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.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Stress Management: Listen to your body

There are times when we are stressed out and don’t fully realize it. This can happen when you are dealing with so much that you start to think that extreme stress is the norm. Often when you have to balance many responsibilities you may feel you don’t have time to stop, or reflect, or take care of yourself. The truth is when we ignore the stress we are carrying, there can be major consequences on our lives, physically, emotionally, socially, and financially. It is important to start paying attention to the warning signs of your stress before they explode. One way your distress can show up is in your body.

In psychology, there is a category of symptoms called somatic complaints. A somatic complaint is a physical symptom for which there is no medical explanation. These complaints can be migraines, muscle ache, difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, backache, nausea, headaches, constipation, skin rash, and heartburn. It is important to know that your body is experiencing real pain and discomfort, even if the cause of it is anxiety, stress, or fear. A difficult part of the cycle is that your worries can create physical symptoms and then the symptoms can give you new reasons to worry. So for example, you may be worried about a relationship or money problems. This worry can show up in a rash or migraine and then you end up having this physical issue as another reason to worry.

So what are some ways to manage your concerns so they don’t have to take a toll on your health?
1. Get in touch with what you’re feeling instead of denying your concerns.
2. Be sure to get a physical so you don’t dismiss something as being psychologically caused when it may have a medical cause.
3. Seek out support from family, friends, and/or a counselor. Carrying the weight of your stress alone can eventually drain you. Reach out to others to receive help and support.
4. Engage in activities that bring you pleasure, enjoyment, happiness. Sometimes you have to press pause and take a mental break from your challenges.
5. Avoid negative coping activities such as addictions to alcohol, cigarettes, or other drugs.
6. Get physical. Exercise in moderation can be a great way to release stress that you are holding in your body.
7. Try to think positively. When we have a doomsday mentality it increases vulnerability to depression and distress. Try to hold on to hope that things in your life can improve.

Pay attention to your body and take care of yourself – mentally, physically, and spiritually. When we try to avoid our issues, they find different ways to get our attention. Instead of being passive about your health, take ownership of the need to protect your mental and physical well-being. You are worth it.