Psych Central Original articles in mental health, psychology, relationships and more, published weekly. 2017-05-27T19:12:42Z Claire Nana <![CDATA[Book Review: When Reality Bites]]> 2017-05-23T19:28:51Z 2017-05-27T19:12:42Z ]]> It’s hard to imagine that denial can be helpful in any way. Many believe that denial, in fact, lies at the heart of addictive behaviors, stymies growth, and inflames many maladaptive behaviors. But according to Holly Parker, author of Reality Bites: How Denial Helps And What To Do When It Hurts, denial is not only a very normal coping technique, it is adaptive in many situations.

Parker begins with the reminder that denial in life is inescapable. Denial invades every aspect of our lives from our desire to protect our children from inevitable harm, to our desire to sustain relationships without conflict. Steering clear of these unpleasant truths is often simply an effort to avoid pain, and seemingly perfectly rational.

There are many ways we can use denial. We can use outright denial, arguing that certain things don’t apply to them, or that they are not responsible for them. Or we can avoid facts altogether; choosing to believe something entirely different or cherry-picking our beliefs to conform to what we want to be true.

Denial is also a wonderful vehicle for self-enhancement, allowing us to exaggerate our positive points – or fabricate positive illusions – all the while downplaying our faults. Yet positive reinterpretation is also a form of denial, Parker says, and one that allows us to look back upon our adversities and see them as powerful turning points in our lives.

Occurring in many forms, denial has three purposes: it helps us tone down unpleasant feelings and magnify pleasant ones; it allows us to cling to viewpoints that we hold dear and it enables us to hold on to our status quo.

“[Denial] lends time to emotionally prepare ourselves before we attend to what distresses us. It paints a challenging matter in hues that offer relief and that help us marshal needed strength as we cope. It hands us a sense of control and the anticipation of a sparkling future, all of which impart a greater sense of security, calm and spiritedness as we march into the murkiness of an unforeseeable future,” writes Parker.

Chronic illness is one area in which denial can be especially adaptive. Parker cites a 2015 study where older adults who used positive interpretation to cope with chronic illness were found to be more protected from loneliness. Safeguarding ourselves from losses is integral to our nature, and denial can be a way that we reframe these painful feelings, making them more palatable. One example Parker gives is forgiving another person through reinterpreting their actions, allowing us to see them as more charitable than we would have otherwise.

Denial also powerfully influences how we see ourselves. Parker points to one study where people from less affluent cultures downplay undesirable traits more than people from more affluent cultures. We can also downplay sexual identity, race, and mental health issues in order to fit in. But denial can also be used to shape how we make decisions, such as overriding impulse decisions to save money for retirement, exerting self-control to accomplish tasks like studying or eating healthy and making sacrifices to strengthen bonds with loved ones.

And as much as denying our vulnerability can sever connection, denial also powerfully facilitates romance.

“When people turn down the dial on their partner’s faults and turn up the dial on their partner’s gifts, it forecasts joy in a relationship,” writes Parker.

Parker says that much of learning to use denial effectively requires that we see it in a multidimensional light. On the one hand, most people fare better when they feel they have a greater sense of control in their lives. On the other hand, in investment banking, the more in control traders feel, they less money they bring in and the worse managers judge their work. Denial also helps us maintain basic adaptive beliefs such as: people are decent and bad things are probably not going to happen to us; life is generally fair so long as we are decent and do the right thing and as long as we make prudent choices we can control what happens to us and safeguard ourselves against harm.

When we take time to stop and reflect on our circumstances – and Parker offers a helpful exercise for this – we can catch the stories that hold us back and begin to cultivate those that move us closer toward our goals. Further, we can also see that denial, while it helps us maintain our positive beliefs about the world around us – overlooking mass suffering, potential natural disasters, hurtful biases toward others, and even our own mortality – can be challenged. Through compassion and awareness we can better connect with ourselves and those around us, and ultimately come to see that even the awareness of death can be incredibly life-giving.

With thoughtful insight and sound reasoning, Parker challenges us to rethink denial, and to see it as neither good nor bad, but rather a normal part of the human experience which, in the right circumstances, can be used to help navigate challenging situations, reinterpret difficult life events and overlook faults that may rob us of joy.

When Reality Bites: How Denial Helps and What To Do When It Hurts
Holly Parker, PhD
Hazelden (2016)
159 Pages

Claire Nana <![CDATA[Book Review: The Ultimate Guide To Raising Teens & Tweens]]> 2017-05-23T19:26:12Z 2017-05-26T19:12:12Z ]]> While teens and tweens spend countless hours on Instagram, facebooking, texting, tweeting, and messaging — all examples the instant gratification world they now live in – the resiliency, resourcefulness, confidence and self-control that are needed to succeed in the world lie dormant and undeveloped.

Handwriting, spelling, math and overall problem-solving skills have declined consistently year after year. It is no wonder that parents often struggle to reach their children. The answer, according to author of The Ultimate Guide To Raising Teens and Tweens: Strategies For Unlocking Your Child’s Full Potential Douglas Haddad is to realize that we are in the midst of a “kid crisis.”

Haddad suggests that in order to become unlimited in potential as smart, successful, and self-disciplined individuals, children need limits. And these limits must come from parents.

“In order to successfully support and guide your child as they encounter adversity, defeat, failure, and peer pressure, it is important that you possess specific strategies to fall back on when things get rough,” writes Haddad.

Haddad, who is a middle school teacher, describes a young student who after being given several warnings not to chew gum in class, finally receives a detention. When the student’s mother colludes with her, writing the school to get the detention revoked and the girls behavior becomes worse, the mother finally realizes that what she first saw as advocating for her child was actually helping her escape responsibility for her own choices. Strategy one, according to Haddad, is ensuring that children experience natural consequences for their actions.

Yet guiding children also depends on relating to them. Parents who simply focus on grades and test scores, all the while ignoring the psychological health of their children miss a powerful opportunity to connect and build a trusting line of communication. The suggestion Haddad gives – which is strategy two – is that parents should take a moment to remember their own youth.

Parents can also become caught up in the day-to-day and forget that their children are watching them, and learning.

“Your own values, attitudes, and prejudices can be implicitly or explicitly passed on to your child,” Haddad writes.

In order to help children learn positive behaviors, parents must first ask themselves: How can I model those behaviors? Haddad offers some helpful suggestions, such as saying sorry to your children, telling the truth (even when it is painful), taking responsibility for your shortcomings, working hard and honoring your commitments.

Much of good parenting rests on the principle of trading cooperation for control, avoiding power struggles and creating a positive relationship with a child, according to Haddad. He introduces CALM, a useful technique for parents facing a problem behavior: communicating clearly, avoiding arguments, listening when your child has calmed down and mending and solving problems.

Children need to be given enough rein to take on new challenges, set goals and learn. Haddad quotes author of The Narcissism Epidemic Jean Twenge, “American children of this generation possess a high amount of materialistic goods and have been granted ‘unprecedented authority’ where they are no longer seeking their parents approval, but rather parents are seeking their children’s approval.”

The solution is not just for parents to stop assuming responsibility for their children, but to ask themselves honest questions such as: What are my expectations for my child? Do I come to the rescue of my child’s beck and call? When have I said “no” to my child and changed my mind?

In the second part of the book, Haddad addresses the many challenges children face today, such as bullying, youth violence, sex, drug addiction and eating disorders. In each case, he gives several warning signs and risk factors to help parents better identify each challenge. He also provides several helpful strategies parents can use to address each problem.

On eating disorders, for example, he points to a study done by the Girl Scouts of America that demonstrated that girls who watch reality television shows are more likely to value themselves and others based on appearance. For parents who suspect their child may have an eating disorder, Haddad suggests that parents should evaluate their own attitudes about weight and food, educate their children about healthy eating habits and exercise, avoid using food as a reward, discuss openly the culture’s obsession with thinness and allow your child to freely discuss their concerns on a daily basis.

Haddad also advocates for parents to keep the lines of communication open to discuss anything from the dangers of drug and alcohol use to feelings of depression and weight gain.

“Raising successful children goes beyond the realm of achievements and status and is rooted in a child’s level of happiness,” he writes.

Haddad doesn’t offer quick fixes, flashy techniques or a glorified approach to parenting. What he does offer is a granular look at the problems teens and tweens face today and daily practices that will help parents raise children who are not only prepared to navigate the modern world, but will grow and develop useful skills in the process.

The Ultimate Guide To Raising Teens and Tweens: Strategies For Unlocking Your Childs’ Full Potential
Douglas Haddad
Rowman & LittleField (2016)
Softcover, 213 Pages

Dr. Donald N. Burton <![CDATA[Combat PTSD — One Veterans’ Journey to Control the Beast]]> 2017-05-25T15:21:25Z 2017-05-26T13:00:48Z ]]> I thought January 9, 1970 was the end of my involvement with the military and the Vietnam War. That was the day I was discharged from the US Navy after having completed three tours to Vietnam, two of which took me “in-country” with various Marine elements needing to document their activities with photographs. (I was a Navy Photographers Mate Second Class.) Now 45 years later, at times, I am thrust back there. PTSD, or PTSS as it was called then, takes me there instantly. I smell the smells, feel the sweat on the back of my neck and everything else — fear, high alert and paranoia flood over me. To me, PTSD isn’t what many people believe. From first hand, I know it is an insidious thing, a beast that once embedded is opportunistic and nearly impossible to kill completely. Weird things can awaken it, sounds, visuals and even moods, especially depression. It is hard to guard against and impossible to predict when it will raise its head. So what do you do? Here is what I did.

I spent many years visiting at Vet Centers in group counseling all across the nation as I traveled for work, sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly. It helped. My wife of nearly 40 years has probably been the best healing agent as she is a good detached listener when the beast is present. But recognizing what the beast we call PTSD is and its power over us or more precisely the power we allow it to have over us is a key. Another major key is to give it a path out. For many years I kept it all inside. I didn’t know I had buried it. Nobody knew I had any problems. As the saying goes, I just sucked it up. It was killing me.

One evening after a frightful bout with the trauma nearly breaking me, my wife suggested that I write it down. I did, slowly. Over the next ten plus years, when it raised its head, I wrote it down. Over time, writing it down made me begin to feel like I was in control. Then I read and read and re-read my journal countless times. Over time I found I could talk to others who were not in combat about my experiences and how I felt. Then I put the manuscript away — for nearly 20 years. Every five years or so I got it out and read parts of it. Sometimes I cried, sometimes for hours. You see in my journal it wasn’t just about me. Matter of fact, I could not write about what happened emotionally to me and my friends directly. Following the advice of a Vet Center counselor, I put my journey and other comrades’ experiences on the shoulders of fictitious people. I could only write it down that way. I could handle it obliquely — just not head on.

During the intervening years, with help from many people, I’ve had a great career; a very supportive family helped and I got educated along the way. My wife and I started a business that became a school that then turned into a respected university. So there are no complaints there. My wife suggests that the workaholic nature of mine is probably related to the PTSD. I don’t ever forget that the monster still hides in deep sacred parts of my mind. Sometimes when least expected it still raises its head. That’s okay. For now I know it for what it is — only part of my past and it has nothing to do with my future. If there is a positive consequence to this all it is that the beast causes me to remember the fallen Marines I worked with, to celebrate them again, ponder the good times and reaffirm my vow that they will never be forgotten. Semper fi

With that in mind, I reworked my therapy journal and it became a manuscript. It was published as fiction. The comments I’ve gotten from readers, many of which are family members of service members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, thank me. I never would have dreamed it could help others understand how PTSD can happen to anyone and the importance of not ignoring it as something a vet can handle on his or her own. Even Mike Farrell of M*A*S*H fame saw its value and wrote a review. The book is too personal for me a make a judgment call as to its value to others. Interesting to me, I didn’t realize how getting it out there is really the final or at least a major step in my healing process.  Now I can talk about it without crying—most of the time. I reached my goal: most of the time, I’m NORMAL AGAIN. It was a long road.

The title of the book says it all: “By What Is Sure To Follow — a PTSD Odyssey”. I have been told my book may empower a vet’s family to take action. I will let them decide.

Before I put it away in 1990, I had several Vietnam vet survivors (Marines) read it. They violently cussed me out, saying “How dare you degrade Marines like that.” Back then you didn’t speak about PTSD. They saw it as an insult, a weakness that soldiers didn’t talk about — ever. You were supposed to JUST SUCK IT UP. Luckily today it is out in the open and there is support to manage the beast. Semper fi

Caroline Comeaux Lee <![CDATA[Book Review: The Thrive Life]]> 2017-05-23T19:23:53Z 2017-05-26T02:21:44Z ]]> “What if you could take control of every choice, your every decision, and focus all that you are into becoming the person you want to be? What amazing things could you do? What impossibilities could you turn into accomplishments?…This is your wake-up call; this is your moment; this is your thrive life…and I am going to show you how to live it.”

Straight from the back of the book, The Thrive Life, it’s a tall order for a 165-page book, but author Thomas Winterman strives to achieve this goal in his book. He aims, shoots, and misses entirely.

Readers with little exposure to motivational speakers, self-help books or mental health exercises will likely find The Thrive Life helpful. It outlines the process of setting goals in a detailed fashion. More specifically, the author provides six chapters on fine-tuning and outlining three primary goals.

Anyone that is new to goal-setting practices will find these six chapters well worth the read.  Winterman’s process assists in making goals attainable by getting specific and keeping the goals to a minimum. His approach will keep readers from creating a list of fifteen goals to achieve in the next year.

While the first part of the book provides the basis for why the reader is setting personal goals, the final portion of the book is about the journey of attaining those goals. The author expounds on the total behavior mindset, and offers suggestions for dealing with failure, and so forth. That’s about it.

The problems with The Thrive Life are apparent from the start. Each chapter ends with a paragraph or two that relates back to the material presented in the chapter, but they are often pithy and trite. There is little depth to them, and they mainly serve the purpose of reiterating what was said.

Every now and then, the reader receives a motivational catch phrase such as “Live, grow, thrive!” But in case it is unclear, they are not motivating. Rather, the author could have used the final paragraphs as a method for encouraging critical thinking about the material in the chapter. He could have related the questions back to the total behavior concept or the car metaphor he uses incessantly (to be fair, I’m not an auto enthusiast).

Then there is the issue with his explanations of choice theory and reality therapy. While it is clear this book is not intended to be a textbook, Winterman fails to describe either in a detail that provides the reader with an actual understanding. The information enclosed on both of these topics feels like filler for the pages. Considering that the book is only 165 pages long, this complaint poses a real issue.

Additionally, Winterman very briefly touches on the criticisms of reality therapy. He spends one long paragraph of sixteen sentences discussing the criticisms. Unfortunately, rather than sounding supportive, his lack of depth and analysis of criticisms comes across nonchalant and flippant. Does he not truly understand the criticisms of these theories and practices? Does he not think that they are worth discussing, and if so, why mention them at all? This one paragraph crushed the chapter that preceded it because it generate so many questions and created confusion.

Winterman’s lack of clarity and elaboration on certain statements was often frustrating.  His statement of classifying feelings had me on edge:

“When you are really focusing on your feelings, try to classify them as good, bad, or neutral,” he writes.

Nothing else.  No explanation as to defining “good,” “bad” or “neutral.” Is this classification based on how I feel physiologically? Is this based on whether it is a positive or negative emotion? Winterman leaves his reader without any guidance on this point whatsoever, and then moves on into his next section entirely.

The voice of the author was oftentimes the most distracting aspect. Winterman supplies sarcasm and “wit” (the term is being used loosely) to provide humor throughout his book. However, his voice falls flat, and sometimes it even comes across condescending or patronizing. When his cheerleader-like personality comes through to offer encouragement, it was often difficult to not want to groan in exasperation.

The lowest points were the times that he came across sounding like a high-school football coach: “This stuff works, people!” While I assume he was attempting to keep the mood light, it made me cringe to read.

The Thrive Life lacks real depth. It is like reaching for a rosemary and olive oil cracker to find cardboard slices. I am a mental health and self-help book fanatic; I personally thrive from immersing myself in books on theories, therapy practices, and self-improvement. It is rare for me to find a book that has so little that I find enriching. I was so disappointed by the lack of delivery from The Thrive Life. It was not a wake up call; it was an obligatory school announcement that no one listens to.

The Thrive Life
Thomas Winterman
Self-Published, April 2014
Paperback, 165 pages

Claire Nana <![CDATA[Book Review: Raising A Secure Child]]> 2017-05-23T19:21:24Z 2017-05-25T19:19:00Z ]]> Parents, it turns out, make a lot of mistakes. But according to the authors of the new book, Raising a Secure Child: How Circle of Security Parenting Can Help You Nurture Your Child’s Attachment, Emotional Resilience, and Freedom to Explore, one of the biggest mistakes parents make is trying to be perfect.

Parents, write Kent Hoffman, Glen Cooper and Bert Powell, already have everything they need to be good parents, and by harnessing the power of secure attachment they can learn to truly “be-with” their children in ways that help them understand, on a deeper level, their genuine needs and wants.

Children have two basic needs: the need for comfort and safety, and the need for exploration. The way children often navigate the world involves a complex balancing of these needs that can seem confusing, even frustrating for parents. Yet one of the most important roles of a parent, the authors contend, is to help children accept and manage their emotional experience.

While developing autonomy is an important stage in child development, and one that parents and caregivers often focus on, when it comes to raising children the term “self-sufficiency” is misguided.

“From birth through old age, our ability to act with a sense of autonomy is directly related to our capacity for connectedness,” write Hoffman, Cooper and Powell.

The authors cite Lei, a three year old girl who is learning to climb a structure in the park while her father watches carefully, yet without interfering. When Lei reaches the top she is delighted and quickly climbs down, running back to her father while they share a moment of excitement together before she runs off again for another exploration.

Moments like this have a lasting legacy, and one that imprints strongly on children. And the benefits of this sort of secure attachment go much beyond moments of excitement – children with secure attachments enjoy more happiness with their parents, feel less anger at them, get along better with friends, are better able to problem solve, have higher self-esteem, are more able to trust and know how to be kind to others.

The authors point out that a sense of security is also a protective feature in times of stress.

“Feeling secure in the presence of a loving dependable caregiver is like being offered a second skin that protects us during times of stress,” write Hoffman, Cooper and Powell.

A secure relationship also keeps children on a healthy developmental track, allowing them to learn to regulate emotion, build self-esteem, and create social competence. The authors point to one study where children who learned to trust that their parent would help them regulate painful emotions showed more confidence in their own ability to regulate emotions, which resulted in greater self-esteem and self-confidence.

One major obstacle that confounds secure relationships according to the authors is a parent’s need to be perfect.

“Modeling perfection and the pursuit of it does not promote healthy development. Pressuring ourselves to always get it right or to guarantee that our children never experience the pain we may have experienced growing up creates an anxiety that our little ones can’t help recognizing. Working too hard actually compromises our children’s need to trust in our faith in relationship, an essential foundation of security throughout their lives,” write Hoffman, Cooper and Powell.

Instead, parents can learn to let go of self-blame, relax into confidence, and develop an attachment with their child that goes both ways – what is called a dyadic regulatory system – allowing for comfort to be both given and received. Both adults and child travel around what the authors call the circle of security – vacillating between needs for comfort and needs for freedom. Through learning to ask, “Where am I on the circle?” parents can also learn to better recognize their own needs, and most importantly, accept themselves as good enough.

The authors contend that establishing a secure relationship with a child is not a technique, but rather a state of mind. By tuning into a child’s needs – both for comfort and freedom – parents can also learn to listen to their own attachment patterns – what the authors call “shark music.”

It is the early attachment experiences, in which needs are either met or not, that color how available a parent is to respond to the similiar needs of his or her child. When parents pull back the curtain on their own early experiences, they can see them for what they are, and choose to respond to their child’s needs without interference from their own.

The book is primarily about what it takes to develop a secure relationship, and the authors offer several helpful tools, such as a chart of core sensitivities in close relationships and ways to respond to them, as well as a number of take-home lessons which include things like honoring both a child’s needs for comfort and freedom, allowing the child the space to explore on his own, and remaining present to help if needed.

While children can act out in a variety of ways, and there is no shortage of techniques to improve their behavior, Raising A Secure Child reminds us that there is no shortcut for the emotional intelligence, sensitivity, and resilience, that comes with developing a lasting bond – a secure relationship – with our children.

Raising A Secure Child: How Circle of Security Parenting can help you nurture your child’s attachment, emotional resilience, and freedom to explore
Kent Hoffman, Glen Cooper and Bert Powell
Guilford Press (2017)
Softcover, 264 Pages

Irving Schattner, LCSW <![CDATA[When One Person Changes in a Relationship]]> 2017-05-24T20:51:25Z 2017-05-25T13:00:28Z ]]> We seek relationships for a variety of purposes — safety and security, love and intimacy, to satisfy physical, emotional and spiritual needs, to name a few — and it is through our connections with others that we come to shape not only our view of the world around us, but the way we see ourselves.

Healthy relationships encourage interdependence while supporting personal growth and autonomy. They also place great value in open communication. However, even the most skilled couples and families can experience a breakdown in communication and increased conflict that results in avoidance and withdrawal, mistrust, unbalanced power and control, and an overall lack of patience and empathy.

When a person who is in a relationship recovers from addictions (alcohol or drugs, food, gambling, shopping), anxiety and/or depression, it could be said that the person is following a new path.  This path may feel scary at times, but when such a person has committed to the change process, their partner or significant other may not fully be aware of how their loved one has changed and how it may impact their relationship. The mental health of anyone in a relationship can be strained, especially by addictions, depression, and/or anxiety.

In some instances, ones’ partner or significant other may welcome these changes as a healthy outcome of couples therapy. They may feel liberated from their partner’s constant need for support, validation and neediness, and can now focus on establishing a more balanced, healthy and mutually beneficial relationship. Individual counseling can also help to identify the issues you are having in your relationship, but if you are both proactive about opening up and being honest then couples therapy will yield the most benefit.

In other instances, one’s partner or significant other may find himself or herself resentful and pushing back against the tide of what they see as a person they no longer know or understand. This occurs most particularly when their role as protector, defender or enabler becomes undermined through the change in their partner. As one partner changes through the therapeutic process, the balance of power can shift one of two ways; Equality, equilibrium, mutual recognition, understanding and respect come to define this modified relationship; or one partner accommodates to this new arrangement while the other partner finds it difficult or is unwilling to make a corresponding, complimentary change that recognizes the needs of the other.

Maintaining a Healthy Relationship

Generally speaking, it is healthy and necessary for people to adapt to changing circumstances and life events. So, too, it is expected that relationships will change over time. But sometimes partners’ needs change and are not complimentary. Partners may find themselves on different paths or life journeys. While this is not a necessary end-all-be-all to a relationship, it can surely strain the chemistry between a couple.

So, what to do when you find that your needs, wants, desires, dreams, or life direction have changed from that of your partner’s? The first thing you might want to consider is acknowledging these changes. Failure to be open and honest with your partner may only lead to a breakdown of the relationship. Perhaps you truly want out of the relationship and are fearful of confronting this fact. If this is the case, your complacency and lack of openness will passively move you towards what you truly want — dissolution of your relationship. If that is the case, then you’ve saved yourself some time and will be ready to move on to greener pastures.

On the other hand, if you want your partner to share the “new you” and “your new journey,” it is paramount that you share your thoughts and feelings with your partner. To do otherwise, is sabotage of your relationship. It is natural to want to grow and change, and if you want your relationship to survive, even thrive, it is mandatory that you engage your partner in healthy dialogue that lets them know what’s going on inside of you, the personal changes you are making, and how that may impact or shift the dynamics or nature of your relationship. In turn, you should allow your spouse the space, time and freedom to fully express their thoughts, feelings and needs relevant to the changes taking place.

It is worth noting that just because you may not be one-hundred percent on the same page, does not mean your relationship is doomed. If you feel like you are at an impasse, or simply don’t know where to begin this process of reconciliation, couples therapy can be of great help in defining your respective wants, needs and desires and examining whether they can be accommodated in your relationship or it’s time to move on. It may not be easy to take the first step in reaching out for therapy, but this move can often salvage a relationship.

Therapy is still often stigmatized in this day and age, especially couples therapy. However, this is a healthy outlet that can help you and your partner achieve happiness in your relationship. Issues bringing couples to therapy include, but are not limited to, infidelity, poor communication, money, parenting or co-parenting, work or career issues, lack of physical or emotional intimacy, separation or divorce, caregiver stressors, abusive or other destructive relationships, grief and loss, and life transitions. If you’re struggling in your relationship, remember and reflect on the following quote:

“You don’t develop courage by being happy in your relationships every day. You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.” – Epicurus

Dave Schultz <![CDATA[Book Review: The Quitter’s Guide to Finishing]]> 2017-05-23T19:18:35Z 2017-05-24T19:16:25Z ]]> Betsy Schow wrote The Quitter’s Guide to Finishing as a follow-up to her book Finished Being Fat, the story of her personal weight loss journey that encouraged readers to persevere to reach their own goals. The Quitter’s Guide to Finishing offers many good tips (101, to be exact) to help readers stay on the path toward their goals.

Most of us can recall at least one time when we began something with a flurry of action and great enthusiasm. And some of us didn’t always see it through to the finish. Staying focused requires a combination of having a realistic goal, determination, support, time to devote to the goal, among other factors. Sometimes we reach our goals later than planned or with adjustments, but we get there and feel satisfied with our accomplishment.

But too often, it doesn’t end this way. We all know about the exercise equipment that ends up collecting dust in the basement, piano lessons that fizzle out and New Year’s resolutions that are forgotten in a month. The Quitter’s Guide to Finishing pushes readers to keep working to overcome the obstacles that often get in our way, whether they are external or internal.

And, yes, sometimes there are good reasons that keep us from our goals which simply cannot be overcome. The author is not talking about those.

The book is divided into seven chapters. Suggestions often start with a quotation from a recognizable authority or leader.

Here are a few examples:

“You can be your best friend or your worst enemy. The choice is yours.”

“That Finisher’s Feeling, which uses the good feelings we have we achievement as encouragement to pursue more goals.”

“Negative thoughts are like poison.”

“If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth it.”

Each thought or idea is followed by a story, experience or description to illustrate the point. Some may seem a little simplistic, but are relatable; readers can use them to think about their own experiences. And getting encouragement and learning perseverance don’t have to be complicated. Often we just need to be reminded, or to slow down and consider why something isn’t getting done.

The Quitter’s Guide to Finishing can be read in different ways to be effective. One could breeze through the whole book, possibly highlighting key messages or marking pages that especially resonate. Then, the reader could return to those places to think a little more deeply about how it applies to them. Another approach might be to read a few pages at a time and let the ideas sink in a bit before going on to the next passage. Readers can always return to the book when a little encouragement is needed.

I loved some of the ideas and found others trite or overly simplistic. To be fair, there will be other readers who may react very differently because of where they are in their lives or what their obstacles may be. That is one of the nice features of books like this one. There are so many suggestions and tips that we are likely to find some that give us what we need.

For those who were reading in the 90s, this book may remind them of Richard Carlson’s series of books that began with, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff (and It’s All Small Stuff). These books used the same format of about 100 short ideas or suggestions. Books like this are easy to read and easily digestible.

What Schow adds to this successful formula is personalization, using her own thoughts or experiences to help make her points. Having a book that tries not to make things more complicated than they already are is a good thing.

The Quitter’s Guide to Finishing
Betsy Schow
The Countryman Press 2017
141 Pages, Hardcover

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. <![CDATA[Therapists Spill: What I’ve Learned About Fear]]> 2017-05-24T15:53:33Z 2017-05-24T15:53:33Z ]]> For many of us, fear is a four-letter word. We ignore it, dismiss it and despise it. We see it as another thing we’re doing wrong. After all, we’ve read that it’s best to be BOLD, BRAVE and FEARLESS. And we’re anything but.

We see fear as a synonym for weakness and failure. We assume that courage is the absence of fear.

But it’s not. And that’s not the whole story. Which is why we asked various therapists who specialize in anxiety to spill their lessons on fear—lessons they’ve learned from their own clinical training and work with clients. Below, you’ll find wise insights and valuable stories.

Fear has a purpose. A critical one.

Because fear can spark a slew of unpleasant and downright scary sensations throughout our bodies, we might yearn, we might ache, to annihilate it. But the goal is not to eliminate all fear, said Ryan Howes, Ph.D, a psychologist in Pasadena, Calif. That’s because fear is vital.

“Fear is an essential emotion that actually has a noble duty: It’s meant to protect you from danger.” Fear prompts us to lock our doors, buy insurance and not engage in dangerous behaviors, he said. Without it, we simply wouldn’t survive. Fear saves lives.

Fear becomes problematic when we don’t explore it and let it fester—so much so that it holds us back, said Ashley Thorn, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Going inside your fear is the key.

“Fear mainly comes from a lack of control and the unknown,” Thorn said. “The more we feel we are in control or know about a situation, the less fear we may feel.” This is why instead of pretending a fear doesn’t or shouldn’t exist, Thorn and her clients explore worst-case scenarios. They dig in.

As they explore each scenario, they come up with a game plan should that situation actually occur. In other words, they take the fear from an “unknown” to a “known.”

“The more [clients] start to feel like they would have some control and have thought through the fear, the better they seem to do,” Thorn said.

Howes has found the same to be true: “Actually exploring the fearful outcome can empower the fearful person and help them feel more in control, ironically.” Because fear hijacks our rational thought, it’s not helpful to tell someone who’s convinced they’ll be fired over a minor mistake that they’ll keep their job.

According to Howes, what’s more helpful is to ask: “Why are you afraid you will be fired? What would it mean if you were? How might that firing look? Why is keeping this job important? What would you do next?”

Looking at your past helps you identify when fear isn’t protective.

Howes was working with an attorney who’d taken a health-related leave of absence. During his leave, he began fearing his return. “He was preoccupied with all the skills he might have lost, imagined himself freezing up in the courtroom, and pictured himself losing case after case and getting fired.”

He also started telling himself that the best way to avoid failure was to never go back. However, Howes questioned his reasoning because his past (and present) told a different story: He loved being in the courtroom. He never froze. He was regularly promoted. His firm held his position for an entire year, frequently checked on his progress, and told him they couldn’t wait for him to return.

When they explored his fears further, it turned out that his real fear was about his leave of absence: It was really hard for him, and he couldn’t imagine having to take another leave.

“Avoiding his comeback wasn’t going to help him, but staying healthy so he could keep doing the work he loved would,” Howes said. “This gave him something to do instead of something to avoid, which made his return much easier.”

Facing a fear should result in growth.

“If you have the choice, don’t do something that terrifies you and brings you no benefit or growth,” said Lena Aburdene Derhally, LPC, a psychotherapist, writer and speaker in Washington, D.C. With any fear, she suggested asking yourself: “Do I want to do this?” “Is it important for me to do this?”

For instance, bungie jumping, sky diving and stand-up comedy might terrify you—and not help you grow. However, setting and maintaining a boundary with your mom might. So might sharing your idea at your next work meeting. So might going back to school, if that’s your dream.

The fear is often worse than the reality.

Years ago, Howes worked with a college student who had a hard time making friends. She was so afraid of rejection that she never asked anyone to study or have lunch. To remove fear’s power, they created a game (“something in psychology we call ‘prescribing the symptom’”). She’d approach a dozen people with ridiculous requests, which they’d inevitably reject. For instance, she asked one classmate if she could wear her jacket. She asked a campus security officer to borrow his pepper spray. Everyone, naturally, said no.

However, the sting of each rejection was fleeting, and she ended up having a lot of fun. “Once she realized rejection was temporary and not the end of the world, she felt freer to make those sincere requests to spend time with people she wanted to befriend,” Howes said. “She learned her fear of rejection was much more paralyzing than the reality of rejection, and this empowered her.”

Plus, “facing most fears can make us more resilient,” Derhally said. “The more we expose ourselves to what scares us, the more we can tolerate it.”

When we avoid or dismiss our fears, they transform into big, mysterious monsters. But when we get to know them, when we create game plans to face them, we realize that they aren’t so scary and impossible after all. And you never know: You might even end up having fun—or experiencing any number of positive outcomes.

Bella DePaulo <![CDATA[Book Review: What Love Is & What It Could Be]]> 2017-05-23T19:15:27Z 2017-05-23T23:13:27Z ]]> On the first page of What Love Is and What It Could Be, author Carrie Jenkins lets readers know that she is a philosopher and that she has both a husband and a boyfriend. Jenkins isn’t cheating or hiding her relationships from either partner. She is practicing ethical nonmonogamy. Does her nonmonogamous love count as real romantic love? Is it possible to be in love with two people?

What Love Is and What It Could Be is a deeply thoughtful, incisive, and engaging exploration of the nature of romantic love. Jenkins identifies the central question of the book as: How can love be both biological and a social construct? To find answers, she stretches far beyond her field of philosophy to explore perspectives from psychology, anthropology, literature, biology, neuroscience, evolutionary science, feminist studies and more.

Jenkins’ overview of the different ways romantic love has been construed at different times and in different places throughout history might seem like a compelling argument for the view of romantic love as a social construct. But Jenkins has little patience for either a purely social view of romantic love or a purely biological view. With regard to the latter, she examines the work of Helen Fisher.

While Jenkins agrees with Fisher on some points, her critiques are even more powerful. She eviscerates what she describes as Fisher’s argument that romantic love is essentially “a basic biological drive that evolved because our helpless female ancestors needed monogamous males to provide for them while they reared their babies.”

To Jenkins, understanding the significance of both the biological and social components of romantic love is not just important intellectually. It also has significant implications for our lives. If we see love as solely biological, she says, we risk treating love as “a natural, objective, and unchanging thing over which we have relatively little influence.” That would undermine our motivation to make change.

But if we lean too heavily on the view of love as a social construct, on the other hand, we risk thinking that we can create changes that just aren’t going to happen. For example, it would not work to try to redefine love as something “one can ‘just snap out of’ when a relationship ends instead of experiencing months of heartbreak.” The biological reality of romantic love constrains the kinds of social changes that are possible.

The title of the book, What Love Is and What It Could Be, seemed to promise a wide-ranging exploration of love in its many forms, including, for example, the love between friends, between parents and children, maybe even the love of ideas. I was disappointed, at first, to learn that the book was focused on romantic love. Jenkins does, though, discuss other kinds of love here and there. She also gives attention to issues relevant to single people who either have little interest in romantic love or who have little experience with it, even if they would like to.

“In the society I inhabit, it’s impossible to avoid the psychological impact of amatonormativity – that idea that if you’re not in romantic love, or at least looking for it, then you’re doing life wrong,” writes Jenkins.

The key social function of romantic love in contemporary society, Jenkins argues, is to take the “powerful forces of adult attraction, affection, and care” and direct them into nuclear family units. For romantic love to get funneled efficiently into just that one family form, two kinds of variations must be stopped in their tracks: having more than one romantic partner, or having no partner at all. The norm of monogamy covers the first, and amatonormativity, the second.

Those who practice nonmonogamy and those living single are punished with stereotyping and stigma, while those who follow the prescribed path are rewarded with cultural affirmation and legal benefits and protections.

Throughout the book, Jenkins challenges one piece of conventional wisdom after another. For example, on the prevailing view that women care about monogamy more than men do, she writes:

“Strong social pressure to have (and express) preferences for monogamy creates conditions under which it is complicated to find out what women ‘naturally’ prefer.”

The same is true, I think, for the question of whether people can truly want to be single. Social pressures that mandate coupling make is difficult to know what people really do prefer.

The chapter, “What Needs to Change,” builds up a list of ways that romantic love needs to be reconstructed in order to become more inclusive. Amatonormativity, for example, or the assumption that a central monogamous relationship should be the norm for humans has to go, as does the assumption that romantic love should lead to marriage and children. Changes, Jenkins believes, will be gradual and will take place “against a backdrop of continuity.”

What Love Is and What It Could Be
Carrie Jenkins
Basic Books, January 2017
Hardcover, 215 pages

Claire Nana <![CDATA[Book Review: The Anti-Depressant Book]]> 2017-05-23T19:13:10Z 2017-05-23T19:13:10Z ]]> Teenage suicides can leave us all feeling helpless — especially when they happen in epidemic proportions. But for teenagers who suffer from the sort of depression that might make them want to take their own life, there are few books written just for them.

Adolescent psychiatrist Jacob Towery’s new book is an exception. Practical, easy to read, and extremely useful, The Anti-Depressant Book: A Practical Guide For Teens and Young Adults to Overcome Depression and Stay Healthy doesn’t simply offer one technique, but a wide variety suited specifically for the unique needs of teenagers.

Towery starts by advising his readers that overcoming depression will require more than simply reading his book. Teens will need to interact, stay alert, and practice the skills and exercises that the book recommends.

Depression, Towery writes, can be difficult to diagnose for several reasons. It is often masked as anxiety, or is hidden beneath an otherwise happy looking teenager. On the other hand, it can also be misdiagnosed.

To help his readers understand if they are depressed, Towery offers a helpful questionnaire, as well as several case studies of teenagers experiencing either depression or normal bouts of sadness. One important point made is that there can be good reasons that people stay depressed.

Ned, a former patient of Towery’s had become depressed much to the concern of his parents. As a result, his parents went to many lengths to accommodate him; allowing him to attend an alternative school, stay out late with his girlfriend, not be pressured by his teachers, make his own rules, and even avoid difficult tasks.

“If any positive things are happening in Ned’s life as a result of being depressed, all of those things reduce his motivation for getting better because they would disappear if he got healthy,” Towery writes.

Resistance to getting better can be fueled by some very legitimate reasons to hold on to depression. But by doing a cost-benefit analysis, readers can identify the reasons they might be resisting getting better, gain a better sense of how ready they are to get better, and if the benefits of staying depressed do, in fact, outweigh the cons, choose to “own” the decision to remain depressed.

Should readers choose to get better, however, they face another type of resistance.

“Process resistance” occurs when people are resistant to doing the work it takes to get better, in spite of wanting to get better. Getting better, Towery reminds us, does require that readers read the book every day (even when they are busy), do all of the exercises in the book, (even when they don’t feel like doing them), get eight to ten hours of quality sleep every night, remove electronics from their room to reduce distractions, wake up at the same time every day, exercise five to six days a week, meditate every morning, and identify and change negative thoughts.

Towery encourages his readers to ask themselves if they are truly willing to do what it takes to change. And while parents and caregivers often find it difficult to standby while their child suffers, Towery’s advice is the same – beyond taking precautions for safety, the decision and process of getting better has to come from the teenager’s own internal desire for change.

“If you force this process, it will probably backfire,” he writes. What parents can do is seek support for themselves and their own mental health concerns.

For the teen who does want to recover from depression, the first step is to improve sleep. Towery relates the case of Anthony, a former client who returned to his good natured self after being depressed once he began to get between eight and nine hours of sleep.  The first step to getting enough sleep, according to Towery, is to adjust the environment.

“In my experience working with hundreds of teenagers and young adults, by far the biggest barriers to sleep are screens,” he writes.

Waking up at the same time every day is also imperative for overcoming depression, as our circadian rhythms rely on a consistent wake schedule. To accomplish this, Towery suggests setting three separate alarm clocks for the same time and positioning them around the room in such a way that they cannot be reached from the bed.

Once sleep is improved, Towery devotes several sections of the book – along with numerous helpful exercises – to overcoming negative thoughts, reducing “should statements” and learning to detect and examine thoughts. Additionally, pointing to the research indicating exercise as a powerful anti-depressant, Towery suggests that his readers exercise at least 30-90 minutes per day 5-6 days per week.

The author also offers several very practical ways to combat depression both immediately and as part of an anti-depression program. In particular, he suggests being of service, meditating, and using downward counterfactual thinking, in other words, thinking about what is going well, and how much worse things could be to increase feelings of gratitude.

As practical as it is informative, Towery’s new book is a goldmine for teenagers – straight-forward, clear-headed and extremely useful.

The Anti-Depressant Book: A Practical Guide For Teens and Young Adults To Overcome Depression And Stay Healthy
Jacob Towery MD
Softcover, 281 Pages

Nick Kay and Erin Skinner <![CDATA[Hearts and Minds: How We Think About Moral Dilemmas]]> 2017-05-19T21:37:37Z 2017-05-22T14:00:40Z ]]>

Consider the following question:

You are on a bridge above a runaway train quickly approaching a fork in the tracks. On the tracks extending to the left is a group of five railway workmen. On the bridge standing near to you is a single stranger. The train is on the point of proceeding to the left, causing the deaths of the five workmen. The only way to avoid the deaths of these workmen is for you to push the stranger off the bridge that will cause the train to come to a stop, leading to the death of the stranger.

These types of moral dilemmas are the subject of research asking this fundamental psychological question: Are people rational or emotional when making moral judgements?

Some researchers suggest that people have intuitive and emotional reactions to moral issues, and provide after the fact justifications for their intuitions (Haidt, 2001). For example, a person will intuitively choose not to push the man, feeling disgust at the thought, and subsequently develop a rational justification for this response. Others say these intuitive responses can be suppressed by using reasoned deliberation (Pizarro, Uhlmann, & Bloom, 2003). For example, a person may override their decision not to push the man when instructed to give a rational response (Pizarro et al., 2003).  

A recent study by Eoin Gubbins and Ruth M. J. Byrne (2014) has shown that while certain moral dilemmas lead to favor either rational or emotional justifications, people can suppress these tendencies and access either one of these processes when primed to do so.

To test their theory, participants were given moral dilemmas that were classified as personal or impersonal. Personal dilemmas involved direct physical contact, or face to face interaction, with another person, as in the moral dilemma posed above. Impersonal dilemmas involved indirect contact with another person, such as the following:

You are at the wheel of a runaway train quickly approaching a fork in the tracks. On the tracks extending to the left is a group of five railway workmen. On the tracks extending to the right is a single railway workman. The train is on the point of proceeding to the left, causing the deaths of the five workmen. The only way to avoid the deaths of these workmen is for you to hit a switch on your dashboard that will cause the train to proceed to the right, leading to the death of the single workman.

In the first experiment, participants read a description of the dilemma, and were then asked to complete a sentence in which they had to justify their choice to a friend. In an emotion primed condition, the sentence was: “I knew I had to make a decision fast. This is what I experienced in those seconds, the feelings and emotions I had…” In a reason primed condition, the sentence was: “I knew I had to make a decision fast. This is what I experienced in those seconds, the thoughts and reasons I had…” In an unprimed condition, the sentence was: “I knew I had to make a decision fast. This is what I experienced in those seconds…”

The participant’s justification was then classified as emotive (referred directly or indirectly to the emotions of the participant or the emotions of others) or non-emotive. Emotive response might include something like, “The choice was horrible” or “The families of the workers would be devastated.” Non-emotive justifications did not make any reference to emotions, such as “Better one die than five.”

Those who were in the unprimed condition gave more emotive justifications for personal dilemmas. However, those who were emotion-primed overcame this tendency, and were equally likely to give emotive justifications for both impersonal and personal dilemmas. Similarly, those who were reason-primed suppressed the tendency to give emotive justifications for the personal dilemma, and even gave less emotive justifications for personal dilemmas than for impersonal dilemmas. These results suggest that, despite the tendency to use either emotion or reason to evaluate certain moral questions, both reason and emotion are accessible to us. Therefore, emotion can be used to supplement our reason in moral dilemmas, and vice versa.

In the second experiment, participants read either personal or impersonal moral dilemmas on a computer screen written from the perspective of a protagonist who must choose to act or not. After reading the dilemma, participants read a sentence describing the emotions felt by the protagonist followed by a sentence stating the protagonist’s decision. Participants were timed on how quickly they read the two sentences.

Theory suggests that if a sentence fits the mental representations of the participant, or is congruent with the participants’ expectations, they will read the sentence faster. Participants read emotion sentences faster for personal dilemmas than impersonal dilemmas, suggesting that they were primed to expect the protagonist to experience emotions in personal dilemmas.

These findings show that we rely on both reason and emotion in our moral judgements. While there appears to be a tendency to favor one of these processes depending on the content and context of the moral dilemma, subtle primes can influence which of these processes we employ. Debates over moral issues can often reach an impasse when reasoned arguments come up against emotional arguments. By applying this research, we can seek to improve this dialogue by crafting more effective arguments that supplement reason with emotion, and vice versa.


Haidt, J. (2001). The emotional dog and its rational tail: A social intuitionist approach to moral judgment. Psychological Review, 108(4), 814.

Gubbins, E., & Byrne, R. M. (2014). Dual processes of emotion and reason in judgments about moral dilemmas. Thinking & Reasoning, 20(2), 245-268.

Pizarro, D. A., Uhlmann, E., & Bloom, P. (2003). Causal deviance and the attribution of moral responsibility. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 39(6), 653-660.

Jennifer Paterson, ARCT <![CDATA[How Stress Affects Children & How to Manage It]]> 2017-05-19T21:41:16Z 2017-05-21T14:00:23Z ]]> As grown-ups, we all suffer from stress at one point or another, but do your children?

Science says yes.

According to the American Psychological Association, about 20% of children report worrying a great deal. Unfortunately, parents greatly underestimate their child’s emotions. Only 3% of parents rate their child’s stress as extreme, and while 33% of kids experienced headaches in the month prior to the study, just 13% of parents thought these headaches were stress-related.

Here’s how you can help your kids manage stress.

How Stress Affects Children

Kids may experience different stresses than their parents — such as worrying about doing well in school, relationships with their siblings and peers, and their family’s financial situation — but they still experience the emotions. Mental health problems like anxiety, depression, and stress can have a detrimental impact on your child’s long-term development, especially because their brains are still developing. Stress affects biological processes, taking its toll on the brain and body.

Stress is your body’s natural response to demanding or adverse circumstances. Biologically speaking, it’s meant to help us deal with life-or-death situations. This fight-or-flight response causes a shift in hormones — including the release of cortisol and adrenaline — which elevates blood pressure and heart rate. Stress is beneficial in short-term situations, but when that stress response is always “on,” it can lead to problems. People can start to suffer from heart disease, obesity, and diabetes, not to mention mental issues like depression, fear, neediness, and the inability to learn new behaviors. This prolonged activation of the stress response is called “toxic stress.”

How to Help Your Kids Manage Stress

Adults have their own tricks for managing stress, but your kids have yet to develop the habits and discover the activities that can help reduce their worries. Put their health and development on the right track by giving them a helping hand. These following tips will get you started.

Talk with Your Kids

The first step to helping your kids is to understand what’s bothering them and stressing them out. That way you can combat the stress at the source. For example, while 30% of kids worry about family financial difficulties, only 18% of parents believe it’s a source of their child’s stress. If you discover they’re worried about money, you can talk through your finances with them. You can even help them set up their own bank account and budget so they feel more in control. What’s more, talking to your kids shows them it’s okay to approach you about their worries so they don’t have to face them alone.

Play with Your Kids

These days, children are spending less and less time playing. According to Forbes, an increasing number of schools are reducing recess time, or cutting it completely, in order to allow more time for instruction in the classroom. That, combined with screen time, leaves many kids with physical play completely absent from their day.

The problem with this is that playtime, especially physical play, is significant in a child’s development. Not only does a lack of exercise lead to higher obesity rates and other health conditions, but it can also impact cognitive abilities, attention, problem-solving skills, and overall academic performance.

This ties back to one of your child’s biggest stressors: homework and grades. If they can’t concentrate in the classroom, it will only increase their stress. Getting outside to play comes with countless direct and indirect benefits on your child’s stress. Exercise naturally relieves stress by releasing feel-good hormones called endorphins. Along with that, children who exercise more tend to eat better, which can also have a biological effect on stress. Outdoor playtime gives them a break from their stressors and boosts productivity when they return to their responsibilities.

So what’s the key? Get outside and play with your kids. Go to the park. Go on a hike. Play tag football in the backyard or Frisbee at the park. As an added bonus, you’ll strengthen your relationship with them, which will further reduce their stress.

Enroll Your Kids in Music Lessons

Another stress-busting activity that will come with numerous benefits is to enroll your kids in music lessons. Music has a strong connection to our emotions. In one 2013 study, researchers found that music impacts the stress system and leads to faster recovery from stress. Playing and creating music acts as a kind of medicine that can help reduce blood pressure and decrease heart rate to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety.

Not only that, but learning music from a young age can have incredible benefits in academic areas. For example, music teaches children how to listen for certain sounds, which can help them in with speech, language, and reading. So enrolling your kids in music lessons isn’t just great for their stress levels; it promotes a well-rounded development, too.

You can use this concept in multiple aspects of life, even outside the classroom. Play music while cleaning or helping with homework, join community musicals together, or attend concerts with your kids.

Encourage Sleep

These days, fewer and fewer kids are getting enough sleep. Part of this trend is due to an increase in screen time. Forty percent of kids have a TV or iPad in their bedroom, and 57% don’t have a regular bedtime. That leads to 60% of kids who don’t get enough sleep. The problem? Studies show that this can have a great impact on their irritability and stress.

“Enough sleep” depends on your child’s age. Toddlers need about 11 to 14 hours of sleep per day, preschoolers need 10 to 13, and school-aged kids need 9 to 11 hours of sleep per day. Your teenagers should be getting at least 8 to 10 hours of sleep every night. Be sure your kids have a scheduled bed time and understand the importance of sleep.

Kids are not immune to stress, but there are steps you can take to help them manage it. Try these simple tips to beat their worries as a family. Are there any other activities that work for your children when they’re feeling overwhelmed? Let us know!

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. <![CDATA[6 Tips for Navigating Work and Parenting—On Your Own Terms]]> 2017-05-19T21:41:49Z 2017-05-20T14:00:34Z ]]> Jessie is a mom to three kids. She also has a portrait business and works from home. Navigating the needs of her kids and the needs of her business is not easy. For instance, she was editing a photoshoot with a fast-approaching deadline when her youngest started to cry. “I knew that if I gave him the bottle and I held him and I kissed him, it would be all right. But I had this deadline over my head, and for some reason I couldn’t let it go. So I’m emailing the parent, and I’m trying to work…all the while feeling bad about myself and this choice. I’m not even sure why I made it. No one benefited in the end.”

Jennifer Senior includes Jessie’s story in her book All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood. Whether your commute to work is a minute walk or an hour on the train, you likely can relate to the challenges of trying to thrive as a parent and as a professional. You likely can relate to the guilt. Oh, the guilt. The guilt that you’re not doing it right. Any of it.

Teresa Hopke is a senior vice president of Life Meets Work, where she leads coaching programs for working parents. One of the biggest challenges her clients struggle with is self-judgement and not feeling good enough. Hopke is a mom to four kids (including a set of twin girls!). As a self-described recovering perfectionist, she used to have Post-It notes on her mirror, on her computer and inside her car that said: “It may not be perfect, but it will be good enough.”

So often we strive for perfection in all areas of our lives, and we inevitably come up short. We feel like mediocre or terrible parents. We feel like mediocre or terrible workers. We feel like we’re missing out.

When navigating work and parenting, there are no quick fixes or easy solutions. But there are strategies. There are tools and approaches you can incorporate into your days to simplify and enrich your life—like the below.

Reconsider your perspective.

There’s a fantastic quote from Heather Peske in Brigid Schulte’s book Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, which speaks to the power of rethinking our perspective and asking ourselves the right questions—which may or may not look different for you. Peske is a mom to two daughters whose work includes frequent travel. She told Schulte:

“I don’t describe my life as overwhelming. I see it as deeply rich and complex. I feel energized by the challenges I have to confront. I’m not being Pollyannaish and I’m definitely tired. There are compromises and tensions, but I like living that way. Balance is a simplistic formulation because my life is often not balanced. It tips in various directions at different times between my work, my kids, my partner, or myself. But I’ve found that rather than seek perfect balance, it’s better for me to ask myself: Am I trying my best? Am I doing things for the right reasons? Do I make those I love feel loved? Am I happy? And then adjust as I go.”

Identify your self-care non-negotiables.

What refreshes and rejuvenates you? What do you absolutely need to feel well, emotionally, physically, mentally? For Lori K. Mihalich-Levin, JD, a healthcare attorney and mom to two boys, sleep is paramount. “I now choose sleep over cleaning the house.”

For Shawn Fink, founder of The Abundant Mama Project and mom to twin girls, it’s taking time off from her roles as a parent and professional. Which she views as vital for everyone. “We think that we have to be one or the other and that means there’s no time to be us.” Fink stressed the importance of “taking time to nurture and connect with that person inside you.”

Keep a running list of responsibilities.

“Being super organized is the only way I am effective,” said Fink, a family wellness and work-life balance coach. This means keeping a running list of work tasks, which she adds to throughout the day. This way when she has 30 minutes or an hour to sit down at her computer, she can do rather than think about what needs to get done.

She also organizes tasks based on what she can do when her kids are home (and might interrupt her), and when she has quiet time to focus on creative work. Plus, before starting work, she makes sure to fill her kids’ time buckets: spending at least 10 minutes focusing on them and their interests.

Be very intentional.

“Remember that every time you say yes to one thing, you are saying no to another, so make choices and tradeoffs wisely,” Hopke said. “[E]very day we must be intentional and purposeful in how we spend every single minute of our day,” Fink said. “As busy moms, we don’t have time to waste and so if we’re going to waste it let’s make sure it’s done really well—and serves a purpose that fills us up rather than depletes us.”

What do you want to say yes to? What is really important to you? What can you decline or delegate or simply stop doing? What is necessary? What is not?

Simplify energy-sucking tasks.

Mihalich-Levin, also founder of, and her husband have a “Saturday Basket” in their kitchen. They put everything in it from bills and forms to fill out to lists with items to order and meals for the week. As she writes, “Mundane, frequent, and annoying tasks seem to take up WAY less of my emotional energy when they go into the basket.” Then every Saturday, after the kids are in bed, Mihalich-Levin and her husband take out the basket and tackle what’s inside.

What responsibilities, errands or activities seem to suck the energy out of you? Brainstorm ways that you can simplify, streamline or make these activities more enjoyable—or at least less frustrating.

Be gentle with yourself.

“I think the willingness to be vulnerable and imperfect and human is the best way to navigate the challenges of being a working parent,” Hopke said. “It’s a hard gig—no bones about it.” Which is why she stressed the importance of cutting ourselves some slack and admitting when we’re struggling. Also, acknowledge and celebrate the days when everything seems to be clicking and you feel competent and confident, she added.

For Fink one of the biggest surprises of working and parenting has been how much more productive she is since becoming a mom. Mihalich-Levin, author of Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave, has found the same to be true for her. She noted that our society tends to ignore just “how much more effective parents are in the workplace because they are parents.” But parents gain amazing skills, such as a laser focus on priorities, an ability to roll with the punches and an ability to deal with difficult clients, she said.

There are many challenges that come with working parenthood. As the above strategies illustrate, the key is to find what works for you. The key is to remember that you also matter. The key is to revisit your expectations. Today, Hopke tries to live by the motto on her tea mug: “Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful.”

Janet Singer <![CDATA[Dealing with OCD — When Instincts Are Wrong]]> 2017-05-18T17:57:22Z 2017-05-19T14:00:10Z ]]> So many times in my life, especially in my role as a mom, I have trusted my instincts when faced with difficult decisions. When my son was dealing with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, I again trusted my instincts, and while my gut feelings often led me down the right path, there are times when all they did was lead to trouble.

As it turns out, trusting your instincts in relation to OCD is not always the best way to go — especially when dealing with family accommodation.

Family accommodation refers to a family member’s participation or assistance in the rituals of their relative with OCD. Some common examples of family accommodation include reassuring (continually answering questions like, “Will I be okay if I do this or don’t do that?”), altering a family’s plans or routines, and giving in to your loved one’s OCD related requests. By accommodating in these ways, we are basically adding fuel to the fire. While we might help reduce our loved one’s anxiety in the short-term, we are, in the long-term, prolonging the vicious cycle of OCD. Studies have concluded that more family accommodation leads to more severe cases of OCD, and more distress among families.

My family and I were as guilty as can be when it came to accommodating, especially before our son Dan began proper treatment. This is where the instincts came in. As a mother, I just wanted to make everything all right and relieve my child’s pain. That was my instinct. So if Dan wanted to eat in one particular spot and eat one particular food at one particular time each night, I let him. Really, what harm could it do? Turns out — plenty. By allowing these rituals to continue, I was validating his irrational thoughts, lowering my expectations of him, and giving him no incentive whatsoever to fight his OCD.

Gradually, I began to realize that accommodating my son was not the right thing to do. If he wanted me to get him a box of cereal from the cupboard, I would say, “If you want cereal, get the box yourself.” If he wasn’t able to touch the television remote, he would have to go without watching television. I went against my natural instincts to keep my son “happy” and stopped enabling him willingly. I say “willingly” because it was often hard to know what was OCD related and what wasn’t. When Dan wanted to do errands at 1:00 PM instead of 11:00 AM, was it really because he was busy, or was that just what his OCD was dictating at the time? We’ll probably never know how much we inadvertently accommodated our son. But it wasn’t a problem for too long. Once Dan began his intensive ERP Therapy and understood more what needed to be done to free himself of OCD’s grip, he made sure to let us know whenever we were unintentionally accommodating him. We worked as a team (though all the very hard work was his) to beat his OCD.

To this day it boggles my mind that throughout my son’s journey fighting OCD, no professional ever explained the role that family accommodations play in the battle against obsessive-compulsive disorder. The closest we ever came was when a social worker told us to treat our son “normally.”

If you or someone you love suffers from OCD, please educate yourself.  While recovery from the disorder is absolutely possible, it isn’t easy. The journey can be made a lot smoother if those who care about the person with OCD understand the right ways to help. Knowledge is power, and once we know how, when, and if we should to trust our instincts, OCD doesn’t stand a chance.

Evelyn Marinoff <![CDATA[30 Helpful Details on Confidence Worth Pondering]]> 2017-05-17T14:43:00Z 2017-05-17T14:10:23Z ]]> There is a lot of commotion these days about confidence. We have to be self-assured, we are told, otherwise we may as well forget about success and reaching our goals. Insecurity is a shameful disease in our 21st century — a weakness and a character flaw, which prevents us from becoming our true selves.

Self-esteem has been extensively studied by many of the great minds of psychology, because of its believed connection to many of the things we deem of importance in our lives — as mental health, physical well being, fulfillment, happiness, self-acceptance. That is, wise men tell us — having positive self-evaluations is a highly influential force to many of our outcomes and has far-reaching consequences.

In search of better self-esteem, I’ve read a fair bit of the prominent research on the subject. Included below are some of the “wisdoms,” which I hope will help others in their own journey to self-discovery and confidence-enhancement.

  1. Confidence often feels as an elusive aspiration — much like the mysterious phantom kingdom of Shambhala. It’s a wonderland we all want to reach, but no one is absolutely certain of the exact road which leads to it.
  2. According to psychologists, self-esteem and confidence are different. Prof. Richard Petty from Ohio State University, in his interesting TED talk distinguishes them as: Self-esteem is our opinion about ourselves — how much we like ourselves. Confidence is how sure we are of this judgement.
  3. However, they are very close. While self-esteem is an internal feeling, confidence is its outer manifestation. They are really the two sides of the same coin.
  4. Confidence (or lack of it) is usually quite fluid and can change daily, even hourly.
  5. It may come from a variety of sources — our backgrounds, measuring up to peers, a bad hair day, getting a poor grade on an important test, not speaking up when we should. The point is that there is a set of things that matter to us — our family, our careers, our appearances, etc. Events which affect these also impact our self-esteem.
  6. Our unfavorable affair with failure is one of the most dominant impediments to having healthy self-opinions.
  7. Being an introvert is not the cause of one’s low self-esteem. Many introverts have healthy confidence. However, people who lack self-assurance are, more often than not, introverted, due to sought social aversion.
  8. “Fake it till you make it” is harder to follow than it sounds. It’s challenging to maintain confident behavior for straight 8 hours at work, every day, unless we hold at least partial belief that the man in the mirror is worth it.
  9. True confidence follows a model which can be described as ABC: it needs to be based on our actual Abilities; we need to Believe in these skills, talents or mojos that we have; and confidence is often Contingent on various things and may differ in each domain — one can be confident that they are a good worker, but not so certain in their parenting skills.
  10. Self-esteem is shaped by our self-perceptions, which, in turn, contain 3 main ingredients — what we think about ourselves, what others think of us, and what we think others think of us.
  11. There are 4 main things which further affect our levels of self-esteem — the 4 Ps — Perspiration (our attitude toward fear and anxiety), Peers (comparisons to others), Parents (the support we were given by our families), and Performance (academic or career-wise).
  12. We shouldn’t grant appearances too much power over our confidence — while a desire to look good is not a futile aspiration, physical flawlessness is not a sustainable source of self-esteem. (Think all the celebrities who profess self-esteem struggles, despite “having it all.”)
  13. The way we form our self-image is via a complex mix of perceptions, beliefs and observations. Even though it’s predisposed to skewness, it is an integral part of our characters—in fact, to us, it defines who we believe we are.
  14. The myth of the romance literature that we can find our Christian Grey— by being highly unaware of or uncertain of our looks and smarts, appears to be rather appealing to many, despite its apparent irrationality. We want to believe in the “life-can-imitate-fiction” idea so much, that we tend to dismiss this starry-eyed fantasy as a source of perennial dissatisfaction with our lives.
  15. The idea that a charming prince will fall madly for us — just the way we are — also implies the notion that we don’t have to strive for a change or to improve — we just have to be “lucky” enough. Another flawed notion, and quite the anti-embodiment of personal growth.
  16. Fear is a powerful paralyzer to self-improvement and self-assertiveness. It takes plenty of courage and grit to face our monsters and to challenge the status quo.
  17. And it’s not as easy as the self-help gurus prescribe — to do one thing that scares us every day, and we will be fear-free and more confident. It may generally work, but we must be prepared to lose and lose again; to be criticized; to be unsatisfied with how we handled things. In other words, we must firstly be open to accept failure over and over, before we start feeling in control over our fears.
  18. Shutting off our emotions is not necessarily going to make us more self-assured. It’s true that confidence is inversely linked to anxiety, to shyness, to sensitivity, but to be respected and accepted, we should not only approach others from a position of authority, but also—by building trust, care, compassion.
  19. An Ivy League education and wealth may have some uplifting effect on one’s confidence, but they are not the originators of our self-esteem, nor can they be a sustainable source. Such external outcomes and achievements are generally the product of our character strengths and traits, and not the other way around.
  20. The social media effects on our self-esteem are not devoid of controversy. One scientific camp claims that comparisons to others’ selectively-crafted “reality” can lead to unhappiness and dissatisfaction with our bodies and lives. However, social media has also been found to promote social acceptance and tends to make us feel less alone. Approach with caution and don’t believe everything you see, may be the best strategies here.
  21. Gestures and posture are more than mere reflections of our self-assurance. They can be purposely used by us to project confidence on the outside, which will, in turn, make us feel more powerful and in control. (Refer to Prof. Amy Cuddy’s great Ted Talk on power posing)
  22. They also tell the story of our characters, of our brand to the world. Use them wisely.
  23. Words are “living organisms” — they not only have a profound effect on others, but are also shapers of our confidence image. What we say does matter, of course, but how we say it is of no less importance.
  24. Color Psychology“, or the sub-conscious effect colors have on people, is a real phenomenon, which can influence how others perceive us. For instance, shades of blue, black and red are linked to confidence.
  25. Mindfulness meditation, apart from its apparent benefits for our mental health, is also a great way to boost our self-awareness and esteem. It helps to reign in our anxieties and fears, makes us more open to new experiences, and brings us the much-coveted self-acceptance. It also quiets our minds and self-doubts—thus, removes our self-inflicted impediments to progress and improvement.
  26. Regular self-assessments and taking stock of our progress are essential tools for feeling more in control and confident we are advancing, improving, developing, and becoming better drafts of ourselves.
  27. Emotional intelligence, or ability to recognize and manage our own emotions, as well as those of other people, has been proven to have a powerful link to self-esteem (in the neighborhood of 45%). Enhancing this aptitude is an effortful but barely peripheral undertaking to our future. (Reference: Daniel Coleman is the “father” of emotional intelligence, and his research provides great insight into how everyone can acquire it).  
  28. The art of “showing off” — when done properly and skillfully — provides a great opportunity to put ourselves in others’ orbits, to be noticed, valued and respected. Simply put, we should learn to emphasize our strengths whenever and wherever possible. Others are neither as perceptive nor care as much as we assume — the only way to get noticed is to make yourself get noticed.
  29. Loving and helping others is important, true, but we should also remember that the only constant in our universe is ourselves. No one can and will love us more than we can cherish ourselves, no matter what the movies tell us. Our confidence originates within us not from others.
  30. Finally, we should remember that the outcome of boosting one’s self-esteem is not to learn how to feel superior. The whole process is merely a journey toward the affirmation of where we stand in life, what we stand for, and where we want to go. It’s that simple. We should not let our own voice be overcast by the noise of the world.