Categories
Mental Health Self-Care Stress

Happiness: Less Perfection, More Self-Care

We really are hard on ourselves: addicts, alcoholics, and the like. While we may get sober in an effort to change our lives, often times those lacking self-care and suffering from the self-induced pressure to be perfect find themselves with that negative hanger-on. This pressure increases our levels of stress and creates a subversive emotional environment of fear and self-loathing. I’m no stranger to this behavior.

Phrases like “I can’t fail,” or “I can handle it; I don’t need help,” or “I don’t have time to feel like this,” are just some of the ways we add pressure to our lives. We can’t nor should we try to be perfect. But that’s easier said than done, right? Especially for those of us who suffer from a distinct case of perfectionism.  The point of this is not to find another reason to beat ourselves up but rather, to find some coping tools that allow our pitfalls and sheer humanness to be softer on our psyches.

It’s okay to fail. I’ve learned some of my best lessons because I failed. Failure was the very thing that made me stop and look at the simple fact that I was doing far too much than was healthy or helpful. Failure presented an opportunity for self-care that I hesitatingly jumped at. Yes, hesitatingly, because with that failure came self-doubt, self-loathing, and shame. Many of us have become comfortable with beating ourselves up; what we need is to get comfortable giving ourselves the self-care, compassion and kindness we deserve.

It’s okay not to know something. There is no reason on this earth why any of us should know or attempt to know everything. The basic tenant of recovery is to remain teachable. Knowing too much creates unnecessary friction and places us in a position to get lost in our suffering. Think about someone who gets lost while they’re driving but refuses to ask for directions. Are they more or less agitated? More, right?  Practice asking for help and watch your stress levels decrease.

It’s okay to be wrong. This applies when you’re learning something and don’t understand it, or when you really mess up and need to take some responsibility. Ask yourself, is it better to be right or to be happy? We all know a few people who suffer greatly as a direct result of needing to be right. A genuine apology or admission of not knowing can go a long way.

Complain less, appreciate more. It’s easy to get consumed by our aversions and begin focusing our energies on complaining about them. If you’re in an aversive situation, try finding one thing to appreciate – even if it’s small. As we begin to do this, we will increase our ability to find serenity in difficult circumstances. If we know that our suffering increases as a direct result of our behavior, we must also know it can decrease as a result of our behavior. Remember this: “If we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.”

As we begin to take responsibility for our actions, regardless of how large or how small, we will eventually become happier and more engaged. If there’s a character defect or persistent behavior preventing us from letting go or being the person we want to be, try setting a positive intention as part of making an effort to effect change within yourself. With positive self-care intention and wise effort, we can become the people we want to be: happy, kind, compassionate, and present. We may even discover there’s less pressure to be perfect.

Categories
Mental Health Stress

Stress: Too Much Pressure

When I think of stress, I think of a rubber band being stretched beyond its limit and its eventual ruptured demise. Though our bodies are provided with a natural alarm system, designed to protect us during perilous times, that same fight-or-flight response becomes erosive if it’s engaged for too long—much like that rubber band.

The body isn’t meant to live in a persistent state of fight-or-flight. The result of too much stress results in a concurrence of innumerable health problems. Still, our bodies are remarkable machines, having inbuilt mechanisms that help us move through our lives, and when something stressful occurs, our bodies jump into action.

A perceived threat will trigger the hypothalamus (a tiny region in the brain which sets off the body’s alarm system). This system prompts the adrenal glands to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. While the adrenaline increases the heart rate, raises blood pressure, and creates an energy surge, cortisol (the body’s primary stress hormone) increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances the brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.(1)

Cortisol has a huge job to do: it keeps the nonessential or potentially detrimental functions at bay during the flight-or-flight response, adjusting the immune system and even suppressing the digestive system, the reproductive system, and growth processes as it does its job. This systemic stress response is self-regulating: when the threat passes, the body begins to normalize itself.  However, when there is too much stress—too many perceived threats—over an extended period of time, the adrenals and cortisol  lose their ability to work efficiently. A persistent overexposure to stress hormones can “disrupt almost all your body’s processes,” increasing the risk for a number of other physical or emotional difficulties:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Fatigue
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems
  • Digestive problems
  • Anxiety
  • Sadness or depression
  • Irritability or anger
  • Eating disorders
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Social withdrawal

These difficulties are merely a sampling of what is often a long, detailed list of reactions to stress. Left unattended, stress can have negative long-term effects on a you.

So, what do you do when the pressures in your life are mounting with no end in sight? More than you think and in simpler ways than you can imagine. It’s not like you need a vacation to a tropical island to feel better (though that would be amazing!).

Start simply, but be consistant:

  • Exercise. It raises your endorphins and releases tension.
  • Meditation. Start with 5 minutes a day sitting in silence is too much. Work up to longer periods; before you know it, you’ll be sitting for 30-45 minutes at a time!
  • Yoga. It’s a wonderful way to work with your body and breath, creating a synergistic energy that is both energizing, heart opening, and calming.
  • Tai chi. Another wonderful way to move y our body in time with your breath. Slow, mindful movements bring you into the present–something that’s easily lost when stress is in charge.
  • Relaxation techniques. One of my favorites is a breathing exercise in yoga where you breathe in for a count of five and breathe out for a count of six. As you continue, increase the count on the in-breath while increasing the count on the out-breath. It’s been shown to relax the brain and body as you exhale for a longer count than on the inhale.

Stress isn’t something to shrug off. It’s quickly become a major health concern for an increasingly larger population. It’s time to stop. It’s time to take time every day to do something for yourself. The old adage of “I’m too busy to…” is nil. The reality is, we don’t have time not to take care of ourselves.

1 source: https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress/SR00001)

Categories
Adolescence Bullying Communication Mental Health Parenting School Social Anxiety Stress

Time to Stop the Bullies

It hurts to be bullied. It hurts the spirit and the body, the confidence and self-worth. No one should have to live in that kind of fear or circumstance. So what are we going to do about it?

With the advent of the internet, bullying’s primary setting isn’t merely in schools and playgrounds anymore: it also thrives in the technological halls of the cyber world. It’s pervasive. There are two types of bullies:  popular, well-connected with social power, overly concerned about maintaining that popularity, and liking to be in charge. The second type tends to be the kid who is more isolated from their peers, easily pressured, has low self-esteem, is less involved in school and doesn’t easily identify with the emotions or feelings of others.

Those at risk of being bullied are kids who are perceived as separate or different from the norms or social mores of our culture. They are often seen as weak, they tend to be anxious or depressed, they are less popular, and are often viewed as annoying or provocative. As a result, these kids are more susceptible to falling prey to bullying behaviors, behaviors which aren’t always as black and white as we once thought. Here are some examples:

Physical bullying:

  • Hitting/kicking/ pinching
  • Spitting
  • Pushing/Tripping
  • Intentionally breaking someone’s things;
  • Making mean or rude hand gestures.

Verbal bullying:

  • Name calling: weirdo, freak, fag, idiot, ad infinitum.
  • Teasing
  • Threats to cause harm

Social bullying:

  • Leaving someone out on purpose;
  • Telling others not to be friends with someone;
  • Rumor spreading;
  • Public humiliation.

Cyber bullying:

  • Mean text messages or emails;
  • Rumors sent by email or posted on social media sites;
  • Fake profiles on sites like Facebook, Tumblr, et cetera.
  • Embarrassing photos or videos

Keep in mind, the most reported bullying happens on school grounds: in the hallways and on recess yards. It also occurs travelling to and from school. But nothing is really sacred. Cyber bullying is growing like wildfire as kids become increasingly savvy with technology.

It’s common for kids who are being bullied not to tell anyone because they may be afraid of the vengeful repercussions from the bullies themselves. Bullying is, in its very nature, a power structure built on dominance and fear-driven control. When someone is being terrorized by fearful tactics, it takes an incredible amount of courage to seek help. In the mind of the bullied, it’s a risk they are not always willing to take, so instead, the fear gets internalized, making its appearance in various ways:

  • Unexplained injuries;
  • Lost or damaged possessions;
  • Frequent headaches, stomachaches, feeling sick or faked illnesses;
  • Changes in eating habits: some may skip meals, some may binge. Some kids might come home hungry because their lunch was bullied away from them;
  • Sleep disturbances: insomnia or nightmares;
  • Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, not wanting to go to school at all;
  • Loss of friends or avoidance of social situations;
  • Feelings of helplessness or decreased self-esteem;
  • Self-destructive behaviors: self-harming, running away, isolating, suicidal ideation.

Despite the fact that many schools have implemented anti-bullying policies, the administration doesn’t always carry them out in the most effective ways. I’ve experienced a principal in my son’s school who typically punishes the victim along with the bully, creating situation of victim-blaming, which encourages the bully and fundamentally creates shame in the bullied. In this particular case, a child ended up reverting inward and internalizing the fear, ultimately trying to handle it on his own. As a result, the persistent concern about being called a snitch or weak drove this child’s efforts toward self-directed management of the situation. Unfortunately, this is a perfect situation for the bully, and in many ways, this maintains the bully’s position of control. Not surprisingly, the bullying hasn’t stopped.

As parents, we need to find safe, productive ways to stop bullying behaviors. We can:

  • Work with the teacher to help raise awareness in the classroom. There are activities geared toward educating  kids
  • Make regular appearances at the school. Sometimes, the mere presence of a parent can stop bullying in its tracks.
  • Get up to speed on those social networking sites and explore safer ways to navigate technology
  • Find ways to present a unified front against bullying.
  • Establish an anti-bullying task force or committee. There’s power in numbers.
  • Help establish an environment of tolerance, acceptance of others, and respect.

This is also a great opportunity to take your kids to see Bully or go see it yourself if you can. It’s a limited engagement, but one you don’t want to miss. Time to take charge and stop bullying in its tracks.

For more information and for resources, check out:

Stopbullying.gov

SoulShoppe

Challenge Day

Categories
Communication Stress

Rest Your Thumbs: Communication Without Texting

Oh, technology, how far you’ve come.

When I was a teen, a computer was something only geeks or millionaires had; cell phones were something futuristic and reminiscent of the 80’s show Hart to Hart

and their “fancy” car phones. So when the first phones came on the scene back in 1983, coined The Brick, and weighing in at two pounds with a mere half-hour of talk time, the collective response was amazement. The price tag was hefty, which raised its status, making it all the more desirable and of course, cool. There were even rap songs about the Brick! Realistically, if you had one at that time, they served no other purpose than for social status and of course, “emergency” phone calls. The Brick couldn’t do much more than make a phone call anyway.

In 2012, we now have miniature tools of technological genius, which allow for us to communicate via text messaging, voice, email, and various social-media outlets via a host of apps. What we’ve ended up with are varying forms of non-confrontational and non-contiguous means of communication. This type of communication works for many people, especially when one considers the amount of multi-tasking we do these days. Unfortunately, texting has evolved and become the primary form of communication for many, particularly teens, whose need to stay connected socially is often a key component to their social survival. Let’s face it, it’s far less scary to test the waters of a burgeoning relationship via text than it is in person. The trouble with this is two-fold:  texting lacks sincerity, and it lacks accountability – two things which are crucial in building the bedrock meaningful friendships and relationships are based upon. The non-contiguous factor also has its positives and negatives: you can share a nugget of information that’s not time sensitive, therefore not requiring immediate response. But you can also say things you’d never say in a million years to someone’s face and “walk” away.

This comment, “Words are bullets,” which I once heard in a meeting seems to really ring true in the case of text messages and digital communication. In this sense, a text can be like a virtual Uzi. I’ve experienced this phenomenon myself, where I’ve received a nasty message via text but upon direct confrontation, I was met with sheer nervousness, darting eyes, and denial. What’s concerning is the deterioration of our communication skills, particularly amongst adolescents. As a culture, we’ve gotten lazy when it comes to expressing ourselves, though our thumbs might disagree.

My own goal this year is to minimize the use of texting as a primary form of communication. I’ve been successful thus far, and have experienced more meaningful conversations with people. Try this: put your phone away for a prescribed period of time. If you need to tell someone something, pick up the phone!  You might be amazed how the quality of your ensuing conversations increases. I know I did, and I multi-task with the best of them.

Categories
Anxiety Depression Mental Health Self-Harm Stress Suicide

New study: Self-harm in Teens

Image via Wikipedia

Even as someone in recovery from self-harming behavior, the statistics regarding who and how many continue to self-harm still hits home. A recent study by Dr. Paul Moran at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Melbourne, found that “1 in 12 young people self-harm as adolescents, with the balance skewed toward girls.” Moran’s study followed a group of “young people from Victoria, Australia, from adolescence (14-15 years old) to young adulthood (28-29 years old) between 1992 and 2008.” According to the study, out of the 1802 participants responding to the adolescent phase, 149 (8%) reported self-harm. More girls (10%) than boys (6%) reported self-harm, which translates to a 60% increased risk of self-harm for girls compared to boys.1 Self-cutting/burning was the most common type of self-harming behavior seen in adolescents, but other forms of self-harm include self-battery, poisoning and overdose. Additional findings in Dr. Moran’s study show that self-harm was also associated with “antisocial behavior, high-risk alcohol use, cannabis use, and cigarette smoking,” but that “most adolescent self-harming behavior resolves itself spontaneously.”

Self-harming behaviors are often symptomatic of anxiety and depression, acting as a salve to those otherwise unable to feel or process their feelings in a more skillful way. It is, in many ways, an effort by the one self-harming to regulate their mood and can also act as a kind of emotional steam valve for difficult emotions or even as a means of self–punishment. Regardless, self-harming behaviors indicate mental-health issues that do need to be addressed. No one self-harms out of pride or because they’re happy about something. The truth is, there is a lot of shame associated with self-injurious behaviors.

Still, there continues to be a high risk for suicide completion in those who have a history of self-harming, particularly those who continue to do it into adulthood. When addressing this, we must remember that it’s not usually a self-aggrandizing act, but rather something one does in a poor attempt to feel better, or to simply feel something. The rate of suicide rates are sobering: according to this significant report from the World Health Organization, almost a million people die from suicide each year, giving a mortality rate of 16 per 100,000, or one death every 40 seconds. In the last 45 years, suicide rates have increased by 60 percent worldwide. And according to the CDC, “suicide rates are among the 10 leading causes of death in the US.”2

More often than not, you won’t see signs of self-harm, because typically, injuries are inflicted in places easily hidden by sleeves or other articles of clothing. Still, if you’re worried about your child, make an effort to show concern and get them some help. Keep in mind, if your parenting style has been of the lecturing or authoritarian type, or the particularly reactive type, this may be a good time to use a different tactic. Someone who’s suffering in this way will only shut down when faced with an impending firm, albeit worried, lecture. If your child shows signs of stress, anxiety, or begins isolating more than usual, it’s likely that trouble may be brewing. Worrying aside, your kids need to know you are there for them, no matter what.

__________

1: https://www.kcl.ac.uk/newsevents/news/newsrecords/2011/11November/Studyfinds1in12teenagersself-harmbutmoststopbytheirtwenties.aspx

2: https://www.afsp.org/index.cfm?page_id=04ea1254-bd31-1fa3-c549d77e6ca6aa37

For more information, see:

Medscape

Canadian Medical Association

National Institute of Health