Category Archives: Psychology

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. 

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. 

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.

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. 

Lets Put An End To Period Shaming

Think periods. The cramps, the bloating, the aches, the moodiness, the downright shitty feeling. Does anyone actually feel good when they are on their period? Now think about what you do when you are on your period — do you talk about it? Noooo that’s taboo. Who talks about it? Well, 51 percent of the population goes through, or has gone through, a period — so why aren’t we comfortable talking about it? 

Do you hide your pad or your tampon and scurry to the bathroom? Do you pretend that everything is ok when all you really want to do is curl up on the couch? 

Part of being a woman

This is period shaming and it is something that many of us are accustomed to. We were raised as young girls to hide that we were having “that time of the month.” We buy tampons in discrete packaging. We purchase scented pads to ward off any passerby. Really girls? Yes, this is part of our life. It is part of being a woman. It is something we were born with. It is how we procreate. It is a beautiful—yet oh so miserable—part of human nature. Yet it feels like something we need to keep a secret. No one talks about it. 

The other day I read an article in Ad Week and it really struck a chord with me as a woman. The article focused on a company that is changing the way women’s menstrual products are advertised. They are throwing out the famous blue liquid for a true blood depiction, without being too shock and awe, of course. Rather than showing women who are supposedly on their periods rollerblading, swimming, hiking, bike riding, and laughing with their friends and families, they are being real. For so long ads for women’s menstrual products have shamed women into thinking they need to hide this basic part of being female. Everything has been focused on “avoiding leaks,” “feminine scents,” “discrete packaging,” etc. It really is ridiculous when you think about it. 

Positive Changes

This company is doing it right. They are treating periods like the common cold. Let’s be real. No one is ashamed to grab a tissue when they have to sneeze. So, why is it so shameful to grab a pad when that time of the month strikes? 

For more information, the full article is here: https://www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/how-one-of-todays-boldest-marketers-is-shattering-stigmas-inflicted-on-women-worldwide/

 

Ask Mabel: I feel bad about the thoughts I have regarding my children because of my postpartum psychosis

Dear Mabel,

I have decided that I need to see a therapist about my postpartum psychosis. I have been having bad thoughts about my babies. I would never hurt them but it makes me feel like a horrible mom for having these thoughts. I know therapy is a step in the right direction but is there also a medication that could help? I don’t know what to do but I know something needs to change. 

Sincerely, Erica from Missouri

The Courage To Speak Out

Mabel: Hi Erica, I commend you for your courage to speak out. I know that many moms who suffer from postpartum psychosis feel so horrible about their thoughts that they are embarrassed to address them. But, starting the conversation with a licensed therapist can help you heal and move forward in a positive direction. 

Postpartum psychosis is caused by the hormone fluctuations that occur during and after the birth of a child. These hormone changes can be major and they mess with the chemical makeup of our brains. In addition to negative thoughts, these changes can cause depression, severe confusion, loss of inhibition, paranoia, hallucinations, mania, and delusions. They usually start to occur in the first two weeks after childbirth. These things you are experiencing have a lot more to do with biology than your morale as a person. 

You are NOT a bad mom. The fact that you feel like a horrible mom means that you are exactly the opposite. You are a good person and a good mom for wanting to get help and make changes so that you don’t have these thoughts. 

I am proud of you for seeking help. There are medications that you are welcome to discuss with a health professional. Therapy will also benefit you and help you to heal.  

Ask Mabel: My husband is always complaining about me and says I have mental health issues

Dear Mabel: My husband is always complaining about me. He often gets frustrated and says that I have mental health issues (I actually have been diagnosed with ADD). He is constantly telling me he thinks I have Borderline Personality Disorder or other issues and wants me to go see someone. I don’t know what to believe. He is the only one who ever seems to have complaints about me. I am not hearing these things from anyone else. Which makes me think is it really me or is it him? What do I do?

Sincerely, Margaret from New York

Mabel: Hi Margaret, I am sorry to hear you are struggling with your husband’s comments. Based on your email, I don’t have a clear picture of how your husband treats you, how you treat him, or the dynamics of your relationship. Unless your husband is a licensed mental health professional, he shouldn’t be diagnosing anybody. Nonetheless, it sounds like he is trying to communicate something important to him. I think both of you may benefit from couples counseling to gain an understanding of the ins and outs of your relationship, the frustration points for each of you, and what can be done to enhance your relationship.

There are quite a few similarities between ADD and BPD, would you be open to exploring those? I am not saying your husband is correct but often times it is those who are closest to us that notice our blind spots. If you have a mental health professional help you to explore, rule out, and/or potentially treat any problems then you would know for sure. 

Maybe he is right and you are just unhappy about what you are hearing from him. Maybe you are right and he is being inconsiderate to you. Or, maybe both of you are right and wrong at the same time and could benefit from some couples counseling. 

What I propose and what would be a positive solution to solving this issue would be to explore the scientific evidence. Look at the reality of things and gain more understanding of yourself and the dynamics of your relationship.

How is ‘hustle’ culture impacting your mental health?

The phone is always with us. It is not uncommon for people to work into the wee hours of the night or long into the weekend. We never “turn off.” We are always on the move, always looking for the next big thing, always hustling along. It is the way many of us live. We think it is helping us to be successful, but what is it doing to our mental health?

This go, go, go mentality is leading to burnout. We are exhausted. We are overworked. We are losing sight of what really matters. Life is short and we are missing it. We are so immersed in our to-do lists that we are blind to all the beauty around us. 

It has become a social badge of honor to never stop working. It is seen as a good thing. People are proud that they haven’t gone on vacation in years and work 60-plus hours a week—way more than necessary—because it is seen as a pathway to success. But how successful can we be if we never sleep? Or reset? 

We all need a change of scenery every once in a while. We need to give our brains a mental vacation in order to function at top levels. It is ok to say “no” to the extra things on our plates and instead take a nap. It is ok to go home early and surprise your kids with an ice cream date. It is ok to turn the phone off and lock it away for a few hours. 

We need to remember that we are human beings that need self-care. The constant hustle is not sustainable. We weren’t built to never stop. 

The more overworked and exhausted we are the harder it is for us to process emotions and to think clearly, leading to increases in depression and anxiety. University of California San Francisco Clinical Professor Dr. Michael Freeman conducted a study of 242 entrepreneurs. What he found was concerning. He discovered that 72 % of those studied had mental health concerns, including depression, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, anxiety, and bipolar diagnoses.

The struggle is real. Success should be part of a three-dimensional life full of rest, family, friends, and love, it shouldn’t be all about the grind all the time.