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Asbury Park Psychotherapy Associates
Mimi da Silva, Ph.D., L.P.C., A.C.S., D.A.P.A.
LGBT Issues • Anxiety • Depression • Relationship Issues

501 Grand Avenue - Asbury Park, NJ 07712  •  (732) 823-2225  •  mdasilva@asburyparktherapy.com   Facebook LogoTwitter Logo

When Competition Is Unhealthy

How many of us played a sport, played in a musical competition, baked for a baking competition, wrote for a poetry competition, or ate hot dogs on the 4th of July to see who was the “best”? Probably most of us have at some point in our lives. Do you remember how you felt (or still feel)? Nervous? Confident? Overconfident? Full of dread? Again, I would imagine most of us would have felt all – or at least, some – of those feelings in different competitive situations. For the most part, competition can be healthy, fun, character building, and a great teacher of humility and grace. There are times, however, when competition can become unhealthy.
Healthy competition suggests that the person strives to do his/her best, with the understanding that no one is going to perform at optimal levels 100% of the time. Giving the task at hand our best – whether it be an essay, a conversation, a sports match, or any other kind of competition – is healthy competition at its pinnacle. On the other hand, competition that focuses only on outcome can have seriously detrimental effects on children and adults alike. Emphasizing winning at all cost, coming in first in a race, being the first person to finish a test, eating the most hot dogs, etc. puts extraordinary pressure on the individual, and in turn creates an atmosphere in those who are not first or always on the winning team a feeling of being inferior, not good enough, or even worthless. Over time, these individuals may become sad, discouraged, and even depressed. Similarly, the demands of always being first or winning every game, can create so much anxiety that the individual becomes disinterested, unmotivated, and apathetic.
Secondly, healthy competition involves embracing the process of learning how to be a good sport. This includes encouraging others (teammates or opponents) to do their best, congratulating someone on a job well done, and genuine appreciation for the skill and work that was involved in the person achieving some goal or milestone. Unhealthy competition is quite the opposite. Criticizing a teammate for a botched play, not accepting responsibility for one’s own lack of effort, or saying that the evaluation process was “unfair” or somehow biased again focuses only on outcome. Likewise, the person who always boasts about how superior he or she is at whatever task only alienates the others around him or her.
Lastly, healthy competition tends to bring to light what skills an individual has and what improvements could be made. Unhealthy competition, on the other hand, feeds off of comparisons. Statements like “You’re so much better than she is at writing” or “He’s so much better than I am on defense” are counterproductive and can lead to negative self-talk and self-defeating behaviors.
Winning is great, of course. However, there may be more to learn from the process of losing (in whatever form), particularly if it leads to self-examination, realistic self-appraisal, and authentic desire to improve one’s self as well as develop appreciation for others’ gifts and talents. With those skills, interpersonal relationships are bound to improve, as well, as the process of competition teaches all of us that in the end, we each possess a unique set of skills, preferences, desires, and experiences – none being any better than anyone else’s.

Simplifying For Better Emotional Health

All of the advances in our society in the last 50 years have come at a heavy price to our psychological wellbeing. We have so many choices: what to do, where to go, what kind of running shoes, what to learn, what to eat, and on and on. The technological advances that have occurred since the middle of the last century have been staggering, but have also brought a bevy of other issues with them. How much time do we spend on our phones or our computers or our other devices? When is it appropriate to let children start using a cell phone? How do we monitor the content on our home computers? What toll does being constantly available to everyone and anyone take on the quality of our relationships, our work life, and our family life? No wonder we feel overwhelmed and stressed!

Modern conveniences are wonderful, of course. The joys of central plumbing, heat, air conditioning, and automatic transmissions cannot be overstated. On the other hand, when things that are supposed to make our lives easier create additional stress in our lives, something is way out of balance. For example, has your spouse or one of your children ever said to you, “Please put that down. I want your full attention.”? Have you ever had to say something along those lines to a member of your family? I imagine most of us could come up with several examples where an obsession with a particular device or fad has gotten in the way of authentic relationships and dealing with life.

Do we really need 80 different brands and types of running shoes? Is it necessary for the advancement of civilization that we have the choice of over 100 kinds of breakfast cereal? And do we really need a cell phone, a laptop, an iPad, and an iPod Touch? There is an awful lot of duplication in all of those devices. Wouldn’t one – OK, maybe two, tops – be enough? Let’s take a practical look at how we might lower our stress levels by implementing a few simple rules.

If you are the grocery shopper of your family, don’t make your life complicated by buying four different types of cereal (or lunch meat or laundry detergent or whatever). Trying to keep track of everyone’s favorites can be exhausting, and buying all of those things gets very expensive. Select the favorite du jour and buy that. Once that item has been consumed or needs to be replaced, you can get a different favorite. Family members may grouse a bit in the beginning, but they will get used to the change. After a while, the change may not even be noticeable anymore.

Give yourself and your family limited choices. Rather than asking, “What would you like to do this Saturday?” try asking, “Would you rather go to the movies or to go bowling Saturday afternoon?” The difference is you are limiting the universe of choices to something much more manageable than the whole array of options available. If someone complains, “I don’t want to do that,” simply suggest that their preference be included in next week’s “menu” of activities. The idea here is not to be cruel or mean-spirited; rather, it is meant to simplify the decision making process.

Place some limits on technology use. You most likely wouldn’t pet your dog 12 hours a day, or whenever he wanted some affection from you. The same notion applies to our electronics. Except in extremely rare circumstances, no one really needs to be connected to a device 16 hours per day. Generally speaking, put a curfew on device use – perhaps, say, not after 9:00 pm. A couple of other restrictions might also be useful: No phones, computers, iPads, etc. at family meals. No electronic game playing until after all responsibilities have been met (homework done, garbage taken out, dishes done, etc.) Only one or two hours of video game or television per day during the week. If there is extra time in the evening, perhaps a friendly family game of cards or Monopoly could help fill the time gap. And, perhaps, we might even relearn the art of conversation with each other.

Try some of these ideas over the next few weeks and see if there is an improvement in your overall stress level and relationships at home. Don’t try everything at once – that would be too much at one time. But, by making small, seemingly insignificant changes over time, we all might learn that simplifying our lives really can make a world of difference in our emotional lives.

The Benefits of Positive Attitudes

Have you ever noticed how some people seem to be pleasant and have a smile on their face almost all the time? And when you’ve encountered those people, have you just thought, “Oh, so-and-so must have a charmed life” or wondered, “What do they have that I don’t?”

The truth is, no matter how happy or charmed a person’s life may be to the outside world, no one is immune to the challenges that life presents. All of us face family illness, aging, disappointments, job dissatisfaction, and other worries. What distinguishes us from each other is how we approach the issues that confront us. Some of us actually get in our own way and block our own path to happiness and contentment.

Getting in our own way can take many forms: self-criticism, habits, lack of habits, or just plain giving up are only a few. Sit down with yourself for a bit of quiet time and reflect on what is stopping you from achieving happiness. Think about a situation in your life that is bothering you. For example, suppose you realize that your current job is a dead end for you and now is probably a good time for finding a different job. You see one advertised. It sounds like a great match with better pay or better hours. At that point, does critic start in? “You’ll never get that job.” ”It’s too hard to get the resume updated.” “And then there’s all that paperwork and a physical.” Before you’ve ever applied, the little voice inside your head is saying, “Don’t bother. You can’t do it.” If your inner critic’s voice is strong enough, you probably don’t apply. Or, if you do apply, the energy you are sending out to the employer is not screaming, “HIRE ME.”

Let’s hit the rewind button and say “STOP” to that little negative voice and reframe your self- talk. Now that inner conversation could go much differently. After the critic starts in with, “You’ll never…” this time say, “STOP! I can definitely get this job. I have more qualifications than anyone else and I can’t wait to tell them about all I have done and all I can do for this new employer.” “It’s fun updating my resume. I didn’t realize how much I really have done.” This time your attitude also impacts your resume and interview much more positively. Now your energy is shouting, “I’M THE ONE! This is your lucky day.”
Your attitude, how you frame the opportunity, is going to impact the outcome. In this example, even if you don’t get this new job, you can view it negatively (“See, I knew I wasn’t good enough”) or positively (OK, so I didn’t get this job, but it was really good practice at interviewing, and I’m sure that there is right opportunity out there. I just have to keep looking.”)

Do you engage in bad habits? Do you procrastinate? Spend too much time playing Candy Crush or Solitaire on your computer? Then, it is time to have another heart-to-heart talk with yourself – or with a trusted friend or loved one – and uncover what is making you avoid your own life. We all need time for relaxation, of course, but that is entirely different from watching movies all day instead of looking for that new job you so desperately want. Try to discern what is keeping you from doing what you know will get you closer to achieving your goals. Are you afraid? Figure out what the fear is and confront it. You might be amazed at how trivial the fear seems after you pick it apart and realize that you were the one giving the fear its power over you. Are you discouraged? Have a cup of coffee with your spouse, your best friend, or even a colleague to bolster your spirits and remind yourself that you can do whatever is necessary to accomplish your goals. Are you depressed? Then, perhaps, it might be time to consult a therapist and work on the roots of your depression so you can move forward in your life.

Develop some good habits that work in harmony with what you want in your life: loving relationships, healthy friendships, a satisfying, meaningful career, hobbies and activities that bring you joy and fulfillment. What? You don’t think you have time for all of that? Of course you do! Instead of ruminating for hours about how your coworker threw you under the bus at a meeting at work, go play a round of golf or a game of tennis. No one around? Don’t let that stop you! Go to the gym, take a run, go for a swim, or play with the dog on the beach. You will feel so much better (as well as the dog, if the dog is included), and you will have released all your frustrated, annoyed, negative energy. Do you think hobbies are a waste of time? In fact, they are a wonderful way to help keep your mind engaged and growing. Sitting around all evening, worrying about something that is not going to change is a waste of your very precious time. Use that time productively for something that gives you pleasure instead. As you develop better habits, you may be surprised to find how much happier you feel overall.

Giving Yourself the Silent Treatment

We are bombarded with sensory stimulation almost every moment of every day. The TV is on, someone is listening to music in another room, the dog is barking, the dishwasher is on, the laundry is drying, the children need help with their homework right now, it is too hot or too cold or too windy or too rainy or too sunny, or too something outside or inside. Life is filled with noise, with kaleidoscoping colors and images, temperature changes, and all kinds of smells (good and bad). And sometimes it is all just way too much.

For many of us, we got the “silent treatment” when someone was angry or upset with us. Remember how you felt? Anxious, rejected, fearful, maybe even angry? Not a great way to feel, particularly if the silence became extended over many hours or even days. That kind of silent treatment was imposed upon you. However, choosing to give yourself the silent treatment can have many positive benefits. It is basically the equivalent of giving yourself an emotional time out. Take the time simply to sit with yourself and with your thoughts. Acquaint yourself with your innermost thoughts, feelings, desires, dreams, and goals. In our action-packed lives, taking a little bit of time just to be is essential for our overall psychological health. Allowing ourselves to be in silence is a way of recharging our emotional batteries.

You don’t need hours to do this. Try 15 or 20 minutes and see how you feel afterwards. The key, however, is not having any distractions. This quiet time is a break for the overstimulation most of us experience; no TV, radio, handheld games, computers, telephones, books, tablets, or anything else to distract you for your mental vacation. Tell your family members that you need a break for 15 minutes and that you cannot be disturbed during that time. With a little planning – and practice – this may become easier to accomplish than you might think at first.

Sit and get to know yourself again. Allow yourself to be feel refreshed and reenergized. At the very least, the brief break will give you a different perspective when you get back to the “stuff of life.”

Welcome!

Hello and welcome to our blog! New posts will occur on a variable schedule, so be sure to stop back often to see what is being offered. Sometimes, I will be writing about a specific mental health topic of general interest: anxiety, depression, PTSD, etc. Other times, I may post an inspirational quote from an author, psychologist or regular person. Other times, I will offer some of my views about having a happier, more productive, fulfilling life, largely based on my 30+ years working within various mental health settings.

If you have a topic you would like me to address, please email me at mdasilva@asburyparktherapy.com and I will do my best to accommodate your request in a timely manner

I hope you will find this blog interesting, informative, and even, at times, entertaining.

Warmly,
Mimi da Silva, Ph.D.
Clinical Director and Psychotherapist
Asbury Park Psychotherapy Associates