Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Overcoming Avoidance

Everyone avoids something or someone at some point in their lives. There are however those who find themselves perpetually avoiding issues. You may avoid it because you don’t know how to handle the situation or because you fear the outcome of confronting the situation. Avoidance can feel like the easier path to take but it often ends up creating its own consequences. Some of the consequences of avoidance can be: • Keeping your life on pause by not facing the truth • Living with the anxiety that at any moment the truth will come out • Feeling as if you are living a lie • Having to constantly suppress your feelings • Doubting yourself • Maintaining superficial relationships • Staying in a miserable situation longer than you need to • Allowing the problem to get bigger Even though it is difficult, there comes a time when you need to face issues. Here are some tips for overcoming avoidance. 1. Imagine the outcome. Think about the potential outcomes or responses that could occur if you face the issue. Once you consider the possibilities, think about how you would handle each case. Choose preparation over procrastination. 2. Consider the cost. Remember the times in your life when avoidance cost you something valuable – your time, your self-respect, your job, your credit, a relationship, or your peace of mind. When avoidance has been your general approach, you can definitely think of times when you wish you had faced things sooner. Make a decision to break the pattern of avoidance. 3. Nurture yourself. Avoidance stresses you out. Commit to taking care of yourself instead of simply suffering in silence. Do the things that renew your spirit, mind, heart, and body. You may want to consider prayer, meditation, journaling, exercise, reading self-help books, and/or going to a spa. When you are able to approach the issue from a restored place, you will be stronger and wiser. 4. Seek support. When we keep things inside, they often start to feel larger than life. They may seem unmanageable because you are trying to carry them alone. Talk the issue through with someone you trust. It may be a family member, a friend, a minister, or a therapist. The key is not to face it alone. 5. Get out of the box. We often put ourselves in the box of negative thinking by claiming that dysfunctional things are a permanent part of who we are. That is not true. Instead of constantly claiming that you can’t do it, start to shift your thinking to say I will do it. To be realistic this is of course easier said than done, but don’t surrender. Be patient with yourself. The first few times you try to address the issue, the words may not come, you may feel overwhelmed with emotion, or the person may misunderstand your point. Take time to learn from what happened and develop the support and skills you need to try it again, either in another way or with a different person. Sometimes people don’t respond well to you naming the issue because they want you to remain silent. Do not make your decision to address the issue solely based on if you think others will like what you have to say. Reclaim your life by reclaiming your voice.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fighting for your Fitness

At some point we make commitments to exercise. Often these commitments are short-lived. It is important that we consider the ways regular exercise influence our overall well-being. People who engage in regular exercise report a high sense of satisfaction, self-esteem, self-efficacy, positive body image, confidence, positive coping, and overall health. Lack of exercise is associated with low energy, negative body image, low self-esteem, distress, negative subjective and objective measures of physical health, and depression. The issue is not whether we know exercise is good for us. The issue is the mental block that keeps us from exercise. Let’s bust now the biggest mental issues that are blocking your road to fitness. Roadblock #1 – The gym is too expensive. You don’t have to belong to a gym to exercise. You can do DVDs, fitness television shows, or simply go to a park. There are many things that cost money but exercise does not have to be one of them. In addition to free work-outs many gyms are offering specials due to declining enrollments as a result of the recession. Roadblock #2 – I don’t enjoy it. You may not have found the type of exercise that you like but you should keep looking. Some people love cycling, others love basketball, and still others like dancing. Just because you haven’t found your joyful exercise yet doesn’t mean you should give up. Not every work-out is for every person. Ask different people what they do and then make it a point to try different activities. Roadblock #3 – The gym is a meat market. There are gyms that are focused on socializing and meeting people. First of all remember you don’t have to go to a gym and the second thing is not every gym is the same. Most gyms will let you come for a trial period so you can go and see the type of environment they have. There are gyms, sometimes depending on the time when you go, where the people are focused on their fitness not on finding Mr. Right or Ms. Right. If the social scene is hindering your commitment, simply exercise at home or take a walk or run in the park. Don’t let the place stop your progress. Roadblock #4 – I don’t see any results. Exercise requires commitment over time. We are sometimes drawn into these false advertisements of people who do whatever they want and their bodies magically get fit. Each of our bodies are different so it may take a while before you see results but keep at it. Additionally you may need to try a different form of exercise if you have been doing one thing for a while and truly don’t feel or see a change. It is important to set small goals so you can see your progress instead of waiting to celebrate when you have a total make-over. Roadblock #5 – I’m just not one of those types of people. We have to stop defining ourselves in the negative. It is a form of self-sabotage. Watch the words you use to talk about yourself. The power of life and death is in the tongue. Speak life over yourself and about yourself. You are someone who cares about being healthy and strong. You are able to take better care of your temple. You have what it takes to be disciplined and motivated. Choose positive self-talk over negative self-talk. Roadblock #6 – I’m too busy. We make the time for things that are important to us. When we sacrifice our health for everything else we can end up professionally successful but with bodies that are literally falling apart – this makes it difficult to enjoy your success. Your body is a temple that deserves care and protecting time and energy to invest in you is important. What is more important than your health? Roadblock #7 – It’s just hard to stay motivated. Here are some pointers to help you get motivated and stay motivated: • Set realistic goals for yourself. Setting the bar to high is a guaranteed pathway to self-sabotage, failure, and surrender. Set fitness goals that you can attain. • Make friends who are also fighting for their fitness. If you are the only person you know who values your new priorities it will be hard to keep them. • Share with someone else your fitness goals. Speaking them aloud increases accountability. • Don’t allow a set-back to turn into surrender. We all have changes in our motivation. If you fall off-track don’t use it as an excuse to give up completely. Get back up again. • Focus on the positive. Instead of thinking about how hard it is to work-out, focus on all the benefits you will gain from being strong and healthy. Fitness, health, and well-being take effort. You are worth it so make a commitment to invest in you today.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Putting a Stop to Stalkers

Has someone or a group of people been giving you unwanted obsessive attention? Stalking is persistent harassment that can include phone calls, emails, coming to your home or place of business, or following you throughout the day. Stalkers can be strangers or persons known to you such as former dating partners. Stalkers can make your life very difficult and at times can pose a danger to your life. Whether the person stalking you is using the internet or personal contact, it is important for you to take it seriously. Here are some key strategies to help you reclaim your safety and privacy.

1. Communicate clearly that you would like the contact to stop and that a relationship is not wanted now or in the future. Say this without apology and without high emotion. Do not try to let the person down easy by offering explanations. This may be interpreted as a mixed message or as interest on your part.
2. Keep a record of all communication made by the stalker. Take pictures of any damage done by the stalker.
3. Do not ignore any threats. Contact the police and consider obtaining an order of protection. File police reports for any illegal behavior perpetrated by the stalker.
4. Limit the circulation of your personal contact information by having these details removed from all public records. Use a business contact or Post Office Box for correspondence instead. Use an un-listed phone number.
5. If you have children, communicate clearly to them a safety plan and make sure their school has the appropriate information regarding who has permission to interact with your child.
6. Use dead bolt locks and if you lose your keys change your locks immediately.
7. Park and walk in well-lit areas. Be sure to carry a charged cell phone with you.
8. Inform friends, co-workers, and security persons at your business and residence so they can be mindful of the safety concerns. Have a good support system that you can trust and be sure to let them know where you are going and when you should return. This will make sure the right people are aware as soon as possible if you are in danger.
9. Do not argue with, negotiate with, or engage in discussion with the stalker. This engagement simply rewards the stalker and encourages them to continue making contact. Do not respond to instant messages, texts, or other communication.
10. Vary your routine. If you always use the same route or you tweet your location throughout the day, you are much more vulnerable to stalkers. There is more safety in adding variety to your day.

It is important for you to not to isolate yourself. You don’t have to handle it alone. There is strength and safety and letting trusted people know that you are harassed so they can help you with emotional and physical support. Remember harassment is not acceptable or excusable. Your safety and peace of mind deserve to be protected.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Sleep Solutions

Many people have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. If you are not getting enough sleep you may end up facing physical, psychological, and social consequences. It may be difficult to focus and concentrate during the day. It is hard to truly apply yourself when you are drained from lack of rest. Here are a number of strategies that may help you improve your sleep:

1. Prepare for bed with calming activity not stimulating activity. Watching television, playing video games, and having an emotionally intense argument are not activities that lead to a good night’s sleep. Try reading, taking a warm bath, drinking caffeine-free tea, or listening to calming music before going to bed instead.

2. Avoid caffeine and nicotine before bed. Taking in caffeine right before bed is really self sabotage and sends your body a very confusing message. Additionally while alcohol may help you fall asleep it disrupts the quality of your sleep and should also not be your sleep solution.

3. Deep breathing. We often spend our days with very shallow breathing. This type of breathing holds stress in the body. When you lay down to sleep, slow down your breathing and take nice, deep cleansing breaths to send your body the message that you can relax.

4. Progressive muscle relaxation. As you lay down, take time to intentionally relax each muscle in your body. When you are so stressed about trying to sleep you end up holding tension in your back, neck, or face, it will be even more difficult to sleep. Go through each area of your body and relax your muscles.

5. Move clocks out of view. It creates more stress if you spend the night watching the time pass. Turn the clocks away from your bed to reduce the pressure.

6. Do not nap and do not sleep in. If you keep taking naps during the day you will continue to have difficulty sleeping on a regular schedule. You are creating a pattern that communicates to your body when it should sleep.

7. Try to limit the noise, heat, and light in your room. Television, uncomfortable temperatures, and music can be stimulating and take your energy and focus away from relaxing. Additionally if the room is bright you may find yourself looking around the room and focusing on things around you instead of allowing yourself to unwind.

8. Address your stress during the day. Often those who suffer from sleep problems, have a lot of worry and anxiety. Work to actively solve the problems that are creating stress for you. Also learn to let go of the things that are beyond your control. By finding ways to handle your stress during the day, you will be less stressed at night.

9. Work out during the day. Exercising right before bedtime can actually make insomnia worse. You may feel more energized and instead of relaxing your body may be charged up for more activity.

10. Reduce time you spend in the bed when awake. If you journal in bed, read in bed, and watch TV in bed, your bed is associated more with activity than rest. If you cannot sleep you should get out of bed to do activities instead of remaining in bed.

11. If you continue to have difficulty falling or staying asleep, you should seek professional help. Whether your sleep challenges are more medical or psychological, there is help available.

12. Adopt positive thinking. If you embrace the idea that your situation is hopeless, you will contribute to your sleep challenges. There is hope. Your sleep may not become identical to others but you can get a higher quality of sleep.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Surviving Social Anxiety

Many people become anxious when they have to be around others. Your anxiety can range from mild shyness or nervousness to severe panic that makes it difficult if not impossible to go out in public. Social Anxiety Disorder is defined as an intense fear of particular social situations, such as new situations in which you fear you will be evaluated or judged by others. Thinking about going to these places can increase your anxiety before you even arrive or you may work very hard to avoid the situation at all costs. Social anxiety is often based in a feeling of fear, insecurity, inadequacy, shame, and embarrassment. While everyone experiences some level of rejection, social anxiety has an irrational aspect to it. Even when people are not looking at you, judging you, or evaluating you, you feel that they are centering their attention on you. It is important to understand the anxiety so it doesn’t stop you from living a full life.

You may experience social anxiety in the following types of situations:
• Public speaking
• Going on a date
• Making small talk
• Attending a party
• Talking to people you feel are more important than you
• Eating in public
• Being criticized
• Going to a new place

The following are some symptoms of social anxiety
• Feeling nervous or worried
• Fearing that people will reject you
• Overly self-conscious
• Avoiding new situations and people
• Upset stomach
• Shaky voice
• Trembling
• Dry mouth
• Feeling faint
• Sweating

Your life has purpose and fear can delay you from walking in your purpose. We try not to let our worries win and instead to find ways to manage or conquer our anxieties. Social Anxiety can become a major barrier to your happiness, peace of mind, job security, educational dreams, and relationship success. Here are a few strategies to help you handle social anxiety.
1. Deep breathing. When we feel nervous we sometimes hold our breath or start breathing in a very shallow way. When your body is not getting enough air it intensifies the feeling of anxiety. It is important before, during, and after social situations that you remind yourself to take long, deep cleansing breaths. As you slow down your breathing, you will learn to calm yourself so you can see the situation more clearly.
2. Self-acceptance. Often we are afraid of what others will think of us because we feel we are unworthy of respect, love, or acceptance. It is important to work on appreciating yourself so you will not be so dependent on the feedback and opinions of others.
3. Peaceful Partners. Watch the company you keep. If you surround yourself with competitive and/or materialistic people, you will feel more pressure to be “on”. Try to spend time going out with people who are down to earth and who accept you for who you are. In this way you will feel less pressure to be something you are not.
4. Self-care. If you don’t get enough sleep or if you fill yourself with caffeine, alcohol, and sugar you will end up adding to your anxiety and stress level. Nurture yourself with good rest and good food so you can meet the day from a place of calm.
5. Spiritual Practice. Spiritual activity can be an important part of calming your anxiety. You may find relief through the daily practice of meditation, prayer, inspirational music, and affirming readings.
6. Patience is a Virtue. When you are too hard on yourself by setting unrealistic goals, you increase your anxiety. If you feel your voice shaking or feel yourself sweating, remind yourself it’s ok. You can outlast the anxiety but you have to be patient with yourself.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Increasing Your Happiness

Happiness includes a combination of how we think about our current lives and how much positive emotion (love, joy, awe, etc.) we experience. There are times in our lives when we may not be depressed but we’re still not truly happy. These are the times when we are just going through the motions. Life is passing us by and while we are not miserable we cannot honestly say we have joy. Although part of your happiness can be attributed to your genes and another portion of your happiness is shaped by your life circumstances, there is yet another aspect of your happiness that is actually within your control. While psychologists have often studies the issues that contribute to our distress, there are some psychologists, such as community psychologists and positive psychologists, who study the factors that add to our happiness and well-being. For those who are feeling stuck, uninspired, or simply bored with life, below you will find some strategies that you can use to increase your happiness. (If you are however experiencing clinical depression, this list may fall short of the support that you need. I encourage you to seek out professional assistance. You don’t have to deal with the depression alone.)

1. Get real with yourself. You will only work to increase your happiness if you realize you need to make it a priority. Go the following link to do a free self-assessment of your current level of positive versus negative emotions:

2. Pleasure Principle: Find time to do the things that you enjoy. Nurture yourself. Self-care is very important. Take a warm bath, eat good, healthy food, and make time for your favorite hobbies. It is not a mystery or a secret. If you do the things you enjoy you will have more joy.

3. Love Connection: To increase your happiness, you should build more positive relationships. Decrease time with drama-filled negative people and develop friendships with those who inspire more joy and laughter in your life. These may be romantic relationships, platonic friendships, or positive family members.

4. The Gift of Goals: A sense of accomplishment can also increase our sense of happiness. It is important however to set attainable goals and to divide up large goals into smaller parts. At times we set ourselves up for failure by setting goals that require perfection. This can result in us never appreciating all of the good work we have done. Attainable goals can motivate us, inspire us, and result in greater happiness.

5. Feed the Spirit: Spirituality, religion, and faith can be major contributors to our happiness. Faith can help you to look beyond current set-backs and still see the awe, beauty, possibility, and miracles around you and in you. Feed your faith by doing those practices that feed your spirit.

6. Mind over Matter: Remember that much of your happiness comes from how you choose to think about things. Initially it is work to learn to be more optimistic, positive, and hopeful but over time it can become more of a habit. Encourage yourself to try to see the opportunity, to see the good, to see the growth instead of immediately focusing on the negative. When you catch yourself being focused on the negative make a decision and a commitment to shift your focus.

7. See the Big Picture: One of the wonderful ways to increase your happiness can be to bring happiness to others. Being of service to a higher purpose and a mission that benefits others can truly lift your spirit. Commit to a cause that is larger than you. It may be feeding the hungry, walking for breast cancer, volunteering at the public library, giving donations to a battered women’s shelter, or participating in a service/mission trip overseas. There is joy in giving. You can increase your happiness by striving to make a difference in the world around you.

If you are feeling stuck, know that you don’t have to stay in that emotional place. You can make choices to think and act in ways that increase your happiness. Whatever you do, don’t surrender to a joyless life. Take steps to get back on the path that makes your heart sing.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Comfortable Chains: A Call for Rihanna and Other Black Women to Break Out

As a psychologist and a Black woman, I acknowledge the commonly held perception that to be a Black woman means we have to be super strong, invincible, and without feelings. In essence, this perception robs us of our humanity.

Social scientists have developed the term the Strong Black Woman Syndrome which refers to Black women who feel the need to handle everything alone without ever showing any sign of need or vulnerability. I was reminded of this syndrome as I read Rihanna’s recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine. In the interview, she talks about not wanting to look like a victim and not wanting to be perceived as weak. She stated that she worked to present herself as strong until it felt true. This is common for many Black women, including those who have survived trauma, violence, and abuse. It is not that we are immune to pain; rather, we believe it is unacceptable to show our pain. Black women receive the message from people outside of and within our community that we should not reveal our scars. In fact, one study with Black women who have survived intimate partner violence indicated that the women perceived that the Black community overall views them as weak and undeserving of care. This fear of being dismissed as weak silences many women. Audre Lorde wrote the poignant words, “This woman is Black so her blood is shed into silence.”

This concept can be witnessed in Rihanna’s testimonial in that, regardless of the very public way in which her story was told, her actual narrative and perspective have been silenced. Rihanna stated she felt the need to figure it out by herself after just one session of therapy. What keeps her and others silent?
We have seen what happens to Black women who speak of their pain, especially if the person who caused the pain is also Black. In fact, there has yet to be an instance in contemporary times where a Black woman has been harmed by a Black male and the Black community collectively rallied to her defense. Whether it is Anita Hill, Robin Givens, the adolescent violated by R. Kelly, or, more recently, the 11 year old girl gang-raped in Texas, Black women and girls receive the message that their pain is their problem and fundamentally their fault. As a result, they are encouraged to remain silent. Rihanna has learned this lesson well. As a young witness to domestic violence and now a survivor of dating violence, Rihanna has altered her mindset to the point where she can silently find “pleasure” in the pain, comfort in the chains.

The challenge is to extinguish the pressure for Black women to wear the silent mask of superhuman strength in the most dangerous and dehumanizing situations. As I read Rihanna’s interview, I thought of all the Black women who work daily to do the impossible, bear the unbearable, and carry loads that would break any woman’s back. Yes, I celebrate those who show resilience in the eye of the storm. However, it is not enough to simply survive and just get through it. Black women need to be whole. We need to know real happiness and authentic peace. Maya Angelou says, “Survival is important. Thriving is elegant.” To get to a point of thriving, we have to heal. We have to have space to breathe, tell our stories, and tend to the broken pieces. This is not a process that we can rush. It is not a process we should have to do alone. And, it is not a process we should endure in silence. I hope more Black women will get uncomfortable with the physical and psychological chains that bind us so we can break free and live. We do have the right to remain silent, but we have a stronger, more constructive right to speak up about the abuse we have survived and the wounds that still need to be healed.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Are you really hungry? - Addressing Emotional Eating

When we are feeling empty, disappointed, frustrated, angry, sad, or unfulfilled we seek out things to comfort us. We look for ways to medicate ourselves and ease the emotional pain. Some people comfort themselves with a cigarette, while others comfort themselves with shopping. Some seek the comfort of sexual intimacy and many seek comfort with food. In essence food can and does affect our mood but it is temporary. Eating sweets and other favorites can make us in the moment feel happy, energized, and relieved. The critical thing to know is that this momentary solution never lasts. The source of our distress, worry, sadness remains long after the last bite of food has been taken. In addition we are often left to deal with the additional burden of guilt and shame which often follows emotional eating. The following are some important strategies for those who find themselves engaging in emotional eating but sincerely want to make a change.

1. Press pause – When you think you are hungry instead of automatically assuming that you are physically in need of food stop to reflect on your inner feelings. Ask yourself how hungry am I? Am I feeling stress or am I actually in need of food? Interrupt the automatic connection that has been created in your mind that equates emotional need with physical hunger.

2. Consider what you are truly craving – Get real with yourself about the empty places in your life. Until you know what you really want you will never get it. Acknowledge to yourself what your hunger, desire, need is about. Admit that you are hungry for fulfillment, purpose, peace, authentic joy, and healthy relationships. Once you admit it to yourself make a decision to resist the temptation of settling for temporary distraction.

3. Fight Boredom and Find Joy – When food is the sole source of your joy you will turn to it all the time. Discover new paths of enjoyment. Go after the things that make you come alive. Find joy in your spiritual walk, in your career path, in your hobbies, and in your friendships.

4. Develop positive relationships – Some of us have made food our best friend, the only source of our consistent support. To resist emotional eating develop good relationships with friends that are encouraging, motivating, and inspiring. Instead of turning to the kitchen for your relief you can reach out to someone that can actually reach back to you. Knowing that you are not alone can radically shift your current reliance on emotional eating.

5. Avoid self-sabotage – Stocking your cabinets and refrigerator with foods that often lead to emotional eating is a set-up for a setback. If you live alone and yet buy in bulk (supposedly to save money) you really should reconsider this approach. Be honest with yourself by not surrounding yourself with the type of food and/or amount of food that supports emotional eating. Switch to healthier foods and snacks and this will be a measure of your true hunger. If you are really hungry you will eat the healthier options available to you.

It is possible to shift to healthier ways of coping, eating, and living. However it is also important to remember if you do fall into emotional eating you should strive to avoid putting yourself down. Put-downs will only feed into the negative cycle causing you to feel bad and seek more comfort from food. Break the pattern by getting in touch with your passion and purpose.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Stepping Up: Living with Excellence

Are you ready for a more excellent way? Are you tired of settling or living life below your potential? We often find ourselves going through the motions of living but not being truly fulfilled. There are many things that pull us into living with mediocrity, such as fear, procrastination, and unhealthy habits. Even though easy living may be the simple choice in the short run, it often leaves us feeling empty, guilty, and frustrated. On the other side, our gifts, purpose, vision, and goals beckon us into our greatness. If you are truly ready to step up and make a change, here are the Stages of Change (developed by Prochaska and DiClemente) for you to consider. These stages are usually applied to the process of changing unhealthy behaviors but they can also be applied to our decision to engage in more positive, healthy behaviors.

• Precontemplation – This is the stage when we are living below our potential but don’t even realize it. This means we have become so comfortable settling that we don’t even realize more is possible. It is disappointing when we embrace a life that falls short of our potential. However, just by the fact that you are reading this blog, I believe you are already considering the ways you can improve your life.

• Contemplation – This is the stage when we begin to think about what life would be like if we began to think, speak, and act differently. It is important during this time to consider the benefits and challenges that would come with serious life change. Growth can be difficult so we have to think it through by being honest with ourselves.

• Preparation – During this stage we make a decision to step up to the plate of change and then we begin to prepare for the changes we need to make. If your dream is big you have to prepare to step out on faith. Consider the steps you need to take now so that you can make changes in your personal life, professional life, health habits, self-care, artistic expression, and/or spiritual life.

• Action – This stage is necessary. Many people will live their entire lives saying “one day”. Well eventually we have to take action. This is when we move from thinking about it and preparing to do it to actually taking concrete steps of change. Consider now what are you willing to do to transform your life? If not now, when?

• Maintenance – In this stage we have to keep up a spirit of excellence. We have to be intentional about not going back to the easy path. We have to resist our old habits, patterns, and cycles and commit daily to living with excellence. It is not enough to make a New Year’s Resolution or to make a momentary decision. Maintenance requires self-discipline. We have to seek out those things that feed our spirits, minds, and hearts – those things and people that inspire and motivate us so we don’t go backward. Maintenance also means that when I slip back into mediocre living I don’t allow myself to dwell there. I make a decision to re-commit to the path of excellence.

A more excellent way is available to you. Make the decision to step up and then keep stepping forward. Excellence is not easy but it is worth it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Success Strategies for Romantic Relationships

When love relationships are healthy that can increase our joy, sense of peace, connection, and fulfillment. When they are unhealthy however they can increase our stress, frustration, anger, distrust, and sadness. From a mental health perspective there are a number of success strategies that you can use to enhance your romantic relationships.

1. Choose wisely. When we choose to date people who are not good for us or to us, trying to use success strategies will have minimal impact. For example if I am with someone who doesn’t respect me or the relationship, improving my communication or intimacy skills will not make the person change. In order to have a healthy relationship we need to work to heal our issues so that we begin choosing partners more wisely. Instead of choosing someone who is dysfunctional and then working and praying to change them, we need to start being more practical and prayerful about the decisions we make before entering a relationship.

2. Be open to feedback. None of us are perfect and it is important for us to all realize there are ways we can improve. For your current relationship to succeed you may need to learn some things that are different than the relationships you saw modeled for you when you were growing up and perhaps even strategies that are different from your prior relationships. Each person is different so the things that worked with one person may not always work with every person. Communication is important so you can understand each other’s expectations, hopes, fears, and dreams.

3. Keep it fresh. It is important that we not take each other for granted. When we are initially dating, we often put our best foot forward and then over time we can see our efforts dwindling. It is important that we let our partners know they are loved, desired, and appreciated. Look for creative ways to communicate your feelings to your partner. The love languages include expressing your feelings verbally, physically, with time, with gifts, and/or by actions that provide help for your partner. Think about which area is your strength and which area you could try to improve.

4. Listen. People often end up either talking at each other or not speaking to each other. To keep the relationship going and growing both people need to be heard. Instead of becoming defensive, try to actually hear your partner’s concerns. Even if you don’t agree with everything, try to hear the inner issue or feelings that are motivating the statement of your partner. After you have heard them let them know you were listening by doing what you can to take into account their feedback. If people perceive that they are being ignored, they will simply shut down and stop sharing their issues. Successful couples really listen to one another.

5. Successful couples enjoy the different gifts that each one brings to the table. The two of you will not be identical. Instead of trying to create a clone of yourself learn to appreciate your partner for who they are. This strategy can greatly reduce the stress and tension between people and allow you to actually enjoy your different styles, personalities, and preferences.

For relationships to thrive we have to invest our time, emotion, and effort. Success is possible especially when both people are willing to work for it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Family and Friends Coping with Mental Illness

Given the high rates of emotional distress and mental illness, it is very likely that you will have a family member or friend who is dealing with a mental health issue. Mental illness does not just affect the individual but all of those who are around them. You may have a friend or family member who is dealing with depression, addiction, bipolar disorder, severe anxiety, or schizophrenia. If you are not careful, you can also become overwhelmed and develop intense distress as a result of the worry you feel for your loved one. Having a family member of friend with mental illness can cause you to feel sad, angry, frustrated, afraid, guilty, hopeless, ashamed, or confused. Here are a few important strategies:

1. Remember a relative or friend can not become the person's therapist. It is important for you to be a supportive person but you cannot cure or fix the issue. You can help to ease their stress but do not try to be the person’s therapist. It is not possible and it is not healthy for either of you.
2. Encourage your friend or relative to get counseling and if needed to take their medication. Mental illness is a major issue that requires more than positive thinking or willpower. There are some skills that can be taught in counseling, some difficult past issues that can be processed, and some symptoms that can be reduced through medication and/or talk therapy. If you care about the person talk to them about the importance of getting help.
3. Tough love is not the answer for mental illness. Yelling, cursing, and giving ultimatums to someone with a mental disorder is not helpful. It increases stress, frustration, and anger. Usually the person will isolate and/or get worse. They may begin to say what you want to hear but the change will not be authentic or long-lasting when it is based on threats.
4. Knowledge is power. You can be a more effective support person by taking the time to learn more about your friend or family member’s specific mental illness. Talk to their doctor (if they consent) and/or read about the causes, effects, coping strategies, and resources. You are not alone. There are other family members and friends around the world who are in a similar situation of trying to support someone with mental health challenges. Talk with them on-line or in groups. Getting more information will empower you.
5. Enjoy the good moments. Instead of focusing solely on the symptoms, remember the good memories and be open enough to experience the good moments as they occur. Appreciate the good and recognize the strengths of the person in spite of the challenges they are facing. It doesn’t mean we ignore the problem but we know that there is more to the person that a diagnosis.
6. Self-care for the caretaker. You may spend a lot of time and energy trying to make your family member or friend happy. You have to be careful not to wear yourself down. You will end up drained and bitter if you don’t take time for self-care. Constantly putting off your needs will eventually catch up with you and result in emotional and sometimes even physical health challenges. Take time to rest, eat healthy meals, develop healthy relationships, and possibly speak with a counselor.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Your Total Life Make-Over

At this time of year many of us make resolutions or revive old resolutions. We are often inspired and energized to turn the page, release the past, and move forward. We want to be wiser, stronger, and more fulfilled. The challenge is not always starting the new path but staying committed to it. Here are a few pointers to help equip you for the journey.

1. Make a commitment to a lifestyle change not simply a push for quick results. When we do rush diets to quickly lose pounds we often end up gaining them back. Additionally when we decide we just want to be with anyone, we end up choosing people who are not good for us in the long run. So instead of thinking of simply changing your life in the NOW, you want to commit to changing the way you approach life in the short term and the long term.

2. Set realistic goals. Often we get discouraged because we set unrealistic goals and then fail. When we sabotage ourselves but setting goals that we can’t live up to for more than a few days or few weeks, we do ourselves a disservice. Don’t set your goals based on what someone else is doing or simply what someone else has said. You have to set goals that work for you. Be honest with yourself. Now honest doesn’t mean that you set no goals at all. It just means that you take the mountain one step at a time.

3. Accountability is necessary. When we don’t set any standards we end up continuing to follow old habits, patterns, and relationship cycles. You need to acknowledge what needs to change and what you are going to do about it. Think it, speak it, write it down, share it, pray about it, meditate on it, and monitor it. If I make a vague promise to myself that I’m going to do better financially this is meaningless. I have to spell out to myself what exactly that means. I need to be very clear about my aims in terms of my budget, my investment in my financial future, and the temptations that need to be avoided. Often it is good to share your goals with another person who can help you to stay accountable. If I decide to give up fast food, or soda, or sweets, it helps if those around me know that this is my goal. Name it and claim it.

4. Surround yourself with positive people. If you are trying to quit or cut back on fatty foods, smoking, drinking, gossip, procrastination, or unsafe sexual activities, then you need to be around people who support those goals. If the people I am around constantly attempt to discourage me and dissuade me from my goal, it will be even harder to maintain the change. With a new attitude you should also draw new relationships – connections to those who are striving for better and who support those who are trying to do better.

5. Remember a set-back does not mean surrender. The truth is change is difficult. Too often because we slip up we excuse ourselves from any further effort. If and when you find yourself going back to old habits, remember the reason you committed to changing in the first place. Think about the benefits of change, recall how good it felt when you were living in a more positive way, and then take active steps to get back on the path. A misstep doesn’t have to be the final step. Recognize it for what it was, consider what you need to do to avoid it in the future, and then encourage yourself to make the change again.