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Finding Joy Through Gratitude this Holiday Season

canstockphoto7856078I recently listened to a fabulous podcast where Brene Brown was being interviewed. (For those of you that don’t know, Brene Brown is a very well known therapist, researcher, and author. She has written several, brilliant books about embracing vulnerability and recognizing the difference between guilt and shame. Her books have had a big impact on my personal and professional life. I highly recommend all of them.) In the podcast Brene focused on being comfortable in experiencing vulnerable emotions. In particular she spoke about joy.
In Brene’s research she stated that joy was often associated with fear. Her example was simple, but profound. She spoke of a parent lovingly watching their child sleep at night. In that moment of joyful contemplation the parents often reported a high degree of fear right after having the feeling of joy/contentment. What if my child dies at an early age? What if I contract cancer? Everything is so good right now, something has to go wrong soon. When I heard this example I knew exactly what she was talking about! I have had those same thoughts and feelings as I tucked my children into bed. As I thought about it, a lot of times I feel joy I realized it was very often followed up with fearful thoughts that my happiness could only last so long before something went wrong.
The answer to challenging this commonplace problem showed up in Brene’s same research project. She stated there were a number of people that reported after they had joyful feelings they purposely stated thoughts of gratitude to themselves. Instead of leaving the situation feeling fearful and worried, like so many did and do, this second group of people reported feeling joyful, happy, and grateful. These people made mention of giving gratitude to a higher being, a thoughtful spouse, their jobs, health, and many other things that allowed them to feel happiness in that moment. 
 I took this to heart. Over the last week or two when I have noticed feeling happy with my family, marriage, house, holiday season, or really anything, instead of following up with a negative or fearful thought I immediately stated how grateful I was in the moment for that joyful feeling. What a difference! It seemed like the joy I was feeling multiplied and lingered much longer than when I had chaotically thought about what may go “wrong” next to ruin my happiness. It has made me a better wife, mother, friend, and daughter to practice this easy technique.  
This holiday season I challenge you to experience true joy. In those loud or often quiet moments when you find yourself feeling happy, follow those thoughts/feelings up with thoughts of gratitude. Why are you happy? Who helped you achieve that happiness? Why are you grateful for having the joyful feeling?  Extend your Thanksgiving list of gratitude into the Christmas season, and notice the difference it will make. 
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What Every Parent Should Know About “Happily Ever After”

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On any given day, kids and teens may feel joy, wonder, disappointment, rage, jealousy, and endless other emotions. Yet, many kids will inevitably learn from parents or peers that “happy” is the only emotion acceptable to express or even experience. “Happiness” in our culture tends to reign supreme as the highest aspiration – the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It is what we are taught to aim for – what we all deserve.

I commonly hear parents say to their kids:

  1. I just want you to be happy.
  1. “How can you be so down? Just look at all you have to be happy about.”
  1. Just focus on the positive. You’re dragging everyone down.”

Though these parents have good intentions, their statements might imply that if kids are not contented, they are somehow failing, or that happiness is the only feeling others are comfortable with. Children may respond to these messages by feigning a cheerful disposition and generally suppressing negative feelings to please parents. Unfortunately, suppressing feelings can compromise a child’s psychological well-being and fuel unhealthy behaviors.

Pain is a critical part of the human experience and in most cases, it is healthiest to confront it head on. Encourage children to acknowledge and accept emotions, such as anger or hurt, by using mindfulness meditation strategies. If your child seems overwhelmed by her emotions, encourage her to find a way to express them: talk to someone she trusts, write in a journal, create a work of art, or see a mental health therapist. Let us teach children that no one’s life is solely full of sunshine and that to live fully, we must stand in the occasional rainstorm.

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Stronger Relationships Through Vulnerability

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The Pixar movie Inside Out goes into the head of a little girl, Riley, who experiences her world through the lens of her emotions, each represented by a unique character, Anger, Disgust, Fear, Joy and Sadness. Joy is the leader of this group of individual emotions/characters, and works throughout the movie to protect Riley from sad emotions. Finally at the end of the movie, Joy learns that sadness is was pulls people in, and allows Riley to make the connection with her parents that comforts her and helps her begin to manage all the other emotions that are swirling around in her growing brain. That connection with her parents can also be called secure attachment.

Sadness is a primary emotion, and primary emotions are our vulnerable emotions. Sometimes we don’t feel safe being vulnerable, so we mask our primary emotions with secondary emotions. Secondary emotions are the reactions to our primary emotions that are designed to protect our vulnerabilities, so we sometimes use them to put up walls or push others away. This serves an important purpose in situations where we don’t feel safe, but can cause problems when something happens that causes us to feel unsafe with a romantic partner, a family member, or close friend.

If someone we care about does something that hurts us, we might feel sadness, or rejection, or fear, when we are hurting we work to protect ourselves and mask our sadness, rejection, or fear with anger, disgust, or frustration. We lash out to prevent the other person from hurting us more. This behavior starts us on a cycle of pain and protection.

If we can figure out a way to break the cycle, we can rebuild trust and emotional bonds, and regain that sense of comfort and attachment to important people in our life. Just like in the movie, the key to breaking the cycle is to become vulnerable, to express our feelings of sadness or fear. This can begin to change our interactions, and as our loved ones are able to respond to our primary emotions, we are able to be comforted.

The next time your partner expresses anger or frustration or disgust, try to imagine what primary emotion they are experiencing that is being masked, then respond with empathy to that primary emotion. You may be surprised what creating a safe space for them to be vulnerable does for your relationship!

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Is Social Media Dragging You Down?: Studio 5

Is Social Media Dragging You Down?: Studio 5

The original purpose of social media is to connect us, and yet for many women, looking in on others’ lives can leave us feeling inferior, jealous, isolated, or dissatisfied. So how can we put all these posts and pictures in perspective when we seem to get discouraged by them? There’s been quite a bit of research done on how social media affects us psychologically and emotionally. Here are a few tips to help you if you find that it’s dragging you down:

Social media drags you down(1)1. Be Intentional & Interact Directly

Studies have shown that always consuming, or simply binge reading and looking at picture after picture online can negatively impact you. I encourage you to instead intentionally research, seek out information, and connect with people in your life. Engage more and be purposeful; don’t just mindlessly scroll through your feed to fill time.

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5 Tips for Creating a Peaceful Holiday Season

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At the beginning of November my mom sent me a text that read “I just saw my first Christmas commercial of the season…. I’m starting to feel anxious.”  It was meant as a joke between us because of how early the commercial side of Christmas starts.  All joking aside, Christmas can be a very stressful time for a lot of people.  Personally, I can become overwhelmed at Christmas time.  The shopping.  The parties.  The neighbor gifts.  The decorating.  The list goes on and on.  I thought sharing some tips on how I stay peaceful and stress free during this time of year would be helpful.

1) Identify what triggers your anxiety during the holidays.  This seems like a no brainer, but is so important to decreasing your stress.  Is it handing out neighbor gifts?  Is putting up Christmas lights going to send you over the edge?  Figure out what causes so much anxiety and then…

2) Identify what causes you the most joy during this time of season.  Cookie making?  Decorating the tree?  If it brings joy write it down.  At this point you should have a list of what causes you stress and what causes you joy.  Once you have that list…

3) Prioritize.  This time of year is not about doing every last Christmas activity, or attending each and every party to which you received an invitation.  If that is what brings you joy then by all means please enjoy those parties.  If party attendance is on your list of triggers then prioritize which parties are the most important and regretfully decline the others.  The idea is to bring joy into this time of year and push out the things that cause so much stress.  This may change every year.  One year at my house, to decrease stress, we only put up stockings and a Christmas tree.  Another year we only attended select Christmas parties.  We prioritized what was important to us and let the other stuff fall by the wayside.

4) Make special time for yourself and your significant other.  There is so much emphasis on family this time of year.  That is such a wonderful thing.  I love being together with my family and close friends.  Sometimes we forget that we need time for ourselves that does not include Christmas shopping or planning Christmas magic for our family.  Take some time for yourself to relax and enjoy the sights and smells of the season.  Take time with your spouse to be together without throngs of people around.  It will make a big difference.
5) Be grateful.  Being grateful always grounds me to be content and joyful.  Especially at this time of year I love to keep a daily gratitude journal.  It helps keep me centered on what I already have instead of what I need or want as gifts from other people.  Everyday take an inventory of the blessings you have in your life.  It will create a wonderful perspective for the season.
Good luck!  Hopefully as you create and maintain some good boundaries this year your holiday season will be less stressful and more enjoyable.
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10 Tips For Surviving The Holidays

The approaching holidays can be exciting, overwhelming and hard all at the same time.  Here are some tips to not only survive but thrive during the festivities.

1. Live “whole-heartedly” during the holidays

Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston coined the phase after conducting thousands of interviews studying happiness and connection.  “Whole-hearted living” means letting ourselves be deeply and vulnerably seen. Loving with our whole hearts, even when there’s no guarantee. Focus on what is really important.

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