Coping

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.

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.

 

“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 Deal with a Pessimist at Work

Have you ever had to share an office with a total Negative Nellie pessimist? Someone who always sees the worst in any situation?

 

A coworker with a constantly negative attitude can lead to a toxic culture and a lack of productivity. When one person at work is always complaining about something, that negative mindset can spread through the whole office. Rolling in the door at work on Monday morning can be tough enough! But it’s even tougher when you know you’ll be greeted by a colleague with a poor attitude.

 

Here’s what to say to protect yourself from your pessimistic colleague, and keep their bad attitude from ruining your workplace

 

Complaint #1: “Woe is Me. Everything in My Life Is Horrible.”

Your Action Plan:

This type of complaint usually comes from someone craving connection and compassion. They want a listening ear, and often get mad when you recommend actions they can take to change their situation. What’s extra-frustrating is that many of their complaints aren’t even work-related, and they waste your time wanting to gripe about their miseries without wanting any solutions.

 

In this situation, make it clear that you care (which hopefully will head off a major meltdown), but don’t engage any more than that, or you may find yourself trapped in a conversation loop. Try saying: “I understand you are frustrated, but I’m out of ideas to help you make the situation better. I can’t help you solve this problem, and I have to focus on my work right now.”

 

 

Complaint #2: “Why Do We Need To Change? This is How We’ve Always Done It.”

Your Action Plan:

Employees, especially those who have been there awhile, can be reluctant to face change. One of the most effective ways to make change less uncomfortable is to connect people to the purpose of the change. Start by pointing out to your colleague how the change is going to have a direct payoff for them.

 

If the pessimist employee is a long-timer, you could appeal to their pride by saying  “you probably know better than anyone…” about the issue at hand. Try saying “the changes being proposed are going to help us reach the vision we’ve always had for this organization. You probably know better than anyone that we were founded with a goal of accomplishing X, Y, and Z. This leap is going to feel big, but it’s going to allow us the long-term stability we’ve been wanting, which I know is important to you.”

 

Complaint #3: “That Won’t Work. This is All Wrong.”

Your Action Plan:

Some colleagues just have a complaint about everything. Constant criticism can derail a staff meeting and demoralize the team. But if handled correctly, your pessimistic colleague’s complaints may just be an asset.

 

Research shows that workplace conflict can actually lead to better solutions. If you have a regular complainer on your team, try to channel their complaining into something helpful by giving them the job of foreseeing future complications on projects and ideas. If they feel like their complaints are being heard and taken seriously, they may be more likely to keep their critiques for the times when they’re asked. But if not, try saying “I hear your concerns about solution X. It’s time to move on from brainstorming possible hurdles, and start talking about how we implement solutions to those problems. What are your suggestions for working through the potential problems?”

 


 

You may not be able to change your pessimist coworker’s attitude. But you can minimize the impact it has on you and everyone else. With a few strategic comments, you can minimize the negative impact of the office pessimist, and create a more positive atmosphere for everyone.

 

 

 

 

Stop Saying “I’m Too Busy” and Say THIS Instead…

I catch myself saying “I’m too busy to…”

… and then I realize that’s a lie.

When you say “I’m too busy to do that,” you’re really making a subjective call. And people might not respond the way you want.

By rephrasing this common saying about being stressed out, you’ll be reframing what you REALLY mean, you’ll be better understood, and you may never catch yourself saying “I’m too busy” ever again.

How to Advocate for Yourself

I got some great practice this week in advocating for myself, when I spent several days at the ER and in the hospital with a brown recluse spider bite.

There are two types of self-advocacy, and one may SEEM easier than the other… but they’re both tricky.

Here’s what you need to know about how to advocate for yourself in a way that’s going to get you the outcome you deserve.

How to Redefine Success After Life Throws You a Curveball

This is the story about one of the most humbling experiences of my life, and what I learned from it.

After you’ve lived through a tough time, it’s easy to want to get “back to normal.” But often after a difficult experience, your old goals are obsolete.

Here are 2 important considerations to help you redefine your relationship to success (and redefine success itself!) and start achieving again, no matter what you’ve been through!

Overwhelmed by Current Events? Here’s How to Protect Your Mental Health

It’s hard not to feel beaten down and hopeless when you see the daily news, no matter your political affiliation or personal beliefs.

 

When the world seems like it’s too much to handle, it may be because your brain is tricking you into one of the following overwhelming mental traps:

 

 

I’m only one person, I can’t do anything to help.

 

The world’s problems are bigger than any one person can solve. And when we look at them in one giant mass, like on the front page of a news website, it’s easy to feel completely powerless. But the next time you catch your brain saying “I can’t do anything to help,” correct it. Tell your brain, “No. You can’t do everything to help. But there is something.”

 

Do you have specialized skills that are needed? Can you donate money? Can you educate yourself and be a resource for others? If there’s nothing you can do today, think long-term. Can you teach your children to end the cycle? Can you consider a run for public office? When we feel hopeless, that feeling can start to spiral and invade other areas of our lives. But the good news is it’s easy to correct by taking action in a single area. Decide one thing you can do to make the world what you think it should be, and that hopeless feeling will start to fade. As it does, you’ll feel yourself able to take on more and more.

 

 

But if I turn off the TV, I’m just turning a blind eye.

 

I applaud anyone who thinks “Sure, I could turn off the TV or shut down the computer and not have to look at it. But the people living in X situation don’t have the privilege of walking away.” That’s a compassionate thought. But my concern is this: engaging in a solution is activism. Engaging in a solution is positive. Engrossing yourself in a problem is mental torture.

 

Activism is literally the foundation of the United States of America, but recently I’ve heard many people say they can’t sleep or even talk to other people because they’re so outraged over the current state of affairs. If you are so disturbed by current events that you can’t function, you may be unable to turn your feelings into positive outcomes. Stepping away from the news, if it puts you in a better mental state to take action on your beliefs, is the best help you can offer.

 

I don’t even know what to believe.

 

Social media has become a major source of many people’s information. Yet nearly every time I log on to Facebook, I see someone sharing something that appears (on the surface) to be research, but at closer look it’s not. My recommendation, if you’re overwhelmed with conflicting information is to get off social media, or at least don’t get your information from there, even if an article appears to be legit and it agrees with your beliefs.

 

Do your own research. If you’re looking to find balanced media sources, I’ve seen this infographic floating around. I also just ran across this online self-test to help you identify whether or not you can tell the difference between facts and opinions (this is a non-partisan quiz!). In complex situations, there often isn’t one single, magic-wand of a solution, and therefore not one entirely right answer. If the flood of conflicting opinions on social media is making you want to scream, it’s okay to log off. Engage, but engage where it really matters (which often isn’t the internet.)

 

 

 

As the world becomes smaller and smaller thanks to the speed of digital information, it’s easier than ever to see the suffering and the conflict. You cannot fix the problems of the world unless you are as strong and resilient as possible. Avoid the overwhelm, then you can be a champion for the causes you believe in.