7 Breath Decisions

A colleague came to me recently with a problem. He was frustrated and defeated. “I feel sick because I can’t CHOOSE!”. My buddy constantly struggled with making decisions in a timely fashion. He couldn’t pull the trigger after debating several options.

“How long has this been a problem?” I asked. He quickly unraveled; the inability to choose cost him countless opportunities in love, business, and friendship. His entire life was one big question mark. “How can I learn to decide faster ?”

I suggested a passage from The Hagakure (book of Samurai guiding principles) for him. This book lays out a principle of making decisions in the span of 7 breaths.

Just the thought of making a decision within 7 breaths (about 30 seconds) can cause anxiety for some. It requires incredible knowledge of oneself. It requires commitment. It takes focus, determination, and self-control. Even after a decision is made, you still need resolve to stick with it. Saying to yourself “I’m going to stop smoking, find a new job, and go to therapy!” means nothing without the drive to stand by your decision and follow through.

We struggle with decisions because we often don’t know ourselves well enough to pick what’s really best for us.  Even worse yet: the lack of confidence in our inner voice stops us from sticking with the decisions we finally make.

If you struggle with being indecisive or if you feel powerless in wake of a decision, I suggest the following exercise for you.

darius-soodmand-116255

Turn each breath into fire to forge your future! [Photo credit: Darius Soodmand]

7 Breath Decisions:

This is supposed to be done over the span of 3 days. It is best if preceded by a writing exercise [like this one!] which will bring focus and clarity to your goals.

  1. “I can and will make a decision in the span of 7 breaths”. Start your day by looking into the mirror, no matter how silly you feel and say that phrase. Confidently! Repeat it until you actually believe it.
  2. Make your decision in 7 breaths. From small decisions (“where do you want to go to lunch?”) to larger ones (“is it time to look for a new job?”). If you feel anxiety – remind yourself: this is just an EXERCISE, think of it as an experiment. Nothing has to be permanent. You CAN survive 3 days of this! DO NOT reverse any decisions unless there is a threat of harming yourself or others. Stick with it and don’t think about the choice after you’ve made it. Force yourself to move forward.
  3. Keep a single consistent log of your choices. For some people, a notepad works, for others, writing on their phone is better. Pick what you’re most likely to stick with. Write about the type of decision, what made it difficult, what lead to your choice, and your feelings after choosing. Do this as soon after each choice as possible.
  4. Once the experiment is over, reflect back. What types of decisions were the hardest for you? Why? What decisions were easy? What were your results? How much time did you save by avoiding the agony, anxiety, and fear of “choosing” ? Were there any decisions you regretted? Do you notice a pattern?

I was also struggling with a big decision. Going back to work or pushing through to graduate school. I couldn’t make the choice within 7 breaths, I’ll admit. But I realized I was no closer to pulling the trigger after agonizing for weeks. Sometimes the hardest choices are ones that require sacrifice, but just remember – choices CAN and should change as your needs, skills, and goals evolve. Deciding what’s best now doesn’t mean it defines your ultimate forever. For me, making the choice to work now means I can save for my future and prioritize graduate school when I’m ready!

Wishing you all clarity and decisiveness,

Websign Full Color

Advertisements

What do YOU want?

In 2015 I  left a job I really enjoyed to move back to my home city. My father had fallen ill and I needed to be closer to spend time with him and my family. I decided that while I was home, I would finish my degree and work as a counselor in my community. It was a huge career shift but I wanted to see if it was right for me.

There was a very powerful writing exercise that helped me build up the courage to drastically change my surroundings and path.

From writer Victor Pride,

“Get a paper and pen and write down the most important things in your life. Read this repeatedly until you have narrowed down exactly what is most important. Then say it out loud. Don’t mumble and don’t stutter. Say it loud with confidence.

Go somewhere you can be alone. Go for a long drive. Go for a walk in the woods. Leave your phone and iPads and electronic junk behind. Just you and your thoughts. Answer the question “What do you want” and answer with complete honesty. There will be no one around to judge your thoughts, there will be no one around to laugh at you or say it can’t be done.”

It seemed so simple, but doing it was VERY HARD. I felt silly, idealistic, and greedy – just writing down what I wanted from life! I’ve kept my list of important goals close to my heart for 3 years now. And it’s a living document, which means it changes as I learn and grow.

ListCapture

Photo of my original list from 2015!

For anyone out there feeling directionless, try this exercise! It helps you explore and develop individual goals.

Without direction, we float aimlessly like a ship without a sail – hoping that the winds of life will drift us in a good direction. But we reach our fullest potential when we move with purpose and direction.

The direction of my life is changing yet again. I’ve completed many of the goals I set out to accomplish with my move back home. Thankfully my family is in a better more stable place. Guess it’s time to add a few new bullet points to my list!

Wishing clarity and resilience,

Websign Full Color

 

What are you thankful for?

Gratitude: the act (and habit) of being thankful.

This year I’m thankful for many things! I’m thankful that my blog is finally off the ground! Writing about mental health has been both a challenge and a joy. I’m also thankful that I’m having another family get together with delicious food! I’m thankful that I have the opportunity to continue my education every day and broaden my scope of knowledge.

Being thankful has some advantages that we’ve only recently uncovered. University of Southern California released a study in 2015; it outlines a connection between gratitude and morality, connectivity to others, and empathy. Thanksgiving is a great time to get back in touch with what you’re happy about.

Yet holidays can still be a trigger. People coping with trauma may find that holidays call up painful memories. While some isolate due to depression or anxiety, others spend these days crowded around a dysfunctional family without escape.

For those handling stress this Thanksgiving (or any other holiday) here are some quick tips to get some joy out of the holidays.

  1. Know your limits and plan accordingly. If you suffer from anxiety and your family environment is loud, uncontrollable, and overwhelming – plan to spend only as much time as you can handle. Plan for the amount of time that’s best for you. If your family is supportive, explain your reasons. Always have a plan in place in the event your trip needs to be cut short.
  2. Try to incorporate things that you enjoy during the holiday. Say aloud “It’s my day too”. Do something special for yourself to boost your mood. Cook your favorite meal, listen to a happy playlist, go to your favorite hiking spot, watch a movie you love.
  3.  Give yourself permission to leave any situation that threatens your emotional stability. Consider using a hotel or staying with a hometown friend if family is overwhelming.
  4. Avoid mind/mood-altering substances when in distress. I know it can be tempting to drown your sorrows down in oblivion. However, the issues that prompted you to use substances will still be there after the effect has worn off. There is a difference between social use and desperate use, but the lines can be blurred when in a stressful position.
  5. Don’t base your ideals on movies, friends, social media, or anything else that’s not a realistic standard. Your situation is uniquely yours and doesn’t need to be like anyone else’s. Keep in mind, part of gratitude is understanding other people’s point of view. Your family members may be just as exhausted, irritated, and apprehensive as you are. If you want to bring up emotional topics, make sure the time and setting is conducive.

 

Enjoy your holidays!

Websign Full Color

 

Boundaries: Permission to Protect Yourself

A boundary is a limit or guideline you set to govern social interactions and relationships. Boundaries are rules of engagement; they separate healthy normal behaviors from undesirable or unacceptable ones. They are a good part of any relationship and evolve through time as we do. While there are many types of boundaries, today we’ll focus on emotional boundaries with others.

Family interactions are usually our crash course in boundaries – our families teach us what’s praiseworthy versus what will result in punishment.

You discover your parent’s limits the first time you’re scolded for throwing a tantrum. Alternatively, if your parents did not have clear guidelines, you may struggle to understand why friends or other relatives find the same behavior upsetting. My parents set many boundaries with us surrounding appropriate displays of emotions. I learned not to speak to them (or any adult) in a disrespectful manner. They enforced civility even during disagreements. “It’s natural to argue, but not OK to scream, curse or be nasty just for the sake of being nasty!”, my mom often said . Their framework was my norm and has stayed with me through my adult life. But of course we didn’t always follow the rules, we were kids after all and some of us struggled with boundaries more than others. But when we went out-of-bounds, we’d lose a privilege of some type. Guaranteed. So I quickly figured out boundaries and consequences for crossing them in the safety of my home.

We absorb so much from our families without even realizing it. Where, when, and how we set boundaries is based on what behavior we consider “normal” and acceptable; the barometer is typically set by what we observe in childhood. Some adults retain the boundaries set by family or cultural norms while others actively curate a personal code that matches their adult beliefs. Boundaries with family, friends, and romantic partners usually change as we grow. We set better boundaries when we have secure sense of self/identity.

boundariesinfographic

Limits are set by parents to protect their child, but in adolescence and adulthood we are responsible for setting boundaries to protect ourselves. Our rules are CRITICAL because they signal to others how we want to be treated and what we will tolerate. People without clear emotional boundaries (and those who struggle to enforce them) are bound to attract boundary-steppers. Friends, family, lovers may cross lines without even knowing. Without governing principles for how we’re treated – how can we ensure safety and fulfillment of needs?

Every healthy person has boundaries but it’s up to the individual where they draw the line and how they communicate those rules to others. Different boundaries are appropriate for the varied social interactions we encounter daily. For example -boundaries with coworkers may be tighter than those with our roommates or friends we’ve known for years.

Exercise: Think back to a BIG conflict that happened when someone violated your boundaries.

-What was the boundary violated?
-Why do you think you developed this boundary in the first place?
-How was this boundary communicated? Was it communicated at all?
-Was the boundary expressed before or after the conflict?
-Did you enforce the boundary? If yes: in what ways? If no: why not?
-What was the end result?
-What could you have done differently to prevent or better handle the issue?

To avoid a never ending cycle of “boundary stepping”, we must consciously define, express, and enforce our limits. Healthy people set boundaries to protect their feelings. But even the strongest of us are tempted to let close confidants overstep them. Why is this? Most often it leads back to a simple concept: we think budging will somehow bring us some type of emotional fulfillment. We cave on how we want to be treated in hopes of obtain love, attention, favor, appreciation, excitement. We think “well I know I hate how they talk to me, but gosh I sure do love hanging out with them!” or “I hate getting drunk calls from my ex, but maybe if I put up with this long enough we can get back together”. We let people pass our safety limits to secure better treatment in the future. Odd, right? It goes without saying that this strategy almost never ends with our needs being met. The tactic of sacrificing our dignity often leaves us unhappy and saddled with the guilt of knowing we should have protected ourselves better.

I’ll be really honest with you guys. It was very difficult for me (as an adult) to set healthy boundaries with my parents. Especially considering that I was conditioned to accept their terms unilaterally without much thought to my own terms. It took years of my young adulthood to learn how to properly communicate to my folks that my adult life was separate from theirs. I found a way to explain that while I was often happy to share – there are situations I want to navigate alone without their input or interference. This felt awkward and painful at first, but eventually they got the point and learned to respect my boundaries without much reminding. When they would aggressively pry or involve themselves I learned to immediately cut the conversation or interaction short. But the funny thing about boundaries is that once you go through the potentially uncomfortable stage of setting and enforcing them, those who truly love and respect you will accept them and move on so you can  ease back into the more enjoyable parts of the relationship.

When people respect your boundaries (and you are mindful of theirs) the connection deepens and can weather all storms.

Give yourself permission to set and enforce the boundaries needed to flourish,

Websign Full Color

April 2016 Quote of the Month

“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”

-Buddha


We often underestimate the power and importance of self love.

People are forever searching – where’s that perfect person to complete me? When will someone “save me”? How will I get to that special individual who makes it all worth it?

When was the last time you put as much energy into loving and accepting yourself as you put into searching for the perfect partner?

There is no better person to invest in than yourself. There is no one else on earth who has your unique experiences and your background. No one else has your exact story or your set of skills, knowledge, and abilities.

Unresolved trauma can lead us to feel unworthy of love. Low self-esteem and depression can make us feel downright hideous. Rejection from our parents, friends, or first loves early on can be crippling. Fear of rejection can lead us to try to please others at the expense of our own needs.

Love yourself enough to work on the rough parts while still cherishing the great bits. Ignore society’s almost a neurotic interest in finding a perfect all encompassing romantic love. The only relationship you’re promised for a lifetime is the one you have with yourself.  Once you love, accept, and respect yourself – you’ll be surprised at all the incredible variants of love you can receive in return.

 

Websign Full Color

March 2016 Quote of the Month

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

– Steve Jobs


Defining ourselves by and for ourselves can be a difficult task.

There is constant external pressure which tries to shape our opinions, beliefs, and sense of self.

Not all pressure is bad pressure. Looking at the microcosm of family, I must say my parents have always held all their children to a high moral standard starting at a young age. Their influence (the pressure for me to “be good to people”) served to shape me into a very kind conscientious human being!

However, even as incredible as my family is – I still became intensely motivated to seek identity and value outside of their eyes during young adulthood. I had to make my own opinions of how to best live life. After all, at the end of this crazy ride only I would be accountable for the choices I made. Now that I’m more established in my “adulthood” , I realize that some of my views do not mesh seamlessly with those that love me most. To be honest – a handful of my opinions are in direct opposition of what they believe! But that’s OK. Even through differences we can still be united through love and respect without being identical.

There are many systems that humans developed to make sense of the world around them. At birth we are handed a certain worldview; we inherit our family/community views on everything from money, race, education, politics, food, dating, gender and religion. We pick up on how our families fight, how they interact with others, and what type of people they believe are “good” or”bad”. This slowly becomes our “normal” during the most formative years of our lives. Most people don’t give second thought to their “hand-me-down” views, yet alone question them. But it’s important to critically evaluate your beliefs and figure out if they improve your life or hinder your growth. Do the systems you subscribe to make you a better person? Do your views help enrich your life and the lives of those around you? Does anyone other than yourself ultimately profit from your belief in  a particular system?

Life presents endless opportunities to grow, experiment, win, lose, test, learn, hurt, and heal. And once you venture outside of your family, your home town, your first circle of friends – you’ll find that some of those views you grew up with will be challenged. During those times you may realize that deep inside you don’t believe everything you were taught about a certain group of people, a certain lifestyle, a certain belief system. At that moment you’ll have to decide if the safety of familiarity is worth denying your own inner voice.

I don’t know for certain but I’m willing to bet no one gets prizes at the end of all this for being the best rule-follower. You are equipped with a compass and map inside of you that’s meant lead you where you really want to be.

Cheers to a unique journey for us all,

Websign Full Color

 

Psychiatrist or psychologist? Therapist, counselor, or coach?

Your car is sputtering around – not getting up to the same speeds it used to. It makes a squeaking noise every time you make a sharp turn and sometimes the steering wheel shakes when you accelerate.

You try to ignore it to see if it’ll get better on it’s own, but the issues get worse and worse.

How long would it take you to drive it into a shop? Would you have anxiety letting a professional diagnose the problem? Would you hesitate to mention your car troubles with friends or family?

Think of your mental health as that car. Our thoughts, personalities, and beliefs drive us through life and affect what we achieve and how we interact with everyone around us.

When your emotions or beliefs start to negatively impact your daily life – it might be good to check in with a professional.

But who do you go to? What’s a psychiatrist? Is that the same as a counselor or life coach? Do all psychologists make you lay on a couch and talk about your past?

psychologist-career-and-salary

The familiar image of the Freud style therapy session!

When picking a mental health professional – there’s no one size fits all approach. The type of professional that works best for you can depend on your specific needs and experience.

Psychiatrists are doctoral level practitioners. They are medical doctors (M.D.) and they can prescribe medication to help minimize and control unwanted mental symptoms. Their treatment plans usually involve long-term assessment and reassessment of how patients adjust to medication.

Psychologists are doctoral level practitioners (Ph.D. or Psy.D.).  Psychologists can work in a wide range of fields. When providing mental health services they focus on correctly diagnosing disorders, understanding behaviors and their triggers, and minimizing negative symptoms.

Therapists are master’s level health professions with additional licensing in their given specialty. Therapists can specialize in substance abuse, sexual trauma, children and adolescence issues, family or marital therapy, etc. They can focus on smaller behavior goals or delve into deeper issues for longer treatment plans.

Counselors and/or life coaches can be licensed or unlicensed; the use of these terms is not regulated in the U.S. That doesn’t mean counselors or coaches are poor quality – they could be a great fit for you! Typically counselors and coaches have licensing and training in social work, psychology, and/or health. They may have a master’s or bachelor’s degree. They usually work alongside a psychologist/psychiatrist and can be great in helping you achieve concrete goals like stress management or anger management. Be mindful when choosing because there is no governing body that controls who calls themselves a counselor or coach.

So now that you know the different types of professionals, what sort of therapy is best for you?

Counseling is usually focused on shorter term goals. For example, as a counselor I may help a client reach a goal of reducing stress eating episodes. This would involve helping them understand the source of their stress eating – what is causing the stress? Are they eating junk because they don’t know it’s bad for them? I may educate them about nutrition and what bad food does to their body. Their homework might be to write a list of things they like about themselves and place it on their fridge to look at before they reach for foods that will harm their health. Together we’ll determine “triggers” (things that compel the unwanted behavior) like watching too much TV or having bad day at work. I’ll go grocery shopping with them and help them find healthy foods to snack on when the urge kicks in. We will clean the kitchen together of unhealthy foods, when they are ready. Their stress eating can involve larger issues like anxiety, self esteem, and depression so we address those as they surface. But I am more focused on helping them change the unwanted behavior. I cannot diagnose any mental illness or disorder.

Psychotherapy is more long term and focuses on a wider range of issues, sometimes more severe. A psychotherapy plan can cover helping someone feel better equipped to handle ALL stresses (grief, rejection, physical pain) as well as recognize behavioral patterns that prevent them from reaching their personal goals. Sessions may focus on enriching relationships by managing negative thinking, reducing feelings of low self-esteem, and ending self-isolating behaviors. A psychotherapist can help someone who has experienced childhood trauma and abuse recognize (and change) patterns in their adult relationships that attract more trauma and abuse. Psychotherapists like Psychiatrists and Psychologists can officially diagnose disorders like anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.

These branches can be broken into dozens of smaller techniques. Some people feel their symptoms are manageable with talk therapy – sometimes it takes talking and medication to feel your best. Sometimes you may just need a life coach or counselor to get you out of a specific rut in life.

Remember: the road to becoming your best self doesn’t have to be lonely. There are plenty of people to love and support you!

Websign Full Color

 

February 2016 Quote of the Month

“It is not enough to be busy – so are ants. The question is: What are we busy about?”

-Henry David Thoreau


We live in a culture which praises multitasking and scoffs at those who live slowly and purposefully. At every moment we’re expected to be plugged in, accessible, working, creating, responding, consuming, and collaborating.

It’s important to slow down and ask yourself: What am I busy for?

Are we busy just to look important? Are we busy to impress others? Are we busy because we feel we have to be? Are we running at light speed to avoid soul searching? Are we laying foundation for the life we dream of living? Or are we busy because we can’t appreciate stillness and self-reflection?

What will be left after the the dust settles? What are the results of the flailing and frantic “rush” we create daily? At the end of it all: are you proud of your accomplishments or have you simply managed to survive another day?

“Busy” without a deeper purpose and plan is pointless. In fact, it can even be harmful as it increases stress and can lead to burnout. If you find yourself addicted to being busy – make sure you’re working towards a purpose deeper than survival.

There’s something beautiful in work hard, but make sure to keep your long term goals and dreams in mind each step of the way!

Websign Full Color

 

Is “Burnout” Real?

Industrial-Organizational psychology (“I/O” for short) is a branch of psychology that studies what work means to us and how it affects our lives. I/O psychology introduced a phenomena that’s been referred to commonly as: BURNOUT.

Burnout is that feeling that you just can’t do anymore.

When you experience burnout you feel tired, exhausted, uninspired, frustrated, overworked, and under-appreciated. Most workers can remember at lease one case of burnout.

Burnout(edit)

The dimensions of burnout can occur in any order and be experienced simultaneously

Maslach describes the dimensions of burnout:

  1. Emotional Exhaustion
  2. Depersonalization
  3. Low Personal Accomplishment

These dimensions can occur in distinct stages or overlap.

The effects of burnout are disastrous. You’re more likely to produce poor work if you are tired and inattentive. You’re more likely to take a few sick days if you feel run down. If you feel cynical and hopeless, you will start “checking out” of your work environment.

We learned in our previous post that our mental health is the lens through which we experience the world. Burnout is relevant because it affects our mental well being. The frustration and hopelessness of a stressful jobs can spill past the borders of our workplace and into our personal lives.

Let me be clear: burnout is not a mental disease. Burnout is not a indication of unhappy or listless workers. Burnout is usually a symptom of larger problem. It can occur for a number of complex reasons. It can happen when the job isn’t really a great fit for the person hired to do it, alternatively it can be a reflection of a particular field, specific job/title, or management issues.

When I worked as a claims adjuster – it was daunting. Adjusting claims for any type of insurance is super stressful. Your customer’s first contact with you as an adjuster is always after something horrible has happened: someone hit their brand new car, they hurt themselves at work, their house was broken into, etc. You’re working with the general public – many people purchase insurance without understanding their coverage. Their first crash course is when they’re angry and need to use this invisible “product” they’ve been putting money towards for months or years. The natural frustration of an accident coupled with lack of consumer education means claims adjusters must be extremely empathetic and gentle. So why do claims reps have the stigma of being a cold-hearted bunch?

Part of it is burnout. Often claims adjusters are overloaded with claims. They hear tears, frustration, screaming, and cursing through their entire work day. Receiving 20-30 voicemails daily is common. Handling lengthy investigations that end up being fraudulent is common. And though adjusters don’t sell the policies – it’s their responsibility to educate consumers on the details of coverage purchased years prior. That’s not to mention the often complex and specialized laws/state regulations one must learn to be compliant in the industry. I truly did enjoy the human contact of my job in claims – I like to help and coach people, that’s why I’m a counselor now! However there’s no denying that working claims is a perfect storm for burnout: (1) high claims volume (2) pressure of legal and organizational restraints and (3) helping those who are emotionally distraught and angry.

Let’s look at some solutions for both the burned out employee and the organization at large.

(1) Seek better training. (Management: OFFER effective training.)

Once I learned the systems and process better, I became more efficient at my claims job. Taking extra time to learn a new skill or master technology may seem counter productive – after all, you’re already overloaded with tasks you don’t have time to finish, right? Well, view training as an opportunity to learn how to work more efficiently. Tasks that once took an hour were completed in 10-15 minutes after training and practice with the right tools. This freed up more of my day to get tougher things done. If there’s no formal training – take initiative to find someone in your department or team that’s performing well. Ask for time to sit with them or observe them.

(2) Participate in team building. (Management: Encourage fun team building.)

As mentioned earlier, some fields or particular jobs are just going to be stressful. If you are a nurse, a social worker, or working in retail during Christmas – no amount of training is going to make your job less hectic. It’s the nature of your position and industry. So if you can’t change the situation, what can you do? Embed yourself positively in your workplace. The support of friends at work who best understand what you’re going through can make or break you during tough times. Participate in team events if you have the time. Better yet, make the time. Finding a coworker to meditate with during breaks or someone who can lift your spirits at lunch is very valuable. Get to know your team and have fun with them.

(3) TAKE TIME OFF. (Management: ALLOW TIME OFF.)

I realize this isn’t available to all workers/managers. But if you have the opportunity to take a short break – seize it. Plan a vacation or “stay-cation” over a weekend to unplug and come back refreshed.

(4) Have a constructive conversation with your boss. (Management: Seek feedback.)

Complaining to coworkers and friends outside of work may feel cathartic but once it becomes too frequent and too negative it can turn toxic. You’ll recognize a toxic conversation because these interactions make the speaker and listener feel worse afterward instead of relieved or uplifted. Everyone needs to vent, but sometimes communicating to the right people in the right way can be more constructive than daily rant sessions around the cooler. Talking to your team members about the issues and brainstorming solutions to present to your manager might be the key to changing things.

If things still don’t improve?

Ask yourself if you’re truly a good fit for your job. Does it intersect with your knowledge, skills, interests, and personality? Only you know the answer there. If the answer is “no”, consider making a game plan to change things. You may not have the luxury of landing a new job immediately once you realize this. But you can take small steps in the right direction – try to incorporate more of your style into the position you’re working to increase happiness. My friend and ex-coworker Chris is a guest writer  for this blog. When we worked together he started a weekly email chain with funny clips and hilarious inter-office quotes. What started off as something goofy became this wonderful thing that everyone started to look forward to. He got to uplift the team, express his personality, feel valued, and become more embedded. All of that made working harder feel easier. If you’re are looking for a more concrete change: consider moving to another department or saving up to take time off for a serious job search. Vocational counselors use different methods to help you find and secure a job that’s better suited for your skills and interests. Many community centers have free vocational counseling and job training programs.

Stay sharp and fresh out there,

Websign Full Color

Comparison in the Social Media Age

Theodore Roosevelt believed that “Comparison is the thief of joy”.

With this in mind – I unplugged from social media a few years ago.

In the beginning it was weird living without my timeline and a place to post all my happy photos and exciting news. But eventually it began to feel more organic. Phoning a friend with good news became less awkward. Arranging a dinner party through physical invites less tedious. I began to look forward to going over photos in person while laughing and telling the stories behind them. After a while I wondered why I previously posted photos in a frenzy as if I were releasing a CD be reviewed, admired, and critiqued.

This isn’t a rant about the evils of social media because we all know the ways in which it enhances our lives and increases inter-connectivity. Facebook makes it effortless to connect to far away friends and relatives and give them a glimpse into your life that they wouldn’t otherwise have. Social media can bring awareness to incredible causes like activism, charity, and education.

But, there can be a dark underbelly to the act of constantly polishing up our online lives for consumption and viewing the meticulously polished lives of others.

A few studies have been completed on the subject, one notable one by Jordan, Monin, Dweck, Lovett, John, & Gross in 2011. Their study found that heavy social media use can lead to symptoms of depression and inadequacy:

People tend to underestimate others’ negative emotions…  those afflicted with emotional difficulties may fail to recognize others’ internal struggles, which may compound feelings of loneliness and isolation.  – Jordan et al., 2011

Comparison happens. We ALL compare ourselves to others and it’s not always a bad thing! I compare my actions to those I admire or deeply respect. I ask: I am being as inclusive and kind to others as my personal idols? Am I being open and curious or am I closing off because I’m afraid of the unknown? Holding yourself to a standard that you truly believe in is a good thing. But comparing things like looks, lifestyle, career, and money can lead to depression and anxiety.

photo-1415035008535-7ecdfd6d45b8

Below is an excerpt from Alice Walton’s article about Facebook and Depression :

“You should feel good after using Facebook . . .However, the unintended consequence is that if you compare yourself to your Facebook friends’ ‘highlight reels,’ you may have a distorted view of their lives and feel that you don’t measure up to them, which can result in depressive symptoms. If you’re feeling bad rather than good after using Facebook excessively, it might be time to reevaluate and possibly step away from the keyboard.”

For me, the constant status updates, tweets, and throwin’ photos on “the gram” felt a little forced. By only uploading my bright happy smiles I ignored the valuable lessons attached to the tears cried along the way.

I’ve learned so much from those less glamorous, quiet moments that aren’t captured on the “highlight reels”. And I’ve accepted the fact that I am not grandiose. I don’t value fame and fortune above all else and I am not overly concerned with status. I still cry at sad movies and hold the utmost respect for my parents. I like things that are deemed too pedestrian in a culture that’s more obsessed with shock value and entertainment than actual substance and kindness. I am plain and unimpressive at times and don’t need to constantly buzz, sparkle, rebuild, attract, network, consume, and react. Often times, I simply enjoy just BEING.

BEING (instead of showing, watching and obsessing) was easier to do sans social media, for me. But quitting isn’t necessary if you don’t want to. Here are some tips I suggest for social media users who desire happier more fulfilling interactions:

1) Commit to being CONSCIOUS of how and when you use social media.
Are you building others up? Are you encouraging and connecting with loved ones? Or are you being your worst critic and lamenting over perfect photos of people who really may not matter? Do you only run to social media when you’re feeling down in the dumps? If yes – do know that logging on and comparing yourself to others is almost guaranteed to make you feel worse? Being conscious means using social media and interacting with intent.

2) Create and enjoy content that’s REAL and true to you!
Are you allowing your self esteem to be measured in clicks and likes – or are you creating and sharing content that truly enriches people’s lives? Are you being respectful of your morals and ideals while online? Better yet – are you being respectful of others? Making content that’s true to yourself and not solely designed to garner attention is a surefire way to feel good about yourself. People feel better when they are authentic. Bonus: authentic people are received better by others as well! So be yourself, always.

3) Limit your usage when dealing with a depressive episode. 
If you’re having a depressive episode – consider steering away from social media until you feel more stable and positive. Viewing photos of your friends having the time of their lives while you feel down in the dumps is not going to cheer you up. Even if those photos are carefully crafted, curated, and/or photoshopped. Instead of passively consuming media during these episodes – I suggest engaging mindfully in your favorite healthy hobby or activity. Do something you know will improve your mood. Talk to someone about your feelings and get it all out. Then unwind and watch your favorite show, learn a new recipe, go for a quick jog.

Conscious usage of social media is something we could all engage in to create a happier (online) world!

Websign Full Color

 

Additional reading: I suggest reading Essena O’Neill’s story about quitting social media after being an “instagram celebrity”.