woman walking on a back road
Don Laird

This is where I draw the line

Someone asked me recently for a short list of things that would be helpful in leading a happier life. I explained that happiness, like all emotions, is fleeting. Yet, I started thinking more about her inquiry. It’s not the first time I’ve been asked for such advice.  As therapists, we are trained ad nauseam that giving direct guidance of any kind is frowned upon and unwise.  However, there is a time and a place for directive counsel and the positive effects it can have for a person who just wants her mind to be quiet for a bit.  Often, people are so busy trying to change others around them that they forget that a firm set of boundaries will help settle even the most tempest mind.

So here listed are ten boundaries, not in any particular order, that can act as reminders. Think of them this way; if happiness is indeed fleeting and not a fixed destination then how I am opening myself up to the possibility of happiness, satisfaction and a quieter mind? These are not intended to be a road map, but rather some markers along your path that may be useful.

  1. It is not my job to fix others.
  2. It is okay to say “no.”
  3. I am responsible for supporting others, not servicing.
  4. I can only make myself happy.
  5. I am not responsible for the happiness of others.
  6. Not everyone has to agree with or like me.
  7. I have a right to my own feelings, including anger. It’s how I express those feelings that counts.
  8. I can search for my meaning and purpose without permission from another.
  9. I do not have to put the emotional needs of others ahead of mine.
  10. I am responsible for my feelings and actions.

Living a life worth living shouldn’t include sacrificing your happiness for others. Learning to value and be responsible for yourself and your feelings is not selfishness, it is an act of selflessness that is affirming and empowering. The worth of your day should not be contingent on whether those around you are “happy.” Yes, we do influence others just as they influence us, but their feelings are their feelings, nothing more you can do here. Being supportive and caring is not the same as being in service to another.

We often cling to unhappy lives because change is too frightening, but setting boundaries isn’t as scary or as complicated as it may sound. In short, real change only occurs when you attempt something different. Practicing the above list is by no means a sure bet toward a healthier or happier life, but it is a step in that direction.

If you’d like to discuss boundaries and relationships further or any other mental health concerns, please feel free to contact me or you can schedule an appointment with me.

In good health,
Don

woman relaxing on a wicker chair
Christy Gualtieri

The Passing of Time

I grew up in South Florida, where the weather is pretty much the same year-round: hot and humid.  At Christmastime, folks string lights through palm fronds and set out ice-cold drinks for Santa as they slide into bed with a t-shirt and shorts on, searching outside on Christmas morning for sights of reindeer tracks with flip-flops on their feet. When we moved to New Jersey, the more pronounced seasons were the way to mark time: when the leaves turned colors and fell you knew it was Autumn; when they dripped with fresh, cool raindrops it was Spring. In Western Pennsylvania, it’s still the same – we have our cooler months, snowfalls, rainfalls, and warmer months; but we find different ways to mark time now, and even earlier than we probably should.

Halloween candy is out and ready to go on the grocery store shelves in the beginning of August; so are the costumes. Pumpkin-flavored everything is in full bloom weeks before the regular NFL season begins; and in some big-box stores, the Christmas supplies are already lining the back shelves, inching closer to the front-and-center displays.  My mother passed away January 31st – the day after Valentine’s Day, the Mother’s Day cards were on display, something I was entirely unready for.

(To quote one of my favorite comedians, Pete Holmes: “Not too get all Andy Rooney on ya, but…”) We used to know time by the seasons, but now they’re changing.  We used to know by holidays, but now they’re being pushed up the calendar to the point of absurdity. We are in such a rush to get to the next mile, the next place to stop – only when we get there, we’re so anxious to get to the next one.  We finish an episode of a show and let it roll on to the next once, barely processing what we’ve just taken in. We finish an audio book and tap the button for the next one without a thought. We are in such a hurry.

But where are we going? Where are you going?

If this is something you struggle with, I get it. I’m the same way, and I’ve sadly gotten to the point where if I think of being quiet even for just five minutes in a row, it makes me want to cry for the impossibility of it.  I know the only way out of it is through it – to train myself to be away from media/my phone/TV/radio for a minute at a time to rebuild that muscle of just being able to occupy myself without any outside influence. And it’s hard.  But it’s so, so worth it.

Our time matters, and it’s fleeting.  It’s one minute after another after another, but it won’t always be that way. As you go through your week this week, what’s something you can try to string those moments along in silence, and to give yourself the space to simply observe the world around you? You may start to discover the path you’re on, and all of the exciting things that come with deciding if you want to stay on it or not, or choose something new and wonderful.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

***

eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor online

About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

Friendship
Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk

Part 6: The Essentials of Developing Quality Relationships

by Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk, MSPC, NCC

 A Series of Articles: 6 of 6 – The ‘You’ Factor in Developing Quality Relationships

This series is focused on developing quality relationships. Article 6 of 6 focuses on you, your identity, and your role in developing quality relationships.

How well do you know yourself?

Knowing yourself, the deeper meaning of who you are, and how to apply each to building and nurturing the quality of life you desire is a long-term and at times, difficult process. It takes work, vulnerability, comfort with you as a whole, with each of your facets, and strength. Learning about yourself (i.e., what you enjoy, dislike, how you plan, your work ethic, preferences for physical and emotional intimacy, desires, fears, anxieties, coping style, what you grapple with, and how you engage in relationships) is a key factor in the process of honoring who you are as a human.  Each impact you as a human, and how you engage in relationships. In addition, knowing your identity on a fundamental level assists in navigating the smooth, bumpy, and at times, roaring waters of a relationship.

Developing a deep understanding and commitment to who you are (and aren’t) as a person increases life satisfaction.  In addition, having a stable identity increases the probability of partnering with a person that is more compatible with you.  It’s human nature to desire connection with your partner, independence, interdependence, enjoyment of time together, a level of contentment, safety, and to feel fundamentally on the same page. At times, this is difficult to navigate; especially when negotiating through life, family, morals and values, goals, growth, change, and difficult times.

Part of knowing who you are is developing a strong sense of the following:

Consider the significance of each for you as an individual, and how each positively and negatively impact your relationship.

  1. What do you enjoy, what are your daily habits, and how does each impact your quality of life?

Consider how this supports you, your goals, and what this means for you in a relationship.

  1. What are your educational and career goals? How does this impact you in a relationship long-term?

Consider your goals educationally and professionally.  Then consider how this works with a long-term relationship and decisions on family.

  1. How often do you prefer to have physical intimacy in a relationship? What are you open to sexually? What boundaries will you set?

In addition, consider:  Whether or not your partner has similar preferences, and how to navigate differences in healthy ways.

The above takes time, a healthy self-disclosure-trust ratio (at your personal comfort and pace), vulnerability, healthy boundaries, and openness, as well as, respect. Have fun with it, if and when you decide it’s right for you.

  1. What is your comfort with emotional intimacy?

Consider your comfort with sharing the depth of your emotions and receiving your partners, eye contact, verbal affirmations, and how you express, feel, and give love and support. In addition, explore the meaning of giving and receiving of each in your relationship.

  1. What do you desire for yourself and in a relationship? Is this realistic long-term?

Developing realistic expectations for yourself, for your partner, and the relationship as a whole takes work and exploration. In addition, consider your approach to growth and change throughout long-term relationships.

  1. Check in on mental health.

Consider what you grapple with, how this impacts the ways you engage that may support and/or hinder progress as an individual and in relationships.

Consider how each affects communication styles, mental health, and attachments.

When issues are spilling-over and decreasing your quality of life and/or lowering life satisfaction- be kind to yourself and seek out support.

  1. Honoring yourself and your identity.

Explore what supports and strengthens you and your wellness as a whole person.  Then consider how to implement self-support and honor into your relationship with yourself and with your partner.

  1. Create and implement healthy boundaries.

Whether you’re repressing aspects of who you are, if you’re still figuring out your identity, or if you’ve given yourself permission to explore and honor who you are, you’re still you. Honor who you are by creating healthy boundaries and do so with integrity, respect, by being ethical, and doing no harm to others. Be humble, build awareness of your strength, and implement balance.

At times, it’s difficult to know what healthy boundaries are. The support of a therapist will assist you in identifying and implementing healthy boundaries that honor you as a human.  

  1. Do a self inventory.

Check in with how you’re treating yourself.  Are you treating yourself with kindness and self-compassion, engaging in self-care, honoring your identity, and checking in with how you feel?

Give yourself permission to take inventory of your relationship, your feelings, and the significance of each in your life. 

  1. Have fun in the process.

Engaging in fun is healthy for your brain, for you psychologically and physiologically, it lowers stress, and supports a sense of life balance.  You’ll feel refreshed and more ready to take on what’s important to you each day.

Learning and developing who you are (and aren’t) as a human supports you, your life goals, and allows for you to spend time with yourself in more enjoyable and authentic ways. You’ll feel more whole, more confident, more comfortable in your choices, and you’ll enjoy your relationships more.  With that being said, if you’re not there yet, give yourself permission to explore and uncover who you are in healthy ways- it will nurture and strengthen you as a whole human and each of your facets too 🙂

In conclusion, this series of articles was designed to give you insight into communication, respect, appreciation, attachment, relationships, and in giving yourself permission to develop and honor your identity moving forward. Relationships are work, including the one with yourself.  You’re worth the time, energy, and dedication it takes towards a healthier more satisfying life, identity, and in developing quality relationships.

Learn, grow, & enjoy,
Mandi

***

MandiTurk[1]Mandi Dalicandro-Turk writes about a variety of topics related to mental health, behavioral health, relationships, stress, anxiety, aging, grieving, self-care, therapy, and improving one’s overall quality of life.

Woman enjoying the water in a swimming pool
Christy Gualtieri

Feel The Relax

On the last day of the swimming season, my family and I were graciously invited to the nearby pool by our neighbors, who are mainstays of our township and some of the most entertaining and generous people you’ll ever meet.  I grew up in and around swimming pools, but don’t recently frequent them because whenever you offer me the opportunity to go to the pool alone with my two young children who can’t yet swim, I’ll often decline. (It’s a lot of work trying to keep two alive by myself at once, is all I’m saying.)  But my kids who can’t swim are a bit older now, and have these next-generation floating devices that are way above and beyond anything I had as a kid, so we agreed to go.

It was a beautiful afternoon.  It had been forecasted to rain but it held off, and so it wasn’t as hot as it had been, but not terribly cold, either – the perfect temperature.  We got in the pool and my kids had a great time splashing around, even paddling a bit to the wall in the few feet of water we were in. My daughter bobbed by, a miniature pink buoy, her hands in the water and her face looking ahead, concentrating.  She mumbled something, and I leaned in to hear her:

“Feel the relax,” she said.

I watched as she stretched out her hands, pawing at the water the way a cat would, slowly making her way to the wall from my arms.

“Feel the relax.”

I was just as struck as I always am listening to my kids.  I wasn’t relaxed at all that morning – I was upset at having to buy a bathing suit last-minute (always a terrible experience)  and not looking forward to spending hours at the pool while both kids constantly clawed and clamored on me in the water, having to think about how much sunblock I’d applied and whether it had been enough or not – and I was dumbfounded by how much she knew, inherently, that the power to relax was inside her, just waiting to help.

In the hectic, frenetic weeks before school started and as the end-of-summer activities and to-do lists stretched on, I had completely forgotten all about the point of summer: to relax.  To just stop and observe the world around me. To let my muscles un-tense themselves, to feel the air on my face and the heat of the sun on my skin.

I watched my kids playing, and observed the joy on their faces as they partook in the last of the great summer traditions before school started the next day.  I looked up for longer than a second or two at the cloudless sky, and noticed that the leaves on the trees surrounding the pool were beginning to turn. I listened to the loud roars of the buses passing, and a train that had come by; and when the teenage lifeguard blew the whistle for adult swim, I passed my kids to my husband and went for lap after lap, the same way I used to do when I was little.

I felt the relax, and kept feeling it when we returned home.  Felt it as I threw their suits and towels in the laundry machine, felt it all through dinner, and as I packed my son’s lunchbox the next day.

Sometimes I forget to feel it, still, when the anxieties of the day crowd my mind; but I remember the innate wisdom of my little girl, take a deep breath, and try again.  A new season is coming, after all – and each and every one needs just as much relaxation, wonder, and peace.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

***

eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor online

About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

 

Teacher and pupils
Don Laird

Back to School: A Mental-Health Check List

It’s that time of the year again. When a simple three-word phrase evokes dread for most school-age kids and relief for most parents: “Back to School.” Yet, ask any parent, child or teacher, heading back to the classroom is not without its challenges. It can be an exceptionally difficult time of transition for children who suffer from a mental health or learning issue.

Anxietyespecially unrealistic self-expectations and generalized fear of the world at largeis growing among school-aged children and adolescents these days. Potential root causes for this are both broad and complex, and worthy of a separate, stand-alone article. So returning to school can be an enormously challenging task for any child. Let alone one who struggles with anxiety.

Let’s look at it through a practical lens. Children are away from home and routine, and the rules have changed. The school environment requires certain demands that a typical summer setting does not. Summer rarely needs a child to sit still, stay organized, remain focused and on task and adapt to an extremely structured schedule.

Here are five things you should keep in mind before the first homeroom bell rings:

  1. Anxious Parents, Anxious Kids.

Modeling confidence and calm behaviors are central to most parenting situations, particularly when preparing a child ready for school. By fostering structure and daily routine in family life (bedtime, homework, etc), parents will find this transition period to be much smoother. Giving your kids too many choices about routine can backfire and ultimately put them in the seat of control. Remember, you are the parent.

Anxiety issues and traits can run in families. Children with anxious parents run a greater risk of experiencing anxiety themselves. It is still debatable (just read all the conflicting studies when you are having trouble sleeping) as to whether it is genetics, environment, both or something else, but there is no smoking gun when it comes to the root sources for anxiety.  Yet, it is quite observable that children – and most adults – can be like energy sponges, absorbing energy and assimilating behaviors. Remember, a child is usually no calmer than his or her least-relaxed parent. Anxiety can impact someone’s ability to focus, stay on task and is generally categorized by a state of unrealistic and persistent worry.

Sometimes it can be difficult to vet between what is age-appropriate behaviors and anxiety, but if you have concerns you should first discuss these with your child’s teacher and then a mental health professional should the behaviors continue to escalate.

  1. Teachers Can Be Your Best Ally.

Teachers get to know how a child behaves without family being present. Thus, parents can gain information about learning difficulties and peer problems and friendships. Teachers are your closest allies when it comes to your child’s success in school, and you should talk to them regularly. You will learn more about how your child is navigating his or her world, both academically and socially, by talking with the teacher.

  1. Routines Are Crucial.

Above all, be positive and encouraging. Examples of some good routines might include creating an uncluttered work space in the home; organizing a backpack, reviewing assignments; and discussing homework. You can observe your child’s strengths and weaknesses this way while also establishing and fostering good study habits. Also, be sure that your child is staying hydrated with lots of water and has the recommended amount of sleep for his or her age group.

  1. Don’t Worry.

Kids grow, learn and develop at different rates. A delay in one area of development doesn’t necessarily mean your child has a disorder. There needs to be significant evidence and some testing to reach any firm conclusion. However, if you suspect there might be a problem with your child’s development, talk to her teacher and consult with a mental health professional.

  1. Leave Them Alone.

This may sound counterproductive or even counter intuitive, but a child needs downtime. A schedule that is bursting at the seams, with little or no room for relaxation is also ripe for an anxious or depressed child. Give them time. Life is short, sometimes hard. Don’t unpack your stuff on that person who happens to be your child. Give them breathing room, and let them find out that the world can be a secure and inviting place without regimented schedules.

If you would like to continue the conversation or discuss more techniques to overcoming anxiety, contact me to schedule an appointment or free phone consultation today.

In Good Health,
Don