Category: Inspiration/Advice

It’s OK to Not Feel OK

Most people have a goal of feeling happy. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it is important to acknowledge all of your feelings. To allow yourself to feel and process them. With so much focus on happiness and positivity, you may feel that it is the only option, and that feeling any other way is not acceptable. Then when you are not happy, you want to push those feelings aside. You may feel that something is wrong with you. That is not true. What is true is that you are human.

Experiencing a full range of emotions is part of the human experience. Allow yourself to feel your painful, unwanted emotions with self-compassion and without judgment.

While I speak a lot about positivity and positive psychology, I always start with the message that this is never at the expense of suppressing or ignoring the painful emotions. Never at the expense of numbing yourself. Personal growth and healing take place when you allow yourself to acknowledge when you are not happy, allow yourself to feel, and take steps to work through it, including seeking help if needed.

Working through can take several forms, and that is what my next book is about. It’s being launched on 11/18/20. Simple, doable methods to feel better, even on your worst day. But it starts with acknowledging your pain. It is OK not to feel OK. Especially now. Give yourself some grace. Give yourself some compassion.

Cultivating Joy

Is joy feeling like a foreign experience? Are you feeling guilty when joy comes naturally because you know others are suffering? Or because you are suffering or grieving?

 

Experiencing joy is an important part of emotional well-being. When joy does not come easily, or does not come at all during difficult times, we need to cultivate it. We need to find it. We need to create it.

 

People often have resistance to finding joy. Excuses such as, “I’m too busy,” “I have too much homework,” “There’s no time to do what I really love,” “I don’t even KNOW what brings me joy,” and “That’s selfish. I’ve got kids who need me.”

 

During times of crisis, grief, or tragedy, people feel that they do not deserve to experience joy. They think it is selfish, hedonistic, or inappropriate. They may feel guilty when they experience it. However, it is during these times that we need joy the most.

 

Doing what brings you joy or makes your soul happy actually makes you the best version of yourself. It makes your interactions with all of those around you more loving and pleasant. It makes you a better friend, mother, wife, etc. Doing what brings you enjoyment elevates mood, and that elevated mood in turn affects your behavior and interactions with others. Think of it as your positive mood being contagious, because science demonstrates that it is! So if you still are struggling with the idea that doing what you love is selfish, think of it as one way that you can give to others by “contaminating” them with your better mood, and giving them your best self.

 

It is also important to remember that there is only one person in charge of your life, of your happiness, and that is YOU! You have choices, and you can choose to engage in activities that bring you joy and fulfillment. No one else can do that for you. It is up to YOU to make the time for it.

 

And if improving your emotional health is not sufficient reason for you to engage in doing what makes your soul happy, remember that it also benefits your physical health. Engaging in enjoyable activities reduces stress, and we all know that reduced stress means reduced physical illness.

 

Being too “busy” with school, work, and/or parenthood are the main reasons I hear why people are not doing what brings them joy. One way to address this is to make an appointment with yourself. Yes, that’s right. Make an appointment with yourself. Put it in Google Calendar, or write in on the paper calendar. And then KEEP this appointment. Block out the time and write “me time.” Make a weekly appointment with yourself to do what makes your soul happy. Block out a half day every now and then if you can.

 

Paradoxically, the “busy” person who takes time out for joy is more energized and productive.

It is also important for “busy” people to find enjoyment EVERY day. This need not involve a lot of time, but it is important to engage in something enjoyable every day.

 

There will be times in your life when finding joy and doing what makes your soul happy seems impossible, or not even desirable. When the demands of a job and/or parenthood are simply too time consuming and exhausting, or when a loved one is sick or has died. It is possible to find joy, even during pain, even during exhaustion, even during crisis.  During these times, you can make it a goal to seek joy in daily, mundane tasks. You have to do them anyway, so why not make the best of it? Sing while doing the dishes. Play loud music while cleaning the house. Focus on what you are grateful for or what is going well when feeling anxious or overwhelmed.

 

There will also be times that a life crisis is so heavy and sad that it paralyzes you. Even during these times, it is possible to find joy. When you are having difficulty finding joy on your darkest day, look for love. What love can you find around you? What love are you giving? What love are you receiving?

 

Finding joy and doing what makes your soul happy need not be extravagant. It can be a simple enjoyment. In fact, during a time of crisis, simple may be better.  It is possible to find joy in awful situations. Sometimes, it is the only thing you can do to move through.

 

Finding/creating joy on a regular basis is one enJOYable way to take care of your emotional well-being and mental health. You will not only feel good in the moment while engaging in your enjoyable activity, but you are nurturing your long-term well-being.

Here is a downloadable worksheet that I developed for my therapy clients and members of “Feeling Good with Dr. Peggy” that I am making available for you, too – for you to utilize to help you experience more joy.

May 6 making time for joy worksheet

 

If you’d like to check out the membership, you can do so here – Feeling Good with Dr. Peggy: A Community for Seekers of Joy, Gratitude, Meaning, Resilience, Love, and Fulfillment.

 

And if you’d like a wearable reminder, you may be interested in these bracelets:

Do What Makes Your Soul Happy

The Happiness Bracelet

Common Emotional Experiences Explained, and How to Feel Better

Common Emotional Experiences reported by many during COVID19

  1. Frustration due to Difficulty Concentrating

Many people are reporting difficulty concentrating, difficulty completing simple routine tasks, and “cognitive fog”. This can be explained in part by “cognitive dissonance” and “working memory.” Regarding cognitive dissonance – What is happening in the world does not “fit” into our brains and anything we have experienced before, which is why you are repeatedly hearing the word “unprecedented.” Or it does not fit into what we want to do. Cognitive dissonance is when we have two opposing thoughts, and we feel the resulting discomfort. For example, you may have a thought that you want to go to your favorite crowded restaurant with indoor dining, or hug your friends when you see them. This is dissonant with the thought that this behavior might be harmful. We are constantly adapting to our beliefs and what we believe to be true, and then seeking information to support that belief, and this takes mental energy, whether we realize it or not.

Another reason is because often when we are working on something, it requires working memory. Yet we may be all tapped out with our working memory. New behaviors, such as social distancing and wearing masks have not yet become habits and a well-adopted social norm, causing us to have to make decisions and planning, which requires mental effort. New studies indicate that this is related to working memory, making it difficult for other tasks that require concentration and working memory.

As an example, has there been a time when you left your house and forgot a mask, only to be in a place where it is required? Or maybe you brought your mask to the car, and then forgot to wear it as you approached the store or doctor’s office? Just some examples of how it is not yet a habit or something we do effortlessly with little mental energy.

In addition, there are also many other new thoughts or concerns that take up your mental energy, making simple routine tasks more difficult. For example, you may be driving home, and realize you need to make a quick stop at the pharmacy or grocery store. You may have difficulty making your simple list because you are also having thoughts about wearing a mask, is the store going to have what you need because the last time the store was all out, will someone get too close to you, and other similar thoughts.

 

  1. Intensified Grief regarding past losses

Often when we are going through a difficult emotion, it brings up memories and experiences of a similar emotion. This happens often with grief. This is because our memories are often encoded through our emotions. So when we are experiencing a particular emotion, it may bring up memories that were encoded with that same emotion. We are going through many losses right now, big and small. Loss of life, loss of finances, loss of celebrations, loss of trips, etc. This grief may trigger or intensify grief related to a previous loss. This is common and normal, and it does not mean that you have not healed from previous loss. It means you are human.

 

  1. Anxiety at bedtime/difficulty falling asleep/waking up

Many people who have never had difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep are experiencing difficulty now. Anxiety can be heightened at bedtime or in the middle of the night upon waking. It is common to experience anxiety at night because our defenses are down, leaving us vulnerable to our negative thoughts. We are also not distracted by other behavior and thoughts demanding our attention, leaving us with our worries of the day, or worries related to the upcoming day. When there are no other distractions and we are left with our own thoughts, for many people, this turns to intrusive negative thoughts. One study found that 80% of our thoughts are negative (National Science Foundation, 2005). Negative thoughts about the past often lead to anxiety, as well as depression, or a combination. People play through their minds all of the things they think that they said “wrong” or did “wrong”, judging themselves, or highlighting or exaggerating a perceived negative comment from someone. These negative thoughts can also show up as “what if” thoughts about the future.

 

  1. Feeling emotionally and physically exhausted

Our brains, and therefore our bodies, are responding to a perceived threat. We are bombarded with subtle and not so subtle messages and reminders about the existence of the virus all day long. For example, you may be watching your favorite television show, and the commercial from a national company talks about how we are “all in this together.” They may not mention COVID19, but you know what they are talking about. Or maybe it’s a quick scroll on Instgram or Facebook, and people are wearing masks – another reminder of the existence of the virus through a visual image and the absence of words. Our physiology is then affected in response to the perceived threat. This is a normal and healthy reaction that typically serves us well and keeps us safe. However, during this pandemic, the threat is not going away, and it is constant, resulting in our sympathetic nervous system being in “overdrive”.

Behind the scenes, and likely not noticeable by you, your nervous system is reacting. Physiology changes. This “fight or flight” reaction can result in an increase in the stress hormone cortisol and high blood pressure. We feel emotionally and physically exhausted because the nervous system is constantly responding to this threat. The good news is that there are things we can do to employ the parasympathetic nervous system, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, stretching, to help induce relaxation and counteract the sympathetic nervous system being in overdrive.

 

Here are some methods that you can use to feel better using your thoughts

1. Remind yourself how strong you are. Think about a time in your past when you overcame something difficult. You are that same person. Whatever qualities that got you through that difficult time you still have within you. Take out a piece of paper and write down all of the factors within you that helped you. Consider perseverance, strength, intelligence, empathy, resourcefulness, grit, courage, and more. You STILL have these within you.

 

2. Gratitude. One of the most effective ways to help yourself feel better is to look for what you can be grateful in a particular situation. In some situations, it may be really hard to find. If you cannot find something in the current situation, think about something unrelated that you are grateful for. Focusing on what you are grateful for immediately shifts your mindset and energy into a positive direction. An added bonus is that when you do this on a regular basis, you are retraining your brain to be a more positive thinker by forming new neural pathways in your brain.

 

3. “It starts with me.” This is a great phrase to remember when you are feeling that you are lacking in something. If you are feeling lonely, reach out to another person. If you are seeking comfort, then comfort someone else. There are several benefits for doing this. First, you are making someone else feel good, which can help take the focus off of yourself and your pain. Second, what you put out into the world comes back to you. Eventually, you will find that you are receiving exactly what you are giving to others. (Just remember to accept it – sometimes givers have difficulty receiving). Third, it is one way to take action and feel powerful when you might be feeling powerless.

 

4. Remember that everyone suffers. When you are going through a difficult time, it is helpful to remember that you are not the only one who experiences difficulty or emotional pain. Feeling that you are the only one contributes to feeling lonely, and this can intensify pain and suffering. The point is not to be glad that others have pain, but to simply help you recognize that you are not alone.

 

5. Hope. When going through any difficulty, it is helpful to have hope for a brighter future, and to remind yourself that whatever difficulty you are going through, it will not last forever. You are not going to feel this way forever.

 

6. Remember that your ability to allow yourself to experience and process sadness is in direct proportion to your capacity to experience joy. Be mindful of not numbing yourself to emotion pain because in doing so, you unwittingly close yourself off to the fullness of happiness and joy. Allow yourself to experience and process the uncomfortable emotion, whether that be sadness, grief, disappointment, guilt, betrayal. Then be prepared to engage in some of your favorite ways to help yourself feel better. It can be helpful to have a mental or physical list of these activities so that you do not have to give it any thought at a time when you may feel emotionally depleted.

 

7. Do not take things personally. Often what contributes to an undesirable or uncomfortable feeling is that we have taken someone else’s words or behavior personally and allowed it to affect our well-being. Check in with yourself to see if this is contributing to how you are feeling, and then work on releasing it if you are allowing someone else’s words or behavior to affect you. This is hard to do, and for many people, requires repeated attention. A great book to help with this is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Read the chapter, “Don’t Take Anything Personally.” This book has helped me and my clients so much that I designed a Four Agreements Bracelet. For a little bit more on this, you can read this article. https://drpeggydelong.com/dont-take-things-personally/

 

8. Stop projecting negatively into the future. Sometimes when we are going through a difficult period, we project into the future and imagine that this uncomfortable or painful feeling/situation is going to last forever, or get worse. Exercises in mindfulness can help bring you back to the present moment. Pay attention to your thoughts. If you are engaging in future-thinking that is causing distress, give yourself permission to release those thoughts. Work on being more “mindful” or focusing on the present moment. One simple technique is to use your senses. What do you smell, hear, feel, see? Here is an article with some methods that you can utilize as you go about your day. https://drpeggydelong.com/mindfulness-exercises-for-teens-and-tweens-and-adults-too/

 

9. Remind yourself that uncomfortable feelings are related to an underlying value. When you are experiencing an uncomfortable, painful, or undesirable emotion, it is helpful to uncover what your related value is. For example, you may be feeling guilt in parenting related to spending time working for your business and not with your children because you VALUE being present with your children. You may be experience betrayal or disappointment because you VALUE trust and honesty. Focus on the positive value is helpful. You would not be hurting if you did not have that positive value. Celebrate the positive value.

 

10. Give up control. When you are feeling uneasy, it may be because things are happening that are completely out of your control. This can be quite unsettling. Use your thoughts and figure out what is within your control, and what is out of your control. If something is out of your control, spend some time processing that (disappointment, grief, or whatever related emotion is involved), and then give yourself permission to let it go. (Later in this article I will discuss what you can do behaviorally to focus on what IS within your control).

 

11. You cannot get today back. How can you make the best of it? The day may not be going as planned or the way you want your life to be. After processing disappointment, use your thoughts to think about the best version of yourself. Then use those thoughts regarding that best version of yourself to plan out the rest of the day’s thoughts and actions. Think about how you would like to look back upon the day years from now.

 

12. Living your best life for the people no longer here. One technique is to remember a loved one who has passed who loved you dearly, and imagine that person wanting you to live your best life.

 

13. How can you make your children proud? Think about what you would want your children to learn from your behavior. Yes, children learn from our words, but they learn in more powerful ways through our behavior. What can you show them about resilience? This does NOT mean that you need to be stoic or ignore painful emotions. On the contrary, you can teach them about healthy mental health functioning by showing them that it is OK to be sad, angry, or disappointed, express it, how you moved through it, and your coping skills that helped you.

 

14. What would you tell your best friend? When you are going through a difficult time, think about what you would tell your best friend. We often demonstrate more compassion for others than we do for ourselves. Have compassion for yourself. What comforting words would you say to your best friend? Now say them to yourself.

 

Methods using your behavior

1. Focus on what brings you joy. Sometimes joy comes naturally. Other times, joy needs to be cultivated. I call this “practicing” joy, because it is not a one and done deal. It needs to continually and intentionally be “practiced”. All “practice” means is 1) focused attention, 2) repetition.

One method of cultivating joy is to make time every day to do something you love. “Do what makes your soul happy.” This is important because doing what we enjoy is related to happiness. On the flip side, not doing what we enjoy can lead to depression.

During times of stress, you may have difficulty finding or creating the time or energy to do what brings you joy. You may feel uncomfortable, or even unworthy.

Uncover any negative thoughts that are contributing to you thinking that joy is selfish, that this is not the “right” time, that joy during times of suffering is disrespectful, or any thought that might be getting in the way. It is important to examine these blocks, and to flip them. If you find yourself having any of these thoughts, remind yourself that experiencing joy fosters happiness, and you carry that happiness into your interactions with other people. Then through “emotional contagion”, you can have a positive impact on others through your happiness and positivity. That is not selfish. That is functioning at a high vibrational level, and you bring that goodness to others.

One activity that I used with my monthly membership community, “Feeling Good with Dr. Peggy” is to make a list of some of the things that bring you joy. Yes, write it down. Take out a piece of paper and create 3 columns. In the first column, write things that bring you joy that only take a few minutes, such as reading or writing a letter to someone. In the middle column, make a list of things that take more time. In the right hand column, make a list of things that require a half a day or a full day. Writing these down makes them more likely to happen, and gives you something to look forward to.

In thinking about what brings you joy, consider what brought you joy as a child. Are you doing those things? If not, why? Consider doing an activity that you enjoyed from your childhood that you gave up years ago. One example is kneading playdough. When was the last time you dug your hands into some playdough? Or colored? These are both relaxing activities that are helpful in decreasing stress and anxiety. Here is a link to making your own playdough: https://www.momswhothink.com/playdough-recipe/

Here is a link to some coloring books: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=relaxation+coloring+books&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Arelaxation+coloring+books

What is something new that you could try? Is there anything you have been interested in doing or learning, but felt that you never had the time? Or other responsibilities got in the way? What makes you feel alive? What activity makes you forget about your worries or problems? If you cannot do it the way you would like, can you do a modified version? Do you need to ask for help? Make time to do something you enjoy every day. Yes, every day. Even if you are going through a difficult time. Especially if you are going through a difficult time. Doing what you love not only brings you joy in the moment, but helps you be better able to cope with any difficulties. Make the time for it, even if it is just for five minutes.

Make time within the week to do something you enjoy that may take more time. Schedule a half day or a full day once a week, or every other week.

 

2. Limit social media. There are many reasons to limit social media. First of all, passive social media use is associated with increased symptoms of depression and anxiety. Often, we use social media to fulfill an emotional need. While it may feel good in the moment, it is fleeting. Connecting with people in real life will result in stronger and more lasting positive benefits. In addition, when you limit social media use, you will find that you have more free time to do other things that bring you joy. In Marie Forleo’s book, Everything is Figureoutable, Chapter Four is full of great inspiration and ideas for limiting technology and social media. My monthly membership community, “Feeling Good with Dr. Peggy,” will be receiving a summary and downloadable worksheet. You can join and receive that, along with 60+ exercises for “feeling good” that have been posted since January for just $5 for your first month here

Another resource for motivating you to limit social media is the episode “Dial D for Distracted” (6/1/20) from The Happiness Lab podcast. You can download that on your phone, or go to this website https://www.happinesslab.fm/season-2-episodes/episode-6-dial-d-for-distracted.

 

3. Connect spiritually. This can take on a different form for each individual. For some, it means connecting with religion. For others, it is meditating and connecting with one’s soul. For others, it is connecting with a higher power or the universe. What feels good for you? A great book is “Fire in The Soul: A New Psychology of Spiritual Optimism” by Joan Borysenko, Ph.D.

 

4. Allow yourself to feel sadness. When you experience an uncomfortable or painful emotion, resist the urge to push it away. Allow yourself to feel it and process it. My therapy clients and monthly membership community know that I encourage people to acknowledge, FEEL, and process uncomfortable emotions, because we simply cannot heal what we do not address, and it also paradoxically allows you to experience joy and happiness more fully. This could involve talking about your feelings with a therapist or trusted friend, or writing about it. Here are three great books regarding the therapeutic benefits of writing: 

Opening Up by Writing it Down: How Expressive Writing Improves Health and Eases Emotional Pain by James Pennebaker and Joshua M. Smyth

Expressive Writing: Words that Heal by James Pennebaker and John Frank Evans

Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering from Trauma and Emotional Upheaval by James W. Pennebaker

 

5. Breathe, be still, meditate, stretch, do yoga. All of these activities help quiet the mind and induce relaxation. One simple method of deep breathing is called “box breathing.” Breathe in to the count of four, hold to the count of four, breathe out to the count of four, and pause to the count of four. Here is Youtube video of a description and explanation from the person who created this breathing exercise. – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJnJ4xTkEOY&t=151s

To use this exercise following a video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPYmZOhJF5Q

Another idea is meditation. Insight Timer is an app that you can download on your phone or on computer. www.insighttimer.com. There are thousands of guided meditations to listen to. You can choose male or female voice, topic, length of time, music or no music, and other sounds, such as ocean waves or forest sounds. Use the search bar to look for a topic of interest.

Tara Brach also has wonderful guided meditations – https://www.tarabrach.com/guided-meditations/

 

6. Exert control where you have control. When you are having a difficult day and particularly feeling that things are out of your control, focus your behavior on what you can control. You can choose healthy options that contribute to positive mood. You can control what time you set an alarm, what you eat, whether you exercise or not, how much alcohol you drink, if any, when you go to bed, etc. Decide what you can control, and then choose healthy options.

 

7. Visualize your positive future and take action. When you are going through a difficult time, or life is not as you would like it to be, focus on your future. Think about how you want your future to be. Visualize your future. This need not be a clear picture or photograph. It can be a feeling, or an abstract idea. A great book to help with visualization is Creative Visualization: by Shakti Gawain. After you have thought about and visualized your positive future, think about one goal or behavior change that you can make to get there. For more on this topic, visit my recent blog post: https://drpeggydelong.com/visualize-and-take-small-action/

 

Doing all of the above, remember self-compassion.

Visualize and Take Small Action

In my part of the country, we’re “opening up”, but things are far from “normal”. So much loss. Loss of loved ones. Job loss. Loss of graduation ceremonies, celebrations, family trips, and so much more.

 
COVID19 has affected people in many different ways. Probably as many different ways as there are people. One commonality for many is the loss of structure. The loss of routine. The loss of a schedule. The loss of our fundamental daily rhythm and cycle of life. This can feel quite unsettling and disorienting.
 
This, intermixed with the loss of touch, the loss of in-person contact, the loss of seeing smiles as they’re covered by masks – all of this results in a sort of collective mass trauma. This can make us feel disconnected from ourselves, disconnected from others, and even disconnected from reality at times. People are feeling lonely, confused, distractible, and empty.
 

If you are feeling this way, I want to let you know that you ARE NOT ALONE. 78% of Americans report that COVID19 is a significant source of stress, and Americans are reporting that they are more unhappy than they’ve been in 50 years.
 
It is helpful to stop looking outward at all of the unpredictability, unknown, and chaos, and instead look inward. Reflect. Grow. Or simply BE.
 
One simple suggestion regarding looking inward to cope is to use your mind and develop a positive view of the future. Remember that difficult days will pass, and visualize a positive future. Visualize your positive future in as much detail as possible. I talk about this in my upcoming book in the chapter – “Know That The Toughest Days Will Pass.” When I wrote this chapter two years ago, I never imagined how it would be applicable to COVID19. I never imagined COVID19.
 
One concrete way to develop a positive view of the future is a method called goal visualization. This involves picking a manageable, doable goal, and then writing down how you are going to accomplish that goal. Then you can spend time working on that goal every day. It need not be long. It can be as little as 10 minutes a day. Or it can be one simple, but powerful behavioral change.
 
Here is a personal example of how I used one small behavioral change to better achieve my goals. When schools closed for my 3 teens and my teacher husband, and my physical office closed, I was able to sleep in. This is a luxury I never have! I was able to go to bed without setting an alarm. At first, this was absolutely wonderful. I could not remember the last time I did not need to set an alarm because I always had to be somewhere, and often earlier on weekends than during the week.
 
So this was pure luxury, and pure bliss – for about a week.
 
Then as the pandemic continued, I found myself sleeping later and later. I still did not set an alarm, and I knew that I would always wake up before my first video session with a client.
 
Then it began to feel yucky. The lack of schedule threw me off. I was waking up leisurely, drinking coffee like I had all the time in the world, and then wondering why I was not getting anything done. I looked in my paper calendar, and almost everything I had on my calendar was canceled in those first few weeks. I’m old-fashioned and still use a paper daily planner with calendar, so I can visualize my schedule on one large page.
 
This visual image was tough to look at.
In-person Gratitude presentations – canceled
Committee meetings – canceled
Business meetings – canceled
My son’s Eastern ski championship in New Hampshire – canceled
Taking my mom out to lunch for her birthday – canceled
Book signings – canceled
Book club discussions – canceled
Returning to my home town for a speaking engagement to benefit pediatric cancer – canceled
Teaching how to make mental health/inspirational bracelets at a library – canceled
 
This lack of structure and schedule was disorienting. The coveted luxury of sleeping in soon became disorienting.
 
I thought about how I want to feel in the future looking back at this time, and it was certainly not the unproductive, lazy, confused way I was feeling. So I visualized what I wanted. I visualized a more optimistic future. I visualized being productive and accomplishing my goals, including seeing my next book in print. “Feeling Good: 36 Ways to Happiness, Even During Tough Times.”
 
When we maintain a positive view of our future, we are happier, and it becomes easier to get through a difficult time. This can involve identifying one goal, and the first step to achieving that goal. Achieving those small steps is one way that helps us feel good about ourselves. These successful attempts make us feel accomplished. Doing so has been demonstrated to decrease depression and increase happiness.
 
When we visualize a more positive, pleasant future, we become more motivated to take steps to achieve that, and more optimistic about our ability to do so.
 
For many people, we need to simplify our ideas about how we view success and not expect too much of ourselves, and others, during this time. 
 
We need to develop hope and view our daily lives through that perspective, that lens.
 
Visualize your small, achievable goal, and the simple, actionable steps to get there. Write those steps down. Then dedicate time every day toward that goal.
 
This could be cleaning the bathroom. Removing clutter from the kitchen. Washing windows. Washing your car. Organizing digital videos and photos. Organizing and preserving printed photos. Outlining your book. Washing all the sheets in the house. Pulling weeds. Writing a blog or guest blog for someone. Going through your closet and donating what you no longer wear. Trying a new recipe. Reading a chapter in a book. The possibilities are endless.
 
For me, I visualized my goal of being more productive during my new work day. Implementing this began with a simple behavior change of setting my alarm to get up an hour earlier.
 
That is all I did. I simply set my alarm clock to get up an hour earlier than when I was sleeping in. That simple behavior change has done wonders for my psyche, my circadian rhythm, and my productivity.
 
What is it for you? How do you view your more optimistic future? What small goal can you visualize? What steps can you take to get there?

In Gratitude,

Peggy

The Gratitude Psychologist

Feeling Good with Dr. Peggy” – a monthly membership for cultivating resilience, joy, gratitude, love, and meaning

Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) –

Psychoneuroimmunology – the study of the relationship between psychological processes, the immune system, and the nervous system. I became interested in this field in 1994. I wanted to learn more about what we can do with our minds to boost immune functioning. We all know that stress takes a toll on our bodies. The good news is that we can use the power of our minds to improve immune functioning.

I am not saying to give up traditional medicine. I am highlighting the power of our minds on our health, and how exercises with the mind can not only benefit mood, but also have an impact on physiology and physical health.

Methods of cognitive psychology not only boost mood, but they boost physical health and immune functioning. You can use these methods both as prevention of physical illness, and to help with current symptoms of physical illness.

My favorite books in this area are oldies but goodies!

  • Love, Medicine, and Miracles, by Bernie Siegel, MD (Oncology Surgeon)
  • Peace, Love, and Healing by Bernie Siegel, MD
  • Minding the Body, Mending the Mind, Joan Borysenko, PhD (Cell Biologist/Licensed Psychologist)
  • Fire in the Soul. Joan Borysenko, PhD
  • Full Catastrophe Living: How to Cope with Stress, Pain and Illness Using Mindfulness Meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD (Founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction)
  • Anatomy of an Illness by Norman Cousins
  • And newer – autobiography Into the Magic Shop, James Doty, MD (Neurosurgeon)

There are hundreds of techniques, and they vary greatly. Discover what works well for you.

Here are two mind-body simple exercises that you can easily incorporate into your day. Remember that these enhance emotional well-being, immune functioning, and physical health.

Deep Breathing:

Box Breathing

Visualization

Every time you hear the sound of water, imagine that the water is washing away toxins in your body. You can also imagine that unwanted feelings are being washed away, leaving you with a sense of peace. You could do this while you are washing your hands, washing dishes, or in the shower.

If you are struggling with a physical, psychological, or emotional difficulty, feel free to contact me to set up a consultation where we can devise a plan tailored to your specific needs. Or you may be interested in my monthly membership program, Come Alive with Dr. Peggy, where I teach these methods. You can check that out for just $5 for your first month, and $24/month thereafter.

These methods can help you if:

  • You’re feeling overwhelmed with COVID19, feeling anxious and depressed, and are beginning to feel the stress on your body.
  • You’re experiencing racing,intrusive thoughts about the future, and feel the tightening in your chest with shortness of breath.
  • You’re finding yourself eating more than usual, or drinking more alcohol than usual.
  • You’re finding yourself emotionally numb – you can’t take it anymore – all that’s happening in the world, so you’re shutting off your feelings, to experience less emotional pain, but now you can’t feel joy.
  • You’re having trouble falling asleep, or staying asleep.

You are not alone.

I am fascinated by the mind-body connection. I am grateful for advances in science and technology that demonstrate the effectiveness of these exercises.

In Gratitude,

Peggy

The Gratitude Psychologist

Stop Chasing Happiness.

All my life, people have asked me what I do to be “so happy”.  One of those things is give up the pursuit of happiness, and instead focus on experiencing joy. That way, even during the most difficult times of my life, I make myself feel better. It is much easier to find moments of joy, even while grieving, than to experience happiness.

Many of these things that I do for emotional well-being I stumbled upon in childhood and simply kept doing them. I gave it serious thought, and I came up with 36 different small things that I do for my own mental health/emotional well-being. Stay tuned for my book coming out soon where I present these 36 simple things and provide the supportive research.

Finding joy. Experiencing joy is an important part of emotional well-being. When joy does not come easily, or does not come at all during difficult times, we need to cultivate it. We need to find it. We need to create it.

People often have resistance to finding joy. Excuses such as, “I’m too busy,” “I have too much homework,” “There’s no time to do what I really love,” “I don’t even KNOW what brings me joy,” and “That’s selfish. I’ve got kids who need me.”

I have also found that during times of crisis, grief, or tragedy, people feel that they do not deserve to experience joy. They think it is selfish, hedonistic, or inappropriate. However, it is during these times that we need joy the most.

Doing what brings you joy or makes your soul happy actually makes you the best version of yourself. It makes your interactions with all of those around you more loving and pleasant. It makes you a better friend, mother, wife, etc. Doing what brings you enjoyment elevates mood, and that elevated mood in turn affects your behavior and interactions with others. Think of it as your positive mood being contagious, because science demonstrates that it is! So if you still are struggling with the idea that doing what you love is selfish, think of it as one way that you can give to others by “contaminating” them with your better mood, and giving them your best self.

It is also important to remember that there is only one person in charge of your life, of your happiness, and that is YOU! You have choices, and you can choose to engage in activities that bring you joy and fulfillment. No one else can do that for you. It is up to YOU to make the time for it.

And if improving your emotional health is not sufficient reason for you to engage in doing what makes your soul happy, remember that it also benefits your physical health. Engaging in enjoyable activities reduces stress, and we all know that reduced stress means reduced physical illness.

Being too “busy” with school, work, and/or parenthood are the main reasons I hear why people are not doing what brings them joy. One way to address this is to make an appointment with yourself. Yes, that’s right. Make an appointment with yourself. Put it in Google Calendar, or write in on the paper calendar. And then KEEP this appointment. Block out the time and write “me time.” Make a weekly appointment with yourself to do what makes your soul happy. Block out a half day if you can.

Paradoxically, the “busy” person who takes time out for joy is more energized and productive.

It is also important for “busy” people to find enjoyment EVERY day. This need not involve a lot of time, but it is important to engage in something enjoyable every day.

There will be times in your life when finding joy and doing what makes your soul happy seems impossible, or not even desirable. When the demands of a job and/or parenthood are simply too time consuming and exhausting, or when a loved one is sick or has died. It is possible to find joy, even during pain, even during exhaustion, even during crisis.  During these times, you can make it a goal to seek joy in daily, mundane tasks. Sing while doing the dishes. Play loud music while cleaning the house. Focus on gratitude when feeling anxious or overwhelmed.

There will also be times that a life crisis is so heavy and sad that it paralyzes you. Even during these times, it is possible to find joy. When you are having difficulty finding joy on your darkest day, look for love. What love can you find around you? My late fiancé taught me this in 1994. A few days after he was told that there was nothing left that the doctors could do to treat his cancer and that he was going to die, he looked all around his hospital room at all of the cards, pictures, and gifts, and he said to me and my father with a big smile on his face, “There is so much love in this room.” If you are suffering due to difficulty in an important relationship, who is loving you and supporting you through it? And don’t forget to include yourself.

Finding joy and doing what makes your soul happy need not be extravagant. It can be a simple enjoyment. In fact, during a time of crisis, simple may be better.  It is possible to find joy in awful situations. Sometimes, it is the only thing you can do to move through it.

Take Action
1. Become aware of and attack the thoughts, or excuses, that are interfering with your ability to do what makes your soul happy. “I’m too busy,” “My kids come first,” “That’s selfish,” “I don’t deserve it.”

2. Practice positive affirmations around doing what makes your soul happy: “Doing what makes my soul happy helps me to be my best self,” “My elevated mood helps to elevate the mood of those around me,” “Doing what makes me happy improves my physical health.”

3. Make a weekly appointment with yourself and KEEP it. You are in charge of your life. It is up to you to make the time for enjoyment.

4. Find something that you can do every day for at least five minutes that you can engage in on your busiest of days.

5. Address any barriers that may interfere with following through. You may need to rearrange your schedule, arrange for child care, etc.

6. Shift your thinking to find gratitude during busy/difficult days.

7. It is important during life crises to engage in simple acts that bring comfort. Read. Laugh with a loved one. Listen to music. Write. Take a bath. Drink your favorite beverage.

8. When life feels too heavy or sad to do anything joyful, look for love. When you find it, you will experience joy. If you cannot readily find it, create it, and you will experience joy.

Finding/creating joy on a regular basis is one enJOYable way to take care of your emotional well-being and mental health. You will not only feel good in the moment while engaging in your enjoyable activity, but you are nurturing your long-term well-being.

In Gratitude,
Peggy
The Gratitude Psychologist
Come Alive with Dr. Peggy
A monthly membership for more
Joy, Gratitude, Resilience, and Meaning

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.