Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Fun Factor

One of my favorite of Dr. Phil's lines is, "how much fun are you to live with?" It is useful from time to time to stop and reflect on how we are coming across to those whose lives touch ours. Are you an encourager to others, or a discourager? Do you grump around the house or the office, or does your presence brighten other people's day?

One researcher studied human perception, and designed 4 window panes of perception. There are the things you know about yourself that noone else knows, the things that are tranparent about you that others can also tell(like your eye color),the things that are unknown about you both to yourself and others, and finally, the things others know about you that you are not aware of. It is that last quadrant, of how others perceive you, that can be an instructive area for reflection.

Each person in a family is responsible for helping set the tone in the family. Families are complicated energy systems, and each person doing their part to make daily life, family meals ,events, chores, and routines peaceful and fun makes the family a better place to be. Family meetings at home, or family therapy with a skilled counselor, can make a huge difference in getting everyone to recognize the powerful impact of their tone, actions, and words on the rest of the family.

There is no place for sarcasm, insults, sullenness ,and refusing to talk to others, in a great marriage or family. Some people learned these passive-aggressive behaviors in their family of origin, but it doesn't mean they should be continued. I work with people in counseling to examine the communication styles and patterns in their families growing up, keep the good and get rid of the rest. Taking ownership of how you come across to those you love most, and live with daily, is empowering. If you can be open and non-defensive, you can learn much from asking those you live with about how you are doing in relating to them.

Taking responsibility for managing our own moods is key. Bring home your best self every day. Stop and set your intention to smile and greet family members,hug and kiss more often, and express your love and appreciation for them. Little surprises are nice, too. Often those closest to us can feel taken for granted, so take action in small ways to show you do care. If you are anxious, down, or angry,take positive personal action to move through those emotions rather than dragging them home to your family.

We need things to look forward to in marriages and families,too, so that the stress of routine tasks doesn't grind you down. This is why weekly date nights need to be sacred time for couples, and why family fun nights where you play together are so vital. You've got to love someone who you can giggle with over laser tag, or another silly game. Having a trip planned, as a couple, or as a family also helps to build positive anticipation. Even if it is months away, it helps boost the fun factor to have plans!

Make your home a no whining zone. This goes for adults, as well as children and teens. The family gets beaten down emotionally with the weight of constant complaining and negativity. Use the power of the family to have each family member deal with negative emotion more effectively--through counseling, action, exercise,etc., rather than torturing other family members to marinate in the negativity and toxicity of repeated whining.

Just think about the possibilities when you, your partner, and the whole household are all taking care to be fun, bring home your best selves, and work together to make your family a wonderful place to be. Now THIS could be fun.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Watching Out For Your Child's Mental health

Is there a child in your life that you love and look out for? The current November 1 issue of Time magazine has a great article summarizing recent research on children's mental health concerns, and what parents and grandparents should be aware of as warning signs of potential need for early intervention. Pediatricians often underdiagnose mental health problems, so adults close to children need to know what to look for.

Here are some of the highlights from the Time article:

*1 in 5 children have some form of emotional or behavioral disorder.

*50% of adults have a mental health issue which began before age 14.

*Early intervention can work, and a range of gentle, child and teen-friendly therapeutic techniques are available in counseling geared for them.

*It can be difficult for parents to separate normal childhood fears or mood swings from those that indicate problems that necessitate treatment.

*Therapists watch for context, for example, if a problem occurs across various situations, or only in one.

*Age of onset is a critical factor. Some disorders classically start at certain developmental points.

*Depression can start as early as age 9, but more often begins at adolecence. Symptoms include loss of appetite and energy, irritability, feelings of worthlessness, sleep problems, inability to enjoy things, and/or suicidal thoughts.

*Anxiety can strike all ages, but most common in children above age 5 through middle age. Higher anxiety is considered normal at age 8 months, 2 years, and 5 years and normally passes.

*Obsessive-compulsive disorder normally starts around age 19, but children can show symptoms earlier.

*Current thinking is that bipolar disorder can also develop in about 1% of teens 15-17 years old. Care needs to be taken to carefully differentiate ADHD from manic mood swings.

*Being a child and having parents divorce adds extra risk. Researchers found a 36% reduction in mental health conditions when children with divorcing parents get preventive therapy.

*ADHD usually hits between 3 and 6 years old, but can strike later. Vision, hearing, and learning disorders need to be ruled out. The key is the severity of the symptoms.

*Teens with anorexia nervosa respond better to treatment if the family is also invoved in treatment. In one study, 49% of anorexics maintain a healthy body weight after family-involved treatment, compared to 25% of those teens in solo treatment.

*Children and teens with depression or anxiety generally respond well to cognitive therapy. Exposure and response prevention training work well with specific fears and OCD.

In general, most mental health professionals consider it best practice to have a child or teen attempt to work through their concerns in talk therapy before considering medication. I always try to partner with parents as well to have them on the support team at home. Many studies suggest that intervening early if you suspect there is a problem can help prevent bigger problems later, and get your child or teen back into the magical time in their life you want them to enjoy. Prevention and treatment of mental health issues in young people can reduce risk and lessen the suffering. Parents and grandparents can be in the best position to know if the child you love is at risk for mental health problems, and get them to professionals who can help.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Creating A Conscious Holiday Season

If Halloween stores have popped up all over, then the rest of the holidays can't be far behind! Time to begin rethinking Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Years. Check your gut reaction to thinking about the holidays approaching. Do you feel dread? Overwhelmed? Tired? Time for a proactive first strike.

Time to think outside of the box about the holidays. Make a list of all the things you normally do to prepare or celebrate a holiday. Next, mark off things that you do out of tradition, or routine, but don't enjoy doing. Poll the members of your family about who really cares about what, and what each person really finds meaningful or enjoyable. Think creatively about what will work for your family NOW. For this reason, sending holiday cards has fallen off many people's list of holiday to do's, but going to church together or decorating the tree may be really important. Lots of holiday baking may not make sense when we are all watching our cholesterol, but watching "It's a wonderful life" as a family, or bundling up to see the December Newport Beach boat parade may really get you in the spirit.

Spreading tasks out, starting with the things that can be done earlier, can help reduce the stress. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Get everyone involved. If you lower your standards enough, your children can help with gift wrapping.(Just buy lots of tape!)I personally love Christmas trees that have been decorated by the children of the house. You can tell because all the ornaments are at their height or lower! Children and teens can feel proud of baking a favorite family dessert for the holiday, with a little help from you. Hold a family meeting with you, your partner, and the rest of the family, to see who can help with what tasks. This will help everyone sharing the joy of bringing the holidays home, rather than being something else mom organizes late at night instead of sleeping. Each person will enjoy it more if they invest in creating the holiday.

Don't be a perfectionist about the holiday season. You being relaxed and in a good mood is probably the most important thing. Rumor has it Martha Stewart has help, anyway. When there have been big changes in the family this year, and you are now a single parent, or newly divorced, or the family is coping with a seriously ill family member, it is time to rethink what makes sense in your changing situation. Consider a gathering where eveyone brings a dish to share, or you bring food in, or meet out someplace fun for a festive meal instead of a big ordeal. Don't hog all the 'fun' for yourself!

Now is the time to begin the conversation with the people closest to you about the upcoming holiday season. Empower yourself to think creatively. Imagine YOU enjoying the holidays, feeling relaxed, not overspending or overdoing. This could be fun. You are the choreographer of your best holiday season possible. Think consciously about your holidays, and pass it on! Don't be a holiday victim; speak up and shape the holiday you are needing this year.You can be a holday role model for others! 'Tis the season to engage your options and create some new traditions. I'm thinking pizza is red and green!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Living With Integrity

The older I get, the more important I think it is to demonstrate your strong character and integrity in the way you live life every day. It has been said that character is how you act when you think noone is watching. Much is revealed about each of us in whether our word means something ,if we keep our promises, if we are honest with people, if we follow through, and how we treat others. For those of us those of us who have children, what we actually DO means so much more than what we SAY.

What does your word mean? Those close to you will trust you deeply and you will have unshakeable credibility if you are honest and trustworthy, even when it takes emotional bravery. If you lie to loved ones to avoid conflict, or because you feel you don't owe them honesty, because you are so special( narcissist alert!), you will lose credibility and trust. To grow stronger in your personal character, decide today to be forthcoming, honest, and direct in your relationships, and see how much more real and intimate your relationships become. Your partner and your children can feel dishonesty. Your loved ones will intuitively know the difference.

How do you treat people who are serving you? Much is revealed about your character and integrity by how you treat wait staff, retail clerks, and other drivers. I personally feel everyone should have at least one job growing up where you serve others and we will all be more sensitized to the value of treating others with dignity and respect. Remember, your children are imprinting on the way in which you treat others------strangers, your spouse, your parents----and building a template for what they will do later in life.

Do you keep your promises and commitments? It can be as simple as arriving on time and demonstrating respect for other people's time. Avoid the temptation to make a habit of calling from your cell phone to explain your delays, and believing that makes it okay. Living life with integrity means you keep your word and plan ahead to do so without excuses.

Living life with character and integrity means you don't only think of yourself and what's in it for you. Instead, you can transcend self, and look at a situation fom another persons' perspective. How might this situation look from my spouse's or my son's perspective? People with integrity aren't self-absorbed. They realize that real happiness comes from doing for others, not just grabbing all the goodies for yourself. I have been so impressed to see how loving my dad is to my mom these last several years as she faces a life-threatening illness. People with character, like my parents, don't cut and run when things are challenging. These are the situations in each of our lives that reveal what we are made of.

Each week we get a fresh slate, and can begin again in a new and healthier way. What stuff are you made of?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Getting Unstuck

It is easy to get in a life rut. It is important to take a personal inventory from time to time,and determine if you want to mix things up a little bit, create some new patterns, or add some more fun into your life mix. If you are bored, you need to take some positive action to move towards being a happier and more interesting individual.

When the fall routines and schedules get going, the calender can look like school and work commitments as far out as you can see. Ho hum. We each live in a box, says writer/therapist Susan Jeffers,in her classic book, "Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway".
Jeffers suggests that all of us need to consider moving out of the small box that is our comfort zone, and getting into the next, bigger-sized box.

How do we break out of our current comfort zone? There are lots of unique and personal answers to that. You might take on a personal challenge that requires you to grow or work hard towards a goal. For example, training for a race, or taking a class in something you were always curious about. At mid-life, it is helpful to consider experiences you haven't had, but always wanted to try. Have you ever wanted to learn to dance, or learn another language? You may want to set a plan to travel somewhere you have always been interested in. Making plans is important to mental health. Even if those plans are a year away, or you have to budget carefully to make those plans happen!

Sometimes mixing things up is fun. While I am a proponent of family structure and routines(mealtimes,homework time, bedtime), who says you can't surprise your spouse and meet them on Wednesday for lunch? Think outside the box! Children love to have fun and variety, too. I know several families who keep things fresh for the family by having a theme-night dinner once a week. My own children always liked our 'breakfast for dinner night'. Who says we can't we practice spelling words with shaving cream? Or sidewalk chalk? Or chocolate sauce!

Tackling a fear you have can also move you to your bigger box. Are you afraid of public speaking? One person I know feels so good about having joined Toastmasters this last year, and becoming more confident in communicating in groups. Perhaps this is the year you collapse your story that limits you, and take positive action to deal with a rut of depression, anxiety, addictive behavior. We are not getting any younger! You can even stop and imagine how free you might feel if you gave up your own limited view of what is possible for you. Your respect for yourself will surge.

Truly, the biggest limitations on any of us are the limits we put on ourselves. I am a big believer in the idea that within each of us is a more whole person yearning to be fully developed and expressed. If we cling to our ruts, out of habit or lack of awareness, we miss the wonderful possibilities that life has to offer us. Getting unstuck is an an inside job. Nobody can do it for you. When you are ready to get unstuck, or collapse the story you've been telling yourself about why you can't have a great life, talking with a professional therapist can be just the jumpstart and accountability that you need. Have a great week, and stretch to do something healthy, but out of your comfort zone.