How To Have A Conversation With Your Family That’s Actually Interesting

OK, here’s what conversations often sound like in my house:

“Did you write a check for the mortgage”

“No! I forgot, can you do it!?”

and

“Did you practice piano yet?”

“Kind of.”

and

“Do we really have to go to your cousin’s sister’s daughter’s birthday party this weekend?”

“Yes, because she came to our party last year.”

and my favorite:

“How was your day, honey?”

“Fine.”

None of these “conversations” are particularly interesting or stimulating – and they certainly don’t do anything to help the participants feel closer to each other.  Instead, they simply allow us to continue the business of running our household and nothing else.  We are all guilty of this – surface, business-like conversations with those in our family (whether that family has two members or ten) – instead of meaningful, engaging exchanges.

When we first got to know our partners, we talked for hours about all kinds of interesting things.  I would bet none of our first date conversations included topics like bills, carpools and trash day.  And when our kids are young, they ask about a million questions everyday on all kinds of unique topics.  But, by the time our relationships have seasoned and our kids are into things like friends and electronics, conversation can easily fall to the wayside.

I recently wrote an article over on Produce for Kids about how to jump start dinner conversation.  The article was mostly focused on families with children at home, but I think the ideas can be used in any kind of family.  Check it out:

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What If You Knew Depression As A Doctor And A Patient?

One of my favorite psychologists is Dr. Deborah Serani.  She is quite the mover and shaker in the field of psychology.  She’s a professor, a clinician, an author – and she has also struggled with depression since childhood.  Dr. Serani recently gave a TedX Talk at Adelphi University.  Check it out:

Dr. Serani’s talk is incredibly moving. She gives a touching description of what it’s like to be depressed as a child. And also a very detailed account of her suicide attempt as a very young woman. Dr. Serani offers expertise on how to best manage mental illness, including “consistency, consistency, consistency” when it comes to psychotherapy and medication. I also appreciated the way she describes how self-care plays a part in managing her mental illness, including vigorously guarding her sleep, and being selective in who and what she lets into her life.

Dr. Serani concludes her powerful talk by offering words of encouragement to those suffering (and treating) mental illness:
“There is hope, there is healing.”

The Case For Summer Camp

Camp in Colorado? Sign me up!

Camp in Colorado? Sign me up!

As a kid, my favorite part of summertime was overnight camp.  In fact, some of my very favorite memories come from my weeks spent on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay at a sailing camp.

Now as a parent, I want my kids to have their own wonderful camp experiences.  Why? Because a lot can be learned from spending a few nights away from home.  Being a camper can teach kids a lot:

Let the fun begin!

Let the fun begin!

How to navigate social situations on their own.  Admit it, most of us can be helicopter parents at times – even thought we know it’s not in the best interest of our kids.  At camp, kids are able to make friends and social decisions on their own, out from the watchful eye of mom and dad.  Doing this, and being successful encourages self-esteem and confidence.  What could be better?

How to have fun without technology and social media.  It’s hard for all of us to put down our phones and tablets – and no one struggles more than kids.  They’ve never known life without them! Summer camp is the perfect time to learn that a million awesome things can happen without electronics (hiking, swimming, canoeing, kickball, crafts).  What’s more, they’re still awesome even if they aren’t shared on Instagram!

How to move past your comfort zone.  Whether it’s taking on the high ropes course, eating freshly caught fish, sleeping under the stars, or making friends with someone from a different culture or background, summer camp is chock full of opportunities to stretch and challenge kids in ways they never are at home.

It’s also important to note that summer camp holds some important lessons for parents, too.  Namely, how to start letting go of our precious babes.  I have to admit that it was harder to say goodbye to my kids when I dropped them off at camp than I thought it would be.  I’m making it through, but definitely counting down the days until I see them again.

 

Packing for camp with StickerKid

Packing for camp with StickerKid

Check out these cute stickers and labels, perfect for school and camp:

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This post sponsored by StickerKid.

 

Celebrating 10 Years On Briggs Street

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I am so excited to be celebrating 10 years in my office on Briggs Street in Erie.  Erie has grown a lot since I arrived here, and the little downtown (where my office is located) has really blossomed in the last year.  The local Farmer’s Market, town festivals,  and the Homecoming parade all happen right outside my front door.  There are also a bunch of local restaurants, cafes and brewpubs on my block.  I can’t wait to see what the next 10 years bring!

Standing With the Citizens of Orlando

Photo Credit

Photo Credit

I am joining the voices of so many others in the last few days in offering my thoughts, prayers and condolences to folks in Orlando and beyond.

If you’re looking for resources on coping with distress after the events in Florida, check out some of my past posts:

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And here are a couple of resources from the American Psychological Association:

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Lastly, check out this thoughtful and useful article over at Huff Post about How to Help Orlando Shooting Victims and Their Families.

#OrlandoUnited

When You’re Too Embarrassed To Get Help

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I really wish I knew how many people think about starting therapy, but don’t actually do it.  Because my hunch is that it’s a whole heck of a lot.

We hear people talking about the stigma around mental illness and mental health treatment all the time, and honestly I think the one who suffers from this stigma is often ourselves.  Here’s what stigma against mental health treatment looks like when we use it on ourselves:

  • I should know how to fix this myself
  • I am a __________ (insert title: therapist, physician, teacher, etc), I should know how to deal with this on my own!
  • I am too smart to have anxiety (or depression)
  • I don’t have anything to feel worried or depressed about
  • I have good friends and a supportive family, I shouldn’t feel so bad

The fact is, public education about mental health has been so good in recent years, that most of us wouldn’t dream of saying any of the above statements to a friend, loved one, or stranger.  We know mental illness isn’t:

  • A choice
  • A weakness
  • A comment on one’s intelligence, place in the world or likeability

But yet some of us still say these unhelpful, untrue things to ourselves.  Why?  Because the stigma around mental illness still exists.  It’s fading for sure, but it has a long way to go.  So if you find that you are talking yourself OUT of getting mental health treatment, label those thoughts for what they are: junk.  Then pick up the phone and do what you need to do to take care of yourself.

To find a psychologist near you, check out APA’s Psychologist Locator service. It’s a free, easy place to start.

 

Chicken Avocado Enchiladas With Produce for Kids

Happy Summer!  School’s been out for exactly one week, and the excitement has just about worn off.  Which means we’re looking for things to do that aren’t: watching TV, playing video games or zoning out on the ipad!

One of my favorite hobbies is cooking.  Luckily,my kids share my interest.  So the other day we decided to try a recipe from this awesome cookbook:

We agreed on the Chicken Avocado Enchiladas, then headed to Costco to pick up the ingredients (or as close to the ingredients as we could get at Costco since I didn’t want to go to the grocery store, too!)

ingredients

I couldn’t find ripe avocados, so I bought this pre-made gauc.  I also have one family member who HATES yogurt, so swapped that for sour cream.

We checked all the steps, then were ready to get started!

getting ready

Another thing I forgot to mention was that I needed A LOT of enchiladas.  I’m trying to stock my own freezer, but also have a new nephew so I wanted to make a tray for that family, as well as another family who is dealing with illness.  So, I bought 2 of those rotisserie chickens at Costco to save time.  Here it is:

chicken

I didn’t get a shot of us shredding the chicken, but I am pleased to say that I didn’t have to do that much.  My girls are now old enough to take over that hideous job. Woohoo! Then we mixed in the goodies:

stuffing

Rolling them up:

rolling 'em up!

Into the tray:

filling

Finished product!

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It was actually a great time to teach a bunch of kitchen lessons:

  • How to substitute ingredients
  • How to shred chicken (yay!)
  • How to double or triple a recipe
  • How to package food up for later consumption (including the importance of writing instructions for cooking on the packaging!)
  • The powerful role food plays in supporting our friends and family

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Ready to go:

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Oh! And we also had them for dinner that night.  They were a huge hit.  The sauce (which we served on the side) was amazing, and the chicken was super tasty.  Definitely a keeper!

dinner's ready!

Check out this recipe and many more in Healthy Family Classics.

P.S. We’ve also made One Pot Chicken Lo Mein and Broccoli Tater Tots – all delicious.

Full disclosure: I serve on the Parent Advisory Board for Produce for Kids.  See my articles on mental health and healthy eating on the PFK site.

 

Hold the Judgment: An Easy Way To Improve Mental Health

Judging others: So easy, so entertaining, so widespread.  But sadly, also completely contradictory to good mental health.

The other day I did my own little experiment and noticed how many times in an hour I made a judgmental comment (in my head – I was on the treadmill) about either myself or others.  I lost count at 25. Yikes.  Now, I didn’t speak these judgments out loud, but they were there just the same.  Things like:

“Why did she choose that shirt, ick”

and

“She totally looks better than me!”

and

“Who chose this awful music on the loud speaker?”

Oh boy.

All those judgments flying every which way got me thinking: How does a judgmental attitude affect mental health?  Here are some thoughts:

Passing judgment (on ourselves and others) keeps us from being fully present in our lives.  Life is full of things to notice and be a part of.  If we spend the bulk of our time formulating judgments, what might we be missing? A quiet, peaceful hour on the treadmill? The joy of watching our kids play sports or act on stage? A entertaining conversation with a friend?

No one ever wins. Judging ourselves, judging others; comparing ourselves to others. All these things lead to the same end: a downward spiral to misery and disappointment.  When it comes to judgment – no one ever ends up feeling good.

Judging others can make us paranoid that others are judging us, too.  Judging others has the nasty side effect of making us feel that we, ourselves are being judged – even when we’re not.  As in: “What are the neighbors going to think when they see me driving this old, dented car?”  See? Not so good.

We all want to spend time with non-judgmental people.  Think about some of your favorite people to spend time with.  I’d be willing to bet that most of them steer clear of judging, or gossiping about others.  Sure, it’s fun for a minute, but this behind-the-back judgmental attitude has a pretty nasty aftertaste.  Supportive, interesting (and interested), funny friends are the ones that give us longer-lasting feelings of warmth and closeness.

 

Is Porn a Public Health Issue?

Pornography is a hot topic these days.

The Governor of Utah recently signed a resolution describing pornography as “a public health hazard leading to a broad spectrum of individual and public health impacts and societal harms.”  The resolution also reads that porn “equates violence toward women and children with sex and pain with pleasure, which increases the demand for sex trafficking, prostitution, child sexual abuse images, and child pornography.”  Finally, the resolutions states that there is a need for “education, prevention, research and policy change…in order to address the pornography epidemic…”

Read the resolution in its entirety here.

Time Magazine is also talking about pornography, with a recent issue dedicated to covering the topic:

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According to Wikipedia, a public health crisis is defined as follows:

A health crisis or public health crisis is a difficult situation or complex health system that affects humans in one or more geographic areas (mainly occurred in natural hazards), from a particular locality to encompass the entire planet. Health crises generally have significant impacts on community health, loss of life, and on the economy. They may result from disease, industrial processes or poor policy.

So, does porn qualify?

I’m not sure, but I think it is becoming more and more clear that the easy, free access to pornography on portable electronic devices is having a pretty big impact on kids and adults.  The fact that these titillating images (and movies) are just one click away at all times is just such a big change from the past when porn could only be viewed if you:

  • Made a trip to the gas station and asked for the magazine behind the counter
  • Went to a strip club in person
  • Found an adult store/movie theater and had the guts to go inside

In short, it was much harder to access – and took a lot more planning and nerve.  Nowadays, it’s almost hard NOT to stumble into porn at some point while browsing the web.  And that’s one thing for adults, but quite another for kids who often don’t have the resources to:

  • Make sense of what they’re viewing
  • Understand the difference between reality and fiction when it comes to sexual acts
  • Stay away from sexualized content (it’s pretty exciting, after all)

So, the question remains…is pornography is a public health crisis? Perhaps Utah is on the cutting edge of dealing with this issue – maybe they’re over-reacting.  Either way, it’s an important conversation to be having with ourselves, our kids, our partners and our communities.

 

 

 

What To Know Before Your First Appointment

I recently had a chance to talk to the folks over at BuzzFeed about what to expect during your first therapy session. I love the way they presented the info – so fun, accessible and entertaining.  Adjectives not typically associated with therapy – but they should be!

Check it out:

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One of my favorites quotes:

“Some people are just ready to spill everything and talk about the big stuff, and some people it takes much longer for them to feel comfortable sharing,” says Smith. “What’s important to me as a psychologist is to meet people where they are.”

Thanks, BuzzFeed!