Why I Hate the Holidays (Hint: It’s the Most Stress-filled Time of the Year)

no turkey

Sorry to be a downer, but I find the holiday season to be the most stressful and unpleasant time of the year.  Each year at this time, I find myself daydreaming of far away beaches, mountains, deserts, plains – anywhere that would provide an escape from the stressors of the holidays at home.

Many folks have very good reason to find the holiday season difficult: the death of a loved one, the break-up of a marriage, the loss of a job.  These painful events can make the holidays excruciating for people, and I don’t want to discount the real-ness of their pain.  But their are also other – albeit less tragic – aspects of the holidays that can make them a struggle for people as well.

Our families don’t change.  Very few of us have “perfect” families.  Awkward blended families, alcoholic uncles, inappropriate in-laws – we all have at least one family member that drives us crazy – or worse.  But for some reason, many of us expect that our families will be magically transformed after Halloween and become the happy, smiling, super-functional families we see on cookie tins and Christmas cards.  Well, hope all you want folks but the family you started the year with is the same one you’re stuck with now – maybe even worse.

There’s only one Martha Stewart.  Ms. Stewart started a wave of domestic arts that seems to be reaching a fever pitch with the growing use of Pinterest, Etsy and similar sites.  I have to admit, I do love crafts and all things Martha, but the pressure to look perfect while serving the perfect meal in the perfect house while your perfect children are doing a perfect craft is overwhelming, and quite frankly impossible to achieve.  There’s is only one Martha Stewart people – and you are not her.

A lot of traditions are dumb.  <—– OK, that wasn’t a very mature sentence, but it’s true.  Roasting a turkey on Thanksgiving because it’s “tradition?”  Ick.  I can be just as thankful (and a whole lot more gastronomically satisfied) with a big plate of spaghetti and meatballs.  So why do I stress out about making a bird every year? Beats me.  Sure, there are a few, very meaningful traditions in my family which I love – but what I would really love is to ditch the dumb ones that drag me down and make the holidays drudgery.

They’re so darn long.  Why, oh why do we need to start celebrating one holiday after another with no break whatsoever starting on October 15th?  Seriously, two and a half months of anything will get old.  And the holidays are no different.  The retail chains and box stores may be a lost cause when it comes to shortening the holiday season, but at least I can resist celebrating Christmas until at least December.  Better yet, December 24th.

Bah humbug.

Click here for more tips for managing holiday stress.

Click here for more about why the holidays are tough.

Click here for more about surviving the holidays with flair.

 

 

 

What Glee Taught Me About Resilience

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I have to admit that I have asked that question…what is resiliency in mental health and psychology?

It’s a concept that is mentioned in mental health all the time.

Here’s what I knew before tonight:

  • It’s something we’re supposed to build
  • It’s something that can protect us from experiencing mental illness in some cases
  • Having resilience can help us cope with the ups, downs, traumas and tragedies in life

I knew these things. But I didn’t really know what resilience looked like.  Until tonight.

Gleeks will know that tonight was the season premiere of Glee; and the first episode after the death of it’s star Cory Monteith.  We all knew it was going to be a tear-jerker. But what I didn’t anticipate is that we would get to see psychological resilience personified in Lea Michele as she opens the show by singing Yesterday by The Beatles.

It must have been difficult; returning to work after her co-star and boyfriend’s death.  And it must have been a struggle to sing; let alone sing a sing so filled with meaning.  And I can’t even imagine the strength it took to do it all, in front of all of us.

But she did.  And that’s resilience.

Thank you Glee and Lea Michele for teaching me something about psychology tonight.

 

 

Who is Your Therapist Anyway?

San Fran 2009 016

I was recently interviewed in this article that came out in the Colorado Springs Gazette this weekend.  The article is long, but worth reading because it tells a fascinating story of a man who isn’t necessarily who he says he is.  Take a look.

Regardless of what is really going on with the gentleman featured in the article, the article brings up an important point:

Know who your mental health care providers are.

As a psychologist, I sometimes forget that not everyone knows the difference between types of therapists (and there are many) and the importance of understanding who might best suit your needs.  Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Being a licensed provider is important.  Licensure is important because it means the state where the therapist resides regulates their practice of therapy.  Backgrounds, education and other information has been checked by the state; and in most cases a comprehensive examination has been passed.  Many states also require continuing education credits to maintain one’s license.  So, how do you check to see if your therapist is licensed? Just ask and they should happily give you an answer and also provide you with their license number. Easy!
  • Education is important…or is it?  There are many paths to become a therapist.  There are marriage and family therapists, clinical social workers, professional counselors, school psychologists, clinical psychologist and psychiatrists.  Here’s the deal: while the differences are extremely important to me (I am a psychologist after all), they probably aren’t to you. As long as you have established that a therapist is licensed and has at least a master’s degree in something like psychology or counseling – they are probably worth checking out.
  • Trust your gut. Therapy is a funny thing: it requires you to reveal things about your life and emotions that you typically don’t.  Because of that, safety and security are hugely important.  So is goodness of fit; meaning you need to feel comfortable with your therapist.  So if something feels “off” or “weird” or not quite genuine, perhaps it is time to ask some questions to your therapist or find someone else.

Want more information about therapy, therapists and what it takes to become a psychologist? Check out these articles:

What is a Psychologist Anyway?

What a Psychologist Really Thinks About You

Psychotherapy Is Not Dead

 

The Psychology of a Text Message

As I wrote about a couple of days ago, I am weathering the storms and flooding along with my fellow Northern Coloradoans. It’s been a pretty amazing time – as anyone who has been through a natural disaster can attest. Fears, worries and anxieties butted right up against feelings of strength, hope and awe at the heroes and helpers among us.

Now that the danger has passed (at least for my community), I have been able to sit back and reflect on the last few days.  Here’s what I have come up with:

Text messages matter. 

What I mean is that in times of crisis or grief (or any big event, for that matter), reaching out to people can mean a whole lot.  And the reaching out can be as small as a little text like “I’m thinking of you” or “R U OK?”  It takes just moments, yet it can be so powerful.  Sure, a short voicemail, email or Facebook message will also do.  Just something that lets folks know they are not alone and that someone has them in mind.

I’m a little bit ashamed that I haven’t been better at reaching out to friends and family when I know crises have struck their communities.  I’ve never wanted to be a “burden” or “get in the way.”

Now I know better.

No one is bothered by receiving a quick note of comfort or support.  And it is something we can all make time to do.

Want to help flood victims? Check out these opportunities.

 

Coping with Flood-Related Stress

Flooding in Colorado

Flooding in Colorado

I live and work in Northern Colorado, and this week we have been in the midst of some pretty significant flooding.  Sure, we are used to big snows, tornadoes and persistent droughts – but this flood thing is new to many of us.  What all these weather-related events have in common, though, is the anxiety, fear and worry that accompanies them.  It can be especially tough on our littlest family members.

With my own anxiety, fear and worry swirling, I am trying to use the coping strategies put forth by others before me:

TURN OFF THE TV!  Yes, I know all-caps is the typist’s form of shouting – but I think it is something to shout about.  I estimate that it takes the local news  5-10 minutes to update me on everything I need to know about the storm, the flooding and a bit about the world outside of Colorado.  After that, the pictures are repeated, the warnings more urgent and the predictions more dire.  It’s no wonder that after about 10 minutes of watching (or reading, or YouTubing or Facebooking) I notice my anxiety level soar.  So, this tip is kind of a no-brainer: watch the basics then TURN IT OFF!

Connect with the gang.  Folks often describe feelings of closeness with their community during tough times. I am seeing this all around me.  Neighbors chatting, planning and organizing; co-workers banding together to help the cause; community organizations reaching out in ways they normally don’t.  Connecting with your community can be a really effective way to combat the emotional turmoil that accompanies natural disasters.

Keep on keeping on.  Whether we realize it or not, most of us have some pretty effective stress management strategies on board already.  For example, I love to watch House Hunters as a way to wind down. Other folks might find reading, praying or walking to be particularly effective at managing stress.  The key is, now that we are REALLY stressed, let’s not forget the coping strategies that work for us. That might mean getting creative and reading by candlelight instead of lamp light, but the effect is the same.

For more ideas about managing distress related to the floods (or other natural disasters), check out the American Psychological Association’s Help Center.

 

Party at the VMA’s: Miley, Gaga and Why We Missed the Best Part

Ahhhh…the Video Music Awards.  Who can resist the yearly display of pop culture including good music, crazy fashion, wild dances; and let’s not forget the annual controversy.

Madonna kissed Britney in 2003:

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Kanye stole Taylor’s thunder in 2009:

…and who can forget Lady Gaga’s meat dress in 2010. Delicious:

When I turned on my computer this morning, everyone was talking about the performance delivered by Miley Cyrus (aka Hannah Montana) at last night’s VMA’s.  This Disney-star-turned-sex-kitten’s (was that what her costume was?) song was the most talked about of the night. She gyrated, stripped down to a skimpy outfit and danced in a super provocative way with Robin Thicke (even causing the host to comment that she might have become pregnant from all the grinding).

Here’s the thing: people are flipping out about her performance. And for the life of me I can’t figure out why. Yea, it was sexy and risque, but so was Lady Gaga’s number.  Come to think of it, there were plenty of scantily-clad women shaking their booties to hither and yon. What’s the big deal? I really have no idea.

Sadly, I think we are all missing the most provocative, exciting performance of the night: Macklemore.  Forget all the hoopla surrounding Miley and check out Macklemore’s touching performance below:

In a few years we will look back and feel bored at Miley’s gyrations, but Macklemore’s words about acceptance, human rights and loving one another are timeless and meaningful no matter when they are heard.

 

 

 

Grieving Cory Monteith and Coming Clean About Addiction

It has taken me the 13 days since Cory Monteith’s death to write this post.  And I am still not sure what to say.

Regular Dr. Stephanie readers know that I am a Gleek. I have often written about the show’s messages about mental health and diversity. More than anything I simply love the characters and the music.

So, like many others around the world I was heartbroken to hear about Cory Monteith’s death of what turns out was a mixture of heroine and alcohol.

What can I say, and what can we learn from this extremely sad event?

  • Life is short
  • The death of a friend, a lover, a co-worker and even a TV idol can be tremendously painful
  • Substance abuse can happen to anyone, any family and in any circle of friends

Perhaps it is this last bit that can be the most shocking: anyone – no matter how rich, popular, talented, loved or good looking – can fall prey to substance abuse and addiction.  Addiction knows no bounds, and it is one heck of a liar; making it tough for even the closest of friends to spot its presence. Most of us know that sheer force of will can’t stop an addict from using, but we do know that support of friends and family can help make the path to sobriety a bit less arduous.

If you have a friend or family member who you believe is struggling with addiction, or has come to you for help check out the resources below:

RIP Cory Monteith.

 

 

 

 

Un-Plugging in the Summertime

I’m excited to announce that this post on unplugging on vacation is being featured on BlogHer today! Check it out!

Summer Vacation: Plugged or Un-plugged?

Have you taken your summer vacation yet? If not, you may find yourself pondering this very question: Should I stay plugged in, or go all-in and un-plug the world? I was having this debate conversation just last night.  Are vacations better if they are completely un-plugged? Is it even possible?  Will my vacation be more beneficial if I don’t check my email, voicemail, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and beyond?

What about when I return: Will the re-entry to my “real” life be more difficult if I have a week or two worth of messages waiting for me?

Here’s my take:

Vacations come in all shapes and sizes.  There’s the quick weekend getaway, the family reunion trip, the sightseeing/cultural trip, the boy scout camping trip, the Disney World trip and the long, lazy summer trip.  It might be no big deal to stay plugged in (meaning checking voicemail, email, etc) on short trips like weekend getaways.  In fact, staying plugged in to the “real world” might be the only thing that gets you through kid-focused trips (like to Disney) and can provide excellent excuses for escape on family reunion trips.

Camping trips and long, lazy summer trips are different in my book.  These vacations should most certainly be experienced un-plugged.  These types of trips are meant to be savored and should be a complete change of pace from your normal life. We can’t be expected to truly un-wind, re-group, and relax if we are constantly updating Facebook or responding to customer inquiries.  Sand castles and s’mores are meant to be relished – and who can do that while responding to email?

How do you decide whether or not to un-plug?

Mental Health Blog Day Update

Yesterday was APA’s Mental Health Blog Day.  They did a great job of rounding up some great bloggers to dedicate posts to mental health.  Some of the bloggers are health writers, some not – but either way there was some great information shared! Check it out:

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Some of my faves:

How clever are these blog titles? I just love discovering new, creative and entertaining bloggers.  For a full list of Mental Health Blog Day participants click here.

Oh! And you can see my contribution to the party here: Mental Health Isn’t All Sadness and Worry; Doom and Gloom