Category Archives: Self-Help

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. 

How Do You Calm Down (Fast!)

Those feelings of anger or anxiety are creeping up on you. You are “seeing red.” You feel like you are going to explode. What do you do? How can you calm yourself down fast and effectively?

  1. Count to 10 – Sometimes the secret is simply changing your focus. Counting to 10 does that. If you are actively focusing on counting, counting slowly, then you can disengage from whatever is getting you all hot and bothered. Then when you are ready you can reassess and think more clearly. 
  2. Smell Something Nice – You might think I am joking but there is a lot of research around essential oils and soothing scents, like lavender or jasmine. Consider carrying a scent in your bag or wearing a scented bracelet and turn to it in moments of stress.
  3. Touch – Touch can be a calming thing. You can always turn to a significant other, a friend, or a child and ask for a hug, or rub up against a pet. Or, if that is not available, or not desirable, then turn to yourself. Rub your hands together for a few seconds. You will be surprised how calming it can be. 
  4. Move – Movement is a powerful thing. Getting your heart rate up for a few minutes is healthy. Getting out of situations by taking a walk, or walking up and down the stairs, releases stress. It allows you to burn off steam, regain calm, and refocus. 
  5. Breathe – Focus on your breath. Take a few minutes, close your eyes, breathe in and breathe out. Focus on the inhale, getting it as deep as you can, and focus on your exhale, getting it all out. Let it go. 
  6. Write It Down – Sometimes it just helps to get it all on paper. It helps to organize your thoughts and put things into perspective.
  7. Guided Meditation – There are so many apps and YouTube videos with guided meditation. They are at your fingertips. Find five minutes and use them. 
  8. Practice Mindfulness – Sometimes it is as simple as taking a moment to look around. What is really happening in the moment? 

Calming down can be extremely difficult when we are overwhelmed, but give yourself some compassion. You are human. You are entitled to your feelings. You are strong. You will get through. It is all going to be ok. 

You don’t need an apology to move on

The other day a friend of mine got into an argument with another and started dwelling on how this person had wronged her. She insisted that she needed an apology. The situation got me thinking. Frequently we hold on to the idea that we need an apology before we can move on, but what we forget is we are not in charge of that apology. 

Yes, anytime someone wrongs you, they should apologize. That is the right thing to do, but it doesn’t always happen. Many times the person that wronged you doesn’t apologize at all or doesn’t apologize in a manner that feels appropriate. Regardless, the apology is out of your hands. 

You have the power

Needing an apology to move on is giving the other person all the power over you. You are relying on them to make you happy. You are dependent on this other person, giving them even more power. This person has already wronged you, why would you want to keep them in control of your emotional state? You should—and you do—have the power to make yourself happy.

You don’t need an apology to move on. You have to make things right in your head by accepting that what happened happened and there is nothing you can do about it. Move on, let go and get back to you. You are the only one who can truly control how you feel. You are in charge of you. Stop giving others all the power. Start focusing on your inner struggle and move forward in your life on your terms. 

Turn your bad day around with these tips

Life is not easy. We all have days where we feel on top of the world and we all have days where we feel the gum stuck to the bottom of someone’s shoe. It is part of being alive. But, just because a day is off to a bad start doesn’t mean it can’t end on a good note. There are ways to turn a bad day around. 

Next time you are having a rough time, consider trying some of these tips:

1.) Recognize that you are in control of your happiness: Even on the worst of days you still have the power to find the positive. Your negative energy can rub off on the people around you, contributing to your downward spiral of a day. If you switch it up, laugh it off, and embrace the positive you can change the way you feel and impact how others interact with you. 

2.) Determine the problem: What is causing your day to be bad? Is it just dumb luck? Or a bad mood that is making everything so much more difficult to get through. Identify the problem and squash it. Maybe you were late for a meeting and now your boss is angry with you. Switch up your mood and focus your energy on a project that could help you recover from this mishap. 

3.) Be grateful: Look around, think about the good in your life, find something to be grateful for. Yea so you were late to work, but you got to listen to a really good song on the way. You lost your temper on your child and you feel awful, but at least they made it to school in one piece and when they get home you can hug them and tell them you love them and recover. You are alive, you are breathing, you are well. However small or big it is, there is always something we can be thankful for. Finding something to appreciate will help to lighten your stress and maybe even bring a smile to your face. 

4.) Laugh: There is research that shows that even forcing laughter can lift our spirits. Make yourself smile, laugh, watch a funny animal video, look at a picture of a loved one, laugh at whatever is making your day unpleasant. 

5.) Be accepting: We all have bad days. We all make mistakes. No one is perfect. Forgive yourself. Let go of the moment. Strive to move forward. 

6.) Change it up: If you are struggling, change your routine for the day. Make things different. Maybe instead of working through lunch, ask a friend to meet up, go for a walk, or hideaway for a power nap. 

7.)Stop feeling like a victim: Maybe the cause of your bad day is something that happened to you and you feel victimized. Even if you are the victim of something, stop dwelling on it. The more we feel like a victim, the more we wallow in self-pity and feel sorry for ourselves rather than putting in the effort to appreciate the good in our lives.

No matter what your day has in store, learn to celebrate the small victories — you got out of bed this morning, your hair looks fabulous, that zit on your nose is finally gone, you crossed some things off your to-do list, your spouse loves you, your kid brushed his teeth without needing to be told, etc. You can move beyond the bad and turn a day around, you just have to want it. 

Motherhood and Alcoholism: When is it a problem?

Alcohol has widely become “part” of motherhood as odd as that may seem. Our culture is normalizing this practice and minimizing its potential impact on moms and their families. There are social media groups and websites like “mommy needs vodka,” and “moms who need wine.”

As a mom myself it has become commonplace to hear “when is it too early to start drinking?” or “wine time.” There are many moms that turn to alcohol at the end of the day, or even the middle if it’s a “special occasion” (like Tommy using the potty for the first time). We use alcohol to celebrate the small victories, to numb our stressors, and to dispel boredom. Moms feel like they deserve that glass of wine at the end of the day, they should be allowed to do something for themselves, and while all of that is true — when does the drinking become a problem? 

This past weekend was Mother’s Day and while it is a time to honor moms and all that they do, it is also a time to recognize the need to care for our moms. Moms need to be well. They need to be healthy and happy to take care of their families and themselves. 

While there are many factors that can impact whether a person is a problem drinker — everything from past traumas to genetics to things become habitual, despite their health repercussions. As a society that is putting alcohol in the face of moms everywhere, maybe we should start to reassess. Do moms really “need” alcohol? No, they don’t. Do they deserve to treat themselves? Yes, of course, they do. But, everything needs to be done in moderation. 

Drinking becomes a problem when it is a core thought. If you are constantly watching the clock waiting for that magical time when it is socially accessible to pour that first glass of wine and then next thing you know the whole bottle is gone. We tend to laugh about it. “Oops, I finished the whole bottle.. oh well.” But, we need to be careful. We need to look for other ways to care for ourselves. 

Rather than making alcohol your nightly ritual, try meditation, yoga, a special TV show, talk with your spouse, a weekly night out with friends, something other than the bottle. Drinking feels like a special dessert, a treat. It feels harmless and normal. But it can easily get out of control. That glass can turn into a bottle, which can turn into a bottle a night and next thing you know you are feeling crappy all the time, you are having trouble caring for your kids, you are overrun with guilt, you are hiding it from your spouse, it can easily escalate. 

Being a mom is hard work, don’t get me wrong, and while alcohol can make it feel a little better for a moment it can easily lead to more problems. My advice to you is to reign it in, seek help from a licensed professional, and work to develop healthier coping mechanisms. You don’t need to feel guilty, or alone, in this battle. We are here. We can go forward together for a healthier you. 

How do you cope with motherhood?

Ask Mabel: How to motivate yourself to change (even when you are scared)?

Dear Mabel: My goal has always been to go to grad school but now that it is time to study for the GRE I can’t get myself motivated. Grad school is a huge time and money investment and I am afraid. What if I don’t succeed after graduation? What if I end up right back where I am now? Then what was the point? What if I end up in a dead-end job living with my parents? I am getting really discouraged. How can I get myself motivated?

Signed, Frank from Minnesota 

Mabel: Hi Frank, this sounds like a classic case of overthinking. Your brain is constantly evaluating the risk of taking this leap, so of course, it sounds like a bad idea. You are convincing yourself every day based on your fears. The truth is, yes there are risks. And, yes the worst case scenario is you will end up back at square one. But, what happens if you don’t take the chance? I like to look at things systematically. If you don’t take the GRE, if you don’t take the leap and try for grad school, then you have a 100 percent chance of being at square one. At least by taking this leap, you are giving yourself a fighting chance. Turn your thinking around. Instead of focusing on what can go wrong if you do go to grad school, think about what can happen if you don’t. What is the risk of not going? 

No change happens without taking a chance on ourselves. You can choose to stay stagnant, right where you are currently, based on fears. Or, you can choose to fight for a change. You can give yourself opportunities, you can open doors for your future, but you have to try. So often we let fears get in the way. Your motivation is inside you, you just have to change your perspective on the situation as a whole. If you fail and you end up back at square one, at least you will know you tried. And, who knows maybe the experience will lead to other open doors. But, first, you have to try. 

Social media may be affecting your self-esteem

It is commonplace these days to pick up your phone at any moment of downtime and peruse social media platforms. Research shows as many as 77 percent of us, according to Statista, have at least one social media account. 

Maybe you frequently post pictures of your kids or your dog or read about the happenings of old friends or colleagues. Whatever your reason for turning to social media, its use could be impacting your overall mental health. 

It might seem harmless, a way to combat brief moments of boredom in our constantly moving world. How could seeing what your friends or even strangers (if you are part of a group) are up to impact your mental health? It’s because whether you are consciously aware of it or not, you are comparing yourself to others. You are thinking “wow she looks great,” “they have such a beautiful family,” “I wish I was that successful,” the list goes on and on and on. 

The Best of the Best

Let’s get real here — the majority of pictures and posts we are seeing on social media are the best of the best. They are painting these perfect pictures of our families, our careers, our travels, and our friendship circles. 

A variety of studies, according to Healthline, show a link between social media use and decreased overall self-esteem and increased anxiety and depression (especially in our children). People have reported feeling more lonely after visiting a social media platform. It is kind of odd when you think about it — the very thing that is supposed to bring us closer together may actually be making us feel more alone. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are benefits to social media— increased awareness of certain issues, sharing of news, communities of support, and an ease to connect with those far away from us. But, it is also important that we recognize the negative impacts these types of behaviors are having on our health. 

Take care to recognize the amount of time you are spending on these websites and how you feel when you get off of them. Then, work on limiting yourself so that you don’t continue to harm yourself mentally and emotionally. Choosing certain times of the day or week to unplug is important. 

How many times a day do you turn to social media? How does it make it you feel?

How to be More Decisive

Are you someone who has a hard time making decisions? Maybe it takes you forever to figure out what you want to do, where you want to go, what job to take, what to wear, who to call, etc.

You over analyze every decision and drive yourself, and your other half, crazy.

There are a few reasons why you could be having trouble making decisions. The first could be the perfectionist inside you. Indecisiveness is a common struggle for the closeted perfectionist.

You have a desire to find the best solution and you want to find certainty in situations or elements you have no control over. You are constantly battling with the “what if”. Should we do this thing on this day or the following week — what if it rains? What if it is too hot? What if no one can make it? What if people are bored? Or don’t like the food? Or think our house is too small? It can go on and on and on…

When clients come to me with this concern, I am always curious as to where they learned these indecisive tendencies — maybe they have regrets from a decision they previously made, or maybe they learned it from a family member when they were growing up.

Perfectionism

Did you have a family member who was overly-critical of you or your decisions when you were a child? Or was there someone in your life who was always over-analyzing? Was there someone you felt like you could never please? If this was the case then you first have to accept that you cannot please everyone. Every aspect of yourself cannot be perfect. No one is going to love every single thing about you. That is what makes us humans, not robots. Accept yourself and find confidence in your decisions.

Therapy can help you let those overly-critical people go and set yourself free.

If you made a decision in the past you are not proud of and it has left you fearful of making a mistake again, let go. Forgive yourself. We all make mistakes, but that does not mean that we can’t learn from past decisions and trust ourselves to make better choices next time. Mistakes are opportunities to learn, to figure out what works, and what doesn’t.

Therapy can help you forgive yourself and regain your confidence.

Not Etched In Stone

Not every decision is etched in stone. In fact, very few decisions are. You can always pivot, and make changes. For example, you decide to get a tattoo and you have grown to regret it, you can always change it, add to it, or pay to get it removed. Or, maybe you took a job that is requiring more travel than you intended, you can always find a new opportunity to switch positions.

You can evaluate your situation and adjust accordingly. The big mistakes happen when we let our unconscious selves make smaller mistakes. Rather than avoiding decisions or being fearful of making mistakes, evaluate briefly and let yourself take the step that seems right at the time.

Big decisions are made up of lots of small ones.

We are all on paths through life composed of thousands of mini-decisions. There will be good and there will be bad, there will be regrets, and there will be triumphs. They all lead us where we are meant to be. They help us to grow as people, to learn, to become wiser adults.

You can boost your willpower, here is how:

Just like the muscles in our legs and arms, our brains get tired too. When we spend all day making decision after decision — the willpower part of our brains gets spent. Without even potentially realizing it, you begin to make poor—or even completely avoid—decisions. It is called decision fatigue and scientists are just beginning to learn more about its potentially detrimental impact. 

Whether it be shopping, working, dieting, it is easier for us to make smart, educated, well-thought decisions in the morning before we have depleted so much of our energy. It is why it is easier to eat healthier breakfasts than dinners, and why we often reach for that piece of candy at the end of the day. Our brains are exhausted and our willpower is depleted. 

Think about building a home, or picking out clothes at the store, you are making decision after decision — what hardware to put where, what lighting fixture, where should the outlets go, do I want the purple shirt or the red shirt, is this dress too big, should I spend this much money, etc. Chances are at the end you feel like throwing in the towel. Or you say “ah screw it, I will just go with this one.” This is decision fatigue. The list can go on and on. But, by recognizing that decision fatigue exists and acknowledging its potentially damaging impact, you can make changes to your life to increase your willpower. 

Reduce decison fatigue

Here are some ways to get started reducing decision fatigue and boosting willpower:

1.) Plan reoccurring decisions ahead of time: Obviously you can’t plan every decision before it happens. That is just life. But many of the decisions that are draining our willpower are the ones we make over and over again. Things like what you are going to wear to work, what you are going to eat for lunch/breakfast/dinner, when you are going to hit up the gym, etc. This stuff you can plan before you go to bed at night so the next day you have willpower for the big stuff. 

2.) Whatever is most important in your day, do it first: Maybe it is exercising, getting a project done, getting the laundry folded, helping your child with a project, whatever it is wake up early and get it done. You are the freshest version of yourself when you wake up. Get up, get to it and start your day off on the right foot, it may even help the rest of the day to unfold smoother.

3.) Take care of you: It is hard to have willpower if you feel drained, unhealthy, unfit, bad about yourself, etc. Put time in your day to focus on yourself and make sure you are getting the proper fuel for your day.

4.) Make commitments, instead of decisions: Rather than getting down on yourself by constantly telling yourself you “want to lose weight,” “want to change jobs,” “want to start working out,” start doing it. You will have fewer decisions to make if you just rip the bandaid off and commit. 

5.) Fuel first: If a decision is coming at the end of the day, or maybe a big meeting at work, then take a break, refresh and eat something first. You will be more on top of your game if you can boost some of that brain fuel. 

6.) Keep it simple: Get rid of the things in your life that you don’t need. Don’t waste your energy on things that don’t contribute to your wellbeing, that don’t provide joy. You don’t need to keep doing unnecessary tasks that are draining your energy. 

Your willpower is not always going to be at a steady level. That is impossible. But the first step to making changes is recognizing where the problems are and working to rectify them. It’s ok to put off a decision for a day rather than being impulsive. You can decide to get some rest first, just don’t avoid it completely. 

Sources: 

New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/magazine/do-you-suffer-from-decision-fatigue.html

https://jamesclear.com/willpower-decision-fatigue