Making Changes During Lent

Ready to make some behavioral changes in your life? Lent might be a good time to give it a try!

Ready to make some behavioral changes in your life? Lent might be a good time to give it a try!

Lent started last week, so I’m a little behind the ball, but I wanted to write a quick post about it anyway.  For those who don’t know, Lent is a period in the Christian calendar between Ash Wednesday and Easter (40 days excluding Sundays, to be exact).   I’m not an expert in theology or religion, so I’m not going to talk about the religious significance of Lent.  But as a mental health expert, I am going to focus on the practice of “giving something up” for Lent.

Whether you are religious or not, Lent is the perfect time to take a look at our lives and make some adjustments.

Here’s the deal: Most of us think about how we want to live healthier, more frugally, more whatever around the 1st of the year.  We turn these vague notions about healthier living into New Year’s resolutions – even though we know they probably won’t stick.  Do you even remember yours?  New Year’s resolutions don’t typically work because:

  • They are often too vague and general – i.e., “eat healthier” or “save more”
  • There is no specific time frame – the entirety of 2016 is just too broad
  • They are made on the heels of what is often the most indulgent time of the year – “You mean I can’t eat dessert after breakfast, lunch and dinner?” or “I really have to go back to work?” – The drastic change is just too much

But Lent gives us the perfect situation in which to make changes to our lives:

  • The things we “give up” are typically really specific – i.e., soda pop, Facebook or frozen yogurt (yes, these are all things I have given up over the years)
  • The 40+ day time frame is perfect for successful behavior change: It’s not so long that it drags out, but it is long enough to form new habits and routines
  • It comes at a great time of year when there isn’t much else going on – not too many distractions

What are you giving up this year?

Saying “No” To Holiday Stress

Is Thanksgiving really less than a week away? If the thought sends a little bit of panic through your system like it does mine, you might find these tips useful.  My favorite? “Practice Saying No.”  As in:

No, I’m not going to try to out-do all the other moms when it comes to teacher gifts.

No, I appreciate the invitations, but I won’t be attending every holiday event.

No, I’m not going to participate in the rampant consumerism and keeping-up-with-the-Joneses-ism that often plagues the holidays

Oh and another thing: This lady’s stress would be a whole lot less if she ditched the heels. Check it out:

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 1.45.58 PM

New Years Resolutions That Work

I always make New Years resolutions.  Some years they are pretty serious and challenging, other years they are more light-hearted and fun.  Either way, I think using the first couple weeks of January to take stock of where you are, where you’ve been and where you would like to go is a good use of time.

Like everyone else, my New Years resolutions often include things related to healthier living.  These might include resolutions involving nutrition, exercise, home management (financial matters, tidy-ness, etc).

But I also like to include resolutions involving my social well-being and relationships.  This might mean taking a look at how I spend my time and who I spend it with.  Am I spending my time as wisely as I spend my money?  Are there relationships that need to be re-kindled?  Others that need to be changed or ended?  Having a healthy, fulfilling social life (and that means very different things to different people) is a huge part of overall mental health, so it should be a part of our New Years resolutions too!

Sometimes I add a professional goal to my list of resolutions – some years it just feels important to make some changes, and some years things have been humming along just fine.  Either way, January is a great time to ask yourself: “Am I where I would like to be professionally?” or “Where would I like to be at the end of the year and what can I do to get there?”

Lastly, I like to add at least one (sometimes more) resolution involving my hobbies.  Some years it has been as simple as “find a new hobby” other years it has been more refined (like the year I resolved to learn to crochet).  This year I have resolved to write down all the books I read (I read 2-3 each week so it feels important to keep track!).  Regardless of what it is, avocations – or hobbies – are another important part of overall mental health so they need to be included too.  Plus these resolutions tend to be a lot more fun – and easier – than going vegan or working out everyday.

Regardless of your resolutions, remember to keep them reasonable and do-able for your best chance of success!

What are your resolutions this year?

 

 

Suicide and the Holidays

DSC03140

I have spent way too much time in the last 5 days grieving people in my community who have taken their own lives.  It’s been horrible.

I don’t know if we (meaning my little town in Northern Colorado) are the norm or not, but we have been inundated with loss since the end of November.  We are all shaking our heads and wiping our eyes, and wondering the same things:

Why?

and

What could we have done differently?

Sadly, we won’t ever get answers to these questions (the cruel and heartless aftermath of suicide).  In fact, even the most expert of the experts on suicide struggle to know how best to prevent it.  So here’s my thought:

We have to talk about it

Often

With everyone

What I mean is: we need to talk with our kids about suicide and sadness and rash decisions from the moment they can understand such things (which is probably younger than we give them credit for).  We need to talk to our parents and grandparents and nieces and nephews.  We need to talk to our partners and spouses about coping with feelings of sadness and despair.  We need to make resources like this available and even prominent in our homes.

The holidays can be painful and lonely for so many of us.  But suicide never helps.

Reach out, talk and share.

Suicide Prevention Lifeline  1-800-273-TALK

Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-TALK

 

 

Halting Holiday Stress: Family Conflicts

Screen shot 2014-11-19 at 2.11.33 PM

We all have them: family members we just don’t get along with.  Whether it’s because they’re simply annoying, overly obnoxious or outrageously opinionated – just because we’re related to someone doesn’t mean we get along.  Sadly the holidays often make these relationships worse.  Between spending more time than usual together (whose idea was it to make Thanksgiving and Christmas so close together, anyway??) and high expectations for picture-perfect holiday celebrations, this time of year can be a perfect storm of family turmoil.

So what can be done to ease the inevitable tensions that arise among even the most well-adjusted of families?

We are who we are.  Just because it’s the holiday season doesn’t mean that our annoying family members are going to get any less annoying.  In fact, if they do any changing at all it will likely be to become even more irritating (all that booze, heavy food and stress just doesn’t improve things).  With that in mind, it can be best to keep expectations relatively low and realize that that we all have our quirks.

Quality vs. Quantity.  Sometimes we spend so much time together over the holidays, that we simply overdose on each other.  Instead of spending large amounts of time together, consider focusing on quality time together instead – focusing on fun, meaningful and memorable activities or conversations together.

Lose the Booze.  As mentioned above, alcohol often brings out the worst in our personalities.  It can lead us to say things we shouldn’t, get more irritated with others – and more quickly, and can increase the potential for family conflict when we’re spending more time than usual together.  While just thinking about the holidays and the accompanying family time can make some folks reach for the wine glass, keeping alcohol intake to a minimum may actually make the season go more smoothly.

Happy Holidays!

 

 

Mental Illness and the Holidays

Screen shot 2014-11-11 at 2.10.47 PM

As soon as Halloween rolls around, psychologists around the country know to expect their phones to start ringing.  The combination of shorter days (and less sunlight), the time change and the impending holidays proves to be a tough mix for a lot of us.  As a result mood can go down, anxiety can go up and mental health can fly right out the window.

There are about a million reasons why the holidays can be hard on our mental health.  But contrary to popular opinion, it’s not just those who have lost a loved one who might struggle during this season.  It’s also those who have strained family relationships, those who struggle financially, those who aren’t where they thought they’d be at this point in life, and those who don’t feel they measure up at any point in the year – let alone this one.

The holidays are also tough on mental health because so much is expected of us.  We’re expected (often by ourselves AND others) to have perfect homes, perfect clothes, and perfect appetizers set on a perfectly-decorated table.  We’re also expected to have smiles on our faces, thanks in our hearts and plenty of joy and Christmas cheer to spread to everyone (even when we don’t feel it ourselves).  Some of us don’t get invited to any holiday gatherings and feel dejected about that.  Others get invited to so many parties that the entire month of December is spent in the car scurrying from one festivity to another.  Some have no one to celebrate with, others have plenty of people around – but not the one they wish were there.

No matter how you cut it, the holidays are tough on mental health.  For that reason, it’s important to be aware of the resources around us to help us get through until January 1st.  Here are a couple useful links:

Surviving the Holidays – With Flair

Tips for Reducing Holiday Stress – Produce for Kids

Tips for Parents on Managing Holiday Stress – APA

If times get really tough and you’re finding it hard to cope alone, consider reaching out to a psychologist.  Here’s how to find one close to you:

APA Psychologist Locator

Psychology Today

If you need to talk to someone right away, try:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Suicide Hotlines by state

 

Halting Holiday Stress: Just Do One Thing

Is wearing matching PJ's your favorite part of the holidays? Then go for it...maybe just not this particular pair.

Is wearing matching PJ’s your favorite part of the holidays? Then go for it…maybe just not this particular pair.

If you are a Pinterest addict like me, then you know there are about a zillion crafty/creative projects and activities you could be doing this holiday season.  In fact, it’s easy to feel like a big holiday failure if you don’t:

  • send out handmade cards
  • make cookies for all your neighbors and friends
  • decorate both the inside and outside of your house by the end of Thanksgiving
  • go caroling
  • feed the homeless
  • make your own nativity scene, advent calendar and stockings
  • buy (or better yet, make!) matching pajamas for your family
  • enjoy several holiday traditions with your perfectly-behaved children and pets by doing things like reading aloud together, making gingerbread houses and singing Christmas carols

I know I left out a whole bunch of other projects – but you get the point.  The number of things we “should” do around the holidays and the things we actually want to do – or physically can do – is much more limited.

So this year, instead of writing a mile-long to-do list, pick just one or two things to do.  And do them well.  And enjoy them while you’re doing them.  And have that be enough. For me, I truly love Christmas cards (giving and receiving!) so that’s where I will be putting the majority of my creativity energy this year.  How about you?

 

Stop Holiday Stress Before It Starts

Screen shot 2014-11-06 at 11.04.10 AM

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and my neighbors have already put up their Christmas lights…must be time to start talking about holiday stress!  In an effort to help all of us manage the expectations, pitfalls and joys of this year in an effective way, I am going to offer up a bunch of posts over the next 6 weeks on how to cope with holiday stress.  Here’s my first tip:

Start planning for Christmas now.

No, you don’t have to start playing Christmas carols, but coming up with an idea of what and when you might get things done is a great idea.  By my count there are 7 weekends between now and Christmas (and one of those is Thanksgiving weekend) which means we have plenty of time to do things like:

  • decorate
  • shop
  • bake
  • volunteer
  • go to parties
  • host a party
  • wrap gifts
  • send cards
  • make plans to get out of town
  • whatever else is part of your holiday tradition

So pull out your calendar and see what you can get scheduled.  You will thank yourself in a month!

 

 

Are You Cool Enough to Be Stressed?

Did you know that hip, important and interesting people are pretty much stressed out all the time?

No?

Well, log into Facebook, Twitter or Instagram – better yet check out the latest on Pinterest and the blogosphere and you will see in fact that cool people are highly stressed and super busy, like all the time.

Not true, you say? Unfortunately it is what many of us feel.

photo credit

photo credit

At some point in the last – oh, I don’t know – 20 to 30 years it became super cool to say “I’m so stressed!” and “Life is crazy right now!” and “I don’t know if I can keep going at this pace – aggghhh!”  The only problem with this idea is that it isn’t so cool when this stress leads to heart disease, psychological disorders and other health issues.  Come to think of it, being super stressed doesn’t actually make you cool at all.  It just makes you stressed.  And probably a little bit irritable.  And maybe prone to do things you probably shouldn’t like eat too many candy corns or drink too many lattes.

But yet the idea persists that the more stressed you are the more important you must be.

This holiday season I am going to take a stand against the often-super-stressful months of November and December by offering tips (I’ll shoot for a couple times a week as I am trying to keep my stress down, too!) on keeping the holidays simple, the stress low and the fun high.

Do you have tips, strategies or plans for lowering your stress this holiday season? If so, please send them to me at stephanie@drstephaniesmith.com and maybe they will get included on the blog!

And check out this article on Psych Central that I got to be a part of:

Screen shot 2014-11-03 at 12.29.11 PM

 

Happy (Healthy) New Year!

cute cuties

I don’t know about you but but December 31st each year I am super-ready for some healthy eating after a month of splurges, parties and cookies galore. I wrote some tips for “getting back in the healthy saddle” over at LiveWell Colorado.

And I will be putting those tips in place right after I go to that party tonight, then make that delicious french toast tomorrow, then have that big pasta dinner to celebrate New Year’s Day – well, maybe on the 2nd 🙂

Here’s a teaser:

After a long couple of months of parties, holiday cookies and all other manner of food indulgences, January 1st can be a time to “get back in the healthy saddle.” Some of us look forward to going back to the routine of work, school, exercise and more moderate food intake; but others of us can struggle to give up the sweets and treats that have been so abundant since Halloween.

So how can you return to (or start) healthy and sustainable eating and exercise habits in the new year?

One step at a time.

It can be tempting to set lofty goals like exercising everyday, never eating dessert and giving up soda on January 1. But for most of us, setting multiple, large goals at once just isn’t realistic.

To increase your chance of success, try setting one or two small, manageable goals at a time. For example, take a walk two times per week, and limit sodas to once per day. Once you have achieved your initial goals, add more – eventually you will get to where you want to be.

Read the rest of the article at LiveWell Colorado.