Personal

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.

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 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!

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 Handle Back-to-School Scheduling Without Losing Your Cool

After a long (maybe too long?) summer break, it’s time to get your kids back to school. Hallelujah! But the first month of school is prime time for stress around your house, as everyone tries to shake their lazy summer habits and jump right back into the busy-ness of the school year.

 

If your family is stressed and high-strung the first several weeks of school, here are some chaos-management techniques to help your family actually ENJOY the transition of the new school year:

 

 

Use the Plus-20 Rule

Everything takes longer than you think it does. And when you’re talking about getting back to your rigid schoolyear schedule, that goes double. Build an extra 20 minutes into every single commute, mealtime, and bedtime. I’ve found that when I’m getting into a new routine, 15 minutes isn’t *quite* enough of a buffer, but 30 is too long. Try making room for 20 extra minutes per activity in your schedule, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you get there on time. (You can also adapt this rule for projects and test studying, too! Give yourself an extra day per major assignment. Everything takes longer than you expect when you’re getting back into the swing of it.)

 

Hire the Professionals (0r the Semi-Pros)

When I was teaching my son to drive, I had a realization. I should NOT be teaching my son to drive. Somebody else should! If you have high-stress, conflict-inducing activities in your household, like math homework, parents shouldn’t be the ones to oversee that activity. Hire a professional math tutor, get a college kid to come oversee homework two nights a week, or maybe staff the job out to a math-whiz friend who owes you a favor. If you and your kids get into the habit of arguing now, this early in the school year, that’s a tough habit to break as the months wear on. Your kids are bound to be more respectful to anyone who isn’t you. So hire someone else to help with whatever the worst stuff is at your house, and enjoy the peace that follows.

 

Institute Work Hours

When I was growing up, we had “homework time” – it reached up to 2-3 hours a night once I was in high school. Depending on the age of your child, designate Work Hours time that’s just for work. If they say “I don’t have homework tonight,” great! They don’t have to do school homework, but they have to work on something. It can be a book, a project, or just a general interest. Anything but TV, phone, or video games. Adjust the age upwards as they grow. And EVERYONE in the family participates in Work Hours, not just kids. This way, you’re modeling the diligent behavior you want to see, and you’re giving your kids less of an excuse to zip through their homework and grab the remote control.

 

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!