All posts by Mabel Yiu

Willpower Is Not All You Need To Change

Changing habits is tough work. Frequently you hear people say “it just takes self-control,” or “willpower is all you need.” But, that is not exactly true. Willpower is an important part of it but it is far from all of what you need. 

No matter what the goal is that you are trying to achieve, there will be moments of high self-control and moments of low control. Think about it, when you wake up in the morning you might be all in. You are passionate, you are driven, you are ready to conquer the day with your goal in mind. Then as the day goes on and the day’s events unravel that willpower decreases. The more times your brain is asked to make a decision, especially if it is something you really want (like that piece of chocolate cake that you have passed 100 times), you are more likely to give in as decision fatigue sets in. 

So, what do you really need if you are trying to make a change:

1.) Modify Your Environment — If you are trying to give up junk food, get rid of the junk food before temptation takes over. If you are trying to not drink alcohol during the week, then don’t buy it. If you don’t have it in the house then you are less likely to partake. 

2.) Take a break — All that temptation can be exhausting. If you don’t give your body and brain a chance to rest and recharge you will run out of willpower. Go to bed early. Go for a long walk (away from temptation), go to a yoga class, let your brain get lost in a book or movie, whatever sounds appealing to you as a form of relaxation.

3.) Remind yourself of your “why” — Why are you trying to stop eating junk food? Do you have a dress you want to fit in for a special occasion or a pair of jeans you have had your eye on, tape a picture to your desk or your kitchen fridge? Why are you trying to limit your alcohol intake? Do you feel rundown, sluggish, tired? Remind yourself how good you feel when you don’t drink. Do you want to save for a trip? Put pictures up of the places you want to visit. Keep your eye on the prize. 

4.) Find support — We all think we can make big changes on our own. I am not saying it is not possible but it is so much easier (and more fun) with a support system. Friends and family can rally behind you, limit temptation for you, cheer you on, and be a shoulder to cry on when days are tough. 

5.) Cut yourself some slack — With any goal, there will be days you slip up. There will be times when you don’t stick to the plan. After all, you are human. This is life and it is unexpected. Things come up that result in changes of plans. Stressors occur that overwhelm us in other ways. Be kind to yourself. Forgive. Let go. Tomorrow is a new day. 

Seeking help from a licensed professional counselor can also help with goal setting. He/she/they can be another part of your support system while giving you some added tools. 

parenting kids image

Are we making things too perfect for our kids?

The other day I read a story about a child who was running on the pool deck at the local swimming area. The lifeguard told the child to walk, as to be expected around a big hole of water. But what happened next was shocking. The dad went up to the lifeguard and told him to not tell his child what to do, he (the dad) would decide what the child was and was not allowed to do. 

Now, I know this is not every parent and I also know that everyone has their own parenting styles. I am not one to judge. The part of this that irked me most was they were in a public area where there was a trained professional, whose sole job it is to keep everyone as safe as possible and minimize risks. That lifeguard was just doing his job, and couldn’t dad see and respect the fact that it is not safe for a child to be running around a pool. Not to mention, if you are at a public pool you need to follow its rules. 

Regardless, I think this situation was an example of a larger problem in parenting these days. We are afraid to step on each other’s toes, to parent each other’s children. I agree that there are right times and wrong times for intervention. But when it comes to the greater good of all the children involved it should be understood. If my child hit another child, and I missed it, I would respect another parent telling my child that was not nice and then coming to tell me the situation so I could take it from there. 

How are we preparing our kids for the real world if they are only supposed to take direction from us? We won’t be around forever, and we definitely are not involved in every single situation as our children are. Don’t we want to teach them to respect authority, within reason (obviously)? We do, of course, want to teach our kids what boundaries are and when an adult might be crossing those boundaries. But, we also want them to understand there are rules in the world that need to be followed. We do not steal. We do not hurt another. And, it might not be a good idea to run at the pool.

What do you think? 

burnout

The modern health concern: Burnout

And, what we should learn from it.

Burnout in the workplace is so much more than something we say when we feel like we need a break. It is a legitimate health concern, and it is so common that the World Health Organization has officially classified it as an “occupational phenomenon” in its International Classification of Diseases.

WHO classifies Burnout as a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Characteristics include: (1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; (2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism; and (3) reduced professional efficacy. 

After all these years of increased workloads, less taken vacation time, and longer hours spent in the office, it is no wonder this health concern is becoming legitimized. It raises (and answers) the long asked question: Are we working too much?

What happened to balance? To slowing down? Why are we working so much? It is eye-opening. The reasons we work are to live. Yes, we want success and feelings of accomplishment, and to keep climbing the socioeconomic ladder.  But, what about the other things that make us, US — time with family/friends, travel, exercise, weekend hobbies, or even just watching movies or tv sitcoms. It is not that these things aren’t happening, it is just that they are taking less priority than they used to. 

Being successful in our jobs is great and all, and money is what we need to do many of the things we enjoy, but our mental health also needs to take priority. We need to be taking more breaks, more time off from work. We need to take the occasional moment in life to do nothing, to recharge, to refuel, to remember just why we do what we do. 

Rather than ignoring those feelings of dread we have for the day, the utter exhaustion we are faced with the moment we return home from the office, and the lack of desire to focus on our jobs, take a break. Take the time to focus on your mental health — whatever that may look like. Maybe it is seeking help from a licensed professional to help you determine what does matter to you in your life. Maybe it is setting limits on your time, not bringing work home from the office, not checking emails at 5 p.m., not working on weekends, etc. 

Let’s take this official classification as a wakeup call. Burnout is real and it is a threat to our health and our overall wellbeing. 

coparenting with ex

How Do You Coparent When You Don’t Get Along?

Divorced parents, who don’t get along, are always asking me how they are supposed to coparent when they are always fighting? The truth is, they can’t. If you can’t get along and are always being harsh or disgruntled with each other, you can’t successfully co-parent. 

You have to make a choice. One parent can take primary custody of the kids and end the co-parenting relationship altogether, or you can decide to make a change. Together the two of you can make the decision to be civil with each other, to be kind, to communicate effectively and calmly because you have to. You have kids that need their parents. Constantly putting them in a toxic environment or bad-mouthing each other in front of your kids, is not helping them. In fact, it is doing the very opposite.

Shift In Dynamics

Someone in the relationship has to start this shift in dynamics. One of you has to make the choice to keep your mouth shut for the sake of your children. Ok, so you don’t agree with your ex’s behaviors, personal choices, or whatever it is that irks you but I am sure you can agree on one all-important thing: You love your kids. You want the best for your kids. 

Your kids need to be in a positive environment. They need to be raised in a place where they feel loved, safe, and comfortable turning to either parent in times of need. As a parent, you need to help guide your children in making the best decisions and you need to set an example. If your children are always seeing you and their father and/or mother arguing, name calling, being verbally abusive, or talking bad about each other behind the others back, you are teaching them that this behavior is ok. And, your child is likely going to experience more feelings of anxiety, depression, and unhealthy coping mechanisms. They will likely withdraw from both of you because they don’t feel safe and secure with you. 

Best for your Child(ren)

You decide. But, the answer is simple. You have to get along with your ex in some capacity in order to raise your children in a healthy environment. To do what is best for them, you need to get past your differences. If you can’t, then it is time to decide who your children should be with. 

Seeking help from a licensed counselor can also help you to determine the best course of action for you and your kids. 

boundaries post

Setting boundaries: The cost of avoiding conflict

Your friends call you “easy going.” You never get into an argument about where to go eat dinner, or who is going to do the chores, or pick up the kids, or host the holiday dinner—you are known as a “people pleaser.” And, while it sounds nice and simple, it has some long-term costs.

By failing to set boundaries with others, you will quickly take on more than you can handle. Those around you may abuse their relationship with you because they know you will never say “no.” You may start to form feelings of resentment against those in your life for putting so much on your shoulders. 

Creating Balance

That being said, standing up for yourself also has its challenges. It tends to lead to arguments—it forces you to stand your ground, and to take a stand for you. It pushes you out of your comfort zone, forces you to have some “guts.” But, contrary to popular belief, it can actually strengthen the relationships in your life. 

So, how do you create a balance? How do you set boundaries you are comfortable with?

1.) Recognize and acknowledge your feelings—Recognizing your feelings instead of pushing them to the side is the first step in making positive changes. By acknowledging that your feelings have merit—that you matter—you can take better care of yourself.

2.)Evaluate how your boundaries have been crossed—Does this person always call to borrow money and never pay you back? Does a friend always expect you to take care of her kids? 

3.)Decide how to set a boundary—Come up with a plan to talk calmly and confidently about your feelings to this person. Determine the best solution to the problem, maybe you will pick up the kids from school two days a week instead of five.

4.)Voice It—You have determined what the problem is and how to approach it, now do it. Set the boundary. If you experience some backlash, understand that it might be better to just walk away for the time being. It won’t do you, or the other person, any good to argue. 

5.)Take care of yourself— Don’t feel guilty for doing something to improve your wellbeing. You need to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. You need to be healthy and happy, so you can be the best version of you—so you can do your best work, be a good spouse, parent, and friend.

anxiety anger

Anxiety Can Make You Angry

It happens to those of us with anxiety all the time. The little things that are part of our everyday environment set us over the edge. That feeling of not being able to see straight, or “seeing red” as it is sometimes referred to, can be triggered by the most innocent of things. A compounding of the day’s responsibilities, a slight unraveling of the day’s schedule, the inability to get something done, an interruption at a busy time, it can be like the flip of a switch. 

Anxiety can make you angry. 

The other day a friend shared a personal story with me, and with her permission allowed me to share it as an example of this very thing. This friend, a mother of two young children, had woken up at 5 a.m. (as she does every day) to complete her mounting to-do list. She wanted to get in her workout, fold the laundry, shower, wash the dishes, send a couple of emails, get the kids fed, etc. all before getting the kids off to baseball practice. The list was set. It seemed manageable. All was well. That is until the dog ate the kids’ breakfast, the mom ran out of shampoo, the kids got into an argument, the dishwasher was full, and all of a sudden the mom was running out of time. Those feelings of being overwhelmed crept up on her, then her child asked her if they could go to the park after baseball…and she lost it. 

It seems so simple. So innocent. Yet those moments of anger are a frequent part of living with someone with anxiety. It is not that the mom wanted to be angry with her child for asking about going to the park, it is just that it felt like one more thing added to a mounting to-do list. Could that laundry wait? Those dishes wait? Yes. But, with anxiety, it can be hard to think in those logical terms (even for the most logical of people). It is not that we want to be an angry person. We want to be a place of solitude for those we love. We want to be a safe landing zone, not something to be feared. Anxiety makes that difficult. 

After that moment went down, her kids looked at her in fear and she felt awful. She was full of guilt, overcome with emotion and started on her usual string of apologies. She didn’t mean to lash out, yes she would take them to the park. And, her kids, used to the drill, gave her grace. They forgave. They hugged her. They told her they loved her. She asked if they were ok. 

This is one of the ugly sides of anxiety. It is hard. Acknowledging these issues, getting help from a licensed professional, learning coping mechanisms, stepping away from the situation, all of these are positive steps in the right direction. Nobody wants to be an angry person. We all want to be calm and level-headed. If you are an anxiety sufferer, allow yourself some grace. Try to say “yes” more often. Give yourself breaks. Apologize to those you love. Talk to them, explain to them why you may have reacted the way you did. Teach them the beauty of forgiveness.

Relating to our previous post on how managing your anxiety, especially as a parent, is important so that you don’t pass it on to your children, taking the difficult step to acknowledge your anger as a symptom of your anxiety is also crucial.

undermining

Ask Mabel: How do I communicate with my husband in front of our kids without undermining him?

Dear Mabel, 

I am reaching out to you again for your guidance and support. I have an issue with my husband and the way he addresses our children when he is angry. He can get to the point where he looks and speaks very terrifyingly at them, and my heart just breaks. They are fearful and he drowns himself in shame afterward. This morning he was yelling at my six-year-old daughter and she was dysregulating in all kinds of ways as a result, which was pushing him even further into his anger. I felt compelled to jump in and protect her, which often results in him feeling betrayed by me and upset that I am making him a “monster” in front of the kids. 

Today we were able to talk afterward and I told him that I feel like I need to protect them and his feelings when I intervene because I am in flight-or-fight mode myself. It is usually very hard. I am stuck. What language can I use in these moments to communicate that he needs to stop without undermining him in front of the kids? This is a heavy day for our family. 

Sincerely, Amy from Florida

Mabel: Hi Amy, I am so sorry to hear of your struggles. There are a few ways you can approach this situation. You can have a family meeting when calm, where you all make an agreement that when things escalate you each are empowered to call a time out and take a break. Make a plan that you can all follow. If you are all following the same plan together that would take the shame out of it. I also suggest you look at the Zones of Regulation curriculum for some help on the language for self-regulation and emotional control. 

Together, you two can come up with a plan, or code word, for timing out and determine how long the timeout should last. Come up with something you can both agree on. Determine what you can do when he is in that state to deescalate the situation. 

This is a quick bandaid. Long term, you need to have a discussion about what he wants to do about this and go from there. Seeking some help from a licensed mental health professional could also help the two of you to work together as a team in these situations.

employee leaving

Ask Mabel: How do I handle a goodbye party for an employee leaving on unfavorable terms?

Dear Mabel,

An employee in our office who has been with us the longest, five years, has decided to leave to start her own practice. As to be expected, I am not very thrilled with her decision or the way she is making this move. She is asking if she can throw herself a goodbye party at the office to wrap things up with coworkers. I know that the polite thing would be for me to host such a shindig but I am uncomfortable with this idea. I don’t want to send the message that we celebrate people leaving this way. I am thinking that I should suggest she throw her own party outside of work. What do you think? Does this come across as rude?

Sincerely, Janet from Hawaii

Mabel: Hi Janet. I understand how this situation is a struggle for you as the head of the office. I do think it is reasonable to do a casual send-off lunch. Nothing over the top, just a formal low-key goodbye. After all, you wouldn’t want to let her go without any recognition. Tell her if she wants to have a party then she can do it on her own. You can explain to her that you haven’t hosted a party for a previous employee and have no plans to throw one for a future employee. It wouldn’t be fair for her to be the only one you threw a party for. She should understand this, and if she doesn’t oh well. You are making an appropriate and fair choice. 

Ask Mabel: I am torn between an important work training and a request from my child, what do I do?

Dear Mabel, 

I am having a mom/work dilemma and I am so very torn. Tomorrow is my daughter’s last day of kindergarten. We recently moved out of the area to a new school district, but we were able to allow my daughter to finish the year at her old school. She is struggling because tomorrow will be her last day at her current school and she will have to say goodbye to all her friends. Normally it wouldn’t be a problem for me to be there with her for this, but tomorrow I am signed up for a special training. This free training workshop is something I have waited for years to take, it is usually very expensive. 

My daughter is normally a very happy, easy-going kid, but tonight she was a wreck. She was so emotional about her last day tomorrow. I told her that her grandparents will be picking her up from school and taking her out for a celebratory lunch and that I will be home as soon as I can. She just cried and cried and asked if there was some way I could be with her. She is so sad.

I am so torn! If it were anything else, I would move mountains to be there for her. But, this opportunity is truly rare, one I have inquired and waited for years. I am so sad about the timing of everything. What should I do? How do I handle this? 

Sincerely, Jenny from Alabama

Mabel: Thank you for reaching out. I am sorry that you feel torn between your daughter needing you and participating in training you’ve waited years for due to cost. I have a few questions:  1) What’s the most difficult thing about this?   2) Is this training offered every year or regularly?  3) Assuming it is offered every year or regularly, would you be able to put some money away each month to save for it? How much will you need to save per month?  4) Is the answer to question three do-able? 5) If it is not do-able within a year, can you spread it out? How long will you need to save monthly to attend the training? 

I am asking these questions about the training and money because training workshops and money are objects. They don’t have feelings. They don’t care if we move them around or tend to them later. I don’t know your daughter, so I don’t want to assume or say that she will be ok without you being there. But, I am 100% sure that training and money are ok with whatever you decide. 

I hold no judgment over your decision. This is my personal opinion. If I may, I would advocate for your daughter because she asked you to be there. I know her grandparents will be there to give her lots of love but she wants you. This is not her asking for a toy where you are saying “no.” This is her asking for emotional comfort during a very difficult time (in her six-year-old mind). She is young, so her mood may also change when tomorrow rolls around. I would say play it by ear and listen to your gut. 

How Keeping Secrets Impacts Your Mental Health

Turns out, keeping secrets can actually be bad for you. We all have things we don’t want to share with others for one reason or another. We all have things we were told to “never tell anyone.” But keeping all that information inside isn’t good for us. We need people to talk to. We need a support system. 

Keeping secrets can be stressful because we may want to share that information with someone in particular and are unable to. Keeping secrets can be all-consuming because we have to focus on not talking about them. 

All About The Goal

Research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that the problem with keeping secrets could simply be that it is a goal. Goals that we have yet to achieve are usually something we think about. For example, you are more likely to notice a mailbox when you need to mail a letter or you are waiting for something special than when you aren’t. It is about motivation. 

So secrets may not be stressful because of the information itself but rather due to the act of thinking about the information. They are stressful because they are thought-consuming and therefore can depress your mood. 

Authenticity

The study also looked at authenticity. The study found that keeping secrets, or more specifically thinking about keeping secrets, decreased people’s feelings that they were being their authentic, true self. That lack of authenticity caused them to feel bad about their life and how they were representing themselves.

If you are keeping a secret and feeling not-so-great about it, that is ok. Find the right person to share it with and move forward. It can be helpful to bring it up to a licensed mental health professional who can help you figure out what to do with the information so you can live your best life.