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!