The holidays are a special time of the year for a lot of us. For others it is a very difficult time. Every year around this time I notice the number on my caseload increases, not decreases. Family stress and conflict, financial strain, busy schedules, and social pressures can be more overwhelming during the holidays. Please remember you are not alone. Here are some tips to help get you thru the holiday season.
I read a blog this morning about the behaviors of emotionally strong individuals. Initially I asked, “what is emotional strength?” Emotional strength is the ability to experience positive feelings. There are some studies to suggest that certain personality traits are linked to greater emotional stability, an indicator for emotional strength (Guswell & Ruch, 2012). A particular study by Guswell and Ruch (2012) suggested there are innate characteristics that can either support or hinder a person’s ability to manage emotions. In other words some personalities have an easier time managing emotions and remaining positive. Although research claims it may be easier for some more than others it is not likely that only certain individuals with certain personality traits are allowed happiness. All people are allowed happiness and all individuals can have a happy disposition despite character, experience, or previous thought patterns.
Individuals can learn emotional strength. If you struggle with something in life you can learn to improve; you can learn to emotionally improve, as well. Your emotions do not control you. Your thinking does not control you. (It seems that way most of the time because turning “off” thinking and emotions is challenging). The source behind the thinking and the emotions is YOU and the one in control of you is YOU! I understand my posts talk a lot about choosing to be happy positive and I understand this can be very frustrating to most. But, that truly is the issue; choice. How you think and how you feel is up to you! It is that simple. The hard part is applying the skills, tools, and techniques to make that choice stick.
There are lots of tools and behaviors one can apply to increase emotional strength. One behavior that stood out to me as a read the blog on emotional strength was ,”They (emotionally strong people) are not afraid of slowing down”. This really stuck with me and caused me to ponder.
Emotional strength equals success. Early research clearly demonstrated that people with an ability to evaluate their emotions, identify their emotions, and rationally handle their emotions are better able to reach and achieve goals (Allport & Allport, 1921). To consider that emotionally strong people can slow down and relax challenged the belief that successful people are “go-getters” and “busy-bees”. Success coincides with work. So many of us are chasing dreams, aspirations, and goals. Motivation is inspired and we are challenged to keep going, keep pushing, and work daily to achieve success. Then why is slowing down a sign of success and emotional strength? How does rest and slowing down accomplish goals?
When we slow down we can LIVE. It is so easy to be caught up in pursuing goals and achieving success and to lose sight of daily life and the little miracles that occur. I am no exception. My goals and aspirations in life require me to have daily goals and a daily plan. The drive to be successful causes me to become acutely aware of my daily goals and I can spend minutes of my day, hours of my day planning, working, building, doing, and analyzing. What happens if I just stop? What happens if I just slow down and approach the day as it comes?
When we can slow down we are left with seconds, minutes, hours, even days for freedom and to live.
- Slowing down means we can be content with our present moment and our present blessings.
- Slowing down means we can be thankful for what we have.
- Slowing down allows us to experience love and support of family and friends.
- Slowing down means taking a break.
- Slow down means we have time to do something else (perhaps read a book, talk with a friend, or sit in silence).
Today I challenge you to stop! Stop planning and stop working. Take time away from your “to-do” list and do something else. You do not need to always be working on something and you do not need to always be focusing on your goals. I challenge you to take a step back, slow down, and enjoy the moment and the people you are with. When you slow down to live you will restore your heart, your brain, and your soul. This renewal of mind, body, and spirit will help you achieve goals, accomplish tasks, and lead you to success.
Allport, F. H., & Allport, G. W. (1921). Personality traits: Their classification and measurement. The Journal of Abnormal Psychology and Social Psychology, 16(1), 6-40.
Guswell, A. & Ruch, W. (2012). Are only emotional strengths emotional? Character strength and disposition to positive emotions. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 4(2), 218-239.
I am aware that what I am about to talk about is a challenge for most people. However what I am about to say is possible for ALL people.
Feelings of stress, depression, anxiety, worry, fear, anger, and frustration are normal human emotions. These emotions were adaptively necessary to help our early ancestors survive dangerous situations and these emotions help us adapt to our situations. What you feel is 100% OK. Although these feelings are normal and necessary it is not normal and necessary to hold onto these feelings for an extended period of time.
Holding onto grief, sadness, anger, frustration, worry, and fear can harm all areas of your life.
- Relationships with others can be negatively impacted by holding onto upset feelings. These feelings can cause isolation and withdrawal, and rather than spending time with loved ones you start to spend time alone. Feelings like anger and frustration can cause one to yell or lash out at loved ones. Excessive worry, fear, and anxiety can make others in our lives feel powerless to help. These issues will limit others desire to spend time with you.
- Your health will decline if negative feelings control your life. Feelings not only create an emotional reaction in the body, but a physical one as well. Upset feelings cause increased muscle tension, increased heart rate, decreased sleep, fatigue, and decrease the bodies ability to fight illness, disease, and infection.
- Holding on to upset feelings can impact your mental ability. Prolonged emotional upset causes negative thinking. It can be difficult to think positive thoughts and challenging to see the “silver lining”. Emotional upset leads to thinking that becomes distracted, distorted, and unfocused.
- Decreased mental and cognitive ability can make completing tasks at work or school challenging. Rather than focusing on what needs to be done in the present moment, upset feelings keeps you thinking about the things that caused the upset. This causes increased forgetfulness, distraction, difficulty concentrating, and memory problems.
- Spirituality beliefs can be challenged when upset emotions take over. This becomes a problem because rather then turn to a higher power, moral beliefs, and prayer and meditation to cope one may shy away from these practices. Upset feelings can cause use to abandon helpful, positive, and effective coping skills.
I think most would agree it is unhealthy to hold onto upset emotions, particularly when these emotions get in the way of enjoying life. However it is not easy to let go of emotional upset. There are numerous reasons why emotions are hard to let go of.
- Loss of a dear loved one
- Lost trust
- Emotional hurt from another
- Physical hurt from another
- Repeated disappointments in others
- Limited resources or options available
- Limited support
- Conflict with others
This list is not exhaustive. There are other, numerous situations and life events that cause feelings to linger. However in my practice and therapy with others I have found it is most difficult to let go of upset when we feel as though we have been hurt (emotionally), betrayed, and left vulnerable by others.
In those situations we want the wrong done to us to be made right. We want justice. We want karma. We want retribution. It seems that holding onto the upset is a way of maintaining control over self, others, and the situation. At the end of day the only one being hurt by harboring upset is you! The other person continues to live their life and go through their day unaware of the upset you have toward them. However when you lie in bed at night you suffer with the thoughts and the upset.
Letting go is for you! Letting go benefits you! Letting go does NOT excuse the wrong done to you, nor does it make it OK. You were hurt and wronged and that’s ok. But allowing yourself to let go of some emotional upset helps you live life on your terms. Here are my five suggestions for living life on your terms, letting go of upset, and finding the silver lining daily.
- Exercise – beyond the health benefits exercise helps increase happy feelings, lowers stress, and gives you some “you-time”.
- Forgive – forgiveness is not forgetting! Forgiveness is releasing harboring upset so that you can make room to enjoy life.
- Spend time everyday doing something you enjoy. I call this vegging out. Find that activity (watching TV, cooking, reading, take a bath, etc) that causes your mind to shift focus and settle down.
- Acknowledge how you feel and know the upset emotions are OK! You are justified for feeling that way. No one can tell you how to feel. You are in control and you can take active steps to change how you feel.
- Release those upset emotions. Cry! Yell! Whatever you need to do to express the feeling do it. The thing about expressing emotions is that it will eventually stop. You may feel like if you start crying you will cry forever but you won’t. The crying will stop. Expressing emotions is like a coke bottle that has been shaken and opened. Eventually the coke stops exploding from the bottle and it settles. Then you are left with a refreshing beverage. Express your emotions so that once they are released you can enjoy life a little better.
it is not realistic to be happy all the time, but allowing yourself to feel and then release the feeling will create room for more pleasure and enjoyment in your life. You have one life. You have one day, today! Fill your day with whatever feeling you choose. The good news is, tomorrow you get another chance.
* If you are having trouble letting go, it is Ok. Many people struggle with this concept. It can be hard, but extremely beneficial to ask for help. Don’t think that asking for help makes you weak or disabled. Asking for help gives you more power to overcome. If you need help letting go I can help!
My first competition is drawing closer and closer. Each day requires getting up early going to the gym and training, eating according to my plan, and returning to the gym for more training. I must also remember to practice posing and maintain energy to maintain a home, a husband, a full-time job, a dissertation, and various social commitments. Needless to say energy and motivation is lacking at times. It is hard. I will be honest and say I have wanted to quit, on more than one occasion. I tell myself I can skip this cardio or I can lift less during this training session. I tell myself a bite of cheese or dessert will not mess up my plan. I want to sleep in, skip a workout, and cheat!
However I don’t. Every single day I get up early. I wake up with energy after the first alarm. I sometimes dread my workout as I get ready to head to the gym. As I start my cardio I think I may not make it. Yet every single time I do! I go faster. I recover quicker. I have increased energy. As I approach my lifts for the day I worry about how heavy the lifts will be and how it will challenge my body. Yet every time I train I am shocked at how much stronger I feel. I have read other competitors lose strength during prep. I have been prepared to use that as my excuse to not lift as heavy and as strong. However I continue to progress in my strength and training. I continue to get stronger.
This is not because I have super powers, special genes, or unique talents. I am human and I am an average adult woman. I keep growing simply because I can.
“Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.
Anyone can do anything. I have said this before and I will say it again. So many people sell short, do not reach their potential, and doubt their ability. I want to see people know they can do whatever they want. It is possible to set our mind on something and to be successful and achieve that something. All you need is ability, motivation, and attitude.
Abilities will vary from individual to individual. Some people have mental ability. Remember high school and how your class had a class valedictorian? That person (if it was you – Way to go), probably worked hard. They may have also had more brain capability. Research has found that some brain development is related to IQ (Lange, Froimowitz, Bigler, & Lainhart, 2010). However not every valedictorian is a genius with a high IQ and a pre-wired brain. I read an article recently that discussed a study that indicated certain genes were related to athletic ability and performance (Eynon, Ruiz, Oliveria, Duarte, Birk, & Lucia, 2011). This same article explained these findings are small and there is not enough collective research to claim that athletes perform well because they are genetically wired a certain way.
What this means is that everyone is born to be able to do something. Ability is what you can do physically. I cannot physically learn to snow ski in North Texas. I can travel or move but I am unable to find a slope to ski down where I am currently living. I am not able to create beautiful paintings because I have not engaged and grown my creativity. I lack patience and therefore I am not very good at customer service jobs. I understand that sometimes we are limited due to our physical, emotional, and situational experiences. Someone disabled and unable to walk will have physical difficulty running a marathon. However ability is not the only thing required for success. People that are disabled physically, emotionally, and cognitively accomplish dreams and overcome obstacles every single day. Our limitations are used as an excuse and cage us, but understand, you are able to do something. Those who are able, can!
Add motivation to ability and the chance of success increases. If you really want something you will do it. You have heard that saying, “when there is a will, there is a way”. Motivation is that will. If you want something what is stopping you? We have clarified you are likely able. Now your success depends on your desire and willingness to overcome. How hard will you work? How bad do you want it? How far can you go? For me, I keep going because I want to stand on stage knowing I gave my all. The package I bring, no matter the outcome, is because I kept going. I am motivated by my ability to succeed and be the best possible me. What is your motivation?
We have determined you are able. Now if you are highly motivated then how you think about the situation will influence your success moving forward. I hate cardio. I just hate it. I dread it every time and minutes leading up to my cardio session I am anxious and question how I will get through it. My attitude about cardio sucks. This attitude is quickly followed by a desire to quit, take it easy, or cheat. Then I remember the only one being cheated is me! I literally have to chant to myself, “you can do this!” or “you got this, almost there!” to improve my attitude about the interval approaching. I can do it because I am able. I can do it because I am motivated to do it. When I think I can, I get through each training session feeling proud, strong, and one step closer to my goal.
I encourage you to make a list and answer the following questions:
- What are you able to do? Write down everything you can do!
- How motivated are you?
- What obstacles are in your way? If you identify obstacles, which ones can be removed or avoided. For obstacles that cannot be removed or avoided, consider what resources (skills, tools, people, etc) you have to help you overcome the obstacle?
- List your feelings about the task you are about to start. Keep the positive thoughts and feelings to continue to motivate and encourage you. Take the negative feelings and get rid of them. Simply change the negative thoughts to positive ones and you will find your attitude will improve.
- Focus on the positive thoughts and feelings you have and you will find you are succeeding.
Eynon, N., Ruiz, J., Oliveria, J., Duarte, J., Birk, R., & Lucia, A. (2011). Genes and elite athletes: A roadmap for future research. The Journal of Physiology, 589(13), 3063-3070.
Lange, N., Froimowitz, M., Bigler, E., & Lainhart, J. (2010). Associations between IQ, total and regional brain volumes, and demography in a large normative sample of healthy children and adolescents. Developmental Neuropsychology, 35(3), 296-317.
On my forearm I have some beautiful words tattooed – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. This comforting statement has profound meaning. It means that because of my Higher Power I can do anything. I can set goals, I can dream, I can live a life of passion, and I can have hope.
Lately this reminder has helped encourage me. As I prepare for my first competition in 3 weeks I am more tired and I am training more. I am sore all over. I am doing more cardio than I prefer and I am hungry. I want to cheat or take it easy. I walk into the gym each day and have difficulty getting motivated. However I get started. And each and every time I push through. I push harder. I get stronger. I run faster. I keep going when I want to stop. Not because of myself. But because I have a strength inside me that allows me to do all things.
We forget our power. We forget the power we have through our Higher Power. We allow our own flawed thinking and skewed perceptions of ourselves to hold us back. A friend stopped me at the gym the other day to compliment me in my progress. I accepted graciously and then proceeded to tell her where I felt I was lacking and cast doubt and skeptism on my progress. She reminded me my perception was not accurate and that what I saw was not what others saw. She related and talked about her own skewed thinking regarding fitness. For my friend she was feeling tired, overwhelmed, and exhausted. She had personal issues that were impacting her life and her family. This would cause anyone to be more tired, stressed, and vulnerable. Yet she continued to do! She kept working out, she kept taking care of her family, and she kept doing well at her job.
The ability to keep going despite adverse circumstances or a desire to dedicate your self to an activity requires strength. I am not an athlete because of genetic or situational factors. I am an athlete because I have a Higher Power that allows me to do all things. Alone I would not be competing, nor would I have the displine or commitment to keep training. But because I believe in a Mighty and stronger Higher Power I know I can compete and I know I can stay focused and consistent. When we become self involved our thinking becomes narrowed and too focused on self. We start to evaluate our weaknesses and remember our failures. We compare ourselves to others. I am not an athlete. I never compete in anything, nor did I want to. I always quit when things get hard. I do not want to be challenged. Honestly if my training were up to me alone, I would have quit. However my inner power keeps me focused and shows me every time I workout that I can.
I can do all things. I can! When I remember the Power I have I am stronger. I am braver. I am more confident. You are stronger than you think. You are braver than you think. You can run faster and longer than you think. You can have self-control around food. You can do one more push-up. You can lose weight, find health, and love your body. You can if you remember your Power! Your Higher Power is with you all day, every day, and it will give you strength, courage, and passion to all things!
We spend so much of our time being BUSY. We have work responsibilities, family obligations, social commitments, and leisure activities that compete for our time and attention. Lately I have been focused on the future and all the things I need to do to complete my to-do list. I spend so much time making to do lists, setting goals, and planning my days that I have been forgetful to deal with my present moment.
I am not the only one with lots to do. I am not the only one with goals, dreams, and aspirations. And although I believe we can do anything I worry we spend too much time looking forward. Recently I am working on being content and being in the present moment.
Rather than worry about all I need to do later I want to be Ok with what I am doing right now. I want to strive to improve and strive to be a better version of myself. I want to learn to be OK with who am I right now. I am trying to remember “I am enough”.
Lately the above Scripture has been floating around in my head. Perhaps it is my soul telling me to slow down and be in the moment. I have all that I need right now. I am fully equipped with the strength and emotional ability to manage whatever task I am working on right now. This verse reminds me to slow my role and be OK because who I am today is exactly who I am to be. This verse helps me slow down and reflect that I am truly blessed with so much love, respect, support, hope, and resources. All of those things will help me accomplish goals today and in the future. I can relax and be current with myself and others.
Psychologists refer to this as mindfulness. Psychology Today defines mindfulness as a state of active, open attention on the present. Mindfulness requires being ok with thoughts, feelings, and surroundings right now in the present moment. Mindfulness does not mean you enjoy being in a state of upset or distress but, rather acknowledging that and then accepting the upset so that steps can be taken right now to make the moment better.
Focusing on the future or focusing on issues beyond our control keeps us from solving problems now. In order to be better problem solvers and more relaxed and focused we need to “slow our role”, accept the situation, and proceed. Here is why practicing mindfulness is in your (and my) best interest.
- Researchers found that individuals that practiced mindfulness had less worrisome thoughts and decreased depression.
- Mindfulness reduces stress.
- Studies found that mindfulness improved focus, attention, ability to ignore distractions, and improved ability to recall information.
- People that were more mindful became less emotionally upset and were better at self-reflection and self-awareness.
- Research studies support that mindfulness can improve the quality of relationships (Davis & Hayes, 2012).
- Mindfulness has demonstrated a strong ability to improve health as evidenced by improved immune systems.
- Mindfulness improves happiness.
- Mindfulness helped people remain practical and rational during a stressful situation (2011).
- Observe your current moment and sense the current environment. This requires just looking at the current environment.
- Look at where you are, smell where you are, experience the sounds and feelings of where you are, and identify any feelings you are having. Try describing the current environment and situation as if you wanted someone to read it and be able to see and understand your situation as well.
- Remember the “to-do” list will never be blank. We will always have something to do, unless we are dead. Rather than rush to clear a list that will never clear, slow down and take it one thing at a time.
- Ask yourself “what do I need to do right now”?
Living a fit lifestyle has a way of changing your perspective of the world and living healthier will change the way you think about things. Living a life that promotes health, wellness, and freedom causes one to be more self-aware, alert, and thoughtful. Living a fit and healthy life causes one to have more hope for the future, set more goals, and seek improvement.
Goal-setting is necessary to establish and maintain healthy life choices. I have discussed the importance of goal setting for living a healthy and fit life in several posts. Scientist also understand the importance of goal setting and cite that a future goal will maintain focus and lead to greater future success. Specifically a study suggested that in order to maintain health a person must consistently and frequently set goals, evaluate these goals, think about the goals, and pay attention to goals (Mann, de Ridder, & Fujita, 2013). What this means is that when trying to maintain health one must often and frequently think about individual goals, evaluate progress toward those goals, and take any additional steps required to achieve the goal. As I aprepare for my competition I daily evaluate my goal to be ready and able to compete on show day. This helps me stay motivated to work hard and follow my plan. Goals give us reason to move forward.
Setting goals keeps one looking to the future. Looking forward helps provide motivation to achieve goals. Studies indicate future orientation, looking to the future, can change behaviors in the present. For example one study found that individuas focused on the future were able to decrease aggression and anger (a goal of study participants) in the moment (Stoddard, Zimmerman, & Bauemeister, 2011). Clearly goal setting and having a direction pointed toward the future helps achieve success. As I am focused on my future competition and all the work that is necessary to achieve my desired physique I also wonder what I am missing in the current moment.
If you are like most people pursuing a goal, patience can be difficult. The outcome becomes a longing and as we yearn for our success and achievement we grow impatient, weary, and perhaps a bit frustrated. I know I personally struggle with this. I want to achieve my desired outcome and constantly looking to the future makes my goal seem unattainable. I, then start to feel overwhelmed and frustrated and fight the urge to quit. I feel confident I am not the only one that feels this way. Perhaps setting goals and focusing on the future distracts us from the present moment. This notion is supported by research. A study found that individuals focused on diet and weight loss goals had increased distraction and experienced increased failure of tasks in the moment (Jones & Rogers, 2003).
What this means is that if I am thinking about my goal at my competition at a later date I may become too distracted while working out. This distraction will keep me from successfully completing reps, progressing in the exercise, or improving my performance. You do not need to be a body builder working toward a competition to experience decreased focus and lack of progress. If you are working to maintain a diet or lose a certain amount of pounds you may struggle to feel satisfied when eating or working out. Future orientation and remaining focused on goals may be stealing your joy. Constantly thinking about the future keeps us preoccupied, lacking, and feeling unsatisfied. I understand how all this information can be conflicting. On one hand it is apparent remaining fit requires goal setting and thinking about the future, while on the other thinking about the future can limit progress in the current moment.
During my quiet time the other morning it occurred to me the problem was that I failed to feel contentment. The following statement cued me to my problem: ”
“Contentment isn’t a matter with being content with your situation in life and never trying to improve it. It’s a matter of being content with what you have — but realizing that as humans, we will always try to improve, no matter how happy we are. If we don’t, we have given up on life”. Leo Babauta
I always want to improve, grow, and live my passions and goals in the future. Although hope for the future is great and necessary to become a better person, it keeps me from realizing all the blessings and positives I have in the moment. Becoming content is a key component to maintain balance and overall health and wellness.
Finding contentment is needed to enjoy the work, the progress, and the journey. Contentment brings pleasure to the current moment and brings joy in life. Rather than focusing on what is to come it is important to evaluate and appreciate what is now. The current moment is all that is guaranteed and, although we can hope for the future, the future is not guaranteed. Contentment is easy to achieve.
- Count your blessings. Recalling what you have, the people in your life, and what you have accomplished thus far brings to perspective the realization that we have much and have achieved much.
- Look at where you have been compared to where you are now. You are not the same person. You have grown. You have changed. You have experienced success and have achieved goals.
- Appreciate the people in your life that support and encourage you. Feeling loved and supported brings peace of mind and a sense of relaxation and joy. Knowing we are loved helps us settle into the moment and focus on the task at hand.
- Recall future goals but do not remain focused on them. Remember the reason for the hard work and recognize the overall goal and then move on. Think about what you are doing in the present. Think about what can be done right now to bring you happiness.
- Focus on the task at hand and the current moment. This moment in time will influence your future so use this time now to be present, aware, and engaged.
Jones, N. & Rogers, P. (2003). preoccupation, food, and failure: An investigation of cognitive performance deficits in dieters. international Journal of Eating Disorders, 33(2), 185-192.
Mann, T., de Ridder, D., & Fujita, K. Self-regulation of health behavior: Social psychological approaches to,goal setting and goal striving. Health Psychology, 23(5), 487-498.
Stoddard, S., Zimmerman, M., & Bauemeister, J. (2011). Thinking about the future as a way to succeed in the future: A longitudinal study of future orientation and violent behaviors among African American youth. American Journal of Community Psychology, 48(3-4), 238-246.