Category Archives: Mental Health

My daughter thinks another girl is pretty: Part 3

This week’s series of posts (read Part 1 and Part 2) has been all about my five-year-old daughter and how she thinks another girl is pretty, and the many opportunities to help her (and myself) learn more about life that have come out of these feelings. 

Handling Rejection

As I mentioned in Part 2, my daughter decorated a card for this girl and attached a pretty plastic ring to it. When she was done with the card she told me she was “scared” to give the card to the girl. I saw this as an opportunity for me to teach her about rejection. 

I asked her what she was “scared” of. She said, “what if the girl doesn’t like it or is mean about it.” I gave her some things to think about, and put the situation into perspective: 

1.) If it is kind words, you have no need to be scared. The best you can do is be kind to others, and saying nice things — being uplifting— is a good thing.

2.) If someone says “no” to you but remains respectful, we need to respect their choice. Consent is not just for boys. It works across all relationships—whether it be romantically or just a friendship. Everyone has the right to say “no”.

3.) If someone says “no” to you and are disrespectful/mean, you don’t need to worry about what those people think. They aren’t worth your time if they aren’t going to consider your feelings. If they are not going to be nice to you, then you don’t want to be their friend anyway. You deserve to be respected and treated fairly and kindly. Walk away from those situations where you are not treated with respect. 

Rejection is hard. No one likes to feel rejected, but it is part of life. Children, just as adults, need to learn how to handle rejection in a healthy manner. They need to understand what is ok and what is not when it comes to how other people treat them, and how they treat others. As adults, it is our job to help them process these situations so they know (1) its ok to be sad, disappointed (2) it is not ok to be treated unkindly, or to treat others unkindly (3) it is ok to say “no”. 

Do you remember the first time you felt rejection, how old were you? How did it make you feel? How have you helped your child through a moment of rejection?

My daughter thinks another girl is pretty: Part 2

As mentioned in Part 1 of this series, my five-year-old daughter thinks another girl is pretty. She decided she wanted to give her a pretty plastic ring, so she made her a card and put the ring on it. 

During the process, my daughter said she was embarrassed and “scared.” She said a few of her female friends were making comments like “eww, that girl isn’t that pretty anyway” and “I am weird.” It doesn’t surprise me that female competition is beginning to start at her age. Child and adolescent psychologist Katie Hurley describes in her book No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident and Compassionate Girls the trend of toxic female competitiveness that is creeping down from high school, and starting as young as grade school. She offers many reasons for this, citing busy schedules, rise in stress and anxiety levels, and increased pressure for children to do well in sports and extracurriculars.

Girls uplifting other girls

I responded to my daughter’s concerns over giving this card to her friend, by telling her “we can show people we like them in many ways.” I told her, “girls can think another girl is pretty. And girls can uplift another girl.” Her twin sister also supported her, the best any five-year-old can. She also made the girl a card that said: “my sister thinks you are pretty and wants to give you a ring.” Afterwards, the twin quietly told me she doesn’t care if girls are not “suppose” to like girls, she loves her sister anyway. I told her, “we can like people in many ways. We are just going to send nice words to uplift another girl! Cool, right?!”

We, adults, have a lot to learn from young children about loving and not judging each other. We are conditioned to compete with our peers. We draw on our insecurities and instead of turning them into positives, we put other women down. We are not being uplifting because we are afraid of other women being more successful, prettier, “bigger” than us. We need to dig deep inside and find that inner strength to uplift each other. Us, women, we need each other. We need the support from others, the kindness, the acceptance. We should be helping each other to feel good about ourselves, instead of doing the exact opposite. 

How do you uplift the women around you?

More on Hurley: https://www.thestar.com/life/relationships/opinion/2018/02/08/why-girls-are-getting-meaner-younger.html

Your high expectation makes you unhappy

Before you go to a party, leave the house, or get out of the bed in the morning you probably have some kind of expectation about the experience. You have a predetermined notion in your brain of how things will play out, how the day will go, what you will do, how much fun you will have at the party, how much traffic there will be on the way to work, etc. Most of us have a general idea of how long it will take to get somewhere, or how things should go when we get there. 

The problem comes when things don’t go the way we expect. We become unhappy, stressed because things aren’t working out the way we had planned in our brain. Happiness is reality divided by expectation. We don’t really know how things will go but because we have a pre-formed expectation we tend to feel the unhappiness of disappointment when things go a different way. 

Reach-Target-Minimum

That is not to say we should lower expectations in order to be happier. If we always expect the worst that is not a very fun way to live either. So rather than thinking in one line, it is better to think in a range. What I am referring to is the RTM Formula — Reach-Target-Minimum. Reach is a high but realistic expectation, target is an area that is reasonable, and minimum is the least to meet. If you begin to think in these realistic terms then you will be able to move forward in life with more acceptance of the way things turn out — whether higher or lower than expected. 

I frequently say you have control of your happiness, because you really do. You have the ability to change the way you think about things before you go into them. You have the ability to come to terms with a new reality and open your mind to new possibilities. 

You have everything, why do you feel empty?

It has been all over the news lately. People who have achieved the ultimate success in life and yet they are depressed and sad. They feel unfulfilled, alone. The truth is, as a counselor I hear similar stories all the time. 

The things that make us feel alive in life tend to be the things we can’t buy with our success. They are our experiences, our opportunities, and our conscience when we go to bed at night. When I hear from clients that they have reached a high point in their career, they have achieved everything they have set out to achieve but they can’t shake this feeling of emptiness, I tell them to reevaluate their day. 

Reevaluate your day

Are they exercising? Exercise can do wonders for the brain. It releases feel-good hormones that lift us up and make us feel alive and confident. They help us to relax easier, let off steam, and sleep better. It is always good to find time to fit in some kind of movement a few times a week. 

Are they sleeping? Sleep is huge. Successful people tend to let it go in order to attain more success. They work long hours trying to finish projects and put their mental health on the back burner. 

What are they doing with their free time? Are they having time with family, with friends? Do they even have free time? Spending time with the people we love and care about, having a good laugh, letting go of the days events, can be so refreshing for the brain and the heart. 

What are you doing that you feel good about? When we do things to help people, animals, or causes we care about it lights a fire in us as people. It can be calling a grandparent, sending a sick friend a note, or volunteering at a soup kitchen or hospital. These are the things that help us feel fulfilled in life. 

Life is not all about having the house, the car, or the perfect job. It is about love and compassion. It is about taking care of yourself so that you can take care of others. 

If you can’t shake that empty feeling, it could also mean something more. It could mean depression, anxiety, or mental illness, so it is best to seek help from a licensed counselor who can help you figure out what is best for you. 

How To Trust In Yourself

Are you always second-guessing yourself? Maybe you shouldn’t have bought the purple shoes, maybe you should have called that guy back, maybe you should have majored in something else, took a different job, moved to a different place, the list goes on and on and on… 

Most people have made a pivotal decision in their life where they feel they have failed. The human brain tends to be more sensitive to the negatives and failures. That is why we ruminate on the bad and don’t trust ourselves. We keep a mental inventory of all the bad decisions we have made making it more difficult to trust we are making the right decisions going forward. 

Studies done by psychologist Dr. John Cacioppo prove the brain reacts stronger to negative stimuli than positive. Cacioppo showed people pictures that generally produce positive feelings, for example tasty food or a luxury car. Then he showed them pictures of things that usually stir up negative feelings, such as an injured person or animal, followed by pictures of items that produce neutral feelings, like a plate or hair dryer. As the pictures were shown he recorded electrical activity in the brain and found that the brain reacted stronger to the negative stimuli, showing that our attitudes are more heavily influenced by the negative. For more on this research see: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/200306/our-brains-negative-bias .

We have all made positive decisions. We have made decisions that have left us feeling satisfied, try to focus on those. You can drive yourself crazy always wondering how things would have turned out if you took a different path, but what is the use in that. You need to start to trust in yourself, trust that you have done the best you can and made the right choice for you in the moment.

Here are some tips to get you started:

1.) Make a list — pros and cons lists are amazing things when it comes to big decisions. Making them can help you to realize that you are making the best possible choice you can. 

2.)Learn from mistakes— we are not perfect. You will make some wrong choices in life, and that is ok. In fact, I would be a little concerned if you never made a wrong choice. Learn from your mistakes and grow from them. Next time it will help you to make a better choice.

3.) Cut yourself some slack — as I said above, you are not perfect. No one is perfect. Don’t expect to be perfect. Ease up on yourself. If things don’t turn out the way you want, you will get through. Forgive, let go, and grow. Many famous legends did not get to be known as who they are today without first making some wrong turns. For example, Walt Disney was fired from one of his early jobs for being “unimaginative” and the first computer Steve Jobs designed was so poorly designed and unreliable that he was fired from Apple—the very company he co-founded. Thomas Edison once said “every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”

4.) Start small — start by making small decisions. Maybe it is as simple as where you are going to take your family for dinner. Or what you are going to order from the menu. As things start to turn out well you will gain confidence and the big decisions will come easier. Work your way up.

5.) Focus on the now — let go of the things that did not go as planned. Think about the things going well in your life now and look directly at the decision at hand. Don’t think about the thousands of scenarios the future holds. 

Finally, trust yourself. You can achieve more than you ever know. You are stronger and wiser than you believe. 

Today is a new day

It really is a wonderful gift to be able to let go. To see each new day as exactly that—a new day.  It is something I encourage you to try to do. If we can see each day as a reset and leave yesterday as yesterday, if we can stop all the dwelling, and the what ifs, we would all be so much happier. 

Today is a new day. You woke up fresh. You are alive. You have the ability to make the day what you want. If you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed, then make today about getting away from the norm…whatever that entails. On days when I feel consumed by work and household chores, I break out of the mold. I take my kids to the park instead of going home to my mess, I go shopping or meet a friend for breakfast instead of going back to the computer. We all need those days to recharge, to reenergize, to get back into the groove.

“Everyday is a new beginning. Take a deep breath. Smile and start again.”

Maybe you have been feeling sluggish and unhealthy lately, and you find yourself waking up each morning full of regret for what you did yesterday—stop this! You have the power to change your thinking and your actions. So what if yesterday didn’t go as planned, oh well, today you can start fresh. Let go of yesterday. We can’t go back, so stop letting it ruin today. If you are finding it hard to see each day as a reset to your life, here are some tips to get you on the right track:’

1.) Focus on the positive: Sure yesterday might not have gone as planned but you are alive today, you have your family, your friends, your job, the sun is shining…whatever it is that is good in your life focus in on it. 

2.) Strive to do something nice for someone else: Maybe you aren’t feeling too good about something that happened yesterday. Why not turn that regret into something more positive. Take a moment to do something kind for someone else. It doesn’t have to be anything big, but a little kindness can go a long way in making someone else feel good and giving yourself a reason to feel good about yourself.

3.) Practice mindfulness: You just woke up and you are suddenly overcome with anxiety about the day. You have to get the kids ready and off to school, you have a big project due at work, what are you going to make for dinner? Take a second to stop, look around you and say to yourself, “I am here, I am sitting on my bed, my kids are asleep” and take a deep breath. Bring yourself back down to earth and take it one step at a time. 

4.) Do something healthy for yourself: Each day, strive to take a healthy step for you. Whatever that may be. It could be exercising, eating a salad instead of a cheeseburger, watching a movie with your kids instead of working late into the night. A few small steps to make you feel better can go a long way toward helping you feel happy.

5.) Let go: The theme of this post. It doesn’t matter what happened yesterday, it is out of your control. You can only control your future. 

If you have trouble letting go of yesterday, it can also be helpful to speak with a licensed counselor. He/she can help you put things into perspective and come up with a plan to start each day fresh, and let go of all that stuff we can’t change. 

Should you always play it ‘safe’?

You may have heard the terms before “safe space” and “brave space.” The two have long been debated over—which space is the better place to be?

Being in a safe space means a place that is free of judgment, it is comfortable, and happy and free. It is a place where you can be you without any fear, or retaliation. You can speak your mind or act in any way you want. Being in a safe space might sound amazing. For some, it probably sounds awesome. I mean who doesn’t want to be comfortable all the time. Who wants to feel judgment? But being “safe” all the time has its downfalls. 

Growing as a person

Always being “safe” means never growing as a person. It means not expanding your views. It means not learning how to be a stronger person.  A brave space is a place where you are forced to step out of your comfort zone, to stand up for your beliefs, to have conversations. When you are brave you are taking chances, and learning to trust in yourself. Being brave gives you the opportunities to learn from mistakes, to open your mind. It is a good thing. It is these life experiences that turn us into passionate, kind, strong, humble people. It is these experiences that teach us who we really are deep on the inside. Conquering the things we fear gives us confidence, and shows us that we can persevere in the face of adversity. 

If we always play it safe, we are living a stagnant life. Playing it safe is boring, it is uneventful.  

That is not to say that we should always be forced into brave space. Sometimes it is good to not have to worry, to feel safe to be who we are free of judgment, to be as comfortable as we can be. But, I discourage clients from always being safe. You need to be brave sometimes, you need to challenge your inner-being. The magic happens when you step out of your comfort zone. 

I saw a quote once that said, “You go through the wars to become a warrior.”

Don’t hide who you are, rather peel off the coverups and let yourself shine. Show yourself that inner-strength that you never knew you had until you had to use it. We are all much stronger than we know. You are too beautiful and life is too short to always be comfortable. 

Connecting with loved ones at bedtime: It is good for your health

A healthy bedtime routine with the people we love can be a smart way to close off the day. To let go of stress, and rest peacefully.

Whether it is cuddles with a child, a bedtime kiss, laughing and talking with a spouse, feeling physically or emotionally connected to those we love can decrease cortisone levels and stress-related health risks. It is a routine that everyone in the home can look forward to, and it is a nice way to put some finality into the day…to know you are not alone in this busy life, and tomorrow is a new day. 

A psychological scientist at Wayne State University explored the link between cortisol levels—also known as the stress hormone—and physical health. Cortisol is present in nearly every cell of the body, impacting learning, memory, and emotion. It also helps to regulate the immune system. The scientist Richard Slatcher found the more connected to their relationships people felt, the healthier cortisol levels they had. 

A Healthy Bedtime Routine

Some ideas for a healthy bedtime routine may include:

1.) Exchanging “I love you’s.” This is a good habit to get into because as much as we feel we don’t need to always say it, it helps to hear it and know your children or spouse mean it. It is healthy for everyone. 

2.) Go to bed at the same time as your spouse. This provides time to reconnect, even if only for a few minutes. It is time where it is just the two of you. Even if it is a few exchanges about your day or some more intimate cuddle time, maybe a laugh or two, it is a good healthy habit and keeps you both on the same page. 

3.)Unplug. Bed is not the place for your phone or laptop. Leave that stuff at the door. This is time for your marriage, for your children. 

4.) Prioritize getting a good nights rest. Try to go to bed at an early enough time to get ample sleep. Better sleep means better mental and physical health, and better handling of stressful situations. 

5.) Don’t try to settle arguments. The old saying “don’t go to bed angry” is not always true. Not everything has to be fixed before getting some shut-eye. In some cases, it can be better to get some good rest and then reassess in the morning when you are refreshed and focused. 

6.) Take a few minutes to practice gratitude. Think about one good thing that happened in your day and share it with your spouse or your kids. It will leave the day on a happy note and improve overall mental health. 

The loneliness of being a perfectionist

It is hard to be perfect. In fact, it is impossible for everything we do to turn out exactly the way we want it to. It is impossible for everything to be perfect, leading to an immense and overwhelming sense of pressure for a perfectionist.

Being a perfectionist means always striving to be the best at everything. To be on the top, at the pinnacle, and it is a very lonely place to be. There are many different kinds and combinations of perfectionists with two of the big ones being: overt and covert. 

Overt vs. Covert

The overt perfectionist has a strong want for order around them at all times. They have anxiety when things get chaotic and tend to want to always be “right.” The overt perfectionist fears failure and therefore won’t try things they might not be good at. They want to do everything they can to not lose control and believe abilities are pre-determined and not able to be developed. (SOURCE: huffingtonpost.com; Smith, A.W. (2013). Overcoming Perfectionism. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc.)

The covert perfectionist often hides their perfection actions and thoughts. They have low expectations of those around them and act as if they want to be average or carefree but secretly want to the be the best. The covert perfectionist may choose to underachieve to avoid the pressure or competition with those that might be better at something. (Smith, 2013)

Regardless if you are a covert, overt, or a combination of both, the inner struggle of a perfectionist can be overwhelming. And, it is made even more difficult by the fact that those around us often find it hard to relate. Our peers have difficulty empathizing and understanding the frustration, the NEED to be the best. 

The perfectionist is often told to “get over it,” “no one is perfect,” “try harder next time,” or “it is not a big deal.” The result often leads to more mental stress, to depression, anxiety, and difficulty maintaining relationships. Our society views perfectionism as a positive quality. It leads to success in business and life, but there is a happy medium. There has to be a way to try hard, to work hard, but to also accept and let go when things don’t go as planned. When we study and study and study for the test and there are questions we still are not ready for, we need to accept we tried our very best and maybe next time we will take a different approach. 

If you are one of those people who consistently struggle with the urge to be perfect and to be on top, then it can be helpful to receive help from a mental health professional. Talk to someone who can not only understand why you feel the way you do but to help you with skills to curb these feelings and help you to live a healthier, happier life. Frequently clients also find it helpful to be in support groups, to find people who do know how to empathize with your feelings, to help you know you are not alone. 

Judgment Vs. Feedback: How to tell the difference

We often get upset when people tell us things about ourselves. We get defensive, we hold it in, we let it fester, and internalize our feelings. But, is it always bad? There is a difference between being judged by others and getting constructive feedback.

Feedback is usually given by people who have a positive relationship with you, they care about you—maybe it is your mom telling you to stop letting your child sleep in bed with you. It might feel like a judgment but really it is because she cares for you and your child and wants you to get rest and have a healthy relationship with your spouse. Or maybe a friend doesn’t think your hair looks good a certain way. Maybe he/she is trying to be helpful because they know how beautiful you were with a different style.

Judgment is often unkind

Judgment, on the other hand, is not about caring for one another and is often unkind. It is often people that don’t really know you and are just making statements they have no right making. It is the random person sitting next to at McDonald’s telling you to keep your kid quiet, not because you aren’t trying to care for your kid but because the person is annoyed. It is the man at the grocery store eye-balling you for reprimanding your child because he doesn’t agree with how you handled things, but it is not his business.

Feedback is the stuff we should take a few minutes to think about and if we don’t agree that is fine, but don’t let it eat you up inside. Judgment is the stuff you should let go of because it is not in your best interest and has nothing to do with genuine care for your health or that of your family’s. It is the stuff that is out of place and unnecessary.

Regardless, it is never a healthy habit to hold our emotions in and let them stew over time. That just makes you unhappy, increases stress levels, and doesn’t solve the problem. If you need help distinguishing between feedback and judgment, talk it out. Talk to a friend, a counselor, a family member. Express your feelings, don’t let them eat you up inside.