Does life and your seemingly endless “To Do” list ever get you overwhelmed? For most people, unless you have a personal assistant, a nanny, a cleaning lady, a personal shopper, a chauffeur and a chef all in your employ, the answer is yes! In honor of September being Self Improvement Month, try a new strategy for getting things done and being happier as a result. Gretchen Rubin, the author of the Happiness Project, introduced an idea that she received from a reader on her blog website which is focused on making changes in twenty days, the average time it takes for a new behavior to become habit. The Odd/Even Strategy works like this. On odd numbered days, you focus on getting all the tedious and challenging tasks on your “To Do” list done. This strategy can be especially effective for those individuals who may be caring for an aging parent and trying to manage your household and theirs (keeping up with bills, sorting paper piles, grocery shopping, banking, home repairs and the rest of the list). On even numbered days, you focus on yourself and getting your stuff done. But as an added bonus, on even days you also take time to do something you enjoy (getting a manicure, going for a walk, having a glass of wine and curling up with a good book) even if it is just for thirty minutes. This way you will have something to look forward to every other day and it will hopefully help you push through the tough tasks on odd days. It also helps you by scheduling time to get those tedious tasks done so as to avoid putting them off all week long. So try the Odd/Even strategy and see for yourself if it creates more harmony in your life!
Mindfulness is the practice of calming the mind in order to be in the present moment. In our fast paced and stressed out world, we often forget to slow down and “smell the roses”. Mindfulness teaches us to do just this. Often we don’t engage in mindfulness for the exact reasons that we should; we are too busy to fit it into our busy days. Or the practice of mindfulness may seem unfamiliar. Simple mindfulness practice is actually easier than we think. In fact, an article in the Huffington post in June 2014 uncovered six ways that many of us are already practicing mindfulness without even knowing it.
Here are six ways that you may already be practicing mindfulness in your everyday life:
1.Talking to your child about his day. When we talk to our children and attend to the details of our child’s story, we are living in the present moment. With the stresses of parenting and juggling schedules, we often rush through our days. But, if we are able to stop and enjoy our children in the moment, it creates memories and strengthens are relationships with our children.
2. Taking in a sunset after dinner. Being able to take in the beauty of the sun setting, sitting on the deck sipping wine after dinner, or watering the garden allows us to experience the present moment and the beauty of nature.
3. Taking a bedtime shower. What better way to wash away the stress of the day than a bedtime shower? The warm water of the shower flowing over you can relax and calm you, freeing you from the stress of the workday even if it’s just for a few minutes.
4. Playing on a softball team. Professional teams today teach their athletes mindfulness exercises to help improve performance. Many sports require focus in order to keep up with the fast pace of the play or to improve skills of the game. Likewise, when we as adults engage in recreational sports, like being on a coed softball team, we have to focus on the present moment and what is happening on the field or we may make an error, miss a catch, or get clocked in the face if we are focused instead on our never ending “to do” list or work responsibilities.
5. Savoring dessert. When we are able to slow down and savor each delicious bite of that cheesecake, we are practicing mindful eating. And, mindful eating has been shown to be linked to better eating habits, weight management, and overall health. Conversely, if we rush through our meals or fall victim to eating in front of the tv, we often don’t recognize signals from our stomach to our brain that we are full.
6. Cooking Dinner. When we cook dinner for ourselves or others, we are in the moment focusing on ingredients and steps to food preparation. If not, we risk chopping our finger instead of the veggies or leaving out a crucial ingredient. Many people enjoy cooking as a past time and find it an outlet for stress.
As you can see, the practice of mindfulness doesn’t have to be a super involved and tedious task! It can be as simple as the everyday avenues mentioned above. Any amount of mindfulness benefits us. Simply slowing down, taking a deep breath and focusing on the present can have great benefits!
Life is stressful. Teens today have so many things to contend with from academic pressure to social pressure to parental pressure to the pressure of getting into the best college. Many are running from activity to activity all evening while carrying a full schedule of AP classes all day. But is it all too much? These high achieving, "go go go" teens are prone to depression. Some even struggle with suicidal thoughts, whether it is a vague "not wanting to be here anymore" or a plan to end their lives. Many teens also struggle with emotional regulation or the ability to make sense of and cope with emotions. An alarming new trend is the number of teens struggling with self injury, though. They regulate what they are feeling by inflicting injury on themselves from cuts to abrasions to burns. And they do so for many reasons. Often, these teens are attempting either to feel something or to numb out overwhelming emotions that they are feeling. In fact, Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital in Hoffman Estates reported a 147% increase in self injury patients hospitalized in their program between 2008 and 2014. Many of the patients at ABBH are those high achieving, talented, overloaded kids described above. Unfortunately the sad fact is that often these teens are trying to cope with underlying suicidal thoughts and avoid acting on them. This is why treating them is difficult. Their self injury is a coping skill for suicidal thoughts and actions, albeit an unhealthy one. September is National Suicide Awareness Month, a time to be aware and get teens and other individuals who are at risk for suicide the help that they need. Self injury should be included in this awareness. If you have a friend or loved one whom you notice unexplained cuts, abrasions, marks or bruises on, talk to him/her and get him/her the help he/she needs to potentially save his/her life.
Reconsidering Your Nightly Routine
Is Your Smartphone Ruining Your Sleep?
By Michelle DeLaRosa, LCPC
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
In a 2014 survey reported in the Sept 5,2014 issue of the Chicago Daily Herald, 68% of teens reported that they sleep with a smartphone, tablet or other device on all night. Research released this week suggests that the use of technology devices like smartphones before bed can interfere with good quality sleep and, worse yet, impact on current and future health. Teens and adults alike use technology throughout the day and often check emails and texts, tweet, post on Facebook, go on snap chat, and upload their latest photos to Instagram. But unfortunately researchers have found to the detriment of their sleep quality. The blue light generated from our devices actually tricks our brains into thinking that it is daytime, not bedtime. This in turn inhibits the production of melatonin, a hormone essential for sleep. However, melatonin is also involved in maintaining a healthy immune system and fighting illness. Too little melatonin from repeat nightly use of smartphones (and even other electronics like TV and computers) has now been shown to affect the ability to recover from illnesses that an individual might face in the future, such as cancer and heart disease. More immediately, this research also suggests a link to irritable and depressed mood in the morning. With teens who are already struggling with depression, this night time ritual is having a negative impact. So teens and adults alike should reconsider use of their devices at bedtime. Especially in our chronically sleep deprived society, this habit can really be preventing us from getting not only adequate quantity of sleep, but also quality. Focus on something else instead fornightly winding down time such as reading, journaling, or chatting and leave the devices to the morning when we want the light emitted from them to wake us up.
With Facebook reaching its 10 year anniversary earlier this year, it has become part of our everyday culture. Teens and adults alike log on to the popular social media site to share thoughts, opinions, musings and photos as well as generate support for different causes. Its original intent was to promote social interactions and connect with others, but is it really successfully doing that? For many teens and adults alike, Facebook creates the illusion of social relationships, especially for those who struggle with friendships and peer interactions in everyday life. However, it is also creating or worsening depression among many teens especially as they observe their friends’ “highlight reels”. They are inundated with all the social gatherings that they weren’t invited to and all the fun that their friends are supposedly having. For teens who already have a difficult time socializing, this can make them feel even worse about themselves. Unfortunately, Facebook also allows people to be bolder in the things that they say than if they were face to face with people. This can result in bullying especially because most teens are friends with just about everyone on Facebook from their school instead of their actual circle of friends. In my experience as a counselor, Facebook is not always a good thing for teens. The social media site is great in providing groups and forums for people with a common issue. As a mom of a child with a severe peanut allergy, I have found a parent support group that has given me lots of knowledge, news and an ability to connect with others in that struggle with a food allergy. However, I also have worked with several teen clients who have found Facebook pages devoted to individuals who self injure. In one case, the teen had never self injured but was looking for a place to belong. Needless to say, she eventually tried self injury. So what do we do when a teen is struggling and their use of Facebook is not making life any better? I always encourage parents to monitor their child’s/teen’s social media use, either by friending them, having their password or having another trustworthy sometimes younger family member be friends with them to monitor activity. Also, talk to your teen about only friending people they actually know on Facebook, not a friend of their friend. If your teen struggles emotionally, limit their use. There is no need for them to be spending hours on Facebook if it’s only going to make them feel worse after they log off. Finally, encourage your teen to continue to socialize with their friends in real life. Encourage them to invite friends over or go to Starbucks’s or out to eat. That way they are actually socializing and learning important social skills.
I am a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor working with people of all ages with a specialization in child and adolescent services.. Read on. You can also find me on facebook by following the link. Enjoy!