June 26, 2017

FOUR SIMPLE THINGS YOU CAN DO TODAY TO BE A BETTER YOU IN THE NEW YEAR LESSON FOUR

This last lesson is one that is very familiar to those of you who have personally worked with me.  It came from a very difficult and dark time in my life.  I was miserable.  I realized that if I didn’t do something to inject some positivity in my life that some bad things were bound to happen. Furthermore, no one wants to work with a miserable and depressed therapist.  After much research, soul searching, and personal therapy, I figured this out:

Lesson #4:  Happiness is a Skill, Practice it

We often confuse skills and traits.  A trait is something that a person has that either is or isn’t.  Eye color, height, and the like are examples of traits.  Conversely, any quality of a person that can be changed or altered with effort and practice is a skill.

We often attribute traits to things that are skills.  Happiness is one of those things.  We say that so and so is a happy person or a not happy person like happiness is a something that is or isn’t.  Happiness is something that we have and that we can grow and cultivate.  It is an endeavor that is worth investing time in I assure you.

Happiness practice is important.  We humans are wired for negativity.  When something nice happens, we tend to enjoy and reflect on it for about 30 seconds or so.  When something negative happens, we can dwell on it for hours, day or even weeks.  The result is that the neurons in our brain associated with negative thinking tend to get more of a workout than the neurons associated with positive thoughts.  Practicing happiness is a way to give the positive neurons more of a workout and make them stronger.  It’s a way to balance our thinking.

How can we practice happiness?  Here are a few simple things to try:

  • Start a happiness journal. Get a notebook.  Once or twice a day, stop and reflect on your day to that point.  Pick out something positive that happened and write down what, when, where, who and why of what happened.  This should take about 5 minutes.  The positive events don’t have to be big events (I once journaled about buying a fancy cup of coffee when it was cold out and how good the warm cup felt and how nice it smelled).  If you can’t think of something positive that day, reread the journal and reflect on past positive events.
  • Set an intention to smile more that day.  Smiling is associated with happiness and the physical act of happiness will stimulate and connect with the pats of your brain associated with happiness.  Smiling purposefully, even if you don’t feel happy, can make you feel happier over time.
  • Give up self-criticism and self-judgement. Instead of calling yourself names or putting yourself down, rather, be your own best cheerleader. Talk yourself up.  Focus on things you are doing (as opposed to not doing) and give yourself credit for those positive things you are doing.
  • Take time out to play. Have fun.
  • Watch a funny movie.

There are many more ways to practice happiness.  The only limit is your imagination.

I hope you found this article helpful.  Please share this with everyone you know.  Spread the positivity!

If you would like to work with me on practicing happiness and reducing stress, then call 484-693-0582 or go to www.erikyoungcounseling.com to schedule a consultation.

Find part one of this series here.

Find part two of this series here.

Find part three of this series here.

©Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

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FOUR SIMPLE THINGS YOU CAN DO TODAY TO BE A BETTER YOU IN THE NEW YEAR LESSON THREE

This next article is probably the most controversial of the bunch and may seem the most difficult to do.  Yet, like I mentioned in the previous article that you can read HERE, this is nothing but changing how you think about something.  A small change at that.  Putting this change into practice will have profound impacts on your stress levels, thus lowering anxiety and improving your overall physical and emotional health.  So, without further ado, here’s the next lesson!

Lesson #3:  Worry is nothing but a bad habit

When I say this to clients I got one of two reactions: “I know it is, but I’m so used to worrying that I don’t think I can stop” or “If I don’t worry then I won’t be prepared for what life throws at me.”  It is hard for people to wrap their heads around the idea something that is so pervasive and seemingly natural to life could be bad for you.  Then again, arsenic is natural and common in nature.

This thought was a total revelation for me.  I remember sitting down and really thinking about my life and doing a pros-cons analyses.  I concluded that for all the energy I’d put into worrying about various situations in my life, not a lot of benefit came from all that worry.  I talked to some people about this and realized that the fundamental problem with worry is that it takes anxiety about something and projects it into the future where it is impossible to do anything about it (because the situation hasn’t occurred yet and we can only impact the present).  Thus, worry just becomes a big old ball of anxiety that we are powerless to do anything about because it is effectively out of reach.

Right about now, I bet you’re wondering about the concerns vocalized by my clients in the second paragraph of this article.  To those who see worry as a benefit that helps them prepare I say this:

  • There is nothing wrong with thinking about the future, looking ahead, and being prepared. This, however, is not worry.  Simply being present and mindful of today and doing what you can to be prepared and then relaxing and letting the worry go is a great way to both be prepared and not be overly anxious.  However, catastrophizing and putting a lot of energy and thought into all the terrible things that might happen, regardless of probability, is just a great way to get yourself some ulcers and not really avoid the bad times that may or may not happen.
  • Is it worth it to put a lot of time and energy into preparing for something that never happens? Is it worth it to spend a lot of time and energy on something that hasn’t happened so that you are worn out, burned out and exhausted when the event finally occurs?
  • Being proactive is not worry. Worrying is usually not helpful to proactivity (it is simply a big emotional and physical energy drain…it adds to stress rather than resolves it.)

To those who are so used to worry that they can’t imagine life without it I propose the following:

  • Try thought stopping. When you find your thoughts have turned to worry, do the following:
    1. Identify the irritating thought that is behind the worry.
    2. Yell stop in your head. (Do not argue with the thought, that simply gives it energy)
    3. Think a calming, more true thought. Focus on being present in the moment and doing things that you can do now.
    4. Repeat as necessary.
  • Set an intention to not worry and reset that intention every day. Over time you will find yourself worrying less.
  • Focus on proactive solutions as opposed to catastrophizing.

I hope you found this article helpful.  Please share this with everyone you know.  Spread the positivity!

If you would like to work with me on worrying less and reducing stress, then call 484-693-0582 or go to www.erikyoungcounseling.com to schedule a consultation.

Find part one of this series here.

Find part two of this series here.

Find part four of this series here.

©Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

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FOUR SIMPLE THINGS YOU CAN DO TODAY TO BE A BETTER YOU IN THE NEW YEAR LESSON TWO

Let’s continue our quest for self-improvement.  The last article, which you can read HERE, focused on the difference between struggle and suffering and how to think about those things in a more positive manner.  As we go through these lessons, you may notice a theme developing.  Each lesson is not a big huge behavioral change requiring a lot of effort to do.  Instead, these lessons are small changes in how we think and look at situations.  These small changes in thought can really add up and lead to more permanent change.  The next article in our four-part series comes to us from the wisdom of Yoda.

Lesson #2:  Do or do not, there is no try

A parent said to me recently “if all you ever do is try to feed the dog, the dog will starve.”  Not only is this hilarious, but its completely true.  I hear “I’ll try” from clients all the time when we talk about change.  Hell, I’m guilty of saying it myself.  The thing is, people who say to me “I’ll do it” are more likely to follow through than the ones who say “I’ll try.”  I know for this is true for me.

What is it about saying try that seems to muck up the works?  I know that sometimes when people use the word try that they often are sincere in their desire to change.  Other times, try is simply a way to look willing to change while avoiding it all together.  It’s a polite way to say “Aw, hell no!”  In either case, “try” thinking seems to interfere with are ability to move forward and actually do stuff.

There is a lot of research done around motivation.  One of the things researchers have found is that when people announce their plans to others they are less likely to follow through and do what they said they’d do.  For instance, you tell all your friends that you are going to start going to the gym 4 times a week and work out for an hour.  You tell them so that they can hold you accountable and keep you honest.  What happens?  In many cases, the gym trips start out fine but then gradually drop off.

Saying “I’ll try” is very like telling our friends our plans.  It tricks our brain into thinking about what would happen.  We imagine the outcome and our brain (which doesn’t do a good job of distinguishing between what we think and what happens) into experiencing completeness.  This experience then gives us the illusion on some level that we already did what we said we were going to do….and then we don’t actually do it.  This phenomenon has been documented in research going back to the turn of the last century.

So, what’s the solution?  How do we not try?  Simple…listen to Nike and JUST DO IT.  Don’t tell everybody your plans, just start working your plans.  Hold yourself accountable.  If you don’t want to do something…be honest and say so.  If you do want to do something…DO IT.  The hardest thing about this is typically getting through the mental/emotional resistance.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve procrastinated, worries, and stressed out about something and once I finally started felt “that wasn’t so hard.”  Has that happened to you?  Probably.  So, remember that.  Remember the feeling of getting stuff done.  Stop getting in your own way and applying the brakes to yourself and start doing the stuff you want and need to do.

I hope you found this article helpful.  Please share this with everyone you know.  Spread the positivity!

If you would like to work with me on getting stuff done and getting out of your own way, then call 484-693-0582 or go to www.erikyoungcounseling.com to schedule a consultation.

Find part one of this series here.

Find part three of this series here.

Find part four of this series here.

©Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

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FOUR SIMPLE THINGS YOU CAN DO TODAY TO BE A BETTER YOU IN THE NEW YEAR: LESSON ONE

The old year has come to an end and a new year is upon us.  According to most of the social media I’ve been reading, this last year was bad.  I’m talking the fifth season of Night Court bad.  We all seem to be hanging our hopes that this new year will bring us some much-needed relief.  Despite the challenges the previous year presented us, we can’t lose sight of all the positive things that happened in the last year.  It wasn’t all doom and gloom.  I learned some very powerful lessons that have changed my life in positive ways.    These lessons have helped in my personal and professional growth.

I don’t generally subscribe to the idea of making new year’s resolutions.  If you want to change, then you should do that regardless of the time of year.  However, any chance I get to get out of my own way and become happier, healthier and less stressed I jump on it.  Over the course of the next four articles, I will share these ideas with you in hopes that you can be a better, more positive you in 2017.

 

Lesson #1:  Struggle in life is inevitable, suffering is optional

That phrase is purportedly something that stems from Buddhist philosophy.  While I can’t speak to the origins of that phrase, I find it to be profound and moving.  Struggle IS inevitable.  This is a fact that we can do nothing about.  No matter how we try hard times are going to happen to us.  We don’t need to pile on.  Yet, we do this to ourselves all the time.

We fear the struggle and go out of our way to avoid (a futile act) and then beat ourselves of with our thoughts and our behaviors when the struggle inevitably occurs.  If a boxer got into the ring and started to punch himself in the face, we’d think he was crazy.  Yet, we do similar things to ourselves all the time.  We judge, blame, shame, assume, exaggerate, downplay, and twist our experiences in such a way as to add suffering to our experience and those around us.

With a true understanding of this, we can make some profound changes that can bring peace and happiness to ourselves and our loved ones.

  • If struggle is inevitable, then change must therefore be inevitable as well. So, when we are in difficult times (struggle), we can hold on to the fact that the difficulty is temporary and good times are coming our way.  All we need do is take care of business without beating ourselves up physically, mentally or emotionally.  We should also avoid creating suffering for others.  Just try to stay calm and deal with what we can change when we can change it and nothing more.  It is the essence of the Serenity Prayer.

  • Conversely, when we are in good times, then we should appreciate and savor them because eventually, struggle will return. Be mindful and appreciate the blessings and the wonders that the good times afford us.  It’s like Ferris Beuller said, ”Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

I hope you found this article helpful.  Please share this with everyone you know.  Spread the positivity!

If you would like to work with me on increasing your positivity practice or reducing stress then call 484-693-0582 or go to www.erikyoungcounseling.com to schedule a consultation.

Find part two of this series here.

Find part three of this series here.

Find part four of this series here.

©Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

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Are you taking care of yourself? Try these tips for parental self-care

give yourself a massage!

give yourself a massage!

I.                The importance of self-care

Confession time.  This was me a few years ago.  My days were spent working, running errands, getting the kids to and from school, sports practice, music lessons, doctor appointments, therapy sessions, cleaning the house, walking the dog, paying bills, answering emails, etc.  I’d wake up, go at 100 mph all day with barely time to eat or go to the bathroom.  I’d never have time alone or do anything for myself.  I didn’t sleep well enough or long enough.  My meals were on the go.  I was always exhausted.  Disconnected.  There seemed to be no end in sight.  My health suffered…weight gain, high blood pressure.  My mood suffered… repeated depression and burnout… anxiety and even panic.

Does this sound familiar?  I meet a lot of parents in this boat of doing everything for everyone but not doing for themselves.

Why do we do this to ourselves?  What does this crazy level of sacrifice get us?  What is it teaching our kids?

Parenting is hard.  That’s the tagline on my website.  It’s true too.  Parenting is frustrating, challenging, maddening, joyful, exhilarating, fulfilling…. the adjectives are endless.  No matter if your child has special needs or is neurotypical, parents are faced with an overload of demands on their time, emotions, and energy.

Faced with all of this, many parents throw themselves into their parenting role in the most selfless manner.  Giving of themselves for their family.  This is a wonderful thing to do… to a point.  Parents who do nothing but sacrifice for their family often don’t take care of themselves.  Sacrifice without renewal is a recipe for burn out, overwhelming stress, as well as health and emotional problems.  It eats away at one’s ability to be an effective parent.  When there is nothing left of you… who will care for your family?

Here are some basic ideas for taking care of yourself.  These are things I implemented for myself and I help my clients do for themselves.  Taking time to implement some of these things can help reduce your stress and increase your happiness.  This will give you more energy to take care of your family.  You will be more present and healthier parent.  You will also be modeling good self-care skills for your children, thus helping them to be happier and healthier people themselves.

Good self-care IS good parenting!

II.              Find time to exercise

If I could bottle the effects of exercise, sleep and sunshine… I’d be a Gazillionaire.  The benefits of exercise are too many to list.  Improved health.  Feeling better physically.  Outlet for stress.  It stimulates endorphins (your body’s natural feel good chemicals).  Improves your immune system. More energy.  Improved brain function.  The list goes on.

I consider having a sound exercise plan a crucial part of any stress management strategy.  If you aren’t exercising and moving around a bit you are missing out.

I don’t have the time!  I hear you say.  It’s too hard!  You cry.  I don’t like it!

Yeah… I hear you.  I get it.  Here’s the thing, if you make yourself a priority (remember, take care of yourself so you can take care of others!)… then finding time can be done.  Really, 20 or 30 minutes 3-4 times a week is all you need.  You don’t have to go crazy and live at the gym.  Just take time to go for a walk.  Take up a sport… maybe even something you can do with your kids.

Years ago, I did taekwondo with my kids.  We’d workout and train for competitions together in the morning.  It was a great family activity for years.  I got healthy, my kids got healthy… and we have a ton of great memories together.

The point is… if you make it a priority you can fit it in.  Try different activities until you find some that work for you… that you enjoy.  There aren’t any rules other than (as Nike says) just do it.

III.            Get enough quality sleep

You should be getting 6 to 8 hours of sleep.  If you aren’t sleeping well, then your health (emotional, physical and mental) are all compromised.  Try the following to improve your sleep:

  • Schedule your sleep. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Turn off the electronics (phones, computers, etc.) at least 30 minutes before bed. An hour is even better.
  • Try some slow, deep breathing as you prepare for sleep. Clear the mind and shed some stress.
  • Resist the urge to do projects late into the night… sleep time is important and should be sacrosanct. Putting some emotional and time space between work and activities of daily living and sleep time is crucial.  Allow yourself to wind down.  Whatever projects you are working on will still be there in the morning… and you’ll be better able to tackle them after you’re well rested.

IV.           Enjoy a hobby

It’s too easy for us parents to lose ourselves in our kids. You are more than your kids.  They’re important, no doubt… but they need not be your entire life.  To that end, spending time every week doing stuff that’s just for and about you is important …a hobby or something. For me, I play a lot of music.  It relaxes me.  It’s something I enjoy doing and is part of my identity.  I’ve also indulged in woodworking, chess and reading at various times in the past.  These are things that are important to me above and beyond being a parent or working.

When you engage in a hobby, you destress.  You create opportunities to be successful in ways that parenting and working won’t necessarily allow.  You exercise different parts of your brain and create new and positive neural connections.  Even just 45 minutes a week can be enough to give you a break and renew yourself.  It’s not selfish… because taking care of yourself will allow you to better take care of your loved ones.  You’ll also be more pleasant to be around (happiness is contagious!).

V.             Date night, intimacy, human connection

I can’t tell you how often I see parents who have forgotten why they got together and had kids in the first place.  They run from activity to activity, chore to chore, obligation to obligation and barely have time to say hello to each other in passing.  This is a rough place to be and often strains their relationship.

The fix is simple: get a sitter…go out on regular dates.  Hang out with each other.  Laugh.  Love.  Be adults without the kids hanging around.  Hold hands, hug, kiss.

Couples that do this make for stronger parents.  They have more resilience and warmth in their relationships.  They are happier.

As humans, we need connection to others.  It’s how we’re wired.  It’s a huge necessity.  If that goes missing in our lives, we suffer.  To the extent we suffer, we pass that suffering on to our children and other loved ones inadvertently.

Put the kids to bed a little early once in a while and make time for each other.  Don’t sit there worrying about the day to day…just look into each other’s eyes, make out like teenagers.  Do whatever it takes to stay connected and refreshed.

I have a special needs child…I can’t find a sitter! OR I don’t have the time!

That’s a definite challenge.  Reach out to trusted friends and family members.  Go to your local college and reach out to students in the special education programs.  They are often looking for ways to make money and are being trained in the skills you need for looking after your exceptional; child.  The bottom line is….do what it takes to get out every once in a while and have some fun and human contact with your significant other.

As to the time issue…make the time.  When you make something a priority, you will find the time.  This is important enough to you and those you love that it needs to be a priority. To that end, put something on your schedule.  Even if it needs to be a week or two out.  If you block off the time, then it’s harder to book the time with something else.

What if I’m a single parent?

Then I would heartily recommend you find time to go out with friends or even try dating.  It’s challenging as a special needs parent, yet it can be done.  This will be the subject of my next article in fact.

I hope you found this article helpful.  Please comment and leave other tips for ways parents can engage in self-care.  I’m always looking for new ideas to share.

Also, if you know of someone who might benefit from this article, share it with them.  Finally, if you want to work with me personally to work on a self-care plan, go to www.erikyoungcounseling.com or email me at erik@erikyoungcounseling.com or call 484-693-0582 to set up a consultation.

 

Helpful links:

https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-tools-tips/healthy-sleep-tips

http://www.brighthorizons.com/family-resources/e-family-news/2013-exercise-and-the-working-parent/

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