Thursday, September 30, 2010

How Do You Self-Soothe?

When you have had a difficult and challenging day, what is your plan to comfort yourself? It's occured to me lately that eveyone needs a strategy of their own to cope with their daily angst. There are good ways and bad ways to self-soothe. I see children who need tools to bring down their stress level with their parents' divorce,and teens who need strategies to deal with challenges with friends, academics, getting launched, relationships with family and the opposite sex. Adults are also in need of self-soothing strategies that are healthy. Everybody needs to be in charge of learning how to get calm and centered.

If you can't self-soothe in a healthy way, you may live life in a keyed-up style that is terrible for your physical health, and puts you more at risk for heart attacks, stroke, and other serious health problems. In addition, people that don't work out intentional ways to de-stress transfer negative energy and angst to all the people you are in relationships with---your partner, your children,your co-workers. In a sense, not managing your own angst well is like dragging trash home with you and into your relationships. It's just not fair to drag everyone else you love down with you.

What are some healthy self-soothing stategies? Try something active. Working out regularly might be just the ticket. Listening to music that relaxes or calms you can actually slow your heart rate, and put you into a natural, hypnotic state. A warm bath by candlelight might work to take you out of angst and shift you to center. Try an herbal hot tea by sunset, outside in your backyard. Reading a chapter in a great book that helps you escape your life for a while(in a healthy way) could work. Complete quiet can be very healing and soothing as well. Your self-soothing stategy can be as individual as you are. Build your own little rituals.

Don't have coping with food, alcohol, or drugs be your fall-back position because you don't take the time to create a better option. All of these substances shouldn't be used to medicate feelings or numb your stress. These paths just cause more complications. If you are a parent, remenber your children are watching how you cope, so it is really important to be a good role model as it relates to coping with stress in your daily life.

If you need help to identify a healthy self-soothing strategy for yourself, consider talking it over with a good therapist. You're worth it, and so are your health and your relationships. To be your best self, you need to learn how to bounce well. Life is full of its little and big frustrations, and your response to that fact determines your health and happiness. Strong coping stategies help you be more like the willow tree which bends gracefully, and less like the oak tree that snaps in the wind.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

You Are What You Think

Your mind is incredibly powerful. The stories you tell yourself can alter your reality. Be careful what you think, because it creates its own reality in your life and in your relationships. Many people have a story that would be better to collapse, so they could live a more satisfying life.

It is a bit like your mind is a garden, and you need to weed it regularly from negative or victim-like thinking. If you aren't conscious of weeding out the negative thoughts, you can develop behavior patterns that reflect your negative thoughts. To have a great life, and healthy relationships, you need to focus on your blessings, the things you are grateful for, and not the shortfalls.

In a love relationship, the stories we tell ourselves are powerful. If we tell ourselves that our partner isn't making us happy, aren't we less likely to try in the relationship to do our part? What if your partner isn't supposed to MAKE you happy, but you are supposed to make yourself fulfilled and share your happiness with your partner? If you have a different story you tell yourself about your relationship, like you want to do everything possible to be the best partner you can be, won't your actions be an important part of writing the love story you are a part of? You play an active role in creating each of your relationships. You are not the Russian judge at the Olympics, just there to grade your partner critically. Your partner is only part of the equation. You need to be your best self!

Abraham Lincoln said, "Most men are about as happy as they make up their minds to be". Your daily mind set, and telling yourself positive things about how you feel, and what you are going to do that day, is important each morning. See whether you can smile at a couple of people tomorrow. I love to ask families to share at dinner the best or funniest thing that happened that day. It really is true that what we think about---negative or positive---expands to fill the space available.You can make a decision to make it a great day or have a wonderful relationship with your spouse or child, and that decision will help you take the actions that help create improvements.

There are, of course, difficult things that happen in life---losses,breakups, illness, etc. Sometimes all we can control is our reaction to challenging situations when they happen. Most people that I see that are resilent in the face of tremendous difficulty, deal with their feelings,but don't take up residency in victimhood. You can choose to,have a good life, anyway, for the time that you have, including today.

One of my favorite books about overcoming negative thinking is 'You Can't Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought' by Peter McWilliams and Jon Roger. Also helpful in learning to identify and eliminate negative thought patterns is,'Feeling Good' by David Burns,M.D. If this area is a challenge for you, you might read some positive input the first and/or last few minutes of the day.

In wrapping up todays' blog, consider the words of Theodore Roosevelt, who told us,"Do what you can, with what you have, with where you are". Watch what you think this week, because your thoughts are powerful things. You might be happier if you give up your story.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Shifting Gears from Work to Play

As fall gets rolling, schedules are getting busier, school is back in session, and we are considering what we are going to accomplish this fall, at work and at home. This week, I encourage you to deepen your connection to those you love through making conscious transitions between work and play.

How and when do you connect with yourself and loved ones? Many people come home from work at 5:00 grumpy. Changing clothes right away, or showering right when you arrive home, can help set the stage for changing gears. Try to check in with yourself about what you most need at early evening. Reconnecting with your senses, by eating a crunchy apple, changing into your softest jeans and sweater,or going for a brisk walk or bike ride, can help you move out of your head and back into your body.

We need boundaries between work hours and downtime. If you work outside the home, try to leave unfinished work there. If you work from home, set and keep work hours and turn off work at the appointed time. Do your best not to fuse work into your personal time by turning off your computer and resisting the impuse to check work messages and e-mail on evenings and weekends. Be a boundary role-model for your work friends. Tell yourself 'STOP' when work thoughts come up on non-work time. Train yourself not to talk about work on off hours.

Exercise can help you get some fresh perspective and dissolve the tensions of the day. It can give you private time to process leftover thoughts from work and mentally 'take out the trash' before you spend time with loved ones. I have counseled several couples who improved the quality of their relationship by exercising after work BEFORE they meet up.

End your day with your easiest tasks. Use the last 30 minutes of your day to make copies, return phone calls or e-mail, or make a to do list for the next day. That will help you know where to pick things up on your next work day.

Make plans to meet up with friends or family after work. It will help you keep a tighter boundary at the end of the day. Reconnecting with small children at the end of the day by joining their play is a way to join their world, rather than expecting them to join yours. Most children and teens won't give you much if you ask a flat 'how was school?' If you can track other things they told you about their day and ask specifics, like,'how did the math test go you were worried about?',you will get deeper and be less rote.

If you are part of a couple, it may be fun to try this exercise. Make 3 columns on a piece of paper. In one column, write down how the two of you played together when you were dating. In the second, list how you have fun and play together now. In the third column, what you would like to do for play together in the future. Have your partner do this exercise, too, and you can compare lists and discover and rediscover a whole lot of good ideas for increasing the fun in your relationship this fall. Don't be shocked if your current list of fun things you do togrther is shorter than the two others. I often find that with couples who are busy raising their families. It just means it is time to refocus an having more fun with your partner, because, eventually, it is the two of you again when the kids go to college.

Teens can be a challenge in the family fun department, but keep trying. A live music performance or concert, a roadtrip, a movie and Starbucks outing, laser tag, or a meal out might all be fun ways to connect. Let them include a friend at times.

This week, remember fun is important for switching gears, reconnecting with yourself, your partner, and your family. When all is said and done, we will never regret not working more.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Finding Your Voice

It seems like the people who it is hardest to assert yourself with are always the ones closest to you ,and who you love the most. Growing up, many of us learn to please the adults around us who have power over our lives. While being sensitive to the feelings of others is an important quality, learning to speak up when it counts, or when someone close to you is out of line, is also essential.

Self-assertion is especially a challenge for many women, and for young women in particular. Carl Jung told us that in the second half of life, if all maturing goes well, men become softened and more gentle, while women become stronger and have more of a voice than they did earlier. In the growing up years, girls often are afraid to speak up or share their thoughts. The American Association of University Women(AAUW) published their landmark study on girls in the coeducational classroom, and how girls often participate less, and speak up less, in the presence of the opposite sex.

It is my great joy to work with my patients of all ages and both genders to help them develop their own voice. It takes a strong sense of self to learn to appropriately speak up at the right time, and in the right way. It is a great enhancement to your self-esteem to know how to do this, and you can feel successful and at peace with yourself to not be bullied or treated in a way that makes you feel disrespected.

Being positively assertive means standing up for yourself in such a way that you are honest with the other person about what you want, feel, or think. You don't shut down, distance, or stack your internal cupboard with resentment. That would be the passive approach, which enables the bully to keep up their bad behavior, makes you feel distant and like you are in the WRONG relationship, and gives the other person no boundary. Passive people enable bad behavior in others since they are afraid to ever stand up.

Being aggressive is going too far. It is being honest at the other persons' expense. Aggressive people rage at others, call names, and verbally bully others to get their own way. You might win the argument, but others will distance themselves from you emotionally because you are unfair and disrepectful to them. People who have done their own internal work on themselves, examined their lives, and are at peace with themselves, don't want or need to be aggressive or be around others with an aggressive style. It's exhausting, and like the movie 'Ghostbusters', it makes you feel you have been slimed.

So where do you need to positively assert yourself in your life? Is their a person at work or at home that makes you feel trampled? Or, perhaps you are someone who has been acting too controlling and aggressive with others, and you need to take inventory, make amends, and begin again, in a new way, with the people you care most about. This is a new week and a new beginning.

Girls and women, in particular, need to know that you can still be feminine and be positively assertive. It doesn't require you to be bossy, nasty, or mean. You don't have to be pushy or disagreeable. YOU JUST NEED TO BE ABLE TO SPEAK UP APPROPRIATELY WHEN THAT STILL, SMALL VOICE INSIDE OF YOU SAYS SOMETHING IS NOT RIGHT.

Here are some of everybody's basic human rights in relationships:

1. The right to act in ways that promote your dignity ond self-respect, as long as you don't violate others' rights.

2. The right to be treated with respect.

3. The right to say no and not feel guilty.

4.The right to experience and express your own feelings.

5.The right to slow down and think.

6. The right to change your mind.

7. The right to ask for what you want.

8.The right to do less that what you are humanly capable of doing.

9.The right to ask for information.

10. The right to feel good about yourself.

11. The right to make mistakes, acknowledge, and learn from them.

12. The right to grow and change.

When you are positively assertive this week, see what happens. If it is a new behavior, like a new muscle you build up at the gym, it may be uncomfortable. Keep it up. It will get easier with practice. If you are assertive, it greatly enhances your chances of getting what you want. At the very least, you will build your confidence, be honest, and engender your respect and the respect of the people you are close to. You will find your voice, and that's a very good thing.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Make Home Your Sanctuary

Home needs to be a place we can go to relax, recharge, and be ourselves. After a busy day at work or at school, it feels wonderful to come home to a peaceful, comfortable, and organized place where you can feel your blood pressure drop and your breathing ease. Of course, it also helps to create sanctuary at home if the people you live with treat each other with sensitivity, kindness, and consideration.

I have been thinking about creating a welcoming home, especially this summer, as my family moved to a new(old) house. It has been a great opportunity to go through things, donate items, throw things out, and simplify our home environment. It is a wonderful gift to teach our children and teenagers, also, to be organized and have a place where everything belongs. It makes day to day life much easier if you can find things. With the start of school, and the beginning of fall, it is a perfect time to help your school-age children find a place to keep their backpack and schoolwork to make your mornings run smoother. Sometimes, less is more.

For home to be a sanctuary, you need to declutter. Enough open space in each room will translate into feeling more relaxed and peaceful. Make sure there are soft, relaxing places for family and friends to plop down. Enough light and live plants will also create a soothing feel.

And how about the rules for the residents at your home? To have home truly be a sanctuary, you need the people in your home to act accordingly. Here are some guidelines:

*love is behavior, not just words

*don't hurt the the people or the things in your home

*make a commitment to talk through things, don't run away in anger

*have an attitude of curiousity towards yourself and your family members, don't assume things

*maintain boundaries (adult/child,etc.)

*bring your best self home at the end of the day, make conscious transitions from work to play

*use mealtimes as connecting time

*make happy memories at home, creating ways to play together

*be fun to live with

Have a wonderful week, and create a little more sanctuary at home for yourself and those you love. Home is never the square footage, it's where you feel loved and welcomed.