Category: Inspiration/Advice

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.

 

 

 

The Healing Power of Giving

Here are some of my favorite quotes about the power of giving:

“The law of giving is very simple. If you want joy, give joy. If love is what you seek, offer love. If you crave material affluence, help others become prosperous.” Deepak Chopra

“This is what life is about. It’s a chance to help and give to others.” Al Mitchell

“True happiness comes from the effort of making others happy. Give and share your love every day.” Tinku Razoria

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Mother Teresa

 

One of the best ways to feel better is to give to others. The benefit is twofold. Someone is benefiting from your kindness, time, and/or generosity, and you are left feeling better. In addition, doing for others helps take the focus off of our own sorrows. I don’t see this as “charity”, but rather an understanding that we all have struggles, and to give when you can to help make someone else’s day a little brighter. Your day will be brighter too.

Psychologists are now saying that “resilience is the new happiness”. And guess what boosts resilience? Giving to others! Studies have found that people who give to others have the highest levels of resilience. The giving need not be fancy nor elaborate, time-consuming nor expensive. Some simple examples are participating in a meal delivery for someone going through a difficult time, offering to drive a child for a busy mother who is juggling schedules, or donating to the local food pantry. The possibilities are endless!

 

Here are some benefits of giving and why it is helpful for our mental health

  1. Giving serves as a distraction from our own problems

Giving to others is a distraction from our own worries and concerns. When we focus on the needs of other people and connect with them, we are for that time distracted from the difficulties of our own lives. This is not to say that we should ignore our own problems. In fact, that is definitely something to avoid. Many times when people are focused on giving to others, they do not pay sufficient attention to their own problems. So make sure that you always come back to dealing with your own problems after helping someone else.

Helping other people makes us realize that we are not alone. We are not alone in the struggles of life. Everyone has something different that they are dealing with, but everyone is dealing with something. Often when we are giving to others, we are giving to someone we perceive as being in a more difficult situation than ourselves. That is all about perception. But that perception may help you feel better about your own difficult situation.

 

2. Giving to others helps to build social connections

When we give to others, we are connecting with other human beings. As human beings, we are wired to be social. These social connections help to fulfill a basic human need and boost our mood. We can also form social connections by being with other people we are giving with, further fostering connections. All of these connections help to build our social support network, and this network in turn helps with resilience. And the more resilient we are, the happier lives we live. Life is filled with problems, and we are able to bounce back and feel better when we are resilient.

A study at National Institutes of Health by Jorge Moll in 2006 found that helping others activates the region in the brain that is responsible for pleasure, trust, and social connection, leading to what may be referred to as the “helper’s high”.

 

3. Helping others reduces stress

Helping others also benefits with stress reduction, which in turn boosts physical health. In their study published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology, Rachel Piferi and Kathleen Lawler found that people who gave to others had lower blood pressure, which is associated with lower stress levels.

 

4. Helping others fosters gratitude

One of the wonderful benefits of giving to others is that it helps foster gratitude. It helps us to be more grateful for what we have and everything that is going well in our lives. People who regularly give to others have higher levels of perceived happiness. Happiness expert Barbara Frederickson has discovered this finding in her research.

 

There are many different ways of giving

  1. Give time

Organize a food or clothing collection. Be a Big Brother or Big Sister. Mentor a young professional. Visit a senior center or Veteran’s Hospital. Volunteer as a Scout Leader or through a Parent Teacher Association. Serve on a township committee of interest to you.

One study found that people who volunteered more than once monthly, but less than once weekly, had were 12% more likely to report happiness than people who had not volunteered.

2. Give Resources

This does not need to be materialistic. If you have an area of knowledge or expertise, this can be shared with others. Share your knowledge or talent. Run a workshop at a local library. If you are an attorney, offer your knowledge to a domestic violence shelter or other agency. If you are a mental health professional, offer a free workshop in your community. If you are a landscaper, mow the lawn of someone who is ill or grieving. Give blood during a blood drive.

3. Give love and attention.

Visit the elderly in nursing homes. Visit a children’s hospital and read to children or play games. Sing at a Veteran’s hospital.

4. Give money or goods

Donate to a Go Fund Me page to a person needing help. Donate to the Red Cross after natural disaster.

Elizabeth Dunn and Lara Aknin (2008) found that people who spent more money on others rather than themselves had higher levels of happiness.

 

So how can you put this into meaningful action?

  1. Think about what brings you joy. What are you good at? How can you give to others while sharing your joy, knowledge or talent?
  2. Remember that it does not need to be something big or take huge amounts of time. Sometimes these thoughts are what prevent people from taking the first step. So keep it simple. You can always build upon it.
  3. Remember that there are so many different ways to give. Which feels best for you? You may not have much money to spare, you can give your time. Or maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed with the demands of your daily life, but you have money, you can provide a financial donation.
  4. Be mindful of not using giving to others as a distraction from dealing with your own problems. You can take a break from them, but don’t neglect them.
  5. Your way of giving is unique to you. You can give of your time, resources, knowledge, talent, attention, love, money, or goods. Do not compare yourself to how others are giving. Do what feels good for you.

In Gratitude,
Peggy

Do You have an A.W.E.S.O.M.E. file?

Do you have an AWESOME file? You should! It’s good for your mental health and achieving your personal and professional goals.

 

We all deal with our own negative thoughts.  In fact, did you know that about 80% of our thoughts are negative, and that 95% of those are the same as the day before??? No wonder it feels like battling negative thoughts is a constant struggle!

 

On top of that, we have a tendency to take things personally!

 

On top of that, we have a tendency to compare ourselves to others.

 

On top of that, we feel frustrated when we are not achieving our goals fast enough.

 

On top of that, we feel crushed when we are rejected.

 

An AWESOME file helps you stay on track, lifts your mood when you’re feeling down, provides inspiration when you’re dealing with rejection –  instantaneously!  This file is not only helpful in achieving your goals, but is also simply helpful for mental health.

 

And I am ALL ABOUT supporting you with your mental health.

 

So here’s how it goes.

 

YOU create this A-W-E-S-O-M-E file.

 

A – Achievement.

W – Wisdom.

E – Empathy.

S – Strength.

O – Optimism.

M – Motivation.

E – Excellence.

 

Every time you achieve something big or small, write it down.

Every time you are proud of knowledge gained or lesson learned, write it down.

Every time you have connected with another human being and felt that amazing energy, write it down.

Every time you dealt with something difficult and realized that you had strength you never knew was inside you, write it down.

Every time you have a powerful, positive thought about your future and goals, write it down.

Every time you felt motivated and proud, write it down.

Every time you went above and beyond and demonstrated excellence in your behavior and word, write it down.

 

And when you write it down, remember the event in as full detail as possible, using all of your senses.  What happened? When and where did this happen? What did you do or say? What did anyone say to you? How did you FEEL? Don’t forget to write how you FELT. That is the most important part.

 

Any time you are having a difficult day, dealing with limiting thoughts or rejection, or simply need a boost in mood, review your A.W.E.S.O.M.E. file. You can write it on your computer, but it is even more powerful when you use your hand and write in a notebook with your own handwriting. You will feel a boost in mood, and feel more energetic, motivated, inspired, and optimistic by reading your entries.

 

Added bonus – your brain cannot distinguish the difference between imagining an event and living an event. So when you go back and read your entries and imagine the experience that you wrote about, your brain cannot tell that it is a memory! You will receive a boost in mood similar to actually experiencing the event. The more detailed the description and the more feeling attached to it à the greater the benefit.

 

Start your A.W.E.S.O.M.E file today!

Gratitude Tip – Appreciate Your Life Where It Is

So often when we are working toward a goal, we become frustrated with how far we have to go.  When we are constantly future focused, we can easily lose the opportunity to appreciate the here and now.

Think about today and what you can appreciate about your life right now.  You can also reflect upon where you are now in relation to how far you have come.  And if you are in the midst of a life difficulty or crisis, what is one simple thing that you can appreciate? It is during these times that practicing gratitude can feel difficult or even impossible, but the beauty is that it is when practicing gratitude is the most powerful!

During these times, we have to keep it super-simple.  When we are able to find one simple thing, it does not make the problem go away, but it does help us to feel better.

When I was growing (not “going”) through the most difficult time in my life, I found the healing power of gratitude in a simple cup of hazelnut coffee. A simple, predictable, comforting cup of hazelnut coffee when life was so heavy and unpredictable.

Gratitude heals.

What can you appreciate about your life today, right now?