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Blogs

Your (Obligatory) Holiday Survival Guide

Christmas and Kwanzaa are right around the corner (and Hanukkah snuck right past me). Maybe you love this time of year…and maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re like a lot of folks who find it quite challenging. Personally, I don’t holiday like a lot of my fellow Americans, but I think it would be an oversight not to address the topic, even if it’s a bit late in the game.

In 2006, I was an intern at Children’s Mercy Hospital, and I had the bad luck of being on call for Christmas. That meant I was stuck in a city where I knew very few people, all of whom would be going home to their families for the holidays. My parents came to visit but headed home on Christmas Eve. I bawled the next day, alone in my studio apartment, missing everyone and everything.

The next year, I was in a different city at a different hospital but, again, stuck with the Christmas call. That year was easier. I had a friend in Omaha, and we did our own thing to celebrate.

The following years saw some holidays with friends in California, some with my family, and some with my partners’ families. I’ve gotten very unattached to any specific vision of what the holidays must be like, and, honestly, it’s been pretty freeing. My holiday stress level tends to be pretty low, but that’s not the case for many people.

The holidays bring with them changes in routines and schedules. Our self-care goes out the window. We hit the end of the year crunch time. Many people have the added task of holiday shopping, decorating, cooking,  hosting, traveling, planning, and juggling 9 million things. Others have salient reminders of what or who they’ve lost. Couple all of that with the pressure of meeting expectations (yours and others’) or not feeling as joyous as you think you should. While you’re at it, throw in (what’s typically) a cold and dark time of year and a pandemic we’re all tired of, and it’s no wonder that many people experience heightened stress, anxiety, or depression!

Fortunately, there are some things you can do to not just survive but thrive through this season. Now, I’m not advocating that you abandon your holiday traditions as I have, but I will encourage you to do ALL of the things on this list.

1. Let your values be your guide.

Get really clear on who and what is important to you, particularly when it comes to the holidays. Tune out the noise, the expectations, the perceived obligations, and put your time, energy, and attention into what truly matters.

2.  Don’t sweat the small stuff.

When something less than desired happens, put it in perspective. Ask yourself, “On the scale of bad things, is this a paper cut or a nuclear disaster?” and react accordingly.

3. Make time for self-care.

Prioritize the basics like sleep, eating nutritious food, drinking water, and moving your body. Make time for whatever other self-care practices help you feel like you at your best.

4. Move with ease.

When we feel stressed, our movements get frantic, rushed, and hectic. Instead, intentionally relax your shoulders and move gently, smoothly, and a little more slowly than you might want to. This will help tell your nervous system that it’s all good. There’s no crisis. Relax.

5. Channel compassion – for yourself and everyone else.

You don’t have to be merry. In fact, there may be lots of reasons why you aren’t, and I bet the way you’re feeling makes sense when you consider those reasons and put them in context. So be kind to yourself! Offer that same compassion (empathy + kindness) to others, too. Adopt the attitude that everyone is doing the best they can at that moment. Try to understand what their perspective might be, how it might make sense when you consider the context, and offer them kindness, too, even if it’s just in your own thoughts.

6. Speaking of kindness, do one for someone in need.

Not only does this help someone out and add just a little bit of goodness into the world, but altruism is good for us, too. It gets us out of our own heads and our own problems and, frankly, it feels good to do good.

To be honest, I think this is pretty solid advice for any stressful time, not just the holidays, but I sincerely hope you thrive through this holiday season.

“You can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.”
 – (often attributed to) Maya Angelou
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Blogs

10 Tips for Feeling Better this Winter

You’re probably expecting something related to love or relationships in honor of Valentine’s Day. Sorry to disappoint, but I’ve got other things to share today. I don’t know about you, but it seems like nearly everyone (self included) has hit a wall in the past week or two. The ongoing pandemic plus the ridiculously frigid weather has us in a bit of a funk. 

Fortunately, psychology offers us a ton of tips, techniques, and strategies to help ward off the winter+ blues. So here are 10 tips for feeling better this winter. 

1.     Put a smile on your face…and in your mind.

Smile. Make it a part of your daily routine. Even if you don’t feel like it. Even if it’s completely fake. Just do it. And hold it for a while. You might feel silly, but engaging your smile muscles just might trick your brain into feeling a bit happier.

Now the “put a smile in your mind” part is something I heard during a Sam Harris meditation this week, and I loved it. I’m not exactly sure how to explain how to do it, but I could feel it. I hope you can, too.

2.     Laugh

My little brother used to youtube “babies laughing” when he needed a boost, and I have my go to videos that are guaranteed to crack me up. Find something funny to watch, read, think about, or share. And if all else fails, just start laughing. If you give it long enough, the fake stuff will turn into genuine laughter.

3.     Do something productive.

When motivation, energy, and mood are low we tend to do things that are more passive, rather than active, and more consumption-based as opposed to creation-based. That is, we passively take things in rather than actively put something into the world, and that passive consumption doesn’t do us any favors. Doing something productive will give you a sense of accomplishment. Even if you don’t enjoy the task in the moment, it feels good to get it done. 

Another way to tap into that sense of accomplishment is to set a goal and crush it. Even silly little goals that don’t matter in the grand scheme of life can be useful here. Being challenged and working to conquer that challenge feels good.

4.     Do something social.

Yes, I know this one is hard. The past year has made it incredibly difficult to meet our social needs, and that’s likely one of the contributing factors to our collective funk. But even outside of COVID, we tend to withdraw and isolate when we’re down, which only fuels the ick. 

Connecting with others can help break the spiral. It can also be surprisingly helpful to share with someone how you’re feeling or what you’re going through. Sometimes sharing the load really does help to lighten it.

5.     Move your body.

Physical activity does all kinds of good stuff for your body…and your brain. Without going into the boring details, tons of studies show that exercise has mood-boosting effects; it’s a natural antidepressant, antianxiety thing. Winter makes it hard to get outside, but find some way to move your body, get your heart rate up a bit, and maybe even break a sweat. Throw on some tunes and dance around, do a workout video from youtube, and do some bodyweight exercises. 

You may not feel like it, and your mind will give you a million excuses not to, but, if you’re able to override the inertia, I don’t think you’ll regret it. Get outside, even if it’s cold. Get your vitamin d supplement from the sun to help with any seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Walking and fresh air paired with sunset and a mental break improve your mental health and your immune system. 

6.     Do a theoretically enjoyable activity that doesn’t involve a screen.

Back to that passive consumption idea, consider how you spend your time when you’re feeling off. Do you scroll more? Watch more? Basically, sit and take content in? These kinds of things don’t really boost our mood. Sure, you might enjoy it in the moment, but over time it’s a mood/energy/motivation zap. 

Think of some other activities you used to enjoy and make yourself do one of them for 15 minutes. You just might find that once you get going, the enjoyment kicks in.

7.     Try some metta meditation.

Meditation in general is a great practice that tends to lower depression, anxiety, stress, and anger. I’m finding this specific type of meditation to be particularly helpful right now. Metta roughly translates into loving-kindness. I’ll admit, I find that hippie-dippie name kind of cringe-inducing, but the practice is legit. 

This particular type of meditation helps you tap into, hold on to, and boost positive emotional states like love, kindness, and compassion. It’s a good antidote to the dark, heavy feelings. Google “metta meditation” or “lovingkindness meditation,” and you’ll find tons of free ones to try out.

8.     Daydream.

Staying present is generally something to strive for, but some intentional daydreaming can be quite beneficial. Use your imagination to conjure images of warmth and sunshine and all the things you’re looking forward to when this (whatever this is) passes. Having something to look forward to can help stave off hopelessness and boredom and, in turn, keep us resilient and happy.

9.     Watch out for sneaky negativity…

There’s a fine line between processing and venting. Processing is working through difficult things, perhaps leaning on your social support. It’s useful. Venting, though it feels good in the moment, is really just rehashing the same old negativity, without gaining insights or solving a problem. It’s basically ruminating out loud, with someone else. Notice what emotional state venting puts you in. Do you need more of that right now?

The goal here isn’t to deny the negative stuff. It’s just to recognize whether stewing in it is helping you or hurting you. We don’t have a choice in a lot of the things going on, but we do have a choice in where we focus our attention. Less venting and less complaining can make a big difference.

10.  And balance it out.

We’re going to complain at some point. It’s a really hard habit to break. We can offset the negativity, though, by balancing it out. Follow up complaints with a “but at least.” 

“It’s a bitter cold day! But at least the snow is beautiful today.” “I miss my family! But at least they’re safe, and I can talk to them by phone today.” “Netflix took away The Office! But at least that’ll make it easier to try some of the other things on this list.”

I’d be remiss not to also mention gratitude and savoring here. Focusing on and expressing appreciation, for yourself and/or others, is important all the time, especially now. It’s not enough to give quick lip service, though. Savoring means really intensifying the experience by focusing on it, reflecting on it, and holding it in mind for a period. 

Draw out the sweetness of the moment like you’re trying to get the most out of the last bite of something truly delicious. Doing that helps it stick in our minds, giving it a bigger impact.

Support your mental health by taking time for yourself. Follow these ten steps to prioritize yourself and your well-being. 

Taken together, these strategies can make quite a big difference. I doubt, however, that it’s an exhaustive list. If you’ve figured out some others that work for you, I’d love to hear them!

What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”
-John Steinbeck
Categories
Podcasts

What is Psychological Strength?

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CUE THE CONFETTI! Friends, this is episode 200 of the podcast, and in honor of that huge milestone, we’re diving DEEP into the different facets of psychological strength. 

You see, when we talk about ‘building psychological strength,’ we’re really talking about developing yourself in 5 core areas so that you’re better skilled and equipped to handle anything life throws at you. 

2020 has shown us just how V.U.C.A. life can be (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous). We all need to work on the skills and abilities that set us up to be able to thrive, no matter what life throws our way. 

How would that feel? 

Imagine it! How would it feel to have the confidence that, no matter what, you have the skills to move through any challenge and thrive?  

That is what psychological strength is, and today, to celebrate this exciting milestone, we’re diving deep. 

We are talking about the tools to improve your mental toughness and face challenging times or crucial life events by developing mental strength. But much like improving your physical health, mentally strong people have to leave their comfort zone, and work on building mental strength just like they would with physical exercise. Good mental health will help you overcome challenges and improve problem-solving if you spend time and effort working on it.

Thank you to each and every one of you who has downloaded an episode of this podcast. If you haven’t subscribed, please hit that button in celebration of this exciting day. Thank you for being on this journey with us and for recognizing your own worth.  

During this episode, we mentioned our flagship program Ascend. If you would like to learn more information on that program and get in before we raise the price, visit www.peakmindpsychology.com/ascend . 

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Podcasts

Neuroplasticity: The Full Story

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Neuroplasticity. A concept we’ve all heard about. It’s a key driver of a growth mindset, the creation of new habits, the reason why gratitude practices are so powerful, and the underlying factor that allows us to reinvent ourselves. 

How amazing is that?! 

But, there’s a darker side to neuroplasticity that we don’t typically hear about. A side that can dilute or even thwart some of the hard work you’re doing to develop yourself into the person you want to be. 

This is what we’re covering this week. 

Specifically, we dive into: 

  • The ways in which neuroplasticity operates in our minds 
  • The brain science behind neuroplasticity and what causes “rewirings” to occur 
  • The little-known “dark side” of neuroplasticity that isn’t helpful to us  
  • Why we’re asking you to stop watching the news! 
  • Ways in which neuroplasticity might be operating in our daily lives and counteracting the hard work we’re doing to better ourselves 

Finally, we end with concrete ways you can begin to use neuroplasticity in your favor. To make your mind into your most valuable asset, rather than your biggest barrier. 

Much like aerobic exercise and other physical activity, getting more brain function can be produced through brain exercises. Older adults face cognitive decline which can adversely affect certain aspects of cognitive function. But it’s not just older human brains that need to focus on their grey matter. Rewiring your brain is an important part of mental health and the generation and engagement of brain cells, for example, learning a new language, increases neuroplasticity by creating new neural pathways and igniting a new part of the brain. Improving neuroplasticity not only keeps you sharp as you are now, but also adds to your brain’s ability.

You won’t want to miss this episode. It can literally change your life! You not only learn about brain plasticity, but also gain neuroplasticity exercises you can do from virtually anywhere.

We also mentioned 2 new free resources we just released. First, check out our new Monday Mindset Minute episodes. These are 60-90 second episodes to give you something concrete to try in your life to build psychological strength. 

Second, we want to support you during a time that many of us are stretched to the max. You might be feeling overwhelmed, or nervous, or your perfectionism might be getting the best of you. Sign up at www.peakmindpsycholgy.com/support to get immediate access to three 3-6 minute interventions to help you return to balance, control, and ease.