Facing fears to create change.

The issue of change obviously comes up frequently in psychotherapy.  Therapy is designed to help people make the changes necessary to improve their lives.  However, taking a different path may not be easy.  In fact, change may be accompanied by a healthy dose of trepidation, and a wheelbarrow full of “what if” questions.  What if I make a change and life feels worse afterwards?  What if it doesn’t work?  What if it does work and I am more miserable than before?  Although psychologists don’t have the crystal balls and magic wands to see the future and make angst disappear, it is still essential to take leaps of faith in life instead of remaining paralyzed by fear.  You may struggle with the same misery in life if you don’t face your fears and live life differently.

What fears prevent you from making changes in your life?  How can you overcome these fears, using tools to calm anxiety?  What dreams do you seek to attain, and how can you use those dreams as encouragement to make small changes?

The impossible exists only because one was afraid to chase after their dreams.  – – Sarah Ruth

An Emotional Check-Up.

Many of us are fairly good at check-ups and basic maintenance.  For example, we have the oil changed in our cars when it’s due and our teeth cleaned every 6 months.  Perhaps we even change the air filter in the furnace and replace the batteries in the smoke detectors once a year.  All of these tasks keep things running smoothly and prevent problems.  What regular practices might improve our emotional health?  We’re not born with “warning lights” that tell us when some part of us is overheated or broken, nor calendars that tell us when our next vacation is (over)due.  Instead, we need to develop an intentional “emotional check-up from the neck up” – – a practice of checking in with ourselves to evaluate how we are doing and feeling.

Sample Questions for an Emotional Check-Up

  • How regularly are you sleeping?  How many hours each night?  Do you sleep soundly or not?
  • Are you eating enough, or eating too little?  Open your cupboards and refrigerator – do the contents look like you want them to in variety and freshness?
  • Are you making time for exercise, reflection, meditation in your life?
  • Are your finances and chores up to date, or are some tasks slipping behind you?
  • Do you engage enough in activities that make you feel good, such as whimsy, hobbies, volunteering, spiritual activities, visiting with special persons?

Conduct an emotional check-up with these questions and some of your own to evaluate how you are doing.  If you find that you are off on a number of the answers, it’s time to slow down and evaluate your priorities.  Can someone help you get realigned?  What responsibilities can you delegate to someone else or eliminate altogether?  What priorities need to shift in rank?

Monitoring our behaviors, thoughts and feelings on a regular basis helps us identify problem areas so we can get a tune-up.  Try an “emotional check-up from the neck up” on a weekly basis and see what you find out about yourself!

Play Therapy for Adults

Think for a moment about children at play.  They are often creative, happy, laughing, less inhibited, more daring.  Play can be good therapy for children as well as adults.  Do we grow out of being playful as we age?  Do we learn to become so overly cautious and self-conscious that we forget how to free ourselves from our adult responsibilities just to have fun?  Wouldn’t it perhaps lift our spirits to go run in a park, plop down on a swing and soar into the sky, propel on a scooter, or play a lawn game?  Whether you are around kids or not, challenge yourself to join in the fun, letting your body feel free, your mind be unburdened by responsibilities just for a few moments, and your chronological clock to run backwards a few years.  Enjoy the moments, and seize the day.

Because you matter.

Building the belief that you matter starts early … like when you skin your knee and your mom kisses it “all better,” or when you color a picture that is hung on the front of the refrigerator, or you get to choose a special meal to be made for the family on your birthday.  Perhaps it’s a kind little handwritten note someone placed inside your lunchbox or a card that you receive in the mail for no reason at all other than “just because…..”  It happens when you are looked in the eyes with compassion and care when you speak, and when someone notices a pleasant change to your appearance, a milestone achieved in your life, or even that your mood has shifted.

Examples like these can help us feel as though we are important, that we are visible, that we are significant enough for someone to take notice of us or do something that makes us feel special.  And the feedback loop on how much value you believe that you have continues on through adolescence and adulthood, as if there is a lifelong score being kept with tallies for “I matter” on one side and “I feel like I don’t matter” on the other.

Who are the people in your life that make you feel visible or important or special, who help you believe that you matter?  Spend time with them, perhaps more than you do presently.  After all, you do matter.

Weight management.

With the new year comes resolutions for many people, and one of the most common is related to weight.  When we combine our knowledge bases for prevention of eating disorders (e.g., anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa) and prevention of obesity and overweight, we generally come up with the same list of strategies for long-term, methodical weight management.  Combining regular treatment strategies for individuals diagnosed with eating disorders with results from the National Weight Control Registry (a longitudinal study of over 4000 previously overweight adults who have successfully maintained a healthier weight for multiple years), successful weight management at a healthy weight incorporates the following strategies:

  • eating breakfast every day, and eating regularly (4-5 times) throughout the day
  • limiting the frequency of eating out at fast food establishments
  • eating a lower-fat, higher carbohydrate/fiber diet
  • watching less than 10 hours of television per week
  • exercising, on average, about 1 hour per day at a moderate level (e.g., walking, aerobics class, biking, swimming)
  • self-monitoring weight, portion sizes, and meal planning

These practices may be appropriate for individuals who are overweight by medical standards or who seek to maintain a current healthy weight.  Note that extreme measures, such as overexercising, skipping meals, or using harmful measures such as laxatives or diet pulls were not listed as successful strategies.  In fact, the use of extreme measures may affect basal metabolic rate in such a manner that weight is gained over time!  So, treat your body well with a daily, methodical, and moderate weight management plan.

Evolution or Revolution?

There’s an impatience in our lives.  We’re technologically connected at the hip, (blue)tooth and thumbs.  We can update our information on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to let those in our circle know instantly what or how we are doing.  So where’s the pixie dust and magic want to make mental health issues improve instantaneously?  In the words of the Beatles, you say you want a revolution?

Changes in mental health typically do not occur overnight.  I suppose there are some exceptions, but true change is more likely to be evolutionary than revolutionary.  That means that we can benefit from being patient and deliberate in our pursuit of mental health change.  Perhaps an applicable analogy is that we are our best guinea pigs for our own research – – we try something new (like getting more sleep at night, taking a mindful walk on a daily basis, or opening up to a trusted person) and observe over time if that helps.  If it does, then keep doing it.  If it doesn’t, then we try something else new that might be helpful.  The evolution of the improved and happier you will emerge in time, yet it may emerge along a timeline that is longer than that which you wanted.  Be patient, as only when we continue to work on building our foundation and working daily on these practices that enhance our mental health do we reap the long-term benefits.

Health Now or Disease Later?

I saw a quote recently and thought it was very appropriate for some of what we confront in the health field.  The saying goes, “If you do not make time for health you will eventually have to make time for disease.”  I believe this quote is appropriate for both mental and physical health – – that how we spend our time living our lives now directly influences how we will live our lives later.  I regularly speak about the benefits of routine mental health practices – – adequate sleep, taking time out for calm/relaxation (yoga, meditation, prayer, deep breathing), setting boundaries around our most important commitments while ridding our lives of unnecessary distractions, etc. – – and how those practices can impact optimal mental health functioning.  Physical health practices, such as regular low-impact exercise, appropriate nutrition and hydration, good posture and abstinence from smoking and excessive alcohol use, can also directly influence our bodies and quality of life.

I believe that the amount of time we spend focusing on good physical and mental health now is a more efficient use of our time compared to dealing with diseases later.  Furthermore, placing our efforts on good health practices today is enjoyable!!!  {Seriously, have you ever seen or heard anyone enjoy going to dialysis, having radiation or chemotherapy, or suffering through heart disease?}

Ask yourself this, “What am I doing regularly now to help maintain good health?  What can I do better to improve my health even more?”  Go for health now and enjoy the rewards!

Taking Action.

I’ve been struct by the paralyzing force – – the incapacitating nature – – of indecision.  Acts such as looking for the best job, the perfect partner, or the optimal career path in college can lead to emotional debilitation and immobilization.  Sometimes, people are mired down by numerous imperfect options, and subsequently choose nothing.  “Paralysis by analysis.”  No taking action; only finding stagnation.

Choosing an imperfect path may be uncomfortable, yet it is an important step toward learning what you like, what you don’t, and how to move forward.  Making a decision and learning from it also teaches us of our amazing capacities to be more than we may have anticipated we could be.

“Be bold and courageous.  When you look back on your life, you will regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did.”  – – H. axon Brown, Jr.

Persistence Pays

Kids seem to learn something new all the time (although sometimes they learn things we don’t want them to know, but that’s not the point!)  Part of this learning comes from their willingness to try over and over again.

I’m reminded of this when I go downhill skiing.  Mountains that look daunting to me are tackled with ease by the ‘mogul mice’ on the same run.  The kids don’t seem to be thinking about all of the painful things that could happen if they fall or ram into the towering aspens and pines – – the kids look pretty fearless.  They are living in the moment, breathing the crisp air, enjoying the great outdoors and having fun.  Before the sun passes behind the mountain peaks, they may go down the same run 50 times in order to master their balance, speed and direction.  They are tenacious.

As we age, some of us can become impatient, wanting new skills and lessons to come more quickly and easily than they do.  Yet impatience can lead to significant frustration.  Perhaps, in our curiosity of the world, we can remind ourselves that our persistence in trying new things may pay off in the future if we give it ample time.

A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.  (Jim Watkins)

Teen Dating Violence Prevention Month is now

Teen Dating Violence Prevention Month is a national effort to raise awareness about abuse in teen and 20-something relationships and promote programs that prevent it during the month of February.  According to the CDC, teen dating violence is defined as the physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional violence within a dating relationship, including stalking. It can occur in person or electronically and might occur between a current or former dating partner.

Dating violence is widespread with serious long-term and short-term effects, including many that we have identified in our research, including depression, anxiety, body image concerns, eating disturbances, and increased risk for suicidal ideation and attempts. According to a 2013 survey, approximately 10% of high school students reported physical victimization and 10% reported sexual victimization from a dating partner in the 12 months before they were surveyed.

To learn more about what you can do to prevent dating violence or to help someone you suspect may be involved in an unhealthy relationship, please visit loveisrespect.org