Inspiring Words

Here I am sharing some thoughts from my experiences in my clinical and forensic practice, as well as through my role as a mother of three children, a wife, a daughter, a sister, and a friend.

For your own good – please do not be part of this 9%

Part of my job of being the best psychologist I can be is reading through lots and lots of research articles. I’m grateful for the technology and my professional psychological associations that deliver current, relevant psychology research articles directly to my email every day.

This helps me to be informed to best help you. So that I can deliver relevant, timely content.

One of yesterday’s emails was very upsetting to me. A recent study of how adults are coping with COVID-19 indicated that 9% of people reported that they are simply numbing themselves. Intentionally stopping themselves from FEELING, so they feel NOTHING.

Emotionally flat-lining.

 

Please do not do this! Please do not be part of this 9%, or make this 9% increase!

I know this is painful. I KNOW this is hard stuff. I know the anxiety, fear, panic is real.

But please keep in mind that what you do to cope today is setting yourself up for your future. And when you numb yourself to cope, you are also unwittingly depriving yourself of joy. And joy IS available to you, even on a difficult day.

All my life, people have asked me what I do “to be so happy.” They are surprised, and maybe even a little disappointed when I reply that one of my “secrets” in being so genuinely happy is that I welcome sadness. I welcome frustration, betrayal, disappointment.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t WANT them to come. But I welcome them when they come naturally.

Because I KNOW that my capacity to experience joy is in direct proportion to my ability to experience sorrow. I know that when we deprive ourselves from experiencing painful emotions, we shut ourselves off from the fullness of joy. We emotionally flat-line. I don’t want that for me, and I don’t want that for you.

It is important to FEEL the uncomfortable emotions. Doing so requires: 1) Trust that you will not get “stuck” there, and 2) some tools to help you feel better after you have allowed yourself to experience these painful feelings.

One of my favorite ways to “not get stuck there” is to utilize gratitude.

Part of the beauty of practicing gratitude is that it has 3 conceptual benefits: 1) it works as prevention (when we are grateful we simply notice less of the crummy stuff), 2) it works immediately when we are in the moment practicing gratitude, and 3) we are literally re-wiring our brains to be more positive thinkers, setting ourselves up for more happiness, joy, and fulfillment in life, REGARDLESS of what is going on in our own lives and the world.

My signature talk on gratitude is being requested from schools, businesses, universities, and community groups. I shared some of these ideas when I was asked to be a speaker in World Gratitude Summit, and most recently, I shared them in a facebook live within the facebook group “Peggy’s Tips for Gratitude, Joy, and More.”

If you missed it, or if you’d like to take another look, you can click here to watch the 20 minute video. (If you are not a member, simply go to the group and click “Join”, and I will add you.)

Also, here is a printable summary of the presentation. You can download it, print it, and cut it up into 4 postcards to share with others.

I am grateful to be in a profession dedicated to helping people feel better. This is needed now, more than ever. The most affordable way for you to receive support during this time is through my monthly membership, Come Alive with Dr. Peggy. Of course I am here if you would like individual support as well.

You may click here to check it out, and sign up for just $5. The most affordable way to receive support. You do NOT need to go through this alone. You do NOT need to emotionally flat-line. PLEASE do not be part of that 9%.

I am here to help you process emotions through techniques such as expressive writing and “prescribed worrying”, and I am here to help you cultivate resilience, gratitude, joy, and meaning in your life.  This is what I teach in the membership. Simple, doable, accessible methods that are backed by research in psychology.

That is what we need for a happy, fulfilled life. That is what we need now, more than ever.

Deep Breathing – A Simple, Powerful Exercise for Physiological and Emotional Health

Deep Breathing – A Simple, Powerful Exercise for Physiological and Emotional Health

Are you feeling emotionally and physically exhausted? You are not alone. There is a reason for it. Your sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive. Normally, our “fight or flight” response is in reaction to a real or perceived threat that is an event. That event is usually a single short-lived event, or an ongoing experience with varying periods of danger and safety.

What we are experiencing now is different. We are experiencing a heightened sense of real danger, and it is all the time. All. The. Time. No wonder scientists say that this is equivalent to running a half-marathon. When we perceive a threat, our sympathetic nervous system goes into action to protect us. However, when prolonged, it has a negative impact on our physiology and our emotional well-being. It results in:

  • Digestive problems
  • Lowered immune functioning
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased release of the stress hormone cortisol
  • Increased heart rate
  • Sleep problems

The good news is that there are several things you can do to counteract this stress caused by your sympathetic nervous system being in overdrive. One is to invoke your parasympathetic nervous system. It is really cool that we have the power to do this. We have control over our bodies! And the simplest way to do it is, ready for it?  Breathing. Deep breathing.

You may say, “Breathing?! But I already do that! I breathe all day!”

This is a different kind of breathing. Normally, we take shallow breaths that bring air to our chest.  Deep breathing involves intentional effort and focus to bring it deeper, to the belly.  One way to do it is to imagine that you are filling your stomach with air, like a balloon. Rest your hands on your stomach, and you will know when you are getting the air deep into your diaphragm because you will see your stomach rise and fall, not your chest.

Simply get comfortable in a chair, rest your belly, and breathe in, and bring that breath in deep. Then exhale. That’s it! Do this for as long as you like. Aim for 2 minutes minimum.

If you find your mind wanders, you may wish to follow a guided meditation while deep breathing. Here are some information and instructional videos. Everyone is different. Listen, and repeat the one that works for you. You can simply go to Youtube and search for “deep breathing exercises”. Here are two:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wemm-i6XHr8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQjGqtH-2YI

Or download the app Insight Timer, and in the search bar, put in “deep breathing”.

This is a really effective preventative exercise. When you do it on a regular basis, you are reducing stress and inducing the “relaxation response” – a term coined by Herb Benson, MD in the 60s and 70s. If you’re interested in learning more, I suggest reading The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson. Doing deep breathing on a regular basis helps to lower stress and anxiety, improve immune functioning, and increase relaxation.

In addition, when you do it on a regular basis, you are familiar with it and comfortable, so that when you are feeling stressed and anxious, it can be something you quickly employ to help prevent anxiety from spiraling out of control or into a panic attack.

Both are great reasons for making time daily for simple breathing exercises!

Building Resilience – Reflect on What You Have Overcome

Happiness is fleeting. It is not possible, and I would argue that it is not even desirable, to maintain a constant level of happiness. But that does not mean that life cannot be good, even through difficult times.

In order to live your best life, it is important to build resilience. Resilience is the ability to recover and grow in the face of adversity. We all face adversity at some points in our lives, and the more resilient we are, the quicker and better we are at recovering, growing, moving forward and enjoying life. The good news is, you can build resilience at any age.

In addition, resilience is like a muscle. The more you work on it, the stronger it gets.

Resilience Tip – Remember All You Have Overcome

Reminding yourself of all of the obstacles that you have overcome in your life will help you to maintain the mindset that you can overcome whatever obstacle, challenge, or stress you are now facing. Since what we are going through now is “unprecedented”, we do not have a similar experience to compare this to. However, you are the same person, and even though the situation might not be the same, YOU have the same strengths. It is helpful to remind yourself of your power within.

Remind yourself every day.

 

Here is a strengths-based activity for you to download, print, and begin journaling. Remember:

  • What we think about, we bring about.
  • When we put our thoughts on paper, they become even stronger.

resilience tip – remember all you have overcome

Resources for additional reading on Resilience:

• Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges by Steven Southwick, MD and Dennis Charney, MD
• Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg.

Making the Most Out of the Upcoming Days While Children are Home From School

Stick to schedules. Children thrive with consistency and predictability, especially during times of stress and uncertainty. The more you are able to stick to their regular schedule and routine, the better.

Stick to family “rituals”, or create new ones. Here is a link to an article I wrote with some ideas about family routines and rituals.

Exercise – Any type of exercise is good for mental health. Exercise is particularly important during this time because children are not receiving their typical amount of daily movement, simply because they are not going to school and doing all of the walking and other movement that being in school provides. Dance. Run up and down the steps.  Run around the house. Skip rope. Stretch. Have a plank contest. Make an obstacle course in the living room. You can use videos on the Internet for guidance and instruction regarding an exercise/stretching routine.

Get Outside – Every day, make a point to get outside and get fresh air.

Games and Entertainment – try going back to basic! Play cards, board games related to child’s age, such as Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, Sorry, Backgammon, Life, or Monopoly, if you have them.

Alone time – Children and adults may need time alone. Everyone has different temperaments, personalities, and levels of need for alone time.

Social Needs – as human beings, we are hard-wired to be social. Children receive much social benefit by being among peers at school. Some may experience a change in mental health related to the lack of face to face contact with friends. Utilize methods of connecting with video so that children are able to “see” friends’ faces. You could use Facetime, Zoom, Skype.

Mental Health  – Some children may be experiencing difficulties coping with the disruption of daily life. Here are some apps related to mental health.

If a child is really struggling, you may wish to reach out to a mental health professional. Many are providing telehealth – services through video or phone.  If you feel that your child needs help, don’t wait. You do not need to wait until the crisis is over. Many professionals are providing phone and video sessions/consultation/education with the understanding that these are difficult times. Here is an article I wrote regarding some guidance when to seek mental health services.

Here is a recent article I wrote regarding taking care of yourself and children emotionally and mentally during this crisis.

Make the Most of Family Dinners – with children’s activities and sports being canceled, this is freeing up time for families to have more meals together. Here are some simple suggestions for making the most out of this time.

Provide Comfort and Show Love – Children may not be showing a need for it or asking for it, but uncertain times can leave children feeling uneasy, increasing their need for outward demonstrations of comfort and love – even teenagers. Here are some simple ways to provide that.

Begin Early Spring Cleaning – you can use this unexpected time at home to get a head start on spring cleaning. Children can go through their bedrooms, play rooms, and drawers and make three collections: 1) what to keep, 2) what to donate, and 3) what to throw away

Engage in Arts and Crafts

Children may become bored during extended times at home.  You can engage in some simple, novel activities. These are very simple, but if they are new, they will be novel and capture children’s interest.

Make home made play dough – here is a link to some playdough recipes that do not involve cooking, some that do involve cooking, and/or are edible!

Corn starch and water – use any large bowl or small plastic bin and mix cornstarch and water. Change the consistency by adding different amounts of water and cornstarch. Don’t be afraid to get messy! This cleans up really easily with water.

Water and dish soap – use any large bowl, plastic bin, or simply a clean sink. Child can play with just bubbles, or “wash” toys and dolls.

Any craft with repetitive motion – Crafts with repetitive motion are great for quieting the mind and inducing relaxation.

 

Some Suggestions for Coping with Stress/Anxiety/Crisis

I also posted this as a video on my business facebook page, if you are interested in seeing/hearing the video that accompanies this article, click  Dr Peggy DeLong Psychologist Author Speaker

I also posted on my brand new YouTube channel – view by clicking here

  1. Often when we are dealing with a problem or crisis in our lives, we experience intrusive thoughts in the middle of the night, or during the day. My go-to technique for coping with this is gratitude. Think about one thing you are grateful for. This does not make the problem go away, but can stop worrying and negative thinking from spiraling out of control. It is really hard to simply shut off your thoughts. It is more helpful to send that energy in a positive direction, and one of the easiest ways to do it is through gratitude. Simply think of one thing you are grateful for, and think about it as much detail as possible. Focus all of your thought and energy on that one, positive thing.
  2. Get support. Talk to a friend. Talk to your spouse or other family member. Talk to your therapist. If you are concerned about an in-person session, many therapists are offering phone and video sessions. While I cannot provide therapy for anyone I know personally, I am available if anyone would like mental health education/consultation.
  3. Decide what you can and cannot control. Anxiety is related to what we cannot control. When you find yourself having these thoughts, which are usually related to things in the future beyond your control, work on letting those thoughts go. But this first involves thinking about whether the thought or worry is related to something in or out of your control. If out of your control, any time or energy spent on it is not helpful.  Work on letting it go, and then focus on what is within your control. It can help you feel better by focusing your energy on things that are within your control and taking action. Taking action is one way to minimize anxiety.
  4. In times of difficulty, people have the opportunity for increased emotional closeness. This is an opportunity for increased human connection. I am talking about emotional connection, not physical. Three simple things to focus on when touching is discouraged: 1) Eye Contact – when you make eye contact with someone, it releases oxytocin in the other person’s brain, producing a feel-good, cared for effect in the other person. This is a simple, wonderful way that you can have a positive impact on someone. 2) Smile – when you smile, you are releasing dopamine and serotonin in your own brain, resulting in a boost in mood. In turn, 70% of people will smile back at you. This results in the other person having the same neurochemical response, and provides an opportunity to connect with another human being. 3) Words – tell people how much they mean to you. Call, text, or facetime an old friend. Say, “I love you.”
  5. Be mindful of possible of heightened grief reactions. If you have experienced difficulty, trauma, or loss during the recent past, you may regress or experienced heightened feelings related to grief and previous losses. This is normal. What we are experiencing involves loss – loss of plans, loss of travel, loss of interaction, loss of normalcy. Sometimes difficult times like this, particularly ones related to grief, loss, and trauma, can trigger feelings regarding a previous loss, even if the type of loss is unrelated. Have compassion for yourself – you are not “weak”, “overreacting”, or any other negative thought you are telling yourself. Be kind to yourself. Have compassion for yourself.
  6. Engage in simple self-care and stress reduction methods. I mean really simple. These are so simple that you may dismiss their effectiveness. I am keeping them simple for a reason – under times of stress, we often neglect self-care. Here are some suggestions based on science:
  • Look at something beautiful, either outside in nature, a photograph, or even with your imagination. The brain cannot distinguish the difference between living an event, or imagining an event. This is why visualization is so powerful. The reason looking at or visualizing something beautiful has a positive impact is something scientists have referred to as “the awe factor”. Awe stops us from ruminating about our problems and stressors, leading to increased happiness. Think about it. It makes so much sense! Think about the last time you witnessed a beautiful sunrise or sunset, lovely flower, or wildlife creature in nature. Were you thinking about your troubles of the day at the same time you enjoyed the awe? Probably not. Awe stops negative thinking in its tracks. One study found that people who experienced the awe related to looking at something beautiful in nature lost their sense of time. It is like we are suspended in space and time, allowing a temporary reprieve from our troubles or worries.
  • Listen to or look at water. Doing so lowers blood pressure and heart rate. It triggers a neurochemical reaction in our brains. Even pictures, recorded sounds, fountains, and being in the shower produce similar effects. You could download the app Insight timer, and in the search area, put “water”, “rain”, “ocean”, or other water-related word to listen to various water sounds.
  • Spend time in nature. Even a brief 15 minute walk in nature makes a difference – decreases negative thinking, higher levels of positive emotions, lower blood pressure, decreases muscle tension, and lowers stress hormones – particularly being around trees. Also, the mental health benefits of being in nature does not require exercise. Simply being/sitting near trees, water, or a beautiful sight has benefits.
  • Laugh and be goofy. Humor is a stress reliever. Sometimes people are reluctant to engage in humor during difficult times out of concern of appearing insensitive. These are times when humor is helpful. Laughter truly is good medicine, physiologically and emotionally.
  • Anything you like to do. If you already have an exercise routine, try to stick to your routine. You may need to make changes if this involved going to a gym. During times of stress, we need the mental health benefits of exercise. Stretch, walk up and down the stairs, do yoga. This need not be for a long period of time. Even 15 minutes of physical activity has mental health benefits.
  • Be mindful of possible of heightened grief reactions. If you have experienced difficulty, trauma, or loss during the recent past, you may regress or experienced heightened feelings related to grief and previous losses. This is normal. What we are experiencing involves loss – loss of plans, loss of travel, loss of interaction, loss of normalcy. Sometimes difficult times like this, particularly ones related to grief, loss, and trauma, can trigger feelings regarding a previous loss, even if the type of loss is unrelated. Have compassion for yourself – you are not “weak”, “overreacting”, or any other negative thought you are telling yourself. Be kind to yourself. Have compassion for yourself.

Addressing children’s worries:

Here are some suggestions regarding addressing your child’s needs and questions.

  1. Consider your child’s developmental level. Children have their own individual responses to information and images they may see on social media or television based on their age and developmental level. Their concerns are, “Am I safe?”  “Is my family safe?” For all of these reasons, it would be wise to limit and closely monitor what your child is exposed to via the media.
  2. Consider your child’s temperament. A sensitive child, or a child who is more prone to anxiety is more prone to experience distress. These children may be more likely to experience nightmares, have difficulty concentrating, and have concerns about the safety of loved ones and themselves. It is important to limit exposure to the media. Also monitor your child’s distress. If your child demonstrates a change in eating and sleep habits, demonstrates excessive worries, suffers from nightmares, and/or loses interest in formerly enjoyable activities, your child may benefit from additional support.
  3. Address your child’s concerns about Some experts believe that it is OK to make absolute “promises” that you may not be able to keep, such as “Nothing is going to happen to our family.” That may not always be the best approach, especially if you do not feel comfortable making such a promise. In that case, your child will pick up your cues of discomfort and receive mixed messages leading to confusion. You may feel more comfortable saying that you are doing everything to keep your child and family safe, rather than making a “promise”.
  4. Talk to children about their fears. Some parents may be reluctant to do so because they think that bringing up their children’s concerns or worries may heighten their fears. Having children keep their thoughts and fears to themselves is actually more detrimental. It may be helpful for parents to begin the conversation. Parents may begin by simply asking children what they have seen or heard on TV, social media, or at school, and what they think about it. You do not need to introduce any new information. Simply ask your children what they have heard, and what they are thinking about it. Keep open the lines of communication for ongoing dialogue. Remember that it is important to listen to whatever your child has to say. Provide opportunities for discussion, such as returning home from school, at the dinner table, or at bedtime. Do not dismiss any expressed fear or anxiety. Simply listen to your child, communicate that you understand, and provide comfort and validation.
  5. Stick to routines, or create new ones if you do not have a routine. This is helpful around mealtimes, bedtimes, activities, etc. Routines and knowing what to expect help provide children with a sense of security and familiarity, especially during times of stress. Any routine that you can maintain is helpful, particularly when other routines, such as going to school, have been disrupted.
  6. Monitor what your child views through the media. Even if you think that your child is too young to comprehend words and images from television and social media, your child can pick up on your emotional reaction and be affected. You are better off to watching the news while your child is not around to hear or see it.
  7. Provide physical comfort and extra nurturance. Hugs, saying “I love you”, or an unexpected love note can help a child to feel safe and cared for. Even teenagers, who may shrug your attempts of affection, need to be comforted.
  8. Be mindful of possible stress reactions. This includes regressing to previous behaviors, such as thumb sucking and bed wetting.
  9. Be prepared to answer questions. Prepare an answer to what your child might ask you so that you are better equipped to respond. You may want to consult with your partner and other important people in your child’s life for consistency in responding. These may include questions about illness and death, why bad things happened, will anything happen to them or someone they love, etc.
  10. Engage in an act of kindness. While we cannot take away the pain and suffering of others affected, doing something positive to help others can alleviate some of the feelings of sorrow and helplessness. Studies demonstrate that it is those who reach out to others and engage in acts of kindness during times of crisis fare better.
  11. Incorporate soothing and relaxing activities into your child’s schedule. This may include exercise such as walking together, or quiet times such as board games, listening to music, coloring, and reading books together.
  12. Remember that adults are affected emotionally as well, and we may experience a heightened concern about the safety of our family and our loved ones. Also, the changes in daily life, such as schools closed, long lines at the grocery store, and difficulty finding common household items can result in an uneasy feeling. The better you are able to take care of your own needs and feelings, the better you will be able to meet the needs of your child. Take care of yourself.

Simple Ideas to Get Through a Difficult Day

(Heck – do these EVERY day!)

1. Get outside. Spending just 5 minutes outside can elevate mood and help you get through the day. Go outside for a few minutes during your lunch break.

2. Move. If you are working at your desk, make a point to get up and move your body every hour. Through deliberate body movement, we can influence our emotional states. This is a basic idea used in dance/movement therapy. Body movements associated with happiness, such as skipping, have been used to purposefully boost one’s mood. If you’re at a home office, skip from your office to the kitchen to get your lunch. If you’re at the office, shock your coworkers and skip down the hall! And if you don’t feel like skipping, don’t worry. Any kind of movement will help your emotional state.

3. Plan for enjoyment. Have something to look forward to at the end of the day. Get together with or plan a phone call with a good friend. Read a good book. Watch your favorite movie. Engage in your favorite physical activity. Eat a good meal.

4. Visualize. When you cannot escape your physical situation, escape with your mind. Visualize a favorite spot or experience. Remember it with as much detail as possible. Did you know that your brain cannot distinguish between living an event and remembering an event? The same feel-good neurotransmitters are firing, resulting in a boost in mood.

5. Hydrate. Drink plenty of water. One study found that drinking water decreased confusion, depression, and tension.

6. Smile. The act of smiling releases dopamine in your brain, which increases feelings of happiness. It also increases the release of serotonin, which is known to reduce stress and help the body relax. In turn, this lowers heart rate and blood pressure. And get this: it doesn’t even need to be a genuine smile. So if you’re feeling emotionally down in the dumps and have no reason to smile, then force one. The brain cannot distinguish the difference between a genuine smile or a forced smile. You can actually “trick” your brain to release serotonin and dopamine—and get yourself into an improved mood!

Mental Health Goal Setting for 2020

When setting goals for 2020, don’t forget about your emotional and mental health! Make your/your family members’ mental health a priority. Set some concrete goals where your whole family can benefit. Here are six simple ideas:

  1. Less technology and social media…. Studies demonstrate a correlation between depression and the amount of time that teens (and adults!) spend on social media. Keep personal devices out of bedrooms, off the dinner table, and avoid use in the morning before school/work.  Here are some additional suggestions regarding limiting screen time.  http://166.62.43.57/~drpeggyd/six-suggestions-for-limiting-screen-time/
  2. Be still. Sit in a comfy chair and just breathe for five or ten minutes. Clear your head of your thoughts, particularly negative thoughts and to-do lists. Bring your focus back to your breath. This may feel funny at first and take some practice, but stick with it. The benefits are less stress and anxiety, and less emotional reactivity. And when you’ve mastered just breathing and clearing your mind of your thoughts, practice visualizing what you would like for your day, what you would like for your life. Then envision yourself already having it. If you would like some guidance and convincing regarding this powerful exercise for every day living, read “Into the Magic Shop” by James Doty.
  3. Get outside, and better yet, with others! Research demonstrated that walks in nature with others were associated with decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety, and an overall enhanced sense of well-being. Here is a relevant study – http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/10/18/ease-stress-and-improve-mental-health-with-group-nature-walks/
  4. Express appreciation every day. This can be formally, through a Gratitude Journal, or simply by telling others that you appreciate them, and what you appreciate about them. One study found that a simple way to improve a relationship was to express appreciation for that person.  Here is an article about expressing appreciation in a relationship http://166.62.43.57/~drpeggyd/one-simple-way-to-improve-a-relationship/. and another article about ways of practicing gratitude http://166.62.43.57/~drpeggyd/one-simple-thing/
  5. More family dinners. Studies demonstrate that children who have regular family dinners have improved mental health and overall well-being (they also have improved grades and make better decisions regarding risky behavior).  Here are some additional suggestions regarding making the most of family dinners.  http://166.62.43.57/~drpeggyd/ten-ideas-to-make-the-most-of-family-dinners/
  6. Don’t be afraid to seek professional support!  A recent study found that one in five children has or has had a debilitating mental health disorder.  But you/your child do not need to have a mental health “problem” to seek support and advice.  Just like we take our children for annual physical check-ups, mental health check-ups and check-ins are helpful as well, and sometimes can make all the difference in the world in a child’s overall sense of well-being.  http://166.62.43.57/~drpeggyd/some-guidance-regarding-when-to-seek-mental-health-services/

5 Daily Gratitude Exercises in Less Than 5 Minutes to Change Your Life

1. Every day before you get out of bed, say “thank you” out loud.

When we say the two words “thank you”, we are priming our brains to be more positive. This is because our whole lives, these words have been associated with positivity. We thank people for nice, positive things, not for crummy, negative things!

Keep in mind when you say these two words, you do not even need to be thinking about what you are thankful for. Just focus on saying a heartfelt “thank you”. Your brain will do the rest!

Your brain receives a dose of “feel-good” neurotransmitters, and you are setting the stage for your brain to notice all that is good around you.

You are beginning your day in the most positive way, and also heightening your level of awareness of all the good things that happen throughout the day.

 

2. Set your intention at the beginning of every day to focus on gratitude and being more aware of all that is good around you.

When we set our intention, we are activating a part of our brain called the Reticular Activating System. This is the part of the brain that works as a filtering system and sorts through all of the millions of pieces of data that bombard our senses every day.

Setting our intention to focus on gratitude magnifies our ability to notice and celebrate the good things, and pay less attention to the negative things. Doing so helps the Reticular Activating System do its job.

Setting our intention to focus on gratitude does not change the world, but it changes the way we see the world.

We see the world in a more positive light. We are better able to see the wonderful things, big and small, and pay less attention to or not even notice the negative things.

 

3. Express appreciation for an important person in your life every day.

Expressing appreciation for people in our lives or their behavior is the easiest way to increase the level of closeness and improve the quality of our relationships.

When we express appreciation for another human being, not only are we making another person feel good, but we are experiencing a boost in mood in the process.

This works particularly well when we express appreciation for things we take for granted, or for behavior that is expected.

This appreciation can be expressed in many different ways – say it in person, write a thank you note, make a phone call, or send an email or text.

 

4. Use unwanted, “negative” feelings during the day as a trigger to find something to be grateful for, or for a lesson.

When we experience feelings that we do not want, such as jealousy, frustration, or anger, we can use that feeling as a trigger to find something positive in a situation.

One of our greatest human freedoms is our ability to choose our own thoughts. Our feelings are directly impacted by our thoughts. We can use feelings of anger and frustration as a sign that it is time to look for something positive.

What good can come out of this situation? What can I learn here? What is something positive that I can find or create?

This helps us to avoid going into a downward spiral of negativity when something goes wrong, and instead send that energy in a positive direction.

 

5. Before you fall asleep, think of two experiences you had that day for which you are grateful.

Our sleep is affected by what we do and think right before sleep. Thinking about two positive experiences is a wonderful way to end the day, and bring that positivity right with us into sleep.

When you do this on a regular basis, you will become more aware of things to be grateful for and pay more attention to them as you go about your day, because you know that when you go to sleep, you are challenging yourself to recall two wonderful experiences.

Over the course of time, when done on a regular basis, you are literally rewiring your brain to think more positively. You are training your brain to pay more attention to the positive, and less attention to the negative. This will become habit and involve less conscious effort. It will simply become your way of being in the world. Positive. Appreciative. Grateful.

Don’t Take Things Personally

“Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally. Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves.” –Don Miguel Ruiz

 

I delivered a presentation related to my next book – suggestions for finding joy in every day living, including on our worst days.  ‘Cause we all have bad days. One of the topics was “Don’t Take Things Personally.”

 

Being unattached to what other people say or do is much easier said than done. This means not allowing other people’s words or behavior to affect you or make you believe that they have anything to do with you. When you work toward this, you will be much more fulfilled in everyday living. You will be happier because you will stop thinking that others’ bad moods, rude comments, or disrespectful behavior has anything to do with you. People’s reaction to you is really not about you. It is about THEM. Each person has their own history, experiences, hurts, and wins. Their behavior is based on their own histories and hurts, not on you. Our childhood and past experiences influence shape our personalities and have a great influence on our functioning in our adult lives.

 

Not taking things personally is easier to do as you get older, because experience teaches you that other people’s behavior is not about you. You may even learn YEARS later that someone’s negative behavior that you THOUGHT was about you had absolutely nothing to do with you. When you have the benefit of this knowledge, it helps understand the concept. Of course, some situations may make this more challenging, such as being in a co-dependent relationship, or having frequent interactions with a narcissist.

When someone insults you or does some other hurtful behavior (that you interpret that way), let those feelings remind yourself, “Do NOT take this personally, smart self. This is about her, not me. This is about the way she sees the world, not me. This is her problem, not mine.” You are then protecting yourself emotionally, and over time with practice, developing immunity to intentional and unintentional hurtful words and behavior of others.

 

You may also take it a step further and understand that often someone’s hurtful words stem from feeling hurt themselves.  Then instead of turning anger into neutrality, you could use it as an opportunity to experience something positive – to feel compassion. This not only frees yourself from hurt feelings, but you can turn it around by experiencing the wonderful feeling that you get inside when you have compassion for another human being.

 

Take Action

  1. If changing this habit is challenging, don’t worry; it is for most people. That is why Ruiz chose it as one of the four agreements to write about. So remind yourself that this is not easy; it will take effort and practice, every single day. Give yourself some slack about how hard it is at first.
  2. When you first notice that you are getting worked up about someone’s behavior or words, that is your cue for some self-talk. Simply tell yourself, “Do not take this personally. This is not about me. This is about them. I am okay.” Or if you want to inject some humor, think to yourself, “Not my circus. Not my monkeys.”
  3. Don’t wait until you are in the moment to address this common habit; be proactive. Put little signs around your house, your car on sticky notes. You can write the serious mantra, “Do not take things personally,” or the silly one, “Not my circus. Not my monkeys.” Or if you want to keep it private and in code, write “DNTTP,” (do not take things personally), “NAM” (not about me), or print out an image, serious or funny, associated with this mantra. You could even contact me to have a custom bracelet made with your mantra!
  4. Another way to be proactive is to use positive affirmations, such as “I am impervious to other’s hurtful behavior. I am aware enough to understand that others’ hurtful words are not about me. It’s about them.”
  5. Start the day with a brief meditation or deep breathing. Set your intention for the day to shift taking things personally.

 

Many more topics related to finding joy and cultivating happiness in my next book – stay tuned!

 

Secret to Happiness

My father knew the secret to happiness

Oh, how he used to embarrass me! He talked to EVERYONE!

My father intuitively knew that the secret to happiness was human connection.  He talked to STRANGERS wherever he went.

Have you noticed a change in your sense of connection with others? Have you found machines where you used to enjoy interacting with humans? Do you get sucked in to social media with the goal of feeling connected, only to feel disconnected?

Well, you are not alone.

Studies demonstrate that people are experiencing more loneliness than ever. In fact, TWICE as much as compared to the 1980s. Social media plays a role in higher rates of loneliness and disconnection, but there are other societal factors as well.

We are social beings. We NEED human connection. Studies demonstrate that feeling connected to others is an important factor in happiness.  As technology gets more and more advanced, humans are being replaced by machines. A simple example is the check-out counter at the grocery store.

Before, while waiting on line at the grocery store, you may have made “small talk” with the person in front of you or behind you. Then maybe you made “small talk” with the cashier, talking about the weather. And it really is not “small” talk. In fact, it is quite significant talk. It all adds up during the day, making us feel part of a community. I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but we are losing our sense of community.

Studies demonstrate that the best emotional benefit related to happiness comes from good ol’ fashioned face-to-face contact with another human being.  And yes, even strangers!

Ask anyone if she thinks what will bring her more happiness – 1) keeping to herself while commuting on a train or bus or waiting on a line, OR 2) engaging in conversation with a complete stranger.

Most people will say that they expect more happiness if they keep to themselves.  However, the opposite is true!

One study found that train commuters who were encouraged to engage in conversation with strangers reported more happiness than commuters who kept to themselves.

The problem is, our behavior is guided by our expectations.  So when we expect that we will be happier if we stick to ourselves, that is exactly what we do. Stick to ourselves!

I’m challenging you to go against your expectations. Talk to a stranger!

Here’s what you can do for more connection: 

  1. Look people in the eye.

I don’t mean look people in the eye in a creepy way. I’ve just noticed that people don’t really LOOK at each other anymore. We’re busy multi-tasking, looking at our phones, being distracted by to-do lists. This lack of connection is leading to a feeling of budding emptiness, or for some, full-blown emptiness and profound loneliness. So look your child or partner in the eye when he or she is talking to you, and look the Shop Rite cashier in the eye when he or she asks you how you are doing. 

  1. Make a plan to get together in person with someone

Studies have shown that nothing can replace in-person meetings. Talking on the phone may help you feel connected, texting/email/social media may help you feel connected, but do not let this replace in-person meetings. Call a friend for coffee or a walk, and get together! 

  1. Put away the distractions

It is not enough simply to make eye contact. In order to be fully engaged with someone, you need to eliminate or minimize distractions. If your child is wanting to tell you a story about school and you are on the computer, don’t just look at your child, but close the computer screen. Turn the phone off. Look your child in the eye and communicate that you are fully present and paying attention.

 

One study found that simply having a smartphone in sight significantly lowered attention to a task. In the study, the phone was turned off and was upside down, yet it still served as a distraction.  So put them out of sight. Cellphone distraction in the classroom has also been associated with lower grades.

 

Also consider the message that you are sending. When you make a conscious effort to put the device away, it sends a message to the person you are with, “You are enough.” So next time you are waiting at the doctor’s office, resist the urge to whip out your phone as a distraction. Look at your child and start a conversation. If you are out to dinner with your spouse, keep the phone in your car. One study found that having a cellphone visible while two people were talking made for less meaningful and engaging conversation. The presumption was that the presence of the phone signified that the people could be interrupted at any point during the discussion.  This caused them to naturally settle in to more trivial topics of conversation. Can you go two hours without being able to be reached? Can you give two hours of your undivided attention to the people or person you are with?

  1. Make a point to connect every day with the people you live with

Families are so busy these days. With sports, Scouts, employment, homework, PTA meetings, etc. it is difficult to find the time to spend together. A solution is to the make the most of what is already occurring in our lives.

Make the most of family dinners. Studies have demonstrated a correlation between family dinners and better mental health and communication skills in children, improved grades, and the avoidance of engaging in teen risky behavior, including substance use. Some suggestions for making the most of this time include keeping electronics off of the table, expressing gratitude, avoiding talking about a problem for one child in front of siblings, and keeping the conversation positive.

Get the most out of travel time. You could make a family rule that electronics and ear phones are not used for short car rides. If it is a “rule”, then you do not need to argue about each time you get in to the car. These car rides are the times when we can learn about our children’s days and their thoughts. Also, just being together, even in the absence of words, is an opportunity to connect. These are missed opportunities when our children are plugged in and tuned out on their devices. To get the conversation going, you could purchase a conversation starter to keep in the car, such as Tabletopics Family: Questions to Start Great Conversations, which can be purchased on Amazon.

Limit screen time and time on devices. Screen time, whether it is on a computer, smartphone, or tablet, can be addictive. For both parents and adults, this can not only take away from family time, but studies have also linked screen time with depression and anxiety. Resist the temptation to whip out the device during down time. We have small periods of down time during the day, and we have become so accustomed to being entertained and processing information that we feel the need to fill a void when nothing is happening. We need that down time to unwind, think, process emotions and thoughts, or just be. We need that down time to connect with our children or just BE together in the absence of distraction.

 

Check-in with your child 5-10 minutes every day at bedtime. Bedtime is a great time to check-in with our children because it is a quiet time without distractions. This could be a time to talk about your child’s day, express gratitude, or just lay down next to your child and be together. At bedtime, children are tired, their defenses are down, and they are more emotionally vulnerable. This can be a time for poignant connecting on an emotional level.

Just a little but powerful lesson that my father taught me – make a conscious effort to connect with others.