see the larger picture. When we focus only on the negative we miss a large part of what life is bringing to us. Not everyone is against us and not every situation is doom and gloom. When you shift your focus you begin to notice more good people, good opportunities, and good within yourself.
4. Humor can bring connection. When we laugh together, we grow closer to one another. Laughter and joy are great community builders, connection builders, and relationship builders. In every relationship, strength comes from not just enduring the difficulties but learning how to truly enjoy each other’s presence.
5. There are also physical health benefits to humor such as reduction of stress hormones, muscle relaxation, immune system enhancement, pain reduction, enhances deep breathing, and in cases of deep laughter can even be a form of cardiac exercise.
6. Humor can empower you. Some people purposefully try to discourage you and distress you. When you refuse to get caught up in the misery you reclaim power of your life.

How to Bring More Humor to Your Life:
1. Check out funny movies and books.
2. Spend more time with fun-loving people and not people who drain you.
3. Be intentional about looking for the bright side to the situation.
4. Live a balanced life that is not just about work and achievement but about connection, leisure, and pursuit of your bliss.
5. Try to live in the present. When we focus all of our energy on past mistakes or future worries we miss the blessing of now.
6. Play games – bowling, board games, computer games, and others.
7. Go to comedy clubs.
8. Listen to upbeat music and don’t forget to dance.

I encourage you to try it right now. Smile. Dance right where you are. Count your blessings. Your life may not be perfect but strive to see the possibility, the ridiculous, the comedy, and the memory of authentic laughter that at some point had the power to transform you mind,

Monday, April 5, 2010

Effective Problem Solving

We all face difficulties in our lives. The key is discovering ways to handle your problems instead of being overwhelmed by them. Mentally and emotionally there are some effective strategies to help you solve your problems. Here are a few of them:

1. Make sure you really understand the nature of the problem. Sometimes we get distracted by the small issues and miss the larger picture. So we have to remember we can’t solve what we don’t acknowledge. We have to see the real issue and not get caught up in things that are insignificant.

2. Break the problem down into areas that you can manage. It is not helpful to simply conclude “my life is a mess” or “my finances are a disaster” or “my relationship isn’t working”. You want to be able to see the specific issues that need to be addressed. What is really the cause of the difficulties? By breaking down the issue into more manageable parts you can start to see concrete potential solutions.

3. Try to look at your issues from a different perspective. Instead of simply being stressed out by the situation, try to see the new opportunities. A lay off may come at the season you need to start your own business or go back to school. A break-up may come at a time that is needed for you to examine the type of relationship you really desire. Take time to evaluate what you really want in life and in this particular situation. Shift your focus so you can gain clarity.

4. Resist self destructive approaches to solving your problem. Seeking advice from people who have shown you they don’t care about you is not a good idea. Trying to escape your feelings by simply staying busy, drinking, smoking, snorting, cutting, shopping, gambling, over-eating, and hooking up is also not a good idea. When we do things to harm ourselves it makes our problems worse instead of better. Instead of negative approaches, try to cope with your distress in positive ways such as deep breathing, exercise, and prayer or meditation.

5. Brainstorm about possible solutions. Sometimes our first idea may not be the strongest solution. Even when you are under time constraints, try to take a little time to think through the situation before jumping to action. As you brainstorm, remember information is power so seek information from books, on-line, supportive friends and family members, and experts, whether financial, psychological, professional, or spiritual. As you weigh the possible solutions consider the benefits and costs so you can determine the best solution.

6. Take action. Sometimes we just hope the situation will change without us having to do something. This rarely happens. Without direct action, debt grows, relationships can become more distant, and depression can deepen. Instead of waiting for others to shape your life, take action for yourself.

7. Evaluate and be open to change. Sometimes we sabotage our success by sticking to an ineffective plan. Just because you make a decision doesn’t mean you have to be stuck. Look to see if it’s working and if it isn’t consider ways you can either adjust the plan or change the plan. You don’t want to be too harsh to soon, shutting things down before they have an opportunity to work. Likewise you don’t want to stay in a dead-end situation when a better way of life is available to you.

Finally remember: never adopt a mindset where you see yourself as a problem-person. You are a person who may be facing some problems but at your core, you are capable of solutions, strength, and growth. Believe it!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Being a Good Romantic Partner

Relationships can be challenging but rewarding. Here are some tips to help you be the best romantic partner you can be:

1. Feel good about yourself. When we enter a relationship feeling insecure and inadequate it negatively affects our ability to trust. When we feel bad about ourselves we often are more depressed, angry, irritable, and suspicious. Feeling good about yourself means taking the time and space to heal past wounds whether from past romantic partners or from childhood. You don’t want the baggage of the past to stand in the way of your present happiness. Additionally you want to feel good about yourself before you pick your partner. When we are in an emotionally wounded state, we often don’t make the wisest decisions. Work on you so you can be healthy and whole. Then you will be able to connect with healthier people.

2. Communicate. Even the best of partners cannot always read your mind. Allow yourself to be open and honest about your needs and wants. Being miserable and disappointed when your partner has no idea what went wrong is frustrating for both of you. Don’t assume your partner knows what you think, feel, or want. When you start off silencing yourself, you end up spending months or years stuffing your feelings and being unsatisfied. Speak up. Be compassionate, considerate, respectful, and loving but break the silence.

3. Put things in perspective. Remember not everything is “drama-worthy”. If you complain and nag about everything, your partner will not know what things are truly important to you. In other words, pick your battles and know when compromise is the key.

4. Be affectionate. Most people enjoy affirmation. Find creative and consistent ways to demonstrate and express your love. These may be verbal, physical, the gift of quality time, or helping your partner with things they need to get done. Find out the expressions of love that speak most to your partner. When people begin to doubt that you appreciate them or want to be with them it creates space for confusion. Make it a priority to let your partner know that you care and are excited about their presence in your life.

5. Be a good listener. Emotional intimacy is about being heard, understood, and accepted. Strive to be the safe place where your partner can express their thoughts, dreams, needs, and wants. You can do this by being observant to know when they feel most comfortable sharing, asking questions, and paying attention.

6. Avoid abusive and controlling behaviors at all times. Show love and respect for your partner. This means no verbal put-downs, hitting, punching, slapping, pushing, kicking, forced sexual activity, or emotional manipulation such as threats and deception.

A loving relationship can be an incredibly beautiful addition to your life, however past pain and failures can make us hesitant to become involved. Additionally many of us have not seen healthy models of relationships and aren’t sure how to do it. Follow the above tips to build a healthier and more successful relationship. Also don’t be afraid to seek additional help through self-help books, religious leaders, therapists, or people you know who are in successful relationships. It may feel awkward to ask for help, but isn’t love worth it? I believe it is.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Time Management

When we look at what we need to do and look at the hours of the day, we can become overwhelmed. Poor time management includes procrastination, unrealistic expectations, and over-commitment. When we manage our time poorly we can end up feeling anxious, insecure, unproductive, and scattered. It is important that we get a handle on our over-scheduled lives so we can actually enjoy life.

First let’s consider the reasons some of us exercise poor time management. The first issue is feeling we have to prove ourselves based on what we do instead of simply being comfortable with who we are. This leads to over-commitment and trying to do a million things all of the time. You have to give yourself the message, “I am enough – good enough, smart enough, gifted enough, more than enough.” When we spend our lives trying to prove our worth to others and to ourselves we end up chasing something that should already be In our hands – self acceptance.

Another reason we often manage our time poorly is due to working hard instead of working smart. It is true that you have bills to pay, people to see, and projects to accomplish. It is also true that when we stretch ourselves too thin, we often miss the golden opportunities before us. We end up making decisions out of desperation that may not be the most effective decisions. We have to press pause and look realistic at our lives. What can you do now so that you don’t have to commit to living a life of hurried distraction?

Another reason we sometimes manage our time poorly is we have been able to get away with it. Many of us procrastinate and still are pretty much able to get the work done. When we keep pulling things together at the last minute, we send ourselves the message that “we work well under pressure” so there is no need to change. The truth is if you are able to do a good job by staying up the night before getting it done, then very likely you could have done a great job by actually investing time, energy, and effort. We have to make a decision. Do we simply want to check things off of a list or do we want to live with a spirit of excellence? If you want to truly let what you do represent your best, it’s time to make a change.

So here are a few tips to help you better manage your time:
1. Wake up early enough to nourish your spirit. If you start the day rushing, you’re going to feel distracted all day. Start with peace by giving yourself enough time in the morning to pray/meditate, listen to an uplifting song, read an inspiring passage, eat breakfast, and get ready at a pace that is comfortable and not chaotic.
2. Create achievable to-do lists. Avoid making lists that are impossible to complete. This only makes you feel bad about yourself. Be realistic about your goals.
3. Develop a plan to work smarter. If you need to make a certain amount of money to live, think about how to create multiple streams of income, how to decrease your commute or to use your commute to do something constructive, and how to develop your skills so you can be promoted and better compensated. Working exhaustingly long hours on low-paying jobs is a temporary solution. You need to develop a master plan for how to get to the next level.
4. Treat procrastination like the enemy that it is. Recognize what eats up your time and give yourself goals to get it under control. What do you need to cut back on and how much time are you going to cut back today? What is eating away at your time? Is it too much time watching television, talking on the phone, or surfing the web. You don’t have to cut out everything you find pleasurable but you need to set some limits. Make a commitment to yourself and then make it happen.
5. Finally remember the importance of balance. When there are multiple things that are important for you, you have to make time for them but also recognize that the more interests you have the less time you can devote to each. Some days you simply cannot do it all so determine overall in a given week how can you have balance between self care, work, family, friends, and your hobbies or interests.

If you try one approach and it is not working, give yourself permission to try a different approach until you find one that works for you. Time is a precious gift. Be mindful of how you use it. Deep breath in… and exhale.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Resisting Stereotypes, Discrimination, and Oppression

When people believe that you and every one of your social category is inferior, it can be challenging to maintain a positive outlook. You may have been the victim of a hate crime or another act of discrimination based on your race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, disability, income, or even country of birth. Acts of bias include but are not limited to being denied access to housing, employment, legal protection, and school admission, being called derogatory names, being physically assaulted, being ignored or rejected, being profiled and unjustly prosecuted, and being consistently depicted in a negative light in the media. Oppression, such as racism and sexism are ugly realities that can chip away at your self esteem.

People are affected in different ways by negative stereotypes and discrimination. When it happens to you, you may experience depression, anger, shock, emptiness, or shame. Sometimes to cope with what has happened, you may deny it. It can even affect our relationships and who we trust. Some people will try to separate themselves from the group that is marginalized and this may mean being an African American who doesn’t like to spend time with other African Americans or being a woman who openly declares, “I don’t like dealing with women.” This type of internalized oppression is very damaging. On the other hand, some people who have experienced oppression respond by only spending time with members of their group as a way of trying to prevent future incidents from occurring. This can also be damaging in that you end up having to limit what you can do and where you can go. It also can result in intense stress when in the presence of those who are different than you.

Many of us have experienced some form of bias, negative stereotyping, or discrimination. It is so important to consider ways to take care of yourself so that you minimize the potential negative consequences of these violations. Here are a few pointers:
1. Be intentional about recognizing and celebrating the positive aspects about you both as an individual and as a member of a social group. You never want to define yourself from the perspective of those who fear or hate you. You want to invest in seeing the beauty and strength of being who you are.
2. When discrimination, hassles, put-downs, and disrespect occur, don’t ignore it or pretend it didn’t happen. Denial is not helpful. It can lead to shame, self-blame, and even physical signs of stress such as migraines or high blood pressure. Acknowledge it to yourself and then you can decide if there is a safe, constructive way for you to address it. This may mean speaking to the person directly, filing a complaint, building coalition with supportive allies, leaving the environment, working to raise awareness, or even pressing charges. Face the truth that the incident happened and then determine which option is best for you.
3. Create safe relationships where you can talk about the difficult and sometimes horrific things you have witnessed or experienced. Discrimination can be very painful and you shouldn’t have to carry that pain alone. You need people in your life you can talk with about it that won’t try to dismiss it or blame you for it.
4. Develop friendships with people of diverse backgrounds, including both members of your social group and other groups. It is not healthy to either run from who you are or to run from every social situation in which you are not in the majority. Spending positive, quality time with a diverse group of friends can improve your view of yourself, your ability to trust, and your view of others.
5. Make sure you choose positive coping strategies over destructive ones. When you have been put down, make sure you don’t seek comfort through cigarettes, alcohol, other drugs, over-eating, or (verbal or physical) violence. Instead cope with your feelings through constructive means like talking about it, using the arts, engaging in community organizing, reading inspirational books, and participating in activities that nurture your spirit.
6. A final tool of empowerment is choosing to actively work to end bias and discrimination. Getting active in your community, school, workplace, or city can be a great way of resisting oppression. You can also start on a personal level by speaking up when those who are close to you speak and behave in discriminatory ways. Each of us has the power to make a positive difference. Speak up and shatter the silence around oppression. Together we can turn things around.