Coping

How to Respond When a Loved One Says “I Have Depression.”

What should you say when someone you care about admits to having depression? It’s hard to know the “right” way to respond, but what you say in that moment really matters.

If someone you know starts this conversation with you, here are a few pointers on how to respond in a helpful and loving way, that continues the conversation and supports your friend or family member with depression. Armed with a few of these phrases, maybe you’ll be a little less apprehensive about saying the “right thing.”

This may be one of the hardest conversations you’ll ever have, but it’s also among the most important.

 

“Here’s How I Saved My Marriage” (The Best Marriage Advice I’ve Collected)

I used to think “saving your marriage” was only for dire situations. That “marriage saving” was like last-ditch, life-support, right-after-the-marriage-counselor-and-before-the-divorce-attorney kind of work.

 

And then I grew up.

 

Saving a marriage is like saving a bicycle tire that isn’t brand new: it probably needs to be pumped up regularly. It may even need a patch. If you know how to save your marriage, you can save it BEFORE it becomes an emergency.

 

One Panic At a Time

 

The first marriage lesson I learned was my sophomore year in high school. That was WAY too early to start thinking about marriage advice, but TV star Paul Reiser’s book Couplehood had come out, and somehow I ended up with a copy as a gift. I still remember, all the way back to February of 1995, the advice Reiser gave about being upset in a marriage. He said only one member of a couple can be “up a tree” at any time. Only one of you can be upset, frustrated, or just plain losing it. And if your partner is “up a tree,” as he called it, then you have to stay on the ground and be the rational one.

 

I was just starting to experience, at the time, how easy it can be to freak out when your partner is upset. Their frustration feeds your frustration in a big ugly loop, and suddenly you’ve both lost your cool and pffffft! There goes the healthy relationship. (It’s as easy as that when you’re 15.)  As an adult, my husband and I both have been able to cultivate really calm reactions when the other person is freaking out – it’s almost a little unnatural, but it helps us keep the situation from spiraling out of control. One person up a tree at a time, like Paul Reiser said.

 

You Don’t Win Without Him

 

My mentor and dear friend, Lee, is in her 90s. With the life she’s lived, she’s offered me lots of great advice over the years, especially about running my speaking business. But she gave me one warning that really stuck with me: don’t get too big for your britches, or your marriage will suffer.

 

She told me about how, early in her career, she was so proud of succeeding on her own. In her day, women running businesses were an exception, not a rule. Clients were flying her all over the world, and money was coming in. She told me she was getting treated like a star on the road, and when the applause ended she came home to her husband, she couldn’t shake the expectation that she was still The Star. Her husband felt ignored, unloved, and taken for granted. And she didn’t even notice until he warned her to change or he was going to leave.

 

“You BOTH have to win, for it to be a good marriage,” she told me. “Every success of yours, you have to thank your partner, because it’s shared. And if you don’t see the role they played in your success, you aren’t looking hard enough.” Every success is shared.

 

Stop Worshipping At The Altar of Quality Time

 

I’m on the road a lot, which is where I was when I heard this next bit of good advice. I was talking to some audience members after one of my presentations about being excited to go home and spend time with Jamie, my husband. I said “what I really need is some quality time.” Her response surprised me…

 

“Quality time is great,” she said. “But we’re all so obsessed with quality time that we don’t’ realize TIME when we have it. Don’t wait so long for quality time that you miss opportunities for ANY time.”

 

I realized she was right. That nighttime Netflix “Office” binge isn’t time I ever thought of as “quality time.” It’s too short and too late for deep conversation or fun activities. But I can either replace it with something I value more, or turn it into an intentional bonding experience with Jamie (we’re currently going with the latter, and keeping a running list of new inside jokes thanks to the Dunder-Mifflin crew). Thanks to kids, jobs, dishes, and life, you may not get a lot of dedicated quality time, so stop waiting around for the perfect moment and just make meaning out of the moments you DO have.

 

Your Marriage Isn’t Your Dumping Ground

 

The final lesson is one my husband, Jamie, and I learned ourselves the hard way. It had been one of those days. One of our rescue dogs had barked and lunged at another dog on the trail. I had warned Jamie earlier that he wasn’t choking up on the leash enough, so when the dog acted up I immediately launched into I-told-you-so mode. That afternoon we’d run ourselves ragged with work and chores, until it was time to feed the dogs AND make dinner AND put away the dishes, at which point Jamie snapped at me that he couldn’t reach the dog bowl because I had opened the dishwasher in the way. I was about to snarkily respond about how easy it was to just SHUT the dishwasher when I realized…

 

We were taking the stresses of the day and basically making them the other person’s fault. We were tired and busy, and we couldn’t snap at anybody ELSE in our lives, so we turned to the person closest to us and made it THAT person’s problem. Which is a great way to build animosity. The fact that my life is stressful isn’t my husband’s fault. 99% of the time, he makes my life easier, not harder. So it’s not fair to make him my dumping ground for all the blame of the stress I’m carrying around.

 


 

Your marriage doesn’t need white knight on a horse saving, it just needs a gentle, nudging reminder saving. What are you doing to pump up your marriage every once in a while?

 

 

 

How to Overcome Anxiety at Work

Do you find yourself second-guessing your abilities at your job? Do you worry about what your boss thinks about you? Do you worry about getting fired all. the. time?

 

These 3 simple steps will help you be a little less nervous and anxious about your workplace performance, and they’re easy enough that you can start them TODAY!

 

***(Calling attention to the special caveat because I can’t say it enough: actual anxiety disorder is a separate thing, so work with a mental health professional if you think that’s what you’re dealing with.)

Stop Hating Your Job

Your alarm goes off. You roll over and bury your head under the comforter. You pinch your eyes shut and wish for it to be Saturday. But it isn’t.

 

If you hate your job, every day feels never-ending. Because we spend so much of our lives at work, it’s better to at least like what you do, even if you don’t love it. So how can you stop hating work, if you and your job just can’t get along anymore?

 

Remember What You Used to Love About It

My dad used to work as an investor. He was so good at his job, they promoted him to manager. He was flattered, except… he hated managing people. He’d rather hole up in his office researching stocks all day. He started to wish he could just go back to his old role, until he got better about protecting his time, and scheduling blocks on his calendar devoted to stock research, where he wouldn’t be interrupted about management issues.

 

If there was something about your job you used to love doing, make time to prioritize that work. There’s probably SOME reason you took this job in the first place, hopefully more than just money (because research shows that thanks to a process called “habituation” or “hedonic adaptation,” the happiness we get from money wears off pretty quickly). Whatever the reason you chose this profession, and accepted this job offer, remind yourself of what your hopes and expectations were, and take steps to build those activities back into your day. Even if, like my dad, you’ve been promoted to new tasks, you can still keep one hand in the activities you love.

 

Plug In To a New Arena

 

Maybe your job hasn’t changed… maybe you’ve changed. Maybe since you started this job, you’ve discovered new passions or skills, and you’d like your work to incorporate some of those new interests. Especially these days, there are lots of creative ways to step outside your normal work functions, like volunteering on the committee for an interest group. You could also spearhead some of the community and volunteer initiatives, or take on training the interns if you’re passionate about teaching. Getting involved in a different part of your company should have you seeing your work and your workplace in a different light, and give you the opportunity to fall in love all over again.

 

Ditch a Complaining Crew

 

Could your work buddies be fueling your bad mood at work? Most likely, yes. If you’re burned out and disillusioned at work, the odds are good that your office friends feel the same way. And the odds are really good that you talk about it together. While sharing your struggles can be a good way to get emotional support, “venting” has been proven to be an unhelpful form of coping, because it keeps the anger simmering right at the surface.

 

To get rid of on-the-job anger, top hanging around people who are burned out and find a new crew. Seek out a completely different friend-set; in fact, hanging with the interns might remind you of how inspired and excited you felt when you first got into the industry

 

Remember the Purpose

I was seventeen pages into editing the annual report, and I was about to give up. If I spelled a single donor’s name wrong, it could cost us a future donation. My eyes were starting to cross and I hadn’t even eaten lunch yet. On my way to the kitchen, I veered off course. I headed out the door and across campus, straight to the shelter where the animals were housed. Ten minutes later, covered in slobber and a pile of cocker spaniel-mix puppies, I was ready to finish the annual report and raise even more money to find homes for those puppies. I just needed to be reminded why my work was so important.

 

In so many roles, we’re buried in our own little piece of the puzzle, and we don’t’ get to see how our piece fits into the larger mission. But when we pop our heads up from our desk and take a look around, we see how our piece is important to our customers, our colleagues, and the world. We see why we do what we do, and we’re reminded that it matters.

 

 

Maybe your job is horrible. Maybe your boss is rotten, the pay is terrible, and your coworkers are jerks. Or maybe you’ve just lost your passion, and you can find it again. Hating your job takes a toll on your mental health, so before you write up that resignation letter, try these 4 steps and see if you can fall in love all over again.

What NOT To Say To a Grieving Friend

When a friend is grieving, you want to be there for them. You want to help them. You want to make them feel better.

 

As a three-time cancer survivor, I’ve spent a lot of time around grief and loss. In my nonprofit work with survivors and others in grief, I’ve heard many of the same phrases used time after time – phrases that are supposed to be comforting, but end up being frustrating to the person grieving.

 

Many of the things that come out of our mouths when someone we know is hurting are actually meant to make US feel better, not them. We feel uncomfortable watching them cry or be upset, so we say things we think will encourage them to feel happy instead of sad. But that’s like using a fly swatter to stop a Lear Jet!

 

Here are 4 common phrases you should avoid saying to a friend who is grieving:

 

“It Will All Be Okay”

 

Most of the phrases on this list minimize grief, in some way. This particular phrase grates on my nerves, because it also sounds like the person saying it has a crystal ball. In reality, life will likely be “okay” for your grieving friend, but it will never be what it was. It may never feel quite as full. Or as secure. When you say “it will all be okay,” what your friend hears is “you won’t miss <whatever or whoever it is> that much anyway.” Your friend isn’t yet at a place where it’s all okay, so allow them to process their grief in their own time.

 

“Everything Happens for a Reason”

 

I really struggled with hearing this phrase after my friend Ruben died. If you’ve heard me tell the story of Ruben, you know he was full of life and had just married his true love, Jen, when he passed away. When people said “everything happens for a reason,” it felt like they were saying “Ruben was meant to die.”. In my life, I have experienced many gifts that have come from bad situations. I believe that we can find meaning and hope in even the worst of grief. But I can’t pretend to know the reasons why difficult things happen. I think, facing loss, people want to believe they know something, because feeling powerless is uncomfortable. But it’s not the time or place to school your grieving friend on the mysteries of life.

 

“I Know Exactly How You Feel”

 

Empathy is a beautiful thing. When we’re hurting, one of the most powerful gifts we can receive is someone who just “gets it” to be with us. If you’ve understand your friend’s grief, you’ll be able to support them in a way few others will. But… in my experience, most people who say “I know exactly how you feel,” are the very people who don’t know exactly how I feel. The people who know how I feel say something else, like “I get it. I’m here with you.” Real empathy doesn’t require a comparison.

 

“God/The Universe Doesn’t Give You More Than You Can Handle”

 

This phrase is similar to “Everything happens for a reason.” It presumes the speaker knows the inner workings of life’s great plan. It’s meant to be a compliment, telling your grieving friend that he or she is strong, but it runs the surprising risk of coming across as a guilt trip. For example, I know a woman who lost her son who heard this phrase, and it made her feel like “Do they mean it’s my fault? If I hadn’t been so strong, this wouldn’t have happened to me?”

 

 

These phrases to avoid all have one thing in common: they’re meant to provide perspective to a person grieving. But you can’t give perspective to a person grieving – they can only come to that perspective in their own time. There are no magic words to make them stop crying and say  “you’re right! It’s not as bad as I thought!” Grief doesn’t work like that. In fact, the old Stage Model of grief, originally developed by Kubler-Ross, has been proven incorrect. Grief comes in cycles and waves, there is no linear pattern.

 

So don’t try to say anything meaningful or deep. Just be there. That’s the best thing you can do.

 

 

 

I Am Breakable

Today is the 20th anniversary of the first day I realized I wasn’t invincible.

 

Do you remember the first moment you felt… fragile? Human? Breakable? For me, that moment was 20 years ago today. Well, really 20 years ago in the wee small hours of tomorrow morning.

 

On that day, 20 years ago, a precious friend of mine was murdered.

 

We were freshmen in college. She had chosen a small liberal arts college in Illinois, while I went to a big university in New York City. That summer after we graduated from high school, before we went off to college, our moms went to lunch together. At lunch, her mom said to my mom, “I just don’t know how you can send Courtney to New York. I would be so nervous. I’m so glad Andrea chose a small school in a small town.”

 

That conversation still haunts me, 20 years later.

 

My friend Andrea was everyone’s friend. It’s easy, when you lose someone in a tragic way, to remember them through a lens that makes everything they did seem angelic. But Andrea really was an incredible person, even in life. For one birthday, she refused all presents and instead spent her birthday money adopting the Golden Lion Tamarind monkeys at the Brookfield Zoo. Instead of a party, her parents took her, me, and another friend to the zoo to visit “her” monkeys. She seemed to love every person and every animal she ever met, and the feeling was mutual. I never heard her gossip, which is no mean feat for a teenaged girl. And I’ll always remember her in her grey Winnie the Pooh sweatshirt, as she climbed into the car to go to school every morning. Any other teenager might have been teased for wearing shirts covered in cartoon characters, but if she was, Andrea didn’t care. She had a spirit that was so young and yet so old, at the same time.

 

Andrea’s death didn’t just make me feel breakable because it reminded me that I, too, could die any time. Her death made me feel breakable because I did break, from the inside. I broke when I heard the news, and I continued to break for weeks and months A world where the kindest person I know could be killed didn’t make sense.

 

I still fight against that feeling that the world is supposed to make sense. It’s supposed to be controllable. It’s supposed to be fair. We hate feeling weak and powerless and human. We try lots of fancy tricks to keep ourselves from feeling out of control, like climbing to the top of the corporate ladder, or distracting ourselves with too much food or too-expensive toys. But I’ve discovered that when I pause for a moment, those tricks don’t work. The only thing that works for me is to embrace reality. I am vulnerable. I am breakable. I won’t last forever.

 

When I remember that, like Andrea, I’m only going to have a set amount of time, it’s tempting to freak out. But just a minute past the freak out, I feel focused. I know what that most important things I could be accomplishing in my limited time are, and I have the ability to go and do them. Realizing you are breakable gives you tremendous focus.

 

As you go about your busy life, don’t be afraid to be breakable. It may be just the gift you need, in order to be unstoppable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

With love to Andrea, her family, friends, and all who miss her.

How To Avoid a Midlife Crisis

Worried about the dreaded midlife crisis?
 
You CAN have a birthday epiphany without losing your cool! Here’s what you need to know to make sure you avoid the mental traps that cause a midlife crisis.

How to Become More Optimistic

It IS possible to become a more optimistic person!

 

Start with two simple shifts-of-focus that will have you thinking “Courtney, I KNEW that, I was just forgetting to do it.” Then there’s ONE more little trap that most people fall into when it comes to thinking about optimism, and I’ll tell you how you can avoid it.

How To Tell Your Boss You’re Stressed (Without Seeming Like a Whiner)

How do you tell your boss that you’re stressed, without seeming like you’re whining? The key lies in understanding the difference between problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping. Your boss cares more about the bottom line than about your stress, so use what your boss DOES care about to get your stress level and your workload under control.

9 “Bad” Habits You Need to Start Practicing Today

Here’s some bad news: you can actually be too “good” for your own good.

 

So many of the cultural behaviors we think are good – like always maintaining a positive attitude, or being a hard worker – aren’t always so good for us. These expectations we place on ourselves may in fact drain our strength and our mental energy, so that we aren’t able to be resilient when it really matters.

 

Here are 9 habits that get a bad rap, and why you should reconsider adding them back into your daily routine:

 

#1 – Complain

The world gives bonus points to happy people who don’t gripe, but sharing our struggles with the people around us can be beneficial. It helps us bond, and puts our problems in perspective. The key is to communicate your stress but not dwell TOO long on the problem before moving on to a solution, or else it turns into repetitive venting. In small doses and to the right people, complaining can help you feel supported, understood, and ready to move forward.

 

#2 – Daydream

Thinking about the future is critical for surviving stressful times. Studies of children from difficult backgrounds showed that the children who succeeded despite the odds had something called a “future-orientation.” When you shift your focus toward the future and start making plans, your brain starts to make meaning out of your current struggle, and use it as fuel to get you where you want to go.

 

#3 – Procrastinate

Some deadlines can’t be missed, but others are self-imposed out of some idea of what “successful people” do. In my own business, I often set an artificial timeline on when something “has” to be done, and then I beat myself up when I miss it. But I was busy doing things that were truly more important to my business. It’s 100% okay, and even smart, to move deadlines that don’t make sense anymore.

 

#4 – Say No

I like to think of myself as a nice, helpful person. I hate saying no. As a result, I’ve often spent my days completely overcommitted and overwhelmed. Then a smart friend passed on this bit of advice: “Every yes is a no to something else.” When you say no to something just to be nice, or because you think you should, you’re taking up time for a future activity or opportunity that would be more meaningful to you.

 

#5 – Goof off

When your stress level is high, it might seem like goofing off is the last thing you should do. But when you’re under extreme stress, your brain floods your body with adrenaline and cortisol, sending you into a biological panic mode. While you’re under the influence of adrenaline and cortisol, you aren’t capable of getting high-level work done, because your prehistoric survival brain has taken over.  Take time to not just clear your head, but release the adrenaline and cortisol from your body. By goofing off and doing something enjoyable, like laughing at an internet video, you move your brain out of stress mode and into high-performance mode.

 

#6 – Be weak

There’s a common belief that tough people survive traumatic events with grace and poise, never wavering or having a moment’s doubt. I know from experience that’s a lie. Every one of us who struggles, even those who feel deeply that it will all be okay in the end, have moments where we just can’t stand the suffering. If we all suffer in silence – because we don’t want to appear pathetic or we don’t want to burden anyone else –  then each one of us believes that WE are the only one who is weak. Instead, be honest about your fears and doubts. You’re sure to find that you’re in good company.

 

#7 – Be Selfish

A lot of the narrative about “good people” includes the belief that good people spend their time and resources on other people. A “good mom” is there for her kids 24 hours a day. A “good employee” works late and on weekends. A “good husband”, a “good friend”, a “good boss”… most of these designations involve some form of selflessness. But being 100% selfless is physically and emotionally draining, and is completely unsustainable over the long term. If being “good” means giving everything you have to others, you’re likely to snap at some point. Prioritizing your own needs can actually be a kindness to other people in your life, because it allows you to do good work, behave with patience, and enjoy the world around you.

 

#8 – Get distracted

As humans, we want to avoid the sting of rejection. Whether we don’t get the promotion we were hoping for, or we get dumped by a love interest, rejection is a fact of life. One of the best strategies for coping with a feeling of rejection is to distract yourself. Focus on something else. In a study of sales people who struggle with fear of rejection on sales calls, even something as simple as snapping a rubber band on their wrist helped them distract their mind from the rejection. You may not want to get too distracted in everyday life (like commuting to work!), but if you’re feeling neglected or rejected, find somewhere else to channel your energy and focus, so you can keep moving forward.

 

#9 – Ignore Advice

One of the most common rules for success is “Find a Mentor.” Receiving advice from others, we’re told, is a great way to shorten the learning curve and avoid the mistakes that other people have made. There’s one problem with that plan, though: thanks to a common judgement error called the “Peak-End Rule,” most people don’t remember enough details of their path to success to give very good advice. Because of the limitations of human memory, a mentor or coach can give you some good ideas, but they can’t help you reverse-engineer your way to where you’re trying to go. If you take someone else’s advice and – likely – don’t get the same results, you may start to beat yourself up or think you’re a failure. Instead of taking any advice as gospel, gather suggestions from multiple places, and be your own best guide as you consider what will work for you.

 


 

Throw away the rulebook: these bad habits will help you build more resilience and find greater happiness. As with everything, these bad habits should be taken in moderation. But by resetting your expectation of what is “good,” you’ll find yourself doing a lot more things that are good FOR you.