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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

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.