You’re Not Stuck!

As I was flipping through channels on a lazy afternoon, I happened across one of the movies that I can watch over and over and over again: The Devil Wears Prada. I’m not sure what it is about this movie that sucks me into watching it but I couldn’t help but watch it again.

Ok, so spoiler alert. If you haven’t seen this movie, you weren’t going to anyway so I’m going to spoil it for you. The movie is about a girl who lands a job that she hates. That’s basically the plot, but in between the storyline are a lot of great clothes, shoes and purses. Of course, some of my favorite scenes are the ones that showcase the high fashion clothes. Hey, I’m a girl, I can’t help it.

This time watching it, there was one scene that I’ve never really noticed that stuck out to me. The scene where Anne Hathaway’s character, Andy, confides in her co-worker that her private life was suffering. The coworker said “Let me know when your life is going up in smoke. That means it’s time for a promotion.” Depressing to think about, but a reality for many. That balance between work and life can seem impossible.

Work-life balance. Ugh. It sounds like one of those aspirations that we all hope for yet in the back of our minds, we don’t believe that we can actually achieve it. How can I be a great dad but still put in the 80hrs/week? How can I climb up the corporate ladder and still maintain my marriage? How can I have a social life and continue to be an excellent employee?

Easy, do what Andy did. After realizing that her job was infiltrating every aspect in her life in a negative way, she decided to quit. It’s just that easy. Actually, it wasn’t easy for her to walk away; it took the whole movie before she decided to! And it won’t be that easy for you to walk away, or do something different than what you’re doing now. But if something needs to change then it has to start with you.

Disclaimer: I am not advising that you quit your job! However, I am aspiring to help you see that you don’t have to be stuck in a situation or environment that is bad for you. Maybe you can’t quit your job, and that’s your reality. In that case, a life change may require a bit of creative brainstorming. Maybe you can quit your job but you don’t believe you can. Maybe you have no clue how to change your current situation.

The first step toward change is believing that you can do something different, then being intentional about doing something different. Also, seek out help. This is actually a common reason to seek out counseling. Whether it’s getting help with achieving your goals, or help with figuring out what your goals are and how your goals match up with your value set, a counselor can be a great resource for you in this area.

In doing so, you could end up like Andy: relationship with boyfriend restored and getting a great job doing exactly what she wants to do. If Andy can do it, why not you?

What Parents Can Learn from Pixar’s “Inside Out”

I’m going to go ahead and assume that most parents of young children in America have seen the recently released movie Inside Out, so I won’t bother yapping about spoiler alert. Like Disney’s Frozen, this movie depicting the psychology behind emotions and memory has taken us by storm. Unlike Frozen however, Inside Out has some major melodrama that I can get behind. Let’s put aside the fact that the main character, Riley, only had five emotions- Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Sadness. Obviously, we are capable of experiencing a huge range of different emotions; not just these five. But for the purposes of this blog, I will spare you all my critiques of how this movie didn’t get it right. Let’s move on to the ways that it nailed it.

The main theme that I took from this movie was what the psychological community calls emotional congruence. This term basically states that what you’re feeling (your emotions) should match what you’re presenting (your behavior). For example, if you’re feeling happy about something, you may smile or laugh. If you’re angry about something, you may furrow your brow or frown (or go sit in your closet and scream into a pillow… No? Okay, never mind about that one). Point is, when Riley goes into her new classroom and feels a normal, healthy mix of excitement and fear, nothing bad should’ve happened. She may have stuttered in front of the class, spoken too quietly for anyone to hear her, or felt a little nauseous at the presence of those feelings. Let’s also not forget the sadness that she feels at the loss of her former life. But what does Joy go and do? Banishes Sadness to the corner and tries with all her might to keep Riley the “brave and happy girl” that her parents need her to be. This is where all of Riley’s internal emotions start to go haywire- when what she was feeling inside wasn’t congruent with the situation with which she was faced.

Think about the way you may react to your child feeling sad. Is your automatic response to say “don’t be sad”? Even if that is said in a sweet voice and accompanied by a bear hug, it may not be the phrase a kid needs to hear. Instead of trying to will your child out of sadness, or even attempting to fix the problem, try doing what Sadness did in the movie. When BingBong was upset and Joy failed to cheer him up, Sadness, knowing how important it was to be allowed to feel sad, just sat with him and patted his back until he felt better and was able to move on. She didn’t try to reason with him or explain why he shouldn’t feel sad or tell him to get over it. She just sat with him. Next time your kiddo is sad about something, just sit (or lay on the floor) with him or her. This super simple action acknowledges your child’s feelings and doesn’t undermine his or her expression of, in this case, sadness. Just take a second and imagine how you would feel if your spouse or bestie or whomever told you “Oh, don’t be so sad” or “Goodness, don’t cry!” Yes, thank you friend, that definitely makes me feel better. Right? Kids are told that all the time! Now, this is all assuming that you know your child well enough to distinguish between her being ridiculously dramatic and her being genuinely hurt about something (even if it seems silly to you). Let’s make a pact and change our automatic response from “don’t be sad” to “I’m so sorry you’re hurting”. It’ll change your life. Okay, maybe not yours, but definitely your kid’s.

Building (and rebuilding) Balance

Balance in our lives is NOT a destination, meaning that once we arrive, we are done.  It is not a static goal we achieve and then maintain forever.

I like to call it “building” balance; as opposed to “achieving” balance—because like building a house, it is a work in progress, it requires maintenance, and occasionally needs reworking.   So how do we “build” this elusive thing called balance?

1)     Stay Present.  Live in the moment instead of fretting about yesterday or worrying  about tomorrow.  If you feel angry about something—feel the anger and work through it.  When you feel joyful about something, embrace the joy fully.

2)  Stop the “Spinning”.  Learn to recognize an manage your internal conflicts. (Anything that disturbs your inner peace, such as unnecessary guilt, excessive worry, unhealthy people pleasing, etc).  Be honest about who you really are and don’t be afraid to stray from the norm.  Live life according to your core beliefs.

3)  Simplify Your Life.  The more “stuff” we have and the more activities we have to manage, makes it more difficult to find just the right balance.  Learn to set appropriate and healthy boundaries for yourself.  This means allowing yourself to say “no” when necessary without feeling guilty!

4)  Know What You Want.  Take time to know WHO you are first.  Figure out what you value, by examining each aspect of your “self.”  Make active choices that lead you toward balance.  If your choices don’t line up with who you are and what you value, then you are not holding fast to your own integrity and your life will feel out of balance.

5)  Nurture Your Spirit and Embrace Love.  We all have a spiritual element to our being and with that comes an innate need to love and be loved.  With all the ups and downs in life, love is the gift that balances it all and brings us back toward a more peaceful state.  Exercise your faith.  Enjoy nature.  Keep your soul filled with positive and inspiring activities.  Be brave enough to let go of activities and relationships that squelch your spirit and prevent you from being your authentic self.  It is then we will be able to give generously of ourselves.

Balance is a fluid state that changes from day to day.  Just like the ocean tide moves in and out, look at whether your life is moving away from or toward balance.

Assess it over a period of time—one or two stressful days here and there does not mean your life is out of balance.  BUT, if chaos is the norm for you, try some of these ideas!

Hopefully, it will be a good “jumpstart” toward building better balance in your life.

Am I Okay?

Am I okay? Is this feeling normal? Am I just too sensitive? Am I weak? What’s wrong with me? These questions are very common in my counseling sessions. Men and women, equally, ask if their feelings are reasonable considering their circumstances. How many of you have felt that way? Attempting to replay a scenario with a friend, describing word for word what was said and done to see if your friend reacts the same way. It is the best feeling in the world when a friend validates your story, subsequently confirming that you’re not overreacting.

But what about those circumstances with which you feel no one else could possibly relate:

A difficult marriage, for example, no matter how descriptive you are about a common scenario in your marriage, they don’t seem to get why you are struggling with your spouse and why it’s hurting you so much.

You may be battling with social anxiety, it intensifies when you’re out with friends and they don’t understand why you get so anxious.

Grief after losing a loved one is hard to talk about, those who knew him/her may understand, but it’s been months, you should feel better by now, but you don’t. Is something wrong?

A broken heart after a breakup, your friends seem tired of consoling you, it has been a couple of months now and you still don’t feel like yourself again.

Parenting can be very challenging, but all the other parents around the neighborhood seem to have it all together. This may be your first child, and you don’t really have a way of gauging whether this is harder than it should be.

Should be?

Who designates how you should feel about any given situation? You might encourage yourself to push through a tough new job, or tough first year of marriage, or that pit of anxiety in your stomach that doesn’t go away, or the grief of losing a loved one. But when is it too much to handle on your own? When is it time to seek help? And what if the difficulty in your life is external, meaning its not coming from you? What if the stress is coming from caring for a family member facing an addiction, terminal illness or mental illness?

Research has shown that consistent stress, depression or anxiety can lead to physical ailments such as back pain, headaches and even gastrointestinal issues. Your immune system can be compromised if stress is not dealt with properly. Is this catastrophizing? Not at all, the body and mind is connected, the emotional pain you feel has the potential to affect your health.

What if you’re all about pushing through, not letting things get to you? You’re tough! You may call it suffering well, what does that mean exactly? Suffering well is important, since disappointment or loss can be experienced in almost every area of life. The sweetest things in life require some suffering through sacrifice and hard work. But there is a difference between suffering well and denying your suffering. Suffering well requires acknowledging the feelings and struggle. It requires vulnerability. Inviting someone into your life to say “sounds like you need to take a break,” or “let me help you with that”. Suffering well does not mean ignoring the feelings of disappointment and pain. Ephesians 4:26 says “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” This biblical verse mentions a feeling that most people would describe as unhealthy. Most would say, it’s not good for you to be angry, but the Bible says, “Be angry and do not sin.” You are allowed to feel (fill in the blank with an emotion). But you must do something with that emotion. Suppressing that emotion is not the answer.

Once you are vulnerable, the next step is to learn healthy coping skills. Healthy coping does not make the suffering go away, but it helps you get stronger, emotionally and physically to see that difficult situation with new eyes. It helps you stay grounded in the truth that you will get through that difficulty. Healthy coping may look like counseling, exercising, getting a massage, or all of the above. De-stressing yourself with either one of these healthy coping options helps your mind and body relax so you can think logically about your circumstances and make wise decisions.

Why don’t we give ourselves a break? Why do we need to be validated by others to then admit, “I’m struggling”? Life transitions like marriage, a new job, becoming a parent, losing a loved one, losing a job, a break up, family issues, the list goes on and on, all of these situations can be difficult. The only difference is how you face them.

I’ve wondered why it is so easy for us to pay as much as $50-$200 to get our car checked for that weird sound it keeps making, but we don’t put that much significance on the pain within that won’t go away. The condition of our heart, body and soul is so important. How could we be our best selves to everyone around us if we’re not doing well?

Galatians 6:7-9 says:

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. “

Don’t give up. Take care of yourself. You’re worth it!