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Full transparency here: I’ve dealt with feelings of depression and anxiety through much of my adulthood. In fact, I brought it right with me into my marriage. Through it all, my wife has been a solid rock of support and encouragement for me and my mental health during those difficult times. And looking back, I’ve been able to catch a glimpse of what she was feeling for me: 

I’m worried for his well-being. I know he isn’t himself. His heart is hurting. His mind is swarming. He’s just on edge all… the… time. There’s no life in his voice. He just has a sense of hopelessness, tension, defeat. And I just want him to be happy again so we can enjoy our life together like we once did. 

Does any of this sound familiar?  

Maybe you’ve had the same thoughts about your spouse. It’s difficult to see the person you love the most experiencing challenges like grief, sadness, anxiety, and stress. It impacts not only your spouse but also your marriage. And you want to help, but maybe you just don’t know how. 

Fortunately, there is hope. How can you show care and support for your spouse’s mental health? Here are eight ways: 

1. Remind them you are there.

One of the worst feelings someone can have who is experiencing emotional difficulties is feeling like they are alone in their predicament. The continual reminder that you are there for them, you’re there to listen, and you are not there to judge or think less of them because of what they’re going through means the world

2. Encourage your spouse with The Big 3: Exercise, Diet, and Sleep.

These are the three best things we can do to help ourselves when our mental health is under attack. They are the “hubs” of self-care. Physical activity, especially cardio, and clean eating have been shown to improve emotional health. And I can’t tell you enough just how important sleep is to fight off stress, anxiety, and depression. Most people need 8-9 hours of sleep each night, and each one of those hours is precious to care for yourself. Encourage your spouse to maintain The Big 3 and join them in the mission to work out, eat clean, and sleep well. 

3. Do everyday activities together.

When I’ve felt particularly out of sorts, my wonderful wife would invite me to go on an errand with her or to do something seemingly mundane with her around the house. The sheer act of being together and focusing on some activity — picking up the groceries, folding the laundry (lots of bonding happens over folding fitted sheets), getting the car washed (for an added bonus, jamming out to Led Zeppelin as your car shuffles through the automatic wash, an instant feel-good) — can help pull your spouse out of a funk. 

4. Coach your spouse to choose their “Something to Look Forward to.”

Long ago, a friend of mine gave me this life-changing, simple piece of advice, and my wife has encouraged me with it: every week, choose that one thing that you’re going to look forward to on the weekend (or whatever the “end of the week” looks like for your spouse). It can be anything enjoyable: a hike, watching the football game, ordering pizza, eating that piece of cake in the fridge, a fishing trip, working in the yard, smoking some ribs, visiting your favorite fast food place. I’ve found that whatever setbacks I experience through the week, sometimes my “Something to Look Forward to” is what helps me to keep taking each step forward. Help your spouse find their “Something to Look Forward to” each week. 

5. Experience some fresh air together.

There’s something about being outside in the open air and the warm sunlight that takes the edge off strong emotions. Invite your spouse to share some outdoor time, whether it’s hiking in the woods or sitting on the front porch to watch the sunset. You certainly don’t have to be an “outdoor person” to gain the benefits that clean air and the vitamin D from sunlight provides (which, by the way, has been shown to reduce depression and boost weight loss). 

6. Be physically intimate with each other.

Physical touch, whether it’s sexual or non-sexual touch, like holding hugs or hand-holding, has been shown to help improve mental and emotional health, not to mention increase closeness and connection with each other. Healthy physical touch from someone who cares (that is, you) causes those feel-good chemicals to squirt through the brain, defending against feelings of sadness and anxiety. And don’t laugh, but scheduled sex is where it’s at. Hear me out. If your spouse is someone who, say, really enjoys sex, more than likely it’s a stress-reliever for them. When the two of you schedule your lovemaking, you give them something they can count on to simmer down the emotions while you, well, heat things up. 

7. Encourage time with friends and family.

It’s easy for someone weighed down with heavy feelings to isolate themselves. Sometimes you just don’t have the energy to reach out to others. When I’ve felt like this, my wife would sometimes say something like, “Why don’t you call up your friend Brian and see if he wants to watch the football game?” Or, “Why not go over to your mom’s house and take her some cookies” Being with others helps a heavy heart. And sometimes a person just needs a shot of encouragement to make that connection. Encourage time with someone they are close to when the mood is down. 

8. Go on dates.

This is arguably the most important item on the list. Try to have a weekly date together. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive or even outside the house. As a matter of fact, take some of what’s above and make it a date: the “Something to Look Forward to,” time spent outdoors, ordering a pizza in, a walk around the neighborhood, a Netflix movie, or maybe even scheduled intimacy. The point is to have a meaningful time together. And remember: because your spouse is dealing with heavy emotions, you may have to be the one to prompt these dates. 

If you observe that your spouse’s mental health doesn’t change for the better or gets worse, encourage them to visit a professional counselor. Offer to go with them if they are nervous or uncertain. Try to help them understand that talking to a counselor doesn’t mean they are “broken” or something “is wrong with them.” They are simply there to talk through some of the difficult feelings they’re experiencing. 

One more thing: the battle to manage strong emotions like anxiety, sadness, or stress is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t expect instant improvements with a walk in the woods or a night out on the town. 

And let’s not ignore the fact that your spouse’s struggles with mental health are hard on you as well; you feel the exhaustion and stress they feel. Be sure you are taking care of yourself. Get plenty of rest and exercise, and make sure you have a healthy support system you can turn to. Practice good self-care. 

You are your spouse’s biggest support. And you have the power to instill a sense of hope in them with your love and encouragement. Choose at least one of the strategies above to do this week. Assure your spouse you are there for them no matter what. Go on a date. Share a walk outside. Whatever it is, let them know you are right there beside them. Believe me: it will mean the world to them. 

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Image from Unsplash.com

COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR SPOUSE SHOULD BE FULFILLING, NOT FRUSTRATING.

With the right tools, you and your spouse can have the best communication ever!

This easy-to-use virtual 5-day course guides you and your spouse to have the best communication you’ve ever had! Through this course, you will learn:

  • How to establish healthy communication habits
  • The secrets to creating a deep connection through communication
  • Skills to help you (and your spouse) be a better speaker and listener
  • How to celebrate and understand your different communication styles
  • And so much more!

“If we want to live a wholehearted life, we have to become intentional about cultivating rest and play, and we must work to let go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth.”

Brené Brown

I’m so exhausted and stressed out!” Is that a cry for help or a badge of honor?

Sadly, we live in a culture that not only normalizes burnout as a way of life but also kinda glorifies it. If you are perpetually busy and exhausted—You. Must. Be. Important! 

But at what cost?

Maybe we need to worry more about being healthy people. 

Ah, but insights like that usually only come to us when we slow down, find some quiet, and get alone with ourselves. Alone. Solitude. Introspection. “Sorry, ain’t got time for that!” (I think a lot of people intentionally stay busy because they don’t want to have to think about life and look at themselves.) Make time. Being alone is a healthy skill to be cultivated. Being alone is when some cool stuff happens: Inspiration. Reflection. Insight. Wonder. Clarity. Rest and Restoration. Whatever ambition has you so busy chasing, you’re going to need all this stuff along the way. Plus, the people you care about need you to care about you and take care of you.

Here are five signs you need some alone time, stat!

1. Your body is trying to get your attention.

Do you wake up and not feel rested and rejuvenated? Does your body “hit a wall” during the day that sends you to the coffee-maker? Do you catch every cold and flu bug that’s going around? Do you collapse into bed like you just finished a marathon? 

Your body might be trying to get your attention. It’s trying to tell you that your batteries are low and need recharging. Some time alone doing something restful and reenergizing might be just the ticket. Make sure it’s something you genuinely find soothing and medicinal—not work-related and stress-inducing.

2. Little things just wreck you.

Things you normally would take in stride or wouldn’t bother you at all now get an exaggerated response from you. It could be a short delay, a slight change of plans, an annoying freeway driver, or someone’s tone of voice, and you’re fuming or crumbling. You know that’s not you.

You’re fragile. You’ve become so busy and stressed you don’t have the margin or emotional resources left to handle life’s little annoyances. Alone-time is anti-fragile time. It strengthens you on the inside. Getting alone in a meaningful, healthy way can give you the focus to regain some perspective, as well as the fortitude to handle bumps along the way.

3. The people in your life are dropping hints… 

Learn to put the clues together. That look on your spouse’s face means you snapped at them. That eye-roll from your kid means, “What’s. Up. With. You?

Your friend or co-worker asking, “Are you okay?” or “How have you been lately?” means “Someone has their Cranky Pants on today!

Sometimes we are the last person to recognize how we’ve changed and are not acting like ourselves. Learn to pick up on the hints before the hints become arguments, outbursts, or resentment. You don’t want to hurt the people you love even a little bit, but when you’re tired and stressed out, or feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, you tend to take it out on the people closest to you. We all do.

Don’t be afraid to tell the people in your life you need a little alone time. It’s mature and self-aware to say, “Sorry I’ve been a little extra lately. I need to go for a walk and clear my head.” Go to a movie by yourself or send yourself to your room and watch one. Take a book to a coffee shop. Go for that run. Reassure the family that it’s not them, it’s you. (They know.)

4. You’re bored, not interested in anything, and just feel… blah.

You’ve been rushing through your hectic schedule so fast for so long, you don’t remember what to do with some downtime. You’re so burned out, you just don’t feel like doing anything—even the things you normally enjoy. You are listless and lethargic. You aren’t up or down—you’re just there. 

Sometimes you need some unproductive, unfocused vegging out alone time. Grab your favorite snack and watch some reruns of your favorite show. Go to a park or out on your deck and just sit. Soak up some sun. To the untrained eye, you look like you’re doing nothing, and that’s exactly what you need. This afternoon’s plan is not to have plans. Feel what it feels like to have no deadlines and no demands on your time. Give yourself permission to clock out for a little while. Feel that? Feels good. (If you feel “blah” for weeks at a time, that’s not good. Get that checked out.)

5. Sometimes, you just know. 

Sometimes you do. Listen to that little voice. Quit ignoring it. Stop thinking you don’t really need some alone time or don’t deserve it or it’s a sign of weakness or will disappoint someone if you take it. The world won’t stop spinning if you don’t get to everything on your To-Do list. That’s vanity. Give yourself a break. The reality is, alone time helps bring clarity, creativity, and energy to every part of your life. Your life-goals won’t suffer if you take some time for you; your life-goals will suffer if you don’t.

You got this!

Image from Unsplash.com

If you want your best self to show up on your best day ever, practicing self-care while planning your wedding should be at the top of your to-do list. Planning a day that is ultimately about 8 hours but signifies a lifelong commitment can be stressful, I’ll be the first to admit it, having planned my own wedding. Stress can take a toll on a person and affect your relationship with your soon-to-be spouse, so to get your marriage off on the right foot, let’s get you taken care of!

4 Ways to Practice Self-Care While Planning a Wedding:

1. Set aside a day when you don’t wedding plan.

It’s important that the engagement season doesn’t drain all of your attention. You and your fiancé need to spend quality time with each other. You’re getting married because you’ve fallen in love and see a life together. The energy you felt while dating can continue into engagement season and throughout your marriage if you prioritize your relationship first—I mean it is what your wedding day is celebrating after all! Here’s a great blog with simple ideas to spend quality time together during the wedding season.

2. Delegate tasks.

I know this is a hard one—especially because you know the vision in your head and making the list of everything that needs to get done sounds just as scary as doing them. BUT if you make a list, I can almost guarantee you’ll find there are little things some of your wedding party or family can help with. Delegating some of the more mundane time-suckers would allow you to pencil in some self-care. Things like: collecting addresses, addressing envelopes, designing the wedding program, calling floral shops for pricing, etc. 

3. Cut yourself some slack and take it one day at a time.

Try not to be so hard on yourself or your fiancé. With the stress of planning a perfect day, a bump in the road can sneak its way into looking like a mountain. There will be things that don’t go as planned, have to be re-thought or rearranged, and that’s just a part of the process! Don’t take on the stress of planning the wedding as a whole—only take on the next task.

Making a list not only helps you delegate but it can help you navigate what needs to be done. Give yourself a timeline with your to-do list and only look at what’s next on the list after you check something off. Wedding planning can be overwhelming, but when you give yourself the chance to take it one task at a time rather than planning the whole thing at once, you’ll feel better. (Let’s be honest, checking things off a list feels good—so make it lots of little checks!)

4. Focus on your overall health.

A great self-care practice is being mindful of your body. Check-in with yourself:

  • Am I getting enough sleep?
  • How’s my mental health?
  • Am I expressing my feelings?
  • Am I…
    • Nourishing my body?
    • Drinking enough water?
    • Being present when I’m with my fiancé?
    • Being active or exercising in some way?

It can be tempting to go on an extreme diet or compromise sleep in the name of getting everything done, but it’s not worth it. When you get married, you’re stepping into a different lifestyle and both of you will bring different elements. If you want a healthy lifestyle, it’ll be much easier to bring something to the table you’re already in a habit of and enjoy rather than being so excited for the wedding to be over so you can stop whatever draining regimen you’re doing beforehand. Be mindful and take care of you. You want to show up feeling better than ever on your big day, so be kind to yourself and make it happen.

Before you buy into “there’s not enough time in the day” or that you have to lose sleep while wedding planning, buy into yourself. If you prioritize yourself—you know half of the reason why this day is even happening, then you’ll get to really enjoy the process during this crazy and exciting season!

Other blogs that may be helpful for you!

B.C. (Before COVID) plenty of us lived life at a frenetic pace and had resigned ourselves that it would always be that way. Fast forward to COVID lockdown and a forced stop. We actually had room to breathe in our lives whether we liked it or not. Being forced to taste the simple life for a few months reminded a lot of us how much we actually longed for a less frenzied existence. With things opening back up, some folks are trying to figure out how to keep a little bit of that margin in their life.

Maybe right now you’re already missing your quarantine life. Perhaps you’re finding that, once again, you don’t have time to do the things you want to do. If this is true for you, you don’t have to settle. 

Here are five simple things that can help you reclaim or keep margin in your life moving forward.

1. Decide what you don’t want to pick back up.

Make a list of all the things you and your family were participating in B.C. Decide now what you’re not willing to add back into your schedule. Making the decision ahead of time will make it easier to say no as opportunities arise. Think of it as being proactive instead of reactive when it comes to knowing what your priorities are and sticking to them even under pressure. This will require you to keep your guard up so you can recognize when something is encroaching on the boundaries you’ve set.

2. Schedule quiet time just like you would schedule any other appointment.

It’s that important. Living life in a whirlwind leaves you feeling empty and exhausted, not to mention a hot mess when it comes to relating with the ones you love. Whether it’s early in the morning, the middle of your day or right before you go to bed, taking a few minutes to reflect can make a world of difference in how you go through your day. It can also impact how you rest at night. 

3. Intentionally insert 15-30 minute breaks throughout the day to breathe and be mindful.

Avoid the temptation to schedule yourself back to back in order to make the most of every waking minute. Take a walk, do some deep breathing or light a candle. Enjoy a cup of tea or coffee, listen to calming music, read, or do something else that will allow you to take a break from the chaos. Inserting buffer zones into your day will actually give you energy and help you be more creative. Plus, it’ll make you more effective and present with the ones you love. 

You might find it helpful to literally block out times on your schedule for this. Blocking the time off can lessen the temptation to put something in that time period because it isn’t available. If you are a high energy person who likes to be productive, this may feel like time wasted. Here’s a challenge for you, though. Try this for a whole month. Then assess your energy level, what you have been able to accomplish and the state of your relationships. You might be pleasantly surprised at the results. Just sayin’.

4. Limit your social media intake.

This is a time vacuum and we all know it. It robs us of time with our kids, spouse and friends. If you don’t believe it, the next time you jump on social media “for just a minute,” time yourself. See how long you end up scrolling to see what everybody else is doing. Limiting your time on social media will give you some margin to live your own life and pay attention to the ones you love and your own needs. (And if others have your full attention, you won’t be distracted and miss something important!)

5. Create transitions and hard stops.

There is something to be said for the impact of routines and rituals when it comes to incorporating margin into our lives. Intentional transitions help your brain know the difference between work, play and rest. If possible, have set start and stop times for work, time with family and friends, and time to take care of yourself. 

It can be helpful to prepare for the next day before you go to bed each night, too. Go over your to-do list, decide what you will wear for work (even if you are working from home) and other activities, take a look at the schedule, plan meals, etc. For example, the act of preparing to be in work mode helps your brain know you are making a transition. At the end of your work day, changing into “play” clothes is another transition that tells your brain it is doing something different. It’s a physical exercise that mentally prepares you for being fully present.

As one who has struggled with margin in life, I can tell you it’s very easy to fall back into old habits. Don’t beat yourself up. It happens. The best way forward is to remind yourself of your goal, identify where the breach happened and keep moving ahead.

Photo by Thought Catalog from Pexels

You’ve just spent 30 minutes scrolling through social media. Everyone looks happy outside having fun. Due to our current uncertainty, you aren’t ready to head out to a restaurant or go on summer vacation. How do you feel right now? Envious? Frustrated? Down? You need to remember four important things about what you see on social media to keep things in perspective in your life.

We used to keep diaries or maybe a journal. Now we post. What was once an act of private, intimate self-reflection has become, for many, a project involving not only mutual inspection but judgment, but has our perception of ourselves been clarified or just twisted and quantified by social media?

Instead of a diary or journal being used to provide insights into ourselves, social media has provided us with an avenue to peek into other people’s lives while it affords about 250 million other Americans and 3.5 billion people worldwide the same opportunity to see our own life, share opinions on it, and “rate” our life via Likes, Shares, Friends, Followers, and Retweets.

That’s a big stage to put your life on. And research shows we have a natural inclination to compare.

You should try not to compare yourself or your life to what you see on social media

(I get it—it’s so hard…)

Here’s why you shouldn’t play the comparison game… 

1. What you see on social media isn’t reality. 

Whether you are looking at Kim Kardashian West with 181M followers on Insta or your friend with 81, there are definite degrees of unreality you need to remember. From filters and retouching apps to lighting and staging to the fact that you are seeing a snapshot of a moment in time and not a “video” of someone’s real-life—PLEASE remind yourself not to compare yourself, your family, and your quality of life to what you see on social media. You are comparing someone’s “highlight reel” to your own “behind the scenes footage.” It’s just not a fair comparison. It’s also a comparison that depressed individuals are about 3 times more likely to make. 

Dr. Brian Primack, the Director of the Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health at the University of Pittsburgh put it best: “People who engage in a lot of social media use may feel they are not living up to the idealized portraits of life that other people tend to present in their profiles. This phenomenon has sometimes been called ‘Facebook depression.’” Instagram has been found by a number of studies to be the worst social media platform for your mental health.

Reality Check:

Instagram.com/exposingcelebphotoshop

2. Social media is a rigged game. 

This is why you should never compare Likes, Followers, Shares, or Retweets. Social media platforms exist to make money. They want you to come back for more. Just like Vegas. The House always wins.

Brain science has shown that we get little dopamine squirts when we hop on social media. Feels good for a few seconds. Each platform is created to maximize that effect. (They know their brain research.) So, Instagram not showing you all your Likes right away is an effective way to keep you coming back to see how your post is doing. Twitter doesn’t take a few seconds to load new tweets because your connection is slow. It’s intentional. In casinos it’s called a “variable ratio schedule” or “the slot machine effect.” The idea is that an action is rewarded, but at various times. We get a little dopamine hit anticipating what content we will see. (Other social media apps do this, too.) Don’t let social media Vegas you. Don’t slide into addiction. (Check out this Business Insider article on how social media is rigged.) You are comparing yourself to “gamed” numbers.

With bots, fake accounts, people buying followers, and algorithms set against you, why would you compare your Followers, Likes, Shares, and Retweets with those of anybody else? Please don’t allow those numbers to make you feel bad about yourself or your life. Ignore ‘em and just see what your cousin is up to on social.

Reality Check: 

If you or your family had a great experience, took a pic, posted it, and it didn’t get “the response” you hoped for, YOU STILL HAD A GREAT EXPERIENCE. That’s what’s important.

3. Nobody has changed someone’s mind on social media.

Actually, this isn’t exactly true. Among men and women 30 years and older, 12% and 11% respectively reported changing their mind on a political or social issue because of something they saw on social media in the past year. But you get the point. You have about a 1 in 10 chance to change a mind with your flaming post. Is comparing your beliefs worth the stress and anxiety? People have different opinions. Keep moving.

So, when you compare your beliefs and opinions to other people on social media, what does it make you feel? Anger? Stress? Frustration? Anxiety? Bitterness? About half of U.S. adults say talking about politics with people they disagree with on social media is “stressful and frustrating.”

You investing time, energy, and emotions into a debate that isn’t going to change anyone’s mind is just setting you up to be aggravated. This didn’t dawn on me until the time my wife asked me why I was still awake and I quipped, “Because someone is wrong on the internet!” Hearing myself say those words out loud made me realize that not only was I on a fool’s errand, but I was losing precious sleep. Comparing your political beliefs and stances on social or religious issues to other people’s is just not the best use of your time. Arguing about them with people is an even worse use of your time. Time to put the phone down.

Reality Check:

A study of Twitter use in America found that between 90-97% of political tweets were made by only 3-10% of Twitter users. That’s a handful of people with an ax to grind. Not letting them affect my day.

4. Because stress, anger, anxiety, depression, and loneliness are killers. 

There is a debate raging in research about social media: Does social media use cause stress, anxiety, and depression OR do stressed, anxious, depressed people use social media more?

While the eggheads research what comes first, the chicken or the egg, what is not open for debate is the correlation between social media use and negative mental health. Whether you feel like social media use causes you to feel negative things like anger, loneliness, stress, anxiety, and depression or you turn to social media as a coping mechanism for those kinds of feelings, you should be concerned. Your mental health should be priority #1. 

If you suspect that your mental health is suffering because of your time spent online, 

DO SOMETHING.

Reality Check:

  • Unplug for a designated amount of time.
  • Set time limits on your phone for social media sites.
  • Suspend your social media accounts for a specific amount of time.
  • Challenge a friend to unplug with you and be each other’s support.
  • Keep your phone out of arm’s reach when possible.
  • Turn notifications off on your social media accounts.
  • Stop using your phone in bed. 
  • Try the 50/50 rule: No social media the last/first 50 minutes of your day.
  • Get professional help if necessary.

Questions To Ask Yourself About Your Social Media Use:

  • What need does my use of social media meet?
  • Do I catch myself comparing myself to what I see on social media?
  • How does my time on social media make me feel about myself?
  • How does my time on social media make me feel about my life, family, and friends?
  • Have I trained my brain to question statements and pics on social media?
  • Does it bother me when a post I make doesn’t get many Likes or Shares?
  • Can I recognize when I need to take a break from social media?

There is a lot for you to like and enjoy about social media—It is so important for you to stay in touch with family, friends, and co-workers who may be spread out across the country and the world. It’s cool for you to get a “peek” into the lives of some of your favorite personalities and potentially even interact with them. You can be inspired and encouraged by stories and pictures that people have shared on social media. You can spot the positives and the negatives!

But the only person you need to compare yourself to is your best self.

Image from Unsplash.com

When it comes to parenting and feeling like stress is taking over their lives right now, most parents (especially those with school-age children) would probably say their stress level is at a 12 on a scale of 1-10. 

In fact, many completely identify with and find themselves crying right along with Blake McLennan from Arizona. Her parents filmed her crying and lamenting how it’s not okay that everything is closed and that she can’t have play dates with her friends, that school is not taking place and most importantly, McDonald’s has closed their playground. 

It’s true. Stress is at an all-time high and many parents are feeling its sting.

  • What should I do about childcare?
  • What’s the best decision about school?
  • How am I going to work and have the kids at home trying to do online classes?
  • Is my job on the chopping block?
  • What if one of us gets COVID-19?
  • Will my college student go back to school or are we stuck together for the semester?

So many questions and so few answers. It’s enough to make any parent ask, “Where do I go to resign because I feel like I just can’t do it anymore?” Not that you would ever do that, but this is intense. Parenting is stressful during “normal” times, but throw in a pandemic and many parents are wondering how they can continue at this level of intensity and stress.

Here’s a word of comfort for you. Parents and children have gone through pandemics and other incredibly hard things before and came out on the other side of it. You will, too!

These things may help decrease some of your stress as you trek through this and get to the other side healthy and whole. 

  • This seems like a no-brainer, but acknowledge that you are stressed out. Talk with your spouse or a good friend about all that is stressing you. Most everybody can identify with these feelings. Even though they can’t do anything to change the situation, they can listen and that is a huge help.
  • Chances are pretty great that you are a good parent, so stop telling yourself you aren’t. It just creates more stress and it probably isn’t true. Keep in mind that you are having to make hard decisions based on your own unique circumstances.
  • Stop comparing yourself and your situation with others and the choices they are making. The only person who knows what’s right for your family is you. 
  • Breathe! Seriously, to decrease your stress, make time to breathe. Incorporate these times into your day, especially when it feels like your stress is taking over. Just 60 seconds of deep breathing with your eyes closed can help reduce stress and make you less irritable with your children. 
  • Decide on a routine. Not only will this reduce your tension levels, it will reduce the stress your children feel and act out on. Morning, noon and evening routines and rituals can drastically reduce stress overload for everyone. This doesn’t have to be complex. Just little things can make a huge difference.
  • Avoid saying, “I didn’t sign up for the parenting pandemic plan. This is just too hard.” Your brain believes what you tell it. Actually thinking this thought all the time creates more stress. It is hard, but you can do it. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and give yourself and those around you some grace.
  • Be really intentional about getting enough rest, eat as healthy as possible (binge-eating actually makes you feel worse), and exercise. You may not feel like exercising, but physical activity that makes you sweat gets rid of toxins in your body and helps you think more clearly. You hear this all the time, because it’s important and it’s true, especially in times of extreme stress. Plus, you can’t be the parent you want to be if you are running on empty all the time. Believe it or not, not doing these things increases your own stress levels and the stress levels of those around you so you kinda can’t afford not to take good care of yourself. This is probably one of the most powerful tools you have to keep stress from taking over your life.
  • Journal. Putting your feelings and all the things that are troubling you down on paper can help you process what you are experiencing. It also provides another way for you to figure out exactly where your stress is coming from in order to better manage it.
  • Manage your intake of news and social media. You really might be shocked at how your anxiety levels decrease when you remove these two things from your day. Try it and see what happens.
  • When you feel yourself getting ready to lose it with your kids, consider putting everybody in quiet time (including yourself) for a few minutes so you can get your bearings. Phone a friend, put in a good movie, have a dance party or do anything that will break the cycle you are currently in and redirect everybody so you can continue moving everybody in a constructive direction.
  • Schedule time to do fun things. This is vital, especially during high-stress times. Make your own Slip ‘N Slide, play in the sprinkler with your kids, play a game of Horse, go on a hike and find a creek to play in, go blueberry picking or plant a garden. Think of play as a necessary escape from reality.

The next time you feel the stress monster creeping up your back, through your shoulders and into your head, take the reins and tame it by using these strategies. The stress will be with us for a while, but we don’t have to let it get the best of us!

Other blogs on this topic:

Dealing with Parenting Stress During COVID-19

Supporting Families During COVID-19

Parenting Stress and Depression Risks

How to Make Stress Relief a Part of Your Kids’ Lives

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I wish I could just give you hope. I can tell you where I’ve found mine, but you have to find your own. Now, I know you realize that and I’m sure you’ve looked for it and the pain multiplies when you look for it and come up empty. Nobody wants to feel hopeless. But when everything feels hopeless, hope is closer than you may think. Way closer. I know because I have gone from hopeless to hopeful and I understand that it’s an ongoing battle. But the battle is between my ears.

It’s a battle to control how I think.

I always pay attention to what disappoints or frustrates people and what makes them angry or sad. It reveals where they were placing their hope. You get disappointed, sad, or mad if your best friend doesn’t return any of your texts because you were hoping you meant more to them. You hoped you were best friends. And you invested some hope in that relationship. Now, you have a little less hope. You’ve become a little more hope-less

Maybe you never framed it like that before.

There’s plenty going on in the world at the moment that can be disappointing, infuriating, or saddening. Makes it easy to feel hopeless. I was gonna list a bunch of things, but you live on the same planet. I’ll just share this, my adult son the other night looked straight at me and said, “Dad, it feels like the end of the world.” He was totally serious.

There could be plenty going on in your personal world that is keeping you from being hopeful. Your marriage or love life, parenting, your friends, and job situation. And let’s not leave out your worries about your physical health or finances.

1. Recognize where you are placing your hopes.

It’s been helpful for me to recognize where I’m placing my hopes and be careful about it. I don’t place my hope in things I can’t control. 

I don’t place my hope in my wife, my kids, my friends, or my family. That might sound strange. Don’t get me wrong. I love my wife, my kids, and my friends and family. They bring joy and meaning to my life. But I can’t put all my hope in them. Beyond it not being fair to put all my hope on them, something could happen tomorrow that changes everything. I can’t control them, but I can control myself. I can influence those relationships with my choices—I can use my best relationship skills so there will be a better chance of those areas of my life being healthy and bringing me fulfillment and true meaningful joy. But relationships involve two people, and I can only control one of them—me.  

Now think pandemics, the Stock Market, tornados, some rando that drinks and drives, social unrest across the country, global politics—I don’t have any real influence with this stuff. Totally out of my control. Not getting any of my hopes up. So, they can’t take away any of my hope and make me hope-less. 

2. Ask before you hope: Is this something I can control, influence, or is it totally out of my control?

Psychologists have some useful terms here: External Locus of Control (ELC) vs. an Internal Locus of Control (ILC). People with a strong internal locus of control believe their choices matter and affect their quality of life. People with a strong external locus of control believe that other people, their environment, or their situation are what accounts for their success or failure and ultimately—their happiness. You didn’t get that promotion you wanted. ILC people think about if they were qualified for it or that maybe they should have worked harder; ELC people blame management and their co-workers who kept them from getting that promotion. ILC people focus on what they can control—themselves. ELC focus on what’s out of their control—everything BUT themselves. 

You want to place your hopes in what you can control. That really just leaves YOU.

3. Expectations are everything. 

Weird question: have you ever picked up a drink that you thought was water, but it turned out to be Sprite or something? You know that little jolt you felt with the first sip? You know what that’s about? Expectations. Expectations are everything in life. Sometimes feeling hopeless is a sign that our expectations were way off in the first place.

We may have gotten our hopes up or put them in the wrong place.

I’m a huge movie lover. My town used to have a regular movie theater and a $1 theater. If I took my wife on a date to the regular movie theater, that’s $30 just for tickets. Add in drinks, snacks, and paying the babysitter and you have an expensive night out. One day, I recognized I expected more from those movies than the movies I saw at the $1 theater. I was more critical when I was more invested and had high expectations. I was way more likely to be disappointed by a movie at the regular theater than a movie at the $1 theater. It seemed that no matter what, a movie at the $1 theater was at least “okay” and I had a good time. 

I had less invested at the $1 theater, so my expectations were lower and I was rarely disappointed. When I was spending close to $100 to see a movie with my wife at the regular theater, I had higher expectations, because I was literally more invested in the experience, and was “let down” by a lot of the movies I saw there. ✭There were even times I saw a movie at the regular theater and didn’t think it was all that great BUT I saw the same movie again a month later at the $1 theater (why not?) and enjoyed it so much more. I was less invested in it so I adjusted my expectations. I didn’t feel let down and I had a good time. But, it was the same movie. What changed? I did.

Hope works in a similar way. Keep those expectations in check. Watch where you invest.

4. Train Your Brain.

Just like athletes rely on training, practice, and muscle memory to be successful in their sport, you have to train your brain and put in the practice and develop “thinking memory” or good thinking habits. This will help you be successful in the game of life. We have to be careful with what we look for in life because our brains will find it and give us the feelings that go with it. If you’ve trained your brain to look for what’s wrong or negative about everything—your brain will find it and give you the feelings that go with it. If you train your brain to look for what’s right, what’s positive about everything—your brain will find that, too, and deliver all the feelings that go with it.

✦ Some people complain that roses have thorns. 

✦ Some people are thankful that thorns have roses.

So, how do you train your brain to see what’s going right with you and your life?

How do you cultivate healthy thinking habits? Start in one place, looking for one thing and then check out the feelings that come with it. Start with you and your life. Take a couple of deep breaths. Let yourself be calm and quiet and undistracted. Now think of five things you have that you should be grateful for and why.

I’ll get you started—you’re alive! Not everybody can say that. That should feel good. Now you keep going. What should you be thankful for? What are big and little tiny things you should be grateful for? They are there! Train your thoughts to look for them every day

Keep a Gratitude Journal and spend more time there than on social media or watching the news. 

I told you hope was nearby. Hope is closer than you think. Hope is how you think.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

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Uncertainty has a way of paralyzing and controlling you, but you don’t have to let it. 

I stood at the edge. Staring down at the face of the water 30 feet below. Heart-pounding. My brain thinking a hundred different things at once as a couple of dozen other adventurers who decided to veer off the beaten path in Kauai’s forest looked on. 

What if I drown? What if I hit the water the wrong way and it knocks me out somehow? Or what if I belly-flop and everyone laughs? What if this could be the most exhilarating experience of my life? But what if this changes everything I understand about my fears? 

Only six inches from my heels to the lip of the cliff divided total uncertainty and what surely would happen if I took the next step.  

And I had a choice. I could turn around and avoid the situation altogether. I could stand there, staring, paralyzed. Or, I could take a step and move forward, perhaps in more ways than one. 

We all experience uncertainty in life. And this has never been truer than in the last three months:

COVID-19: Are things getting better or worse? 

What’s to come with this new election year? 

Will there ever be a solution to racism? 

Will we ever experience life as we knew it, once (or if) the pandemic ends? 

Are protests leading to peace or more violence? 

How do we protect our kids? 

Why are we getting hit with disasters like the Australian wildfires and murder hornets and tornadoes that kill and destroy? 

Will any of these things put me or my family in real danger?

We continue to be inundated with a life that grows more and more uncertain by the day. And that festering uncertainty is like pouring gasoline on an already-burning woodpile of anxiety. 

What exactly is the relation of uncertainty to our feelings of anxiety? 

Dr. Michael Stein, founder and owner of the private therapy practice Anxiety Solutions, says that facing uncertainty isn’t like confronting tangible fears such as snakes, dogs, or heights. These are the kinds of anxiety-inducers that you can avoid by walking (or running!) away. 

Uncertainty is much more elusive. You can’t literally run away from uncertainty. So, your brain pulls a fast one on you by telling you the way to deal with uncertainty is to overanalyze it. It makes sense; if you can logic out the uncertainty until it’s no longer uncertain, then problem solved! 

This is why it’s so easy to run stressful scenarios over and over in your head—what we call “ruminating.” You repetitively work scenarios through your head to come up with the most likely outcome. Because, if the sky falls, at least you’ll know it’s coming.

The only problem with this is, it doesn’t work. Uncertainty is, well, uncertain. No matter how much we try to rationalize or reason, we just don’t know what the outcome is going to be. And so you just go through this process of uncertainty, overanalyzing, uncertainty, overanalyzing… which opens the door wide for anxiety to come barging through. 

But if uncertainty is so uncertain, what’s there to do other than worry? 

When you have no crystal ball to see into an uncertain future, it’s easy to overvalue worry, fear, and anxiety. You feel like that’s the only thing you can do to survive. But this does us much more harm than good. 

Not only does the anxiety fueled by uncertainty have a negative impact on our sense of well-being and emotional adjustment, but it also wreaks havoc on our relationships. Once we get caught up in overstressing about something uncertain, it’s easy to slip into becoming anxious about anything uncertain. And this drives a wedge between the connection and intimacy we feel with our family members and those close to us. 

So what is there to do other than have anxiety? 

Dr. Stein says one thing you must do is change your thinking about uncertainty altogether—

If you tolerate uncertainty rather than trying to eliminate it, your brain eventually learns all of the following:

  • Uncertainty is not dangerous. It’s tolerable. 
  • There is no point to worry; it doesn’t stop bad things from happening. 
  • What worry does is cause you suffering right now, but it does not save you from suffering later on. 
  • Uncertainty does not require your attention. 

Training your brain to hold on to these truths is akin to, as Stein says, operating a spotlight. You change the focus of the spotlight from the uncertainty and worry to whatever you are doing in the present moment. 

All this boils down to a healthy understanding of what you can control and what you cannot control, and resolutely accepting that.

A helpful exercise I have found with uncertain situations is to make two columns on a sheet of paper titled Things I Cannot Control and Things I Can Control. Then write as many thoughts under each column as you can. 

For example, if you are facing the uncertainty of a possible job loss due to cutbacks from COVID-19, you may write under Things I Cannot Control:

  • I cannot control if the company downsizes. 
  • I cannot control when final decisions are made. 
  • I cannot control how the company determines who they’ll let go.

And then, under Things I Can Control:

  • I can control how I prepare to seek employment somewhere else, like updating my resumé or reaching out to business contacts. 
  • I can control the level of job performance I continue to display, in case that is a determining factor for the company. 
  • I can control where I focus the spotlight (whether on the worry or on the present moment), especially when I am around my family. 
  • I can control how I take care of myself, physically and emotionally, so that I have the healthiest approach to uncertainty. 

Uncertainty happens, all the time. We are all at the brink of the ledge, looking down into an unclear pool of water. Remember: this water isn’t something to worry and stress over and fear; it’s tolerable. You might not be in control of how cold it is or how high the ledge is. But you don’t have to let the uncertainty of what you can’t control paralyze you, and anxiety doesn’t have to be something that controls you. You are in control of the first step.

For other great reads on how to handle anxiety, take a look at these:

5 Ways to Handle Anxiety About Loved Ones Getting COVID-19

How I Overcome My Anxiety About COVID-19

How To Help Your Spouse Deal With Anxiety

Are You Setting a Good Example of Self-Care for Your Family?

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This is totally workable. It may not feel this way now, but this situation is a great opportunity—to learn about yourself, to learn about your family, and even possibly grow closer than ever before! The fact that you are asking “why” is a great indication that you want to have a relationship with your family. You haven’t given up or become spiteful and started ignoring them—even though you feel ignored by family. 

It starts with you!

We feel “stuff” all the time that we never stop to question, explore, or investigate. That doesn’t diminish the hurt feelings, but it gives us a place to start. Here are some things to be thinking through:

  • Is it possible they aren’t intentionally ignoring you, but you just feel left out? 
  • Are you taking into consideration three months of COVID-19 quarantine?
  • Is it possible that you’ve said or done something that offended some family members and you haven’t realized it?
  • Have you been trying to communicate with these family members? (Seriously, could they be wondering why you are ignoring them?)
  • Does your family do a lot of their communicating and planning get-togethers on social media and you just are not active in that particular arena?
  • Is it possible that “feeling ignored by your family” is masking the real, deeper issue?

Why you can’t let this go unresolved.

In 2018, a Pew Research Center survey asked, “Where do you find meaning in life?” The clear, number one answer was, “family” at 69%. This was more than double the next highest answer, which was “career.” In other words, family is at the core of where most people find meaning in life, so if there is static in that particular part of your life, there’s a good chance that your whole life feels off-kilter. 

You can’t sit on this. You can’t camp out here. And you can’t wonder. You are going to have to seek out some resolution. 

There is really only one way to resolve this…

If you’ve thought through the above scenarios or possible explanations without any peace of mind or clarity, or if you think there is even a chance that you might have said or done something that offended some family members, there is only one place to go for answers—your family.

With questions like this, a direct approach is probably best. Either there is nothing there and you’re worrying over nothing or there is something there. One word of advice: Use “I” statements like, “I feel like I’m being ignored by family. Did I do something? I really want to make it right,” as opposed to “You” statements like, “Why are you ignoring me? Why won’t you reach out to me? Why are you leaving me out?” The difference is between opening a productive dialogue and making an accusation.

So now that you have a plan—when are you going to ask? You can sit and wonder, or you can take a deeper dive into some relationships in your family. Don’t let it go another day!

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Was I the only one who was worried when COVID-19 forced me into endless hours at home to quarantine with my family? Was I the only one fearful about how this may affect my employment? Anxious about catching COVID-19? Uncertain about the potential damage to my bank account? Concerned about the impact on my children?

No. I’m not the only one. You know how I know? I went to the grocery store and I could feel the anxiety. I scrolled through social media, watched a little news, and talked to people. You could feel it. You could feel the tension and the uncertainty brought on by the coronavirus.

After a couple of weeks, some good advice from loved ones, some timely articles (some written by my co-workers), and prayer, I decided to not allow the outbreak to negatively affect my mental health. A good friend of mine’s words stuck in my mind, “Don’t waste this time.” 

As a leader of a family and within an organization, I needed to be my best self to lead those around me. COVID-19 highlighted my need to be “me” at my best. Being “me” at my best meant taking care of myself so that I could bring the best me into battle with those that are alongside me.

Instead of focusing on what’s been taken away because of the quarantine, I shifted to what needs to be in place for me to be my best. In other words, “self-care.”

Here are the ways the COVID-19 outbreak has improved my self-care. 

  1. Getting outside.  Walks with my wife. Bike riding. Sitting outside while working. Quarantining has helped me be intentional about simply getting outside to work, play, decompress, or chat it up with a neighbor. The experts say that getting some sunshine relieves stress, boosts the immune system, sharpens your focus, improves mood, reduces anxiety and increases creativity. You know what? I concur. I can feel the difference. Sometimes just 15 minutes does the trick.
  2. Exploring my emotions. During COVID-19, we are inundated with information about mental health. Instead of getting annoyed with the information overload, I’ve intentionally identified and explored emotions that I’ve experienced. I’ve done this by talking, prioritizing some quiet time, prayer and writing. Some of those emotions are directly related to the pandemic while some may be a side effect. To identify and explore those emotions with people I trust has been helpful to prevent my emotions from controlling me. My emotions taught me a lot about myself. I should really keep this up.
  3. Connecting with family and friends. Do you know what happens when you’re not always running from one activity to the next? You actually have meaningful, substantive conversations with people you like. Who knew? Simple check-ins with friends, hours-long conversations about life and being held accountable for taking care of myself have all become the norm. Relationships really are what matters most.
  4. Prayer and/or Meditation. Remembering how to be still and be quiet has been beneficial, too. Finding quiet spaces to simply slow down and pray more regularly has helped me be aware of what’s important. Numerous studies show that prayer and/or meditation helps us respond better to trauma and crisis. And just as importantly, it has kept me from that land of fear which can be paralyzing.

Bonus: Watching Documentaries.

I didn’t realize this was so helpful until recently. I have indulged in several documentaries including one by Ken Burns about New York and one he made about baseball. I’ve also checked out The Last Dance about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. It’s been a nice getaway from the mundane and a good chance to learn something new. 

These are all little things that have helped me stay in touch with myself. While working, my focus has been better. Thankfully it has helped me to have more patience with my kids (in other words, I haven’t blown up at them recently). Who knew that there would be positive side effects to being quarantined?

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