We all tried very hard to pretend that the foamy bubbles floating from the sky were really snowflakes even though it was a balmy 65 degrees. It was fun to see the facial expressions of the young children in the crowd as the dancing lights came on for the first time! We told some families who had never seen the lights before about finding the Disney characters hidden within the lights. As a family we don’t have too many holiday traditions, but the few that we have mean a lot to us and we have always tried to find the time to make them happen and to be mindful as we celebrate.
During my work as a psychotherapist (mental health therapist), I find that this time of year brings a burst of clients wanting to get it in to see me. It is usually due to depression, anxiety or family/relationship stressors which seem to increase during this busy time of year. Why would so many of us feel emotionally distressed during a time that is supposed to be a joyous? Most of us already have busy schedules and too much on our plate without adding on gift shopping, annual holiday parties and decorating our homes for the season. It is easy to get wrapped up in our “to-do” list and feel stressed so that we aren’t really present during this time of year.
You may have heard of “mindfulness.” It refers to being as aware as possible in your current situation and place. Sometimes we float through life spending too much time ruminating on the past or worrying about the future which means that we aren’t enjoying today. There are many books and research articles about mindfulness and the emotional and physical benefits of practicing it. Rather than try and summarize all that information, I’d like to offer a few tips to help you be mindful during the holidays and all year round, as well.
1. Let go of trying to keep up with the “Jones” this season. Some people feel overwhelmed by trying to have the biggest or best holiday yard decorations or to make the perfect-looking Christmas cookies to give away to friends. Others feel pressured to get their children the latest must-have toys or gadgets (which are always on back order with Amazon!) Comparing our lives and possessions to others usually leads to a lower self esteem and feeling inferior which feeds pressure to “out-do” each other and can sometimes exacerbate underlying issues such as depression and anxiety. It is less stressful and more healthy to simply focus on those few activities that have the most meaning to your family and forget about trying to win the “best holiday decoration” award in your community.
2. Put reminders on your calendar to “Stop what you are doing and be aware of life around you.” Re-read my description above about my family’s visit to see the dancing lights. We stopped and watched the lights and listened to the music. We felt the temperature outside. My husband and I danced and sang in the middle of the crowd and didn’t care what anyone thought about us. We made the effort to interact with people around us that we didn’t even know and will never see again. THAT was how we were mindful…we stopped and simply paid attention and connected with what was around us.
3. Accept that you will probably feel some stress and anxiety in the next coming weeks. If we try to be more self-aware of our thoughts and feelings, then we can better cope with them. Unhelpful thoughts (I like to call them “shoulds”) can lead us to feel pressured to do too much or try and make too many people happy. It is a good idea to question where these “shoulds” come from because they lead us to feel stressed out and also keep us from enjoying the moments of the season.
I hope that all of you have a happy, healthy and MINDFUL holiday season this year!
Licensed Mental Health Counselor
Every January my local gym has an influx of new members and becomes crowded to the point that I have to wait in line to use the exercise machines. However, I’ve noticed that the crowds thin out considerably after a few weeks. Why does this happen? I believe that people have the best intentions when they decide to get in shape for their New Year’s resolution. But, it seems that keeping many of our New Year’s resolutions is a challenge. Statistically, thirty percent of those who make a New Year’s resolution break them by February. Only 7% of us reach our goal by the year’s end.
Why do many people fail to reach their resolution goals?
Goals are too general
“I want to get healthier.” “I want to get out of debt.” “I need to get a better job.” We are more likely to reach our goals when they are specific and measurable. A better goal is “I want to pay off $2,000 of credit card debt by June.” or “I’d like to lose 10 lbs in 10 weeks.”
Resolutions are unrealistic or inflexible
“I am going to go the gym every day.” “I am going to give up all fried foods and never eat dessert.” Goals need to be realistic AND flexible. It may not be possible to go to the gym EVERY day due to our work schedule or if we get sick. If our goals are not somewhat flexible, then we may get frustrated and feel like a failure if we do slip up and have a slice of birthday cake or can’t make it to the gym one day.
Lack of planning
It is great to set a goal to pay off our bills and get out of debt. But, that will not happen without a plan. It is necessary to make a budget that includes our income and expenses. From there, we need to decide exactly what will need to change in our budget each month to find the money to pay down our debt.
Why is this goal important to me?
It really helps to define why a particular goal is important to us. How will OUR life be better if we reach this goal? Research in human behavior indicates that changes are more likely to be permanent if we are able to identify how we will benefit from making a change. It can be very motivating to recognize that we will be able to retire a few years sooner if we save “X” amount each year.
If feelings of guilt or shame are the primary motivation for our resolution, then we are less likely to be successful. Guilt about being overweight, in debt or a smoker does not promote healthy, long-term behavior changes.
How can we be SUCCESSFUL with our New Year’s Resolutions?
We need to select ONE specific and realistic goal that is truly meaningful to us. From there, we need to write down a plan on how we will accomplish that goal and how we will measure our progress towards that goal. As we take a small step each day towards that goal, we also need to be flexible enough to accommodate those unexpected events in our life that may derail us a little bit from our goal. Most of all, we need to be KIND to ourselves as we adjust to a new routine and allow ourselves to grow into a new way of living.
Best wishes of happiness and success in the 2015!
Licensed Mental Health Counselor
Healthy Living Counseling
As a licensed mental health professional, I’ve worked in a variety of hospital settings where I have worked with adults and teens who have tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide. The vast majority of those who survived their suicide attempt were so grateful to have survived their attempt. Almost all of them want to learn how to better cope with life so that they never reach a point that they feel so hopeless, desperate and impulsive again. In working with family members after a loved one’s suicide attempt, it has been challenging to explain how their loved one could reach such a hopeless state of mind that suicide was the only or best option.
As a mother to two teenage boys, one of my goals is to teach them how to manage life’s emotional challenges like not getting that job they really want, not making the varsity team, or the breakup of their first true love. Recently, I was assessing a teenage patient in the ICU who barely survived a very serious suicide attempt after the breakup of his first serious relationship. As I talked to him and his family, I couldn’t help but to ask myself “What if that were my son?” This particular young man had a very bright future academically, yet he felt so emotionally distraught that the only solution in his mind was to take a bottle of pills.
Throughout my years of practice, I’ve learned that when people are unable to acknowledge, understand or cope with emotional pain, anger, sadness, or grief in a healthy way that they typically turn to unhealthy ways of coping like misusing drugs or alcohol to numb their pain. Alternatively, they may engage in impulsive and dangerous behaviors including cutting and suicide. As a therapist, my work with these clients is to help them recognize, understand, and better cope with their emotional pain in a healthier way.
Emotional intelligence is a term that relates to one’s ability to recognize their own emotions, other people’s emotions, AND to manage unpleasant emotions in a healthy way. Studies show that people who have high emotional intelligence and emotional resiliency are much less likely to self harm either by cutting or attempting suicide or to misuse drugs and alcohol. When children demonstrate high emotional intelligence, they are more likely to use healthy coping skills and have healthier relationships with others. However, it is rare that our children’s school curriculum includes teaching about emotional intelligence, so it’s one of those things that we have to learn on our own.
How can parents influence their children’s emotional intelligence?
There are many things that parents can do to teach and model emotional intelligence and emotional resiliency to our children. In addition to teaching our children how to read, tie their shoes, and how to drive a stick shift, we need to also teach them about emotions. We need to show them that it’s okay to ask for help when we are struggling. We can normalize their emotions when they are sad, lonely, or down on themselves. We can be brave enough to share our own pain as children and teenagers like not getting asked to the prom. We can talk to our children as we watch news stories about people who deal with their anger or fear in an unhealthy or illegal way. We can support and encourage our children when they talk to us about something that is bothering them. We can avoid labeling or degrading those who seek counseling or psychiatric care for anxiety, depression or to simply improve their mental health. We need “walk the walk” and not just “talk the talk.” We need to model to our children healthy ways of coping with life’s stressors, challenges and heartbreaks. We need to have conversations about ways to manage stress with our children and encourage them to find their own healthy stress management skills. We need to talk with them about how to forgive ourselves if we make a mistake. We need to teach them to problem solve so that they don’t repeat mistakes. We need to talk to them about healthy relationships and what makes a relationship abusive. These types of conversations may not come as easily to some parents as conversations about their homework and chores. But, the payoff to your child is well-worth your effort.
It is normal to want to protect our children from both physical and emotional pain in life. Of course, most parents acknowledge that we cannot protect them from everything, but we can prepare them for life. We need to do more than tell our children not to cry, to just suck it up, to get over it, to forget about it, or to be strong. As parents, we need to acknowledge and talk about ALL the emotions we experience in life. We need to be human and share with our children how we learned to cope with our disappointments, break-ups/divorces, job losses, financial crises, and deaths of loved ones. When children, teens, and adults feel supported and capable of handling life’s emotional ups and downs, they are much less likely to reach a place of hopelessness, helplessness, and desperation where self-harm or suicide feels like the best option.
Valentine’s Day is upon us again! It is that time of year where we declare (or re-declare) our love for that special someone in our life. Greeting card companies, florists and jewelers would like you to believe that buying their products for your loved one is the best way to show your love. The bigger the gift, the deeper the love, right?
I am not “anti” flowers, jewelry or candy at all. (Note to my husband: I do appreciate any and all cards and flowers you give me!) But, my experience in couples counseling has shown me that there are many other ways that we can demonstrate our love (which includes respect, affection and appreciation) to our sweetheart. Doing little things every day is what keeps relationships strong:
*Listening to your loved one vent about their day (WITHOUT trying to fix it!)
*Buying them their favorite drink or snack without asking
*Saying “Thank you”
*Giving hugs/kisses for no apparent reason
All these are not ‘over the top’ romantic things. But, I’ve found that truly happy couples routinely do any number of little things on a regular basis to let their sweetheart know that they are loved, listened to and respected.
I am not advocating a boycott of celebrating Valentine’s Day at all! But, I am encouraging you do little things for your partner to spread the love you feel throughout the other 364 days of the year.
Licensed Mental Health Counselor
Many people use this time of year to get a “fresh start” and make some changes in their lives. Most of the time these changes involve self-improvement like losing weight, exercising more, quitting smoking or addressing an emotional or relationship problem that has been worrisome. It is natural to use the ending of one year and the beginning of another to reflect on our lives, where we are headed and where we have been.This self-reflection can be a very insightful and positive exercise.
Regardless of what kind of change you may want to make, it is important to have realistic expectations of ourselves and to have a plan of action. When we are motivated to make a change, we are pumped up and want our excitement to translate into quick results! Unfortunately, this just does not happen as our habits are formed slowly, weight is put on over months and years, emotional and relationship problems evolve over time. But, DO NOT GET DISCOURAGED and stop your efforts to feel better and live better if you don’t see or feel results within a few days!
Here are some tips to help you be more successful with your New Year’s Resolutions:
1.Get rid of the words “always” and “never.” Don’t say that I am “always” going to go to the gym after work as there will be days that you simply can’t go every day at the same time. It is then too easy to say that “I blew it! I give up!” and just quit going to the gym altogether. Sometimes when people are going to lose weight they say “I am never going to eat chocolate again!” These statements are too rigid and absolute and don’t allow for the flexibility we all need in our lives.
2.Take your time. Lasting behavior change takes time to sink in and become routine. Additionally, our bodies need time to adjust to changes in physical activity, diet and quitting smoking, alcohol and caffeine.
3.Question why you are making a change. Are you quitting smoking because your spouse is nagging you incessantly? Are you trying to manage anxiety because your family said that you are driving them nuts? Successful life changes happen when we are able to identify what we personally plan to get out of that change. How will you FEEL if you quit smoking? Will you have more energy? Will you hopefully live longer to see your grandchildren grow up? How will your life be better if you finally get that claustrophobia under control? When we are able to connect with what WE will get out of making a change, we are far more likely to stick with it.
Best wishes for a happy, healthy New Year!
Dana Nolan, Mental Health Counselor
Tejal Parekh, RegisteredDietitian
Healthy Living Counseling, LLC
Survivorship 101- “Getting Back to Normal After Cancer Treatment” Seminar in Winter Park Nov 16, 2013
Mental Health Counselor, Dana Nolan will be the guest speaker for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society on Saturday, November 16, 2013. The “Survivorship 101 Getting Back to Normal After Cancer Treatment” seminar is being held at the Ruth’s Chris Steak House, 610 N. Orlando Ave., Winter Park, Florida.
This is part of an educational program series provided by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, that provides mutual support and education for family members. If you or a loved one have a diagnosis of Leukemia, Hodgkins Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, Myeloma or Myelodysplastic Syndrome, this seminar will provide you with information about Survivorship and to help you learn strategies to cope with the common emotional, physical, and social challenges that cancer survivors face. This is a great opportunity to discuss anxiety and concern with others who share the same experiences.
Dana Nolan is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. She is a member of Healthy Living Counseling which provides counseling services for cancer and other serious illnesses.
Pre-registration/RSVP by November 13, 2013 for this FREE Cancer Seminar provided by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is required. Please refer to the flyer below for more information.
Why should we focus on reducing our stress levels? Feeling overwhelmed physically or emotionally on a regular basis has been proven in medical research to lead to high blood pressure, regular headaches, depression, anxiety, and weakens our immune system. Besides, it simply doesn’t feel good when our stress levels are too high!
While most people think that you have to be still and relax to combat stress, mental health professionals recommend that getting active is also an effective way to reduce stress. Stress feels like “pent up” energy and when we tire ourselves out physically, we are actually blowing off some of that energy and are more able to relax and our sleep improves. Here in Central Florida, we are lucky to have amazing weather most of the year and can take advantage of the many health benefits of a variety of outdoor activities. Being outside and getting some exercise are two things that reduce our experience of stress. We have many picturesque parks and nature trails in Central Florida. A great way to clear your mind is to take a walk or jump on a bike and hit the West Orange Trail, Cady Way, or the Seminole Wekiva Trail. If you work in downtown Orlando, talk a walk around Lake Eola during lunch or after work. Visit many of our local springs and rivers (like Wekiva Springs State Park, Kelly Park, or Blue Springs) for canoeing, kayaking, or swimming.
People from around the world visit Central Florida for our theme parks (Walt Disney World, Sea World, Universal Studios, Legoland Florida) and spending the day walking around the parks is a great way to take a break from our busy lives and enjoy the company of our family and friends. Even if you don’t have passes to any of the amusement parks, you can walk around Downtown Disney or Universal Orlando’s Citywalk and enjoy dinner, dancing, and live music.
Making time on a regular basis to break away from our busy lives to enjoy the outdoors and get our blood pumping is a very effective way to keep our stress levels at a manageable level. If you are feeling overwhelmed with stress and want to learn more ways to feel relaxed and in control, contact Dana Nolan at Healthy Living Counseling for a free brief telephone consultation to discuss ways to better manage stress in your life!