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How to Handle Grief During the Holiday Season

The holiday season is SUPPOSED to be full of cheer.

But if you’re grieving a death, a loss, or a major change, you may not feel “up” for the falalala hoopla.

There are two strategies that have been shown to be very successful at navigating grief during this time of year, and using one or both can help you cope when everyone else around you is in the holiday spirit.

What To Do When You Want to Quit But Can’t

If you’ve ever had one of those moments where you just wanted to scream “I quit!” and clean out your desk, then you know what I’m talking about.

 

I recently got a LinkedIn connection request from the worst manager I ever had. He refused to stick up for me (or any of my colleagues) when we were being undermined, bullied, harassed, and prevented from doing our jobs by the manager of another department. Employee after employee asked for his help getting this other manager out of our way. Employee after employee begged him to intervene. Employee after employee quit.

 

There were so many times during this job that I just wanted to pack my stuff up and go home. The problem? I LOVED what I was doing. Everything besides the toxic leadership at this job was amazing. The work was great, my other colleagues were great… and of course I needed the paycheck.

 

During those long months before I finally handed in my resignation letter, I came up with a plan to make staying survivable. Here’s what I did when I wanted to quit, but couldn’t:

 

Start In Two Places At The Same Time

 

When you’re facing a frustrating situation, our brains tend to recognize two ways we can help ourselves feel better: fixing the problem, or soothing our emotions. Psychologists call these two strategies Problem-Focused Coping and Emotion-Focused Coping. Research shows that using coping techniques that fall into not one but both categories – simultaneously – gets us the best results. (So if you were one of those people who learned that successful people only use Problem-Focused Coping, it’s time to un-learn that bad habit!)

 

The Heart of the Matter

 

Emotion-Focused Coping in the middle of a bad job experience can be things like finding a friend or mental health professional to talk to about the stress. Leaning on other people for support is a coping mechanism that most of us take for granted, but it’s one of the strongest ones we can use. The only catch is that sometimes we may find ourselves “venting” instead of actually processing. Venting is when we just rehash our anger over and over, always staying at the boiling point. In a healthy conversation, you’ll want to use your listener as support to help you feel better and maybe even find some new coping ideas.

 

Another option is volunteering. When I was researching my book The Giving Prescription, I found that giving back to others is one of the best ways to help you get perspective even when life is challenging or frustrating. All through my initial cancer diagnosis, I was volunteering every week at a nursing home, doing singing and dancing performances with a group of other young women. I was scared and struggling, but two things happened during those evening performances: I could see I wasn’t the only one struggling in life, and I also recognized that despite my illness, I had the ability to bring joy to people’s lives.

 

Taking Baby Steps

 

Problem-Focused Coping is using strategies and taking action that will hopefully solve the root cause of the issue. Interestingly, though, studies show that just taking any action might be enough to help you feel better, even if the action doesn’t have a direct result, because action-taking helps us feel more in control.

 

When it comes to staying in a job where you want to quit but can’t, Problem-Focused Coping might look like coming up with ways to keep your boss happy and conflict at a minimum. In my job with the poor manager who let the other manager harass us, I started anticipating ways the other manager was going to “accidentally” sabotage my programs, and building in safeguards to make it more difficult for that to happen.

 

It might also mean starting to make a plan for when you can look for a new job. An important element that helps internal resilience is something called “future orientation.” When we make plans for the future, it helps us keep our drive up, even in tough situations. So tell yourself “I can’t quit now. But I can start job hunting in six months.” And then work backwards from there. “So I’ll need to start brushing up my resume in five months. Maybe I’ll hire a career counselor in four months to help rewrite the resume. So starting next month, I can start putting some money aside for that career coach…” And all of a sudden you’ve got something you can do right now to help plan for the future.

 

It’s More In Your Hands Than You Think

 

When you want to quit but can’t, it’s easy to feel stuck. But even if you can’t make the final move right now, you can set yourself up – both emotionally and tactically – so you’ll be ready to move on and be successful as soon as possible.

The Parable of The Whipped Cream

I had this realization about Thanksgiving, and it’s kind of a metaphor for SO MUCH!

Have you ever had one of those times where you just have to push and get through, in order to get to the reward at the end? Well, that’s what I’m talking about! (for me, it’s kind of like how I feel about the Thanksgiving meal).

How to Feel Motivated By Doing ANYTHING

What do you do when you don’t feel motivated to do something?

 

It’s election day, and some people feel like their vote doesn’t matter. That reminds me of the story of the psychologists who did an experiment with three sets of dogs, and learned a lot about “learned helplessness.”

 

If you’re having trouble with your mindset and not feeling motivated, here’s why doing something, ANYTHING, is good for your mental health.

You Don’t Have to be Hopeless. Here’s What Helps When the World Feels Horrible.

In the wake of another mass shooting, I’ve been finding myself struggling with writing a blog post. Events like this don’t make it very easy to feel resilient, positive, or hopeful. I want to say the perfect thing, but there is no perfect thing.

 

So without any perfect words, I realized that what I could share is what I know about the science of coping during difficult times, in the hopes that perhaps it’ll make you think of something you can do to feel less vulnerable, frustrated, or angry about things going on in the world or in your own little corner of it.

 

There are two types of coping strategies. Most of us only rely on one, whichever one comes more naturally to us. And heck – one is better than none! But that gets us only about half as far as we need to go. I learned about these strategies when researching my second book, The Successful Struggle, and now I’m better about reminding myself to use both.

 

The two types of strategies are Problem-Focused Coping and Emotion-Focused Coping.

 

Problem-Focused Coping

 

This week, feeling like there was a whole lot of intolerance in the world, I set out to take some action. The first thing I did was early vote in the midterm elections. That’s a very concrete action that obviously isn’t usually available to us, but it just so happened to be good timing. I’m also working on a volunteer project called KICS through the Junior League of Austin, where we’re delivering athletic sneakers to children in need. Studies show that well-fitting, seasonally appropriate shoes help kids stay not only healthy and active, but also improve self-esteem and even school attendance.

 

When we went to deliver the shoes to the first KICS school, the kids were saying things like “this is so awesome! I’ve never had a new pair of shoes before!” and “my last shoes broke and I had to hold them together with tape. How did you know I really needed these?” When you watch a child jump up and down and yell with joy over something as simple as their first brand-new pair of sneakers, those feelings of powerlessness over the world’s problems start to seem smaller.

 

Emotion-Focused Coping

 

The other kind of coping deals with addressing your emotions. When I looked at the research, some psychologists expected that Problem-Focused Coping would be more successful at helping people feel better because it addressed the root cause. But Emotion-Focused Coping turned out to be equally important. We need more than just action items to accomplish in our lives – we need hope. For me, a perfect example is a baby announcement that I just got that’s sitting on my kitchen island. I met this baby boy’s parents almost 10 years ago, when they came to volunteer at the little nonprofit that I had started. Thinking about these single young adults, giving generously of their time all those years ago, and now they’re a family, makes me proud and happy.

 

And that’s not the only family making me happy this week… I also helped some friends find a puppy to adopt! (If you’re even thinking about adopting a pet, don’t mention it to me because I will find you a new family member – it’s like my super power.) In fact, my friend Terri is doing amazing things in this world supporting the leaders of movements (check out her website!), so helping her bring a little joy into her life, when she brings joy to so many other people, is extra-fulfilling. Time spent with friends and loved ones in your life is a great Emotion-Focused Coping strategy.

 

Using strong coping strategies – even when you use them in tandem – won’t make the stressors of the world go away. But when you arm yourself with smart strategies, you’ll be better able to push forward without feeling defeated by how small you feel in the face of the things that challenge you.

 

The REAL Reason You Should Volunteer Before the Year is Over (Hint: It Helps YOU!)

If Thanksgiving and the upcoming holidays have you thinking about doing some end-of-the-year volunteering, here’s something you might want to know: Giving back is good for your mental well-being, but NOT necessarily for the reasons you might expect!

Here’s what to know before you get out there and start helping other people…

“I Want a Divorce.” Here’s What He Said That Made Me Realize It Was Over

It turned out to be our last session with the marriage counselor.

 

He said, “There are lots of things I love about Courtney. She’s smart, she’s pretty, she’s kind. I like that she has goals for her career. I find her interesting.”

 

The therapist responded, “I understand that you love a lot of things about Courtney. But I sense there might be a disconnect. The things you’re mentioning aren’t the things Courtney has said are important about herself. Strip all of those things away, and at her core, Courtney is a person with a deep need for connection. The other things about Courtney aren’t really who she is, deep down. Deep down, who she is is a person with a deep need for connection.”

 

My husband looked at her and said, “Yes. I know. And I love her in spite of that.”

 

In spite of that.

 

He loved me in spite of who I was, deep down.

 

That was the moment I knew what to do. And even then, it that painful moment, I knew he wasn’t a villain in this story. This was the guy who admitted to downing a soda in his car on the way home, in order to have a few minutes of energy to try to talk to me after a long day of work. We were both trying, but we were still miles away from middle ground.

 

Since that day, I’ve heard a lot of people say “never change who you are for someone else.” It makes me wonder. I’m now in a fulfilling, equally-matched marriage of many years. But between that day in the therapist’s office with my ex, and my happy life now, I’ve learned a lot about change.

 

I’m worried about the expression “never change who you are for someone else,” because I think it’s been misunderstood. I think lots of people interpret “never change who you are” to mean “don’t change, don’t compromise, just keep doing exactly what you’ve always been doing and if your partner doesn’t like you the way you are, they’re a jerk.”

 

That’s a mistake.

 

Instead, I’ve come to realize there’s a fine line between not changing your BEING, but being willing to change your habits and behaviors.

 

I encourage couples in conflict to try to identify whether or not they have a clash of habits and behaviors, or a clash of personalities. If you have truly incompatible character traits, you may not be able to have a marriage that feels healthy and fulfilling. But habits and behaviors can (and often should!) be changed for people to be compatible partners. You just have to know the difference.

 

Compromise in an a relationship is necessary. For a healthy marriage, be willing and happy to compromise about habits and behaviors. But know that you shouldn’t, and probably can’t, compromise who you are deep down.

 

How to Fix a Conflict Between Your Coworkers

If your coworkers are fighting, it’s hard to get much work done.

But it turns out that most workplace conflict is actually the HEALTHY kind of conflict!

And there are some things you can do, even as a colleague, to help the conflict resolve faster and get your office back on an even keel. Here’s something important you need to know about workplace conflict so you can make it work in your favor!

How to Handle Getting Fired

It’s a moment that can shake your self-esteem. It can ruin your finance. It can change your life plans in an instant. You just got fired.

 

Getting fired or let go is a major ego blow, because – if you’re like many of us – your jobs is tied in with your identity. Your career is a major part of who you are. Your success gives you worth. So when you lose your job, it can destroy more than just your sense of comfort and security, but also your sense of self.

 

Getting Fired Does These Three Things In Your Brain

 

When negative things happen, like being let go from a job, our brains naturally look for explanations. Your brain may be more prone to a positive explanatory style, or a negative explanatory style (and when you’ve just been dealt a major blow, it’s no surprise that your brain may start to veer more toward the negative!)

 

There are three elements to a negative explanatory style:

  1. Personal
  2. Permanent
  3. Pervasive

 

When you’re trapped in a negative explanatory style, you believe the things that happen to you are your fault (permanent), are going to negatively affect you forever (permanent), and are going to bleed over into all areas of your life (pervasive). On the flip side, people who are using a positive explanatory style are able to remind themselves that the situation they find themselves in is just unlucky (not personal), temporary (not permanent), and only a small blip compared to other opportunities in life (not pervasive). Even Sheryl Sandberg used the “Three Ps” after losing her husband!

 

Here’s Your Script After Getting Fired

 

So if you get fired, how do you trick your brain into adopting a positive explanatory style, even in the face of bad news?

 

The key is to start an internal conversation with yourself to remind yourself of the truth: that being let go is not personal, permanent, or pervasive. Some people start with the “not personal” part, but I’ve found that to be a tough one to accomplish right off the bat (yup, I’ve been fired). In this case, I find the easiest element to start with is reminding yourself that the situation isn’t permanent. There’s another job out there for you, and it may even be a better job, that’s a better fit! Back up your internal conversation by going to job seekers groups (which is where I found a job and a new career path after my first layoff at age 22).

 

Once you’ve reminded yourself that the situation isn’t permanent, take responsibility for keeping it from becoming pervasive. You may be tempted to crawl in bed with a blanket and a Netflix subscription for the next two weeks, but don’t. Keep up with all of your regularly scheduled activities. Go to your volunteer work. Hang out with friends. If you allow your unhappiness to start edging out all the happy elements of your life, that’s when negativity becomes pervasive. And finally, keep reminding yourself that being let go isn’t personal. That’s a tempting trap to fall into, especially when you know they’re going to hire someone else into that spot, because it feels like you must have done something wrong. But sometimes a job is just a mismatch for your skill set. And moving on is better for the company and for you.

 

When you get fired, it isn’t personal, it isn’t permanent, and it isn’t pervasive. Even if it feels that way. If you can remind yourself to shift to a positive explanatory style, and keep up that internal script, you’ll be ready to be a rockstar on the job hunt in no time!

How to Find Really Great Friends

Meeting people is easy.

 

But making true, lasting friendships? That’s hard.

 

Developing an inner circle of your nearest and dearest requires some work, but it’s SO worth it. Here’s what you can do to identify and cultivate a group of friends you can trust and rely on!