How to Manage Emotional Eating

People use different coping strategies when dealing with stress and other overwhelming emotions. Some people use substances such as drugs and alcohol, some smoke cigarettes, and some charge a lot of money to their credit card. And then there are those people who take comfort in their favorite foods.

Emotional eating often leads to weight gain and the development of health issues such as type two diabetes and high blood pressure. If left unchecked, emotional eating can lead to a life-long reliance on eating as a coping mechanism.

If you or someone you love is an emotional eater, becoming more mindful of eating is how you can manage your food issues. Here are some ways to become a more mindful eater:

Keep a Food Journal

Most emotional eaters are completely unaware of the kind or amount of food they eat on a daily or weekly basis. It’s important to start tracking what you consume as well as how much so you can recognize the real issue you may be having. This is not an exercise in harshly judging yourself, it’s simply so you can recognize the link between your emotions and eating habits.

For instance, you may see that Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were pretty okay days, but Thursday was when you got yelled at while you were at work and also got a speeding ticket, and ALSO ate fast food for lunch and dinner and ate almost a gallon of ice cream. Once you see this pattern over and over, that you tend to eat on those days you are stressed, angry, sad, etc., you will be able to start making positive changes.

Make Portions

When we eat emotionally, we don’t stop to think about the amount of food we are eating, we just shove it in as quickly as possible so those carbs can start making us feel better. The next time you find yourself eating based on your emotions, try and catch yourself and meter out a fair-sized portion. For instance, don’t sit in front of the TV with an entire bag of potato chips, take out a small bowl’s worth and put the rest away.

Try Not to Eat Alone

When we are alone, we can eat with abandon. But when we eat with others, we tend to have more awareness about what and how much we put in our mouths. When your day is stressful, instead of going out to lunch by yourself, where you’re apt to hit 2-3 drive-throughs, invite some other people out. This may help you to use more self-control.

These are just a few of the ways you can begin to recognize your emotional eating and gain control over your food choices. If you would like to speak to someone about the emotions you are dealing with and learn healthier coping strategies, please be in touch. I’d be more than happy to discuss how I may be able to help.

Tips to Manage Anger Around Your Family During the Holidays

For many of us, spending time with family can be a grab bag of emotions. While you may feel love and familiarity, there’s also decades-long dynamics between you and your family members that may not be the most healthy. Your family might treat you like the teenager they remember, and you might revert to that role when you’re around your family without even realizing it.

There could be many things that make spending time with family a challenge. Old family conflicts, harbored resentments, and spoken or unspoken disagreements can make you dread seeing them again. If you have trouble managing your anger when you’re around your family, read on for some tips on how to keep your cool.

Define How You Experience Anger

People experience anger differently. Some might get more aggressive, some might withdraw, and some internalize the anger. By being aware of how you experience anger, you can better recognize when that emotion is starting to develop inside you so you can take control of how you respond.

Rehearse Responses

It’s very common for family to ask intrusive or inappropriate questions. You might have a busybody aunt who always asks about your relationships, or maybe your sister is constantly bugging you about starting a family. Come prepared with rehearsed responses so you won’t be caught off guard.

Set Boundaries

It’s important to set boundaries with family. If a family member is aggressive or rude to you, or is always making you the butt of their jokes, your silence acts as approval of their behavior. Because you don’t protest, they think what they’re saying or doing is fine with you. Furthermore, pretending their bad behavior is acceptable only gives them more room to continue the bad behavior, or to get worse. Set boundaries with family and let them know when things they’re saying or doing is not okay with you.

Cut the Visit Short

Sometimes the best option to keep the family peace (and your sanity) is to spend less time. If your family tends to have snacks or drinks before dinner, show up just in time to join the family for dinner at the table. You can also opt to skip dessert or coffee and leave a bit early.

Family relationships are complex and deep-rooted, and family are often the ones who know best how to push your buttons. While managing your anger can be challenging, learning to maintain control over your emotions is a healthy act of self-love. It will not only keep you sane, but it will keep your family relationships unharmed and intact.

If you’re having difficulty navigating complicated family relationships, a licensed therapist can help. Give my office a call today and let’s schedule a time to talk.

How to Find Friends as an Adult

You may remember growing up, meeting your best friend on the playground or making friends in French class. As adults, we don’t have systems built in to make friends like we did as children. We can’t even reach out to loved ones for help, because while it’s socially acceptable to say “I’m looking for a boyfriend”, its not socially acceptable to say “I’m looking for a best friend.” If you want to find a friend as an adult, it’s going to be a lot like finding a romantic partner.

Envision Your Friend

Think about what kind of person your friend would be. Think back to your childhood friends and what made them fun to hang out with. Should your friend be extroverted or introverted? Should they love the outdoors or be a movie buff? Look for qualities in your friend similar to the way you’d look for qualities in a partner.

Go Where Your Friend Would Be

Now that you know what kind of person your friend would be, think about what that person would be doing. Where are they on the weekends? Where do they shop or like to go out to eat? Go to those different places. If you’re an outdoorsy person and want an outdoor-loving friend, find outdoor meetups. Try a hiking or walking group, or sign up for a new fitness class. Keep in mind as you test the waters that you won’t find your friend on your first outing. Just as when you’re looking for a partner, it takes more than just one try. It will take a bit of time and searching.

The Big Ask

When you’re ready to ask out your potential new friend, a great way to get a “yes” is to invite them to a favorite, or to something new. For example, invite your friend to go watch your favorite sports team or over to your house to cook your favorite recipe. You can also invite them to play a new board game, or out to watch a new movie.

Stoke the Fire

You’ll need to nurture your budding friendship by spending more time together. Just as in dating, take it slow and steady, and don’t take anything too seriously at first. Too much too fast could set you up for a friendship that’s not going to work, or might make the other person feel smothered.

You can deepen the friendship by working on goals together. Find out what your friend dreams about. How can you help them meet their goals? How can they help you with yours? Maybe they can help you get ready for a summer swimsuit, and maybe you can help them organize their garage. Find ways to work on things together.

Do you find yourself struggling in social situations? A licensed therapist can help you overcome shyness and improve your social interactions. Give my office a call today, and let’s schedule a time to talk.

Coping with Depression During the Holiday Season

During this time of year, radio and TV ads would have us believe we should all feel merry and bright. Sadly, that’s not always the case. According to the National Institute of Health, many people experience depression during the holiday season.

Some of the most common reasons people experience depression during this time of year are:

  • Financial hardship – ‘Tis the season to be jolly, unless your bank account is overdrawn and your credit cards maxed out. Not having a budget to buy loved ones presents, especially our children, can feel devastating.
  • Stress – It’s easy to become overwhelmed from the added stress of shopping, planning and travel. Studies have found this is particularly true for women.
  • Grief and loneliness – Many people feel incredibly lonely during the holidays. Whether it’s from being single, recently divorced, or having just lost a loved one, the holidays are often a reminder of what we don’t have but wish we did.

If you can relate and are looking for some relief, here are ways you can cope with your depression this holiday season:

Feel Your Feelings

If you are grieving a loss, it’s important that you’re honest about your feelings. Your instinct may be to put on a brave face for friends and family, but forcing yourself to be happy for the sake of others will only make matters worse. Sadness and grief are a part of life, no matter the season, and it is 100% okay for you to feel your feelings.

Give Something Besides Money

If a lack of finances is the primary source of your mood, look for other ways you can give to others. You can volunteer at a local charity. Are you a good cook? Offer to cook for friends and family. If your talent is writing, write your kids a bedtime story or, if it’s painting, paint a beautiful mural on their wall. At the end of the day, thoughtful gifts from your heart will leave the greatest lasting impression.

Focus on Self Care

It’s important that you care for yourself during the holiday season. Eat right, drink filtered water, exercise, and get plenty of rest. While these steps are important for everyone throughout the entire year, they are particularly important for those suffering from depression during the holidays.

Seek Help

Depression is nothing to take lightly. If your depression has lingered, is getting worse, or you’re having suicidal thoughts, it’s imperative that you seek help from a qualified mental health professional. They will be able to help you navigate your overwhelming emotions and offer tools to manage symptoms.

If you’d like to explore treatment options, please get in touch with me. You don’t have to suffer alone. I would be more than happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.

5 Ways to Effectively Manage Anxiety

If you suffer from anxiety, you know that awful feeling when heart races, you start to sweat, and you feel like you just want to run. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness in the United States, affecting roughly 40 million adults. While anxiety can feel debilitating, there are ways you can manage it.

Slow Your Breathing

When we feel anxious, our breathing becomes quicker and shallower. This way of breathing, in turn, makes us feel even more anxious. It’s a vicious cycle.

When you feel the anxiety start to come on, start to focus on your breath and begin to slow it down. Breathe in slowly and deeply for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, then exhale slowly for a count of 4. Repeat this cycle three to five times until you feel yourself begin to calm.

Limit Caffeine 

Drinking or eating anything with caffeine in it can exacerbate your anxiety. Studies have even shown that caffeine can trigger an anxiety attack, so try and avoid or greatly limit consumption.

Exercise

Studies have shown that just 20 minutes of exercise can reduce symptoms of anxiety. Not only does exercising make you feel good about yourself, it actually floods your body with feel-good endorphins, which can totally turn your mood around.

Make a List

One of the worst parts of feeling anxiety is the feeling that you are out of control. One simple exercise to turn this around is to make a to-do list of small, easy-to-manage tasks. Crossing these tasks off your list will actually empower you and make you feel in control again.

Remind Yourself of Reality

When the plane of a nervous flyer hits turbulence, that nervous flyer must remind themselves that the plane is okay, and it is just a normal occurrence to hit turbulence. People who experience anxiety may also have to remind themselves that they are actually okay when an anxiety attack comes on. Simply tell yourself that you are experiencing anxiety but that you are, basically, okay, you are not going to die.

It can also be very beneficial to talk to someone about your anxiety issues. A therapist will be able to offer more tools and advice on how to cope and manage your anxiety.

If you or someone you love suffers from anxiety and would like to explore treatment options, please be in touch. I would be happy to discuss how I may be able to help.

How to Talk to a Loved One About Getting Treatment for Their Mental Health

Just about every family has a “black sheep”; someone who’s always causing trouble, or maybe is more of a free spirit. Sometimes however, the “black sheep” of the family is someone with a serious mental health issue. If you have a loved one who you believe may need mental health treatment, there are things you can do to try and convince them to seek help.

Family and Friends are First Responders

You should see yourself as a type of “first responder” for your loved one. Teachers, employers and even medical professionals that interact with your loved one aren’t likely to do anything to intervene if it appears they need mental health treatment. As their friend or family member, you are their first line for help.

The Importance of Early Intervention

Early intervention is key to improving your loved one’s quality of life. The longer a mental illness goes untreated, the shorter the intervals between the troubling episodes and behavior that’s drawn your concern. As the intervals shorten, the relapses increase in severity; and as their mental illness becomes more severe, the more resistant it will be to treatment. Intervening as early as possible will change the course of your loved one’s life, putting them on a positive trajectory.

Talking to Your Loved One

Prepare your loved one for this conversation by letting them know that you want to have a talk. Let them know it’s because you love them, and that the topic is very important. Make sure they know it’s nothing negative or scary. Set a date and time, and choose a neutral location where they will be most comfortable.

Keep the conversation in the context of your relationship with this person. Make sure they know you’re not rejecting or judging them, but that you love them and are concerned. Don’t attempt a diagnosis, such as “I think you’re bipolar”; leave diagnoses to the professionals. Talk about your feelings and be specific when you’re describing concerning behavior. Instead of vague statements like “you need help”, or “you’re acting strange” give specific examples. “It frightened me when you were yelling the other day,” or “You missed work four times in the last two weeks.”

The Goal of the Talk

Your goal in talking to your loved one should be for them to get a one-time evaluation. Offer to make the appointment, to pay for it, and/or to drive them.

Talking to someone you love about seeking mental health treatment is difficult and awkward, but it is important. Be prepared for them to have an angry response, and if they do, maintain your composure and stick to the theme of your love and concern. It may take multiple attempts to get your loved one to seek help. Don’t be nagging or harassing, but do be persistent.

If you or a loved one are in need of mental health treatment or a comprehensive evaluation, a licensed mental health professional can help. Call my office today, and let’s schedule a time to talk.

5 Ways to Get Your Teenager to Talk to You

It’s tough trying to get your teen to talk. Science has shown that the teenager’s brain has yet to fully develop the frontal cortex, which is the area that controls our ability to reason, and to think before we act. As your teen’s brain develops, they’re also learning new things about themselves and their surrounding world; simultaneously, they’re dealing with hormonal changes out of their control.

For all of these reasons and more, it can be difficult to find ways to talk to your teen, or to get them to talk to you. Although it’s difficult, it’s not impossible; read on to find five ways to get your teenager to talk to you.

Learn to Listen

Take the time to listen to your teenager when they want to talk. Instead of saying you’ll talk to them later, step away from what you’re doing and listen to what they have to say. Don’t talk, interrupt or be quick to offer advice; just listen. Kids have thoughts and experiences that their parents don’t know about, and the best time to listen to them is when they’re asking to talk to you.

Put Yourself in Their Shoes

As you listen to your teen, your knee jerk response may be to quickly resolve their issue, offer advice or maybe even dismiss their complaints or opinions. Put yourself in your teen’s shoes; think about how you would feel if your spouse responded to you the way you respond to them.

Watch for Signs

Everyone has a desire to be heard and understood. As you talk to your teen, mirror back to them what you hear them saying. Watch for signs that they’re not being heard or understood by you. They might roll their eyes, shake their head, wave their hand at you or interrupt. When they’re nodding and/or silent, you’ll know you’ve understood.

Ask Specific Questions

Ask your teen specific questions rather than general “how was your day?” questions. Ask questions about a friend you know by name. Ask about a sport they participate in or a teacher they like. Ask open ended questions such as, “What was Mr. Burton’s class like today?”, or “What was the best thing that happened today? What was the worst thing?”

Location, Location, Location

When and where you try to talk to your teen matters. One of the worst times to talk to kids is after school. Just like you do after work, they need wind-down time. Instead, ask questions around the dinner table. It’s casual, and there’s no pressure for eye contact. The car is another great place to talk to your teen (unless their friends are in the back seat); they feel more comfortable because you’re not looking at them.

If you’re having difficulty communicating with your teenager and need some help and guidance, a licensed mental health professional can help. Call my office today and let’s set up a time to talk.

4 Ways to Improve Communication in Your Relationship

If you’re reading this blog post, chances are you and your significant other have hit a snag in the relationship. Maybe you’re spending less time with each other and you’ve grown apart. Or maybe you do little else than argue these days.

All relationships go through their ups and downs. No matter the good intentions of the individuals or how in love you were when the relationship began, it is completely natural for a relationship to take a hit every now and then.

In some ways, these trials can be a good thing. Much like you need to break down muscle to build it up stronger than it was before, many relationships can be strengthened by challenges, provided your communication is healthy.

Here are some ways to improve communication in your relationship:

1. Recognize the Change

It’s important to be open and honest with yourself and each other. Don’t deny that something has changed in your relationship, admit it openly. You may also need to recognize that each of you has changed over the years. None of us stays the same. Our wants, needs, passions, annoyances, etc. change as we mature and grow as people. People can usually accommodate this change as long as they admit it has happened.

2. Validate Each Other’s Feelings

There are two words that are very powerful in communication, “Yes, and…” Effective communication is not about one person being right and the other wrong. Often, both people are right and allowed to feel their feelings. Try not to attack the other person or get them to compromise on issues. Instead, focus on simply being heard and hearing the other person.

3. Be Ready to Change

If you want to improve your communication as a means to get the other person to change their ways, you are really thinking about this communication thing all wrong! Good communication is not about winning an argument. This is not a debate class. Your goal is to better share your thoughts, feelings, ideas, hopes and struggles with each other. Don’t be so focused on getting the other person to change and focus more on how your own behavior could change.

4. Breathe

Managing your emotions is one of the most important skills when it comes to interpersonal interaction. How often are you ready to blow when you and your spouse or partner are speaking to each other? How does the communication breakdown once you or your partner have become emotional?

When communicating with your partner, or anyone, should you feel your emotions rise, stop, take a slow, deep breath, and let it out. Taking this moment is important and will help you not to say something you’ll regret or that will escalate the situation.

None of us are perfect. All we can do is try to be the best versions of ourselves we can be for ourselves and our loved ones. By following these communication tips you will be able to strengthen your relationships.

How to Practice Self-Compassion

Most of us from a young age are taught how to be kind, considerate and compassionate toward others. But rarely are we told to show the same consideration to ourselves. As they say, we’re our harshest critic. But what if it self-compassion could change that?

What is it?

Self-compassion refers to how we can relate to the self with kindness. This is NOT to be confused with arrogance or selfishness. In actuality, arrogance and selfishness stem from the absence of self-love.

But what does it really mean to be kind with ourselves?

It means that on a day-to-day basis we are mindful of being courteous, supportive and compassionate with ourselves. Too many individuals beat themselves with harsh judgement instead of compassion. Essentially it means be nice to yourself.

Why is this important?

When we engage with practice this, it helps us recognize our unconditional worth and value. It allows us to recognize though we my sometimes make bad decisions, we’re not bad people.

Research, over the past decade, has shown the parallel between self care and psychological wellbeing. Those who recognize the value of being nice to self also tend to have better connections with others, are reportedly happier with their own lives, and have a higher satisfaction with life overall. Being kind to yourself also correlates with less shame, anxiety and depression.

So you know the what and why, now let’s look at the how.

How to Practice Self-Compassion

Treat Yourself as You Would a Small Child

Would you harshly judge or belittle a small child the way you do yourself? Probably not. You would only want to help and love that child. You would want to be nice to that child and have fun with them. You would give them the benefit of the doubt. You would allow them to make mistakes without penalty. When you begin to treat yourself this way, you begin to show yourself the same love, gentleness and kindness you would a small kid.

Practice Mindfulness

Every minute your mind is handling millions of bits of information, though you consciously are only aware of a few of them. Many of us have scripts or a stream of messages running in our minds 24/7. These messages have a tendency to run our lives. They insist we do certain things and make certain decisions.

Some of these scripts are the ones that tell us how “bad” or “unlovable” we are. They’ve been running since we were kids. The way to quiet these scripts is to pay attention to what we are telling ourselves.

Here’s some easy steps to incorporate mindfulness:

First, be mindful of the thoughts we have by paying attention to them. Then, we have to identify the negative statements and messages. Next, evaluate if they are true or not.  Many times negative thoughts we have about ourselves are not true. We believe they are true but when we look for evidence of them we find they’re actually not true. Finally, we need to replace them with positive true thoughts.

Good Will vs Good Feelings

Self-compassion is a deliberate act of kindness we show ourselves; it’s not a way to alleviate emotional pain. Life happens, and it sucks. We can’t always avoid negative or sad feelings. Never mistake self-compassion as a tool to ignore your deep and rich emotional life.

These are just a few ways you can begin to cultivate self-compassion. If you’d like to explore more options or talk to someone about your feelings of self-rejection and judgement, click here. W’d be happy to discuss how cognitive therapy may help.