Tag 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?

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. 

It is ok to say “no” :set boundaries from the beginning

Your friend calls and asks you if you are able to help work the table at the school fair next week. You think about it and despite the fact that you will have to rearrange your schedule, and squeeze this event between two others, thus leaving no time for you to make it to your weekly yoga class, you still say “yes.” A few days go by and you are dreading it. On the day of, you start to get really disappointed that you have to miss that yoga class, so you cancel on your friend. You tell your friend something came up, or you aren’t feeling too great, and you back out. 

Reevaluate your boundaries

If situations like this are a common occurrence in your life, you may want to take a step back and reevaluate your boundaries. 

You don’t always have to be a people-pleaser. It is ok to say “no.” It is ok to disappoint a friend or a family member by turning down a request. It is ok to set boundaries. Rather than always saying “yes” just to say “yes” and make everyone happy—while really hurting yourself— set boundaries from the beginning. You don’t need an excuse or a reason to say “no.” If you just don’t feel like it, then don’t do it. Saying “no” from the beginning will save time and stress for everyone later when you inevitably back out or are unhappy for participating. 

While in your head you are disappointing those around you for not doing everything they ask, you are actually displaying strength and confidence. Your ability to understand your needs and to take the steps to set a boundary will most likely be respected by your friends or family. And, so what if it is not. You have to do what is best for you, and the people in your life will eventually understand. Plus, no one wants to be seen as a flake. Rather than always having that appearance, take the right steps from the beginning—and save yourself the stress. No one is perfect, and no one can do it all ALL the time. 

Are we teaching our children to be perfectionists?

We have heard it our whole lives and now we are saying it to our children: “practice makes perfect.” In our minds we are encouraging our children to keep trying. We are telling them they will get better at a task the more they give it a shot. We are teaching them to not give up. But our children are hearing they need to be perfect, they should be perfect, there is no room for failure. 

I started thinking about this when my own daughter, at the young age of five, starting showing signs of being a perfectionist. She wanted to do everything perfectly and was highly frustrated when things failed. She saw herself as a failure. As a parent that was hard to witness. I knew she was just learning and through practice she would get better, but as with all things in life there was bound to be some failure along the way. 

A Hard Road

The life of a perfectionist is not an easy one. It is a hard road full of feelings of loneliness, sadness, and anxiety. The reality is that nothing is perfect so to task ourselves with such lofty expectations is exhausting.

So rather than continuing to tell our children that “practice makes perfect,” perhaps we may want to change it to “practice makes easy.” I mean that is really what we are trying to say anyway, right?

If you have a child who is showing signs of being a perfectionist there are some things you can do to help:

  • Provide your child with unconditional care and respect.
  • Try to keep their environment calm and structured.
  • Give lots of praise.
  • Avoid comparing your child to others.
  • Stay away from words like genius, brilliant, or perfect.
  • Help them to understand everything cannot be perfect.
  • Listen to them, talk to them.
  • Help them set realistic standards.
  • Let them know they are loved.
  • Provide them with opportunities to succeed and improve self-confidence. 
  • Explain to them that failure is an opportunity for growth.

The best thing you can do for your child is to let them know you are proud of them for trying their best, that is really the only thing we have control over, right?

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. 

Why you should stop asking ‘what’s wrong’

The next time someone is obviously upset or sad try asking them “are you ok?” or “do you want to talk?” Frequently in our culture, we say “is there something wrong?” or “what’s wrong?” And, while it may seem like we are asking the same thing no matter what words we use, the words we use and how our sentence is phrased can have a big impact.

Our minds are very receptive to language. We connect our sadness as “wrong” when we say phrases like “what’s wrong?” Being sad isn’t wrong, we just don’t feel happy and while that is not ideal, it is not wrong to feel upset. This is all part of the Relational Frame Theory (RFT), which is the psychological theory of human language. The theory argues that the building block of human language and understanding is “relating.” Therefore by saying to someone that is sad, “what is wrong?” they — and you— are in turn relating being sad with something wrong. 

Avoiding the ‘freeze up’

Asking “what’s wrong?” tends to make people freeze up and build a wall, and frequently results in a “nothing” response. The phrase itself stigmatizes our feelings, forcing us to only show our “happy” selves. It makes people internalize that the emotions they are feeling are wrong, and in turn, they ask others “what’s wrong?”. It is a never-ending circle. Instead, we should be saying things like “what happened?” , “What’s going on?” , or “How are you feeling?” in a tone that is compassionate and caring. 

While we may think what we say is going in one ear and out the other, it is actually being absorbed in the deepest depths of our brain. Same goes with what we say. By telling ourselves things and saying things to others we are conditioning our brain to think and feel a certain way. We are creating relationships between words and feelings that are not necessarily healthy or true. 

There is no doubt this is complicated stuff but there are lessons for us all here. By thinking about how we word things before we say them and de-conditioning ourselves to these common phrases we can change our mindset as well as that of the people we are interacting with. Words are powerful tools if used correctly.

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.