Category Archives: Self-care

chasing happiness

You Can Create Your Happiness

As a society, we are always looking for that one thing that is going to make us happy. We think “if I lose those 10 pounds, I will be so much happier”; “if I buy the house”; “if I get the job”; etc. While achieving a goal or finally getting that thing we have wanted sooo bad will make us happy for a bit, that kind of happiness doesn’t last. 

Real, long-lasting, true-to-yourself happiness is something we create. You have heard it before, and frankly it’s true—you can choose happiness. But how? 

The happiest of people have honed in on particular habits, here are a few to get you started on the road to a happier you:

1.) Slow down — Happy people slow down to appreciate the little moments in life. They take the moment to soak up the way their child laughs or talks, the smile on a significant others face, the laughter of a friend, the beauty of a clean home, a full fridge, or a beautiful sunrise. 

2.) Exercise — Happy people are active. They get out there and get moving. Exercise leads to the release of the neurotransmitter GABA which helps to soothe the brain. It also leads to the release of feel-good hormones. It is a natural mood booster.

3.) Surround Yourself In Good Company — Getting rid of the toxic people in your life, letting go of the ones who are always being negative, can do wonders for your mood. Surround yourself with positive people and your mood and outlook will follow. 

4.) Spend Money On Others — Yes, it can be fun to buy yourself a new pair of shoes or splurge on a fancy vacation but it can feel even better to spend money on others. Treating a friend to dinner, surprising your sister with a coat she has had her eye on, donating meals to the homeless, buying an outfit for a child in need, lifting others up feels good. 

5.) Get Sleep — Sleep is so important for your mood. If you feel rundown and exhausted everything is harder, it all takes more effort and you just don’t feel well. Get sleep and you will feel better and be healthier. 

6.) Have a Growth Mindset — If you don’t believe you can change or grow as a person then you are stuck, you are stagnant in your life. If you have the mindset that you are a fluid human being, you can grow and change with time, then you believe change is possible. It is a much more positive outlook. 

7.) Work At It— Being happy is not something that just comes to a person. It takes effort. A supremely happy person is checking in with themselves often. They make decisions based on their happiness levels. For example, they are exhausted from working hard at the office so they decide to take the night off and go to bed early. Or, they need a mood boost so they decide to hit the gym on the way home, or stop and watch the sunset.

Happiness is possible for everyone, no matter their life circumstances. It just takes some healthy habits and a healthy mindset. A licensed counselor can help you get there if you need some assistance. 

moms

Stay-At-Home Moms Are Working Too

There was another post that caught my eye on social media the other day. It was a hand-written comparison list titled “Should Mothers Have Careers?” I have posted the image below so you can see it for yourself. 

mom image

This list is vastly unfair and unrealistic. It is media like this that gives the stay-at-home mom so little respect. This kind of subtle messaging can do so much harm. It plants these stereotypes that just because you are home with the kids you have so much free time during the day. Oh yes, you are home so you have time to cook a gourmet meal, play all day, and nap. It is this stuff that causes husbands to come home and ask their wives that much-despised question — “what have you been doing all day?”

It is not right. These moms aren’t napping all day. They are juggling the laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning, and meal preparation with the constant demands (and guilt) to play (or get a snack) from their children. They are the managers of households. Their to-do lists are overflowing. They are exhausted both physically and emotionally. They are working hard as hell. 

Not to mention they can be faced with ongoing feelings of loneliness, the struggle to find a place where they belong and a purpose within themselves. It is hard when you go through 90 percent of your day with only a two-year-old to talk to. 

Whether working outside or inside the home, each has its challenges and benefits. Being a mother (period) is hard work and it deserves all the respect we can give. We need to stop glorifying the stay-at-home mom as someone who is always on vacation and instead give her a helping hand, a hug, a high-five. We also need to stop putting down the working mom, the one who is doing what she needs to do for her family, the one who may be following her dreams. We all have different paths—one is not better than the other.

cougar grandma

There is no age limit for intimacy

Human beings like intimacy. We need to be touched and to feel sexually-wanted and attractive. We want to experience the benefits of good old sexual pleasure—the release of endorphins, the natural stress buster. We want to feel good. These needs don’t end as we age, they might change a bit, but they don’t end. 

I read an article the other day about an 83-year-old woman who is using the popular dating app Tinder to find much younger men to have sex with. In the article, she says “My life goal is to change the awful, decrepit view of aging – view and experience, and turn it into something exciting. A life-loving adventure. The depth of life, you can’t avoid it. But the shallowness of good sex, that’s what is good enough for me.”

I found her openness and her passion for life exhilarating. Who said that getting older meant you had to stop having sex? Or stop trying new things? Stop having adventures? Life is short and it is what we make of it. We can choose to enjoy it until the very last drop or we can decide to put an expiration date on certain behaviors because, well, we just don’t feel they are appropriate. But, let’s get real here. We are all human. We all enjoy connection. This is a very basic part of being a person that should be enjoyed to the very last drop. 

Getting old doesn’t have to be depressing. Being older just means we have had more experience, we might be a little frailer or struggle with our health in ways we didn’t use to, but we are still on this earth. Each day gives us a whole 24 more hours to enjoy being on earth. 

Take a tip from grandma Hattie, and love your life. Do what your heart desires. Enjoy being you. 

stress low

One thing you can do to keep stress low

Stress is part of our everyday lives. It comes and goes based on the days’ events resulting in the release of the stress hormone cortisol in our bodies.  

Cortisol is our brain’s natural response to both minor moments of stress—also called good stress or eustress, which can be beneficial for our productivity, such as starting a new job or finishing a project and doing it well; and major stress —known as distress — such as finding out you are late on bills, getting in a vehicle fender bender, or suffering a traumatic event. 

Fight-or-Flight

This hormone is released by our bodies’ adrenal glands as part of the fight-or-flight mechanism. As it states in the definition, this hormone puts your body in a state of mobilization. It is preparing you to get active and ready for action, so you can fight off whatever is stressing you. You know, just like in the caveman days when there was a predator going after a food source. 

But, these days we aren’t as active. We are getting hit left and right with more and more stressors compounding in our bodies and our cortisol levels are off the charts. All this cortisol not only leads to health problems like weight gain, high blood pressure, lower immune function, loss of learning and memory, increases in depression, anxiety, and more, but it also makes it hard for our body to find and accept alternatives to situations. It clouds our reality. 

Keeping Stress Low

So what is one thing you can do to keep stress levels low? 

Take that feeling of flight seriously. Get active. Get out there. And reduce your cortisol levels.

Regular physical activity can help to lower cortisol levels and allow your brain some clarity. Regular activity can increase your self-confidence and resilience to life’s everyday ups and downs. Coupled with interaction with friends and meditation and mindfulness practices you can lighten the load in your brain and feel lighter, less stressed, and more at peace with your life. 

How to fit mindfulness into your busy life

The evidence is mounting—being mindful throughout your day can have major impacts on your health, happiness, stress and anxiety levels. It can be a game changer. But, so often I hear — I am so busy. How am I supposed to fit something else in? 

I am here to tell you that being mindful isn’t something you have to “fit” in. It is something you can train your brain to do throughout your days. It is not something that needs to be time consuming. 

Not Another To-Do List Item

Here are some tips to get you started:

1.) Write down reminders—When I first started on my journey of being more mindful I literally wrote things like “Stop, look around” in my phone and on Post-it notes. I stuck them to my desk, my bedroom door, my car console. Every time I saw them it was a reminder to do just that—stop thinking about what’s next and focus on the now. 

2.) Carry a notepad—When something on your must-do list pops into your head, write it down so that you don’t forget it later. That way you are not dwelling on it and can instead focus on the now and complete that task at the appropriate time. 

3.) Set reminders on your phone/make lists—You will find that you can enjoy the present more when you aren’t thinking about all the things you need to do. So make a list, set a reminder on your phone, whatever works best for you.

4.) Let it go—We spend so much time worrying about what happened yesterday or what is happening tomorrow that we miss out on today. That is what matters. We can’t change the past and we can’t predict the future. The only thing we are in control of is what we are thinking about at the present moment. 

5.) Meditate—I know what you are thinking, “you said I didn’t have to fit in mindfulness.” The truth is you don’t. You can choose to meditate while working out, while taking a walk, while brushing your teeth. It doesn’t have to be an eyes-closed break from your day. You can repeat a mantra in your head at designated times throughout your day. Or, you can pay attention to things like how your feet are moving during your run, the birds in the trees during your walk, your breathe as you brush your teeth. 

The bottomline is being mindful is simple — it is focusing on what you are doing at the present moment and observing. It could mean watching the knife as you cut vegetables for dinner, the movement of the brush on your teeth, the sound your child’s voice as they speak to you, the smile on their face as you read to them. It doesn’t have to be another item on your to-do list. 

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.

Self-love and selfish are two VERY different things

So many times I hear people refer to things they are doing to care for themselves as selfish. It is almost like putting yourself first in any aspect of your life is a bad thing. There are these feelings of guilt that wash over us as we take the time to care for ourselves. We are thinking about all the things we should be doing, we could be doing for the others in our lives. 

Self-love is essential

This is not true. Self-love and being selfish are two very VERY different things. Self-love is essential to your happiness, your ability to thrive, and your confidence. Self-love is taking the time to fit in exercise, healthy meals, massages, an hour away from your kids to take a walk, time to read a book. Self-love is crucial to maintaining you. Maybe the key is to stop thinking about taking care of yourself as selfish and instead think of it like you do an oil change on your car. What happens if you don’t keep up with oil changes on your car? What happens if you let your car run out of oil? It blows up. The engine dies. The car is rendered useless. Self-care is soooo important. You cannot take care of the other people in your life fully until you care for YOU. 

Being selfish is operating with a lack of consideration for others. It is deciding that the needs of others just don’t matter to you. It is operating with complete disregard for the health, safety, happiness of others. It is so very different from self-care.

Taking time for you is NOT selfish

Just because you take the time to care for yourself does not mean you are not considering others. In fact, it may be the very opposite. If you can’t fully take care of others until you take care of yourself then you are doing just that — considering others. It is not selfish to have your spouse take the kids to their baseball game so you can squeeze in a run. It is not selfish to order in dinner because you are too exhausted to cook. It is not selfish to miss the monthly PTA meeting so you can go to bed early. Whatever it is, don’t feel guilty. Stop feeling guilty. Find the time to take care of you so that you can be the best version of you. 

How do you practice self-care?

Summertime is the best time…for teens to get therapy

Summer is approaching us and that means kids are out of school. It means more fun in the sun, sports, vacations, and a break from the chaos that is the school year. And, while it might not be at the top of your radar—it is the best time for your teen to get therapy. 

Many parents think of therapy as a school year thing. They see their kids struggle with stress over school work and friend drama and they think about getting their kids help. And, while that is great, often times schedules get in the way and it seems impossible to add another thing your child’s roster. This is just one reason why summer is a great time to begin therapy. Your child will have the time to focus on making healthy choices and gaining the skills they need to get through stressful situations. 

Children and teens can use therapy to reflect on the past school year—what worked, what didn’t, where where the problems, the successes, etc. A licensed counselor can help to teach your child healthy coping mechanisms, skills, and routines that they can use in the upcoming school year. It is almost like getting new clothes and notebooks before that first day—your child can also stock up on healthy brain tools. 

Frequently, parents see many of the problems their teen struggles with dissipating during the summer months. But, that doesn’t mean the problem has been solved. The child is momentarily separated from the situation, but those same problems will likely reemerge at the start of the school year. By getting ahead of problem situations before they arise, your child will be prepared to handle them before they become a real issue. Not to mention, you will be setting him/her/they up for a successful adulthood. 

If you have concerns or questions about getting your child started in therapy, please don’t hesitate to reach out to a licensed professional. He/she/they can answer your questions, ease your worries, and help you determine the best path for your child.