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,

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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?


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!

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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!

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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.


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,

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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.


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!

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