Self-help Articles

The Power of Kindness

Monday, March 9th, 2015

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“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. “Aesop

I was a new mom, trying to manage a crying infant and two grumpy stepsons at the library.

One of my arms held the baby; the other balanced a stack of children’s books and two DVDs. We were all tired and frustrated and ready to get out of there, and the kids were eager to watch their movies.

The librarian scanned my card, and then reminded me of the fine I have failed to pay. No surprise there. As I reached in my purse for my wallet, my heart sank. My wallet was sitting at home on the table. I had no cash, no checkbook, no way to pay the fine.

I asked the librarian to hold the books and movies for us, thinking I would run home and then come back. The baby started wailing, my stepsons began arguing with each other.

Then, the most surprising thing happened. The man next to me leaned over and handed the librarian a $20, and asked her whether it was enough to pay my fine. She looked as bewildered as I was. I didn’t know this man. Why was he paying my fine?

I told him that it’s not that I didn’t have the money; it’s just that I left my wallet at home. He simply asked that I do something kind for another person someday, and walked out.

Acts of kindness have the power to change people’s lives. Aesop wrote that “no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” It’s something we all too often forget.

We falsely believe that only the big acts of kindness count. That’s simply not true. Not everyone can hand out hundred dollar bills on the street, but everyone can say a kind word or do a simple and free kind action. 

I know how I felt after a stranger paid my library fine. I was elated that someone I did not know would do something so kind. What cost him $20 was worth far more to …


The Power of “NO”

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

 

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My mother says that my first word was no.

I’m not surprised that this was the first true word that came out of my  mouth.

Many children sing out the joys of no regularly and with enthusiasm. “Would you like more potatoes?” “NO!” “Put on your shoes please.” “NO!” “Time for a nap.” “NO!”

And why not? Children learn very early on that when they say no, something big and important happens. It could be that the food they dislike is taken away, or that they are given a different book. A tantrum of no’s extends the time before they go down for a nap.

If the no turns into a string of screaming no’s, mom or dad reacts strongly, usually with anger or frustration.

No is powerful, strong, and assertive.

It doesn’t require niceties, delicacies, or qualifiers.

What is it about the word no that makes it so hard to say? The answer could lie within yourself.

If you’re like many people, saying no is something you’re not particularly good at.

It could be that you can say no, but with qualifiers: “no, not right now, maybe another day,” when you really meant to simply say no. You do not have a desire to do it another day, but wish to make your no softer or nicer.

It might have been as you grew up, you were not taught empowerment. Maybe you were told that good girls or good children don’t say the word no.

Some kids are brought up with ideas of what no is and isn’t. And if you were a child whose mother or father taught that the word no was not to be said to adults, or whose parents required blind obedience, no isn’t a word that you uttered much. Maybe you were even afraid to say it.

There is a long list of things no isn’t:

It isn’t impolite

It isn’t rude

It isn’t mean

It isn’t bad.

No is simply one word that is a negative response. Its power lies in both its simplicity and its one meaning.

Some people feel the need to add niceties to no: “I’m so sorry, this week has been busy and my mother is coming over …


10 Things to Say to a Loved One Who Struggles with Depression

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

shutterstock_1961611If you’ve ever been depressed, you know that awful feeling when well meaning people give advice that simply makes things worse.

There are lots of blogs that talk about what not to say to someone who is depressed.

Here are 10 positive things to say to help.

  1. I’m sorry you’re struggling, and wish I could make it better for you. This phrase doesn’t imply that you understand what they’re going through or that they need to do something. It simply states the truth, and your desire to help. It also provides sympathy.
  2. How can I help? Ask: do you need someone to watch your children? Do you need me to pick up prescriptions? I made too much lasagna tonight. Can I drop some off? Be as specific as you can, but allow space for them to ask for what their needs are. It may as simple as picking helping with housework for an hour.
  3. You are important to me, and I care about you. When someone is depressed, their mind can turn relationships around and make them believe that they are all alone in life. Even if it doesn’t make sense to you, verbalize what they mean to you. Send a card or flowers that simply say you’re thinking or praying for them.
  4. If you’re interested, I know a great therapist/psychiatrist. They may not be ready for that step, but in the future they will know at least one resource.
  5. I love you. Say this whenever you think of it. Say it whenever you see them. Feeling unloved goes hand in had with feeling depressed.
  6. Would you like me to come hang out for a bit? Depression isolates people, and for some, just having someone else around can be comforting. It could be that you watch a movie or knit, or just talk and gossip.
  7. Would you like me to tell ________ about this? ALWAYS, ALWAYS ask before you share personal information. Your loved one may want their pastor or other friends to know, but they may not. This decision needs to be completely respected.
  8. I know this feels as if it will last forever, but it …

True Greatness: The Pain of Hidden Illness

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

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I had a very good friend named Mary who suffered from a disease called Lupus.

Lupus can be a mild disease, or it can be horrific and fatal. It can go from mild to severe, back to mild again.

My friend was very sick, and we’d often talk about how she looked fine on the outside, but her body was waging war on itself.

She was yelled at for parking in a handicapped space although she could barely walk. Early on when her disease was beginning, her family struggled to understand why she was so tired and sore. They didn’t believe that this beautiful young woman who looked healthy on the outside was suffering greatly on the inside.

Katie was a young college woman I worked with years ago. She was bright, cheerful, intelligent, and funny. She also suffered depression so deep that she regularly cut her body with razors and constantly thought about how she could kill herself.

She managed to get through college with good grades and was accepted into graduate school, all while feeling as if she did not deserve to live. No one guessed at her pain.

AvaLou is a bright 2 year old who has kidney disease. Like Katie and Mary, to look at her you would not guess the battles she has already fought in her young life.

She has had countless surgeries and procedures on her small body. She is a fighter, but she also struggles and hurts, and her body is waging war to survive. People have a hard time accepting that she has limitations because she looks fine, until you see the scars on her back. 

In the months before Mary died, we would text because she lost her hearing. I wrote her this piece to let her know how strong she was.

My hope is you will be reminded of your own greatness and the greatness of those struggling with hidden illnesses.

 

True Greatness

Sometimes, I have to remind myself where true greatness lies.

It is not found in PhDs, or beauty, or wealth, or recognition.

True greatness is painful.

It is watching as others run up mountains

While you take …


Dear Daughter: 5 Life Lessons for My Child

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

 

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As my daughter enters the middle of her eighth year, she is changing and growing rapidly.

She vacillates between the feelings and needs of a child, and the desires of independence of a young teen.

Eight years old is an age of rapid maturation for many children. She picks up on the nuances of relationships. She hears the news and is afraid sometimes. She is learning her own boundaries and setting limits, but still returning to the safety of family.

Here are 5 life lessons for my eight year old.

Dear daughter,

1. You are your own person, separate from me.

It warms my heart when you imitate me and say you want to be just like me when you grow up. But as you’re learning, I am far from perfect. Your life is your very own. I want to watch as you bloom and grow into your own being. You ask me constantly what you should do and get frustrated when I guide you back to what your thoughts and feelings are. As much as it pains me to say it, I will not always be around. You will gain independence and confidence. Have faith in yourself.

2. I will be there for you when you succeed and when you fail.

Yes, I will share in the highs of your life as you do wonderful things. I will also be there when things don’t work out, when your heart is broken, when your soul feels crushed. You can yell at me, curse me, and tell me you hate me. I will still be here for you, because you are my child. I may not like what you are doing sometimes, but I will always like (and love) you. Nothing in the universe will change this.

3. Reaching out for help, support, or love is never wrong.

I’m a therapist, so you’ve grown up seeing me helping others through rough times. I hope you’ve also noticed the times when I’ve reached out for support from friends and family.We do not live life alone.  If someone is hurting …


3 Steps to Battle Self-Hatred

Friday, January 16th, 2015

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Dear Reader,

If I were to sneak inside your head, just for a moment, what would I hear?

At your darkest moment, when you’re all alone with your thoughts and your thoughts are the things of chaos, when you can’t sleep, and you are at your lowest, what words would slip into being?

Is your head full of hate to yourself? Do you chastise and berate your actions of the day? Do you hear anger? Chastisement? Disgust?

If I could magically give you one thing this year, I would give you the gift of self-kindness.

I’ll bet you’re pretty nice to others. I’m fairly certain you would never be as harsh to them as you are to yourself.

When someone makes a mistake or says something that’s wrong, you may smile to yourself, but you don’t jump out of your seat and call them a moron (or worse). You certainly don’t stay up at night thinking about them.

But somehow, you do this to yourself.

Learning to love and accept yourself isn’t something that comes easily for some of us.

When kids are bullied, when teens face pressures they can’t take, when children are taught that their worth is based on what they do or don’t do, say or don’t say, they end up taking on the voices of the people who are cruel to them.

The mean words that are said to them, they say to themselves.

Maybe this is you.

When I work with people who struggle with self-hatred, there are three steps that we work through, often more than once.

STEP ONE: Identify the source of the self-hating thoughts

Can you recognize where each of the self-hating voices comes from? Is it from the hypercritical parent? Or are the words from the bullies from school that made you so sad and scared as a second grader? Maybe it’s the voice of an ex that made you hate your body.

Sometimes the people who are supposed to build us up and help us grow, stomp us down and harm our soul.

It isn’t right; it isn’t fair. But remember that although it may feel true, it isn’t, even if the words come from …


Sadness or Depression? Recognizing Mental Illness in Tweens and Teens

Saturday, October 11th, 2014

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Kids carry around a ton of emotion.

As infants, they communicate with cries, screams, and eventually smiles and laughter.

Toddlers grow and begin to use spoken language in addition to laughter, hugs, biting, hitting, and crying.

The childhood years are generally calm. A second grader has not yet entered the emotional turmoil of the teen or preteen years, and has increased social skills that they didn’t have as a toddler or even as a preschool child.

Once a boy or girl hits the preteen years, the hormonal changes that will eventually take them into adulthood begin.

If you’ve ever talked with a group of parents about their own adolescent years, you’ll hear words like “chaotic” and “angry,” “depressed,” “anxious”.

Teens and tweens are full of incredibly strong and complex emotions. Their moods change and shift. They can be explosive and angry one minute, and the next minute write you a sweet note about how much they love you.

As a parent, grandparent, teacher or friend, how can you differentiate between the mood swings of an emotionally healthy adolescent and a teen who may be struggling with a more serious mental illness such as depression?

Even with adults it can be difficult to tell the difference between feeling blue and having depression. With teens it’s harder.

As a parent, you know your child best. If something feels off with your child, talk with them further or seek professional help. If you’re a caring adult in a teen’s life and notice something that is concerning, don’t hesitate to reach out to the teen or their parents.

One thing I hear time and time again from adults who were depressed as teens is that they wish their parents had understood and gotten them help. Don’t be afraid to reach out and seek help if you see some of these signs.

  • Engaging in self-injury. Any type of self-harm is cause for concern. Some teens cut or burn, others will pierce or scratch themselves. While it may or …

Do You Have a Challenging Toddler? 8 Simple, Proven Solutions

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

shutterstock_151353104Ah, toddler-hood: the years when a child’s mind is growing faster than their speech, where they have big feelings but little control. Parenting a toddler is challenging to say the least.

My daughter is seven now, but I clearly remember those days of leaving the grocery cart full and walking out of the store with a flailing, screaming 2 year old. Nearly anything can set a toddler off: a cat in her special seat, running out of Cheerios, or even the one-cent pony ride being out of service.

This is not to say that parenting a toddler is all pain and no joy. There were lots of wonderful moments as I watched my daughter learn language, when I saw the world through her new eyes and experienced her wonder.

But the crazy times? Yes. There were plenty of those.

Part of parenting is finding simple ways of making it through tantrums and screaming matches.

As a therapist, a mom, and a blogger, here are some tried and true suggestions for when your little one is out of control, and you feel like you’re going crazy.

  1. Give your kiddo a time-in, instead of a timeout. A time-in is where you invite your child to sit down next to you or near you or on your lap. You invite her to talk about her feelings and connect until the behavior storm passes. There’s a great article that explains the difference between time in and time out here. 
  2. Be silly together. Toddlers can get so into their cranky moods that they cannot pull themselves out of it. As a mom or dad, being silly or goofy can break that mood. I used to perform very poorly done magic tricks. Toddlers aren’t picky.
  3. Give yourself some space, if possible. With a toddler, it can be hard to find a moment of peace, but sometimes when you notice yourself getting angry or about to yell or hit, …

Animal Assisted Therapy

Saturday, August 9th, 2014

Eini, therapy bird at New Wings Counseling

Animal assisted therapy (AAT) has become the new buzzword in the field of mental health.

While animal assisted therapy was previously seen as an alternative treatment, it has become more main stream, and it’s now common to find animals in the therapy office, retirement community, and hospital.

All animals can provide love and friendship to those around them, but therapy animals are specially trained to be comfortable around people with disabilities, to not bite when startled, and to accept petting from people of all ages and conditions.

What is animal assisted therapy?

According to the Mayo Clinic,  “pet therapy is a broad term that includes animal-assisted therapy and other animal-assisted activities. Animal-assisted therapy is a growing field that uses dogs or other animals to help people recover from or better cope with health problems, such as heart disease, cancer, and mental health disorders.”

Animal assisted therapy has been studied and proven to work with children who have experienced abuse or neglect and for people recovering from cancer and other diseases. It’s been shown to be effective with veterans and their families. Nursing homes, libraries, schools, and even prisons have had success with bringing trained animals in to help ease tension, provide support, and comfort. Animals are able to reach people in ways that nothing else can. 

What makes animal assisted therapy work?

  1. Animals offer unconditional love. When someone struggles with depression, anxiety, grief, or loneliness, the world can seem a barren and hostile place. Animals can show a kindness and acceptance that bring healing. The simple act of petting a cat or dog lowers blood pressure and reduces tension.
  2. Animals can connect with people who have a difficult time connecting with people. This is particularly true for people with autism.  A wonderful resource is ASDA, Autism Service Dogs of America. It is not only individuals with autism who benefit from animal assisted therapy. As a therapist, I use …

The Fat Shaming Epidemic

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

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I’ve been thinking a lot about body shaming and fat shaming.

It’s all over the media lately. And although kids being teased for their weight is nothing new, the power of the internet takes it to an entirely new level.

Carleigh O’Connell, a 14 year old girl from New Jersey, became a viral sensation and anti-fat shaming advocate when she posted a photograph of herself in a swimsuit in response to a graffiti message spray painted in her home town. Carleigh was recently a guest blogger on the site called Mighty Girl. She states:

What I now know…

I have realized that so many people, kids and adults, have faced and can relate to this type of negativity.

I have realicarleighzed that sometimes you have to stare cruelty in the face and not drop your head.

I have realized that owning who you are and how you are made is much better than feeling ashamed or bad about yourself.

I have realized that is okay to not have everyone agree with you and your actions, because sometimes negativity can bring bigger and better things.

What happened to Carleigh is awful. No one should have to feel objectified like that. But Carleigh took the bullying and turned it around. She refused to be shamed. Because of her courage she has become a role model and hero to many.

There are many websites that exist for the sole purpose of fat shaming; websites that post pictures of overweight people and make degrading and cruel remarks about them. Sadly, some bloggers and writers believe that fat shaming helps people lose weight.

Fat shaming does absolutely no good and causes significant harm. If you’re a person who has experienced fat shaming, you know that being made fun of or mocked for your weight does not help you loose any pounds.

Despite what proponents of fat shaming want to believe, when people are humiliated due to their size,  they gain even more weight.

Being overweight means that according to the medical establishment, you are carrying more weight …


 

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