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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.

 

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?

 

 

 

This Was the Moment I REALLY Became a Mom

After battling cancer several times in my 20s, I thought I’d never be a mom. But in May of 2011, all that changed with one phone call…

…but not the way you might expect.

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.

 

 

 

What Healthy Relationships Reveal About the Nature of Change

“I can’t change who I am for you!”

If you’ve ever felt pressured to change yourself to be in a relationship with someone, you’ve experienced UNHEALTHY change. Do you know the difference between healthy change for a healthy relationship, and unhealthy change?

In relationships, some change is natural, normal, and good. But some change is bad, and a partner who requests certain kinds of change is a red flag. Learn the difference between the two kinds of change in a relationship, and what healthy, resilient couples know about the nature of change.

3 Ways to Stop Squabbling At Home

 

Every family has its fights.

 

But there are helpful ways to argue, and hurtful ways to argue. If your family needs some new strategies to keep conflict at a minimum, here are some things to try:

 

 

With Your Kids

 

Have you ever been in a fight with your teenager or pre-teen and felt like “this just makes no sense! They’re not making any sense!”? My son first joined our family as a teenager. The first year or two was the “honeymoon period,” where we avoided the typical teenage disagreements. But before too long, we caught up to the typical family dynamic, and suddenly Mom and Dad knew absolutely nothing and our advice was dumb and we were arguing as though we’d been a family forever. (It’s a weird milestone to celebrate!)

 

I remember one of our first big disagreements, and I was just flabbergasted trying to follow my son’s train of thought. Neither one of us was making any headway, and in a flash I realized “I don’t need to understand his entire thought pattern. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make sense to me. It makes sense to him.”

 

As adults, we get pretty familiar with our own thought processes. We can track our frustrations back to their root causes, if we take a moment to try. But even WE sometimes have trouble articulating our thoughts and feelings when we get upset. Can we really expect kids and teens to be better than we are?

 

Instead of jumping to conclusions about why your kids are upset, check your assumptions. Ask them questions to understand what’s really behind their frustration. By questioning your kids, you’re doing two things: 1) understanding the real root causes of their anger and 2) giving your kids an opportunity to speak up, which helps them feel less powerless and therefore less frustrated. When you ask questions, you naturally defuse the tension, and you stand a real chance of keeping the same problem from coming up time and time again.

 

 

BETWEEN Your Kids

 

When your children are at each other’s throats, it’s natural to want to send them both to their rooms. And you probably want to cancel any fun plans you had for the day, too, right?

 

In theory, sending them to their rooms is intended to give them time to cool off and mellow out (and it keeps you from having to listen to them yelling!) But when they go to their rooms in the middle of a conflict, your kids just go up there and stew on the fight. They relive it in their minds, and they run the risk of fueling their anger or feelings of hurt even further.

 

Sending them to their rooms and canceling activities causes kids are missing out on a key strategy that can help stop conflict: positive interaction. Research shows that even a single positive interaction can help cool down a conflict. It seems counterintuitive to “reward” kids for fighting, but facilitating some kind of fun activity where the children have to work together, will help the conflict pass sooner and with fewer lasting effects on their relationship.

 

 

With Your Partner

 

Life is stressful and hard. But you can’t really yell at the dog for eating your slipper, or the mailman for waking the baby, or the checkout guy who overcharged you for whole wheat pasta but you didn’t realize until you got home and it was too late because you’re way too tired to go back to the grocery store now.

 

So you turn to the nearest adult and take it out on THEM. Because THEY promised to unload the dishwasher and forgot. Again.

 

It’s common. We all have days where we give eeeeeeeveryone else the benefit of the doubt besides our partner. But taking your stress out on your spouse leads to a feeling called “contempt,” which psychologists consider to be the #1 predictor of divorce. When you feel contempt for your partner, it goes beyond frustration into a feeling of disgust, like the person isn’t worth your time or even human.

 

To avoid feeling contempt for your partner, especially when you’re disagreeing, remember to focus on shared goals. It helps to verbalize those shared goals, so say something like “I think we both agree that we’re happier when the house is reasonably tidy. Is that fair?” Or “I know we both want the same thing: to have a comfortable amount of money in savings.” You may disagree on what “reasonably tidy” or “a comfortable amount” is, and that’s what the disagreement can focus on. But you can keep coming back to your shared goal, when you feel yourself getting pulled into anger. And remember, a shared goal can be as simple as “We both want to have this difficult conversation without yelling”!

 

 

There’s no such thing as a conflict-free home, but you CAN make conflict healthier and more productive!

 

The Best Way to Beat Procrastination and Get Motivated

Procrastination.

We treat it like a bad word. But if you THINK about it that way, you’re more likely to stay stuck.

Procrastination isn’t a bad personality trait or even a bad habit.

Here’s the single best way to tweak the way you think about procrastination so you can get moving and stay successful.

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.