Positive Psychology: 9 Habits of Happy People

happypeepsOften, when writing psychology related articles, my topics tend to focus on understanding problem areas, dealing with struggles and how to cope with challenges. The stigma around ‘having a problem’, as being the main reason why someone would need to see a mental health professional, is still very present. However, the study of Positive Psychology (or as some are calling it ‘the science of happiness’) is growing and people are focusing more and more on the strengths that lie beneath and how to access these even before any ‘problems’ arise.

There are literally thousands of books and websites claiming they have the solution on how to live a happy life. I’m sure most, if not all, of them are right in their own way. Happiness is different for everyone and changes significantly throughout our lives as our own priorities change along with it (what made you happy as an adolescent might not do it anymore for you as an adult).

Our personality traits, interest etc also determine our individual definitions of happiness. While one person gets great joy from being surrounded by a large number of friends, another person might prefer to hide in a quiet room and curl up with a book.

I won’t be writing anything that hasn’t been written a million times before, but I thought I would summarise for you the 10 habits I’ve witnessed to be most effective on people’s happiness:

1. Be Kind, Always 

People who cultivate kindness tend to me happier and show less signs of depression. Being kind to others and caring for others, tends to make us feel good ourselves (like they say, there are no selfless good deeds). So not only do you better someone else’s life, but you’re also improving your own in the process.

Being kind, doesn’t mean we need to always go overboard and ‘save’ everyone that crosses our path.. Kindness can be shown in the simplest of forms by acknowledging someone with a smile, wishing someone a good day or reaching out to someone who might need your help (however big or small that help is).  It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.

2. Recognise your Strengths and Work with your Weaknesses 

Studies (such as M. Seligman’s research in Positive Psychology) have shown that people who discovered their unique strengths and used them for more than their own personal goals, are generally happier.

I would say this also goes hand in hand with recognising your own weaknesses and working with them, rather than letting them hold you back.

Strengths include, but are certainly not limited to, things such as integrity, critical thinking, humanity, motivation, determination, kindness, open-mindedness and many more.

Weaknesses such as people-pleasing, self criticism, prejudice, discrimination etc should be acknowledged (after all, none of us are prefect), but we can work around or with them in our path to improving ourselves and how we are with others.

3. Mindfulness and Positive Thinking

As a psychologist, the word ‘mindfulness’ and positive thinking, often had some of my patients roll their eyes as they sat back and expected the caricature speech on yoga positions, relaxation exercises and group therapy (even though they’ve all been proven highly effective, but that’s not my point 😉

Mindfulness is focusing on the here and now, and what is around us. It’s being aware of our situation, our feelings around it and the effects they may be causing. Practising mindfulness does not require you to be incredibly spiritual or religious, and it can be done by anyone as it is something we naturally do. However, practising it on a regular basis, allows us to strengthen it as it can help us improve our state of mind.

Positive thinking, in conjunction with being mindful, focuses on our appreciation of the good things we experience and have in life and allows us to better manage the negative flows that often cross our way.

Practising mindfulness does not necessarily require you to be in the seated position surrounded by only quietness. We can be mindful whilst doing every day activities. Pay attention to your breathing, get in touch with your feelings, or get lost in the flow of doing everyday simple activities you enjoy (for me personally, cleaning gets me very relaxed, as I can just ‘switch off’ and focus only on the task at hand) .

4. Laugh 

Laughing truly is the best medicine. Laughing (like exercising) triggers the release of endorphins, which are our body’s feel good chemicals, as well as decreases stress levels and increase our immune cells.

Not only do we see physical benefits form laughter, but it also takes a load of our mental burdens and strengthens our emotional health.

It’s not always easy to find situations in which we can spontaneously burst out in fits of laughter (although the concept of ‘laugh yoga’ is increasingly becoming more popular), but we can find ways to at least spark a grin here and there. Smiling is a good start.. a smile is contagious and can go a long way not just for you but for others as well.

Spend your time with playful people and appreciate the humour in life. It’s important to remember the funny side of things and to appreciate the laughter when it happens.

5. Live healthy and Move 

I could write an entire article alone in this, as everyone has their own definition of what ‘eating healthy’ and ‘exercise’ means.

To put it simply, eating healthy involves eating fresh food, avoiding processed meals, junk food and unhealthy fat/sugar levels. How you want to go about that and to what extreme is your choice. Basically, feed your body what it needs rather than what it wants (ok… from time to time also eat what it wants, because eating a treat often contributes greatly to our happiness as well 😉

Exercise does not mean spending your life in the gym (although if that makes you happy then absolutely go for it!). With exercise here, in order to promote happiness, I mean moving your body every day to get your endorphins going. This can be as simple as a 30 minute walk, taking the stairs instead of an elevator or walking that extra block to avoid taking the bus.

6. Nurture Positive Relationships  

Humans are social animals. Surrounding ourselves with people we care about often has an immediate impact on our levels of happiness. Again, this differs for many people as some are perfectly happy with one or two people close to them whereas others thrive from interacting within a large group.

The number of people in your life isn’t the important aspect here, but rather the effort you put into your relationships that matters.

Social relationships come and go and even the closest of friendships can dissolve in time. Having social relationships takes effort from all parties involved and should not be taken for granted. The focus should not be on ‘how often’ you see someone, but on ‘how meaningful’ it is when you do. Happy people tend to surround themselves with people who make them feel good instead of negative people (misery loves company). Happy people also nurture their relationships by talking about the things that matter and resolving any issues that might come up.

7. Be Inspired to Grow 

There are two different mindsets… People who are ‘fixed in their ways’ and who refuse the notion that they can change because they feel that this is who they are. When confronted with something they don’t know, people with such a mindset might find themselves feeling overwhelmed or hopeless about something they feel they can’t handle. When people show a more open-minded approach, it encourages them to learn from and improve their footprint in the world. Open-minded people don’t shy away from a challenge, which in turn builds the tools we need to manage difficulties in life or make necessary adjustments. Challenges are viewed as opportunities, and succeeding in them leaves us feeling happier with ourselves.

8. Find a Balance 

Being happy doesn’t mean we constantly need to walk around with a smile, making us feel as if we slept with a hanger in our mouth. There is nothing wrong with allowing ourselves to feel the bad things, and to complain as we work through them. Life is not  all rainbows and sunshine and we can often find ourselves in a downright sh*t storm. But even a thunder storm helps the tree get rid of dead branches (how’s that for positive visualisation! ha!)

Let yourself feel the negativity, we can’t live without it, but try to find ways not to let yourself drown in it.

For example, after a negative experience, focusing on what you have learnt from it or how you can improve/avoid it in the future, might help in processing it and moving on.

9. Make an Effort  

Happiness that lasts is built through habits. It’s easy to get sucked in by the daily routines and struggles that sometimes impede on our happiness. It’s also hard to sometimes not let go of the negatives and overthink where we went wrong. We can’t sit around and do nothing expecting happiness to fall in our laps, nor can be expect happiness to stay if we don’t actively do things to maintain it. This should not be seen as ‘work’, but rather as seeing that the mere actions of these habits is what makes us feel happy in the first place. This doesn’t mean we can’t allow ourselves to feel the negatives, it just means that, on some days, we might need to push harder to focus on the positives.

If you want to be happier, or want to continue to strengthen your happiness, try out some of the above habits!

Remember, the definition of happiness is different for all of us, so don’t compare yourself with others, but focus on what is important to you in order to increase your everyday ‘happy’ and dive in, head first …

We’ve got to stop this “Parent Shaming”

We have got to stop this parent shaming !!!

By a show of hands, who here has been judged, at some point, on their parenting. Now by the same show of hands, who here has judged other parents (*no… you don’t actually have to raise your ha*….. you see what I’m trying to get at here). Call it assessing competition/compatibility or just being plain bitchy, but we’re all guilty of at least thinking it.

Now back in the good old days, judging was done behind each other’s backs and we could just stick to our little groups of people who handled their kids the same way we did. However, fast forward to the Internet age, and on a daily basis my Facebook feed is flooded with propaganda, health articles and ‘new research’ that seems to show me exactly how bad I am doing at this whole parenting thing.

Not only do we have the ‘facts’ (and I use that term oh so lightly), but with that come the many voices that suggest to the rest of us that we’re doing a crappy job. In the age of oversharing on social media and a false sense of anonymity online, people seem to have taken it upon themselves to judge, criticize and sometimes just plain bully others ,without accounting for the consequences their words might bring.

Of course shaming each other seems to be somewhat of a global issue ranging from our religious/political choices, how we view our body image and what foods we prefer to eat (spoiler alert…. it ALL gives you cancer.. apparently.)  With that, I’d like to focus in particular on parent shaming and some of the issues I’ve stumbled upon in my short 3,5 years as a parent of two children (yes, based on the above criteria, that now makes me an expert  😉

1. ‘Fed is best’ (phrase taken from an existing Facebook page)

Both my girls have been bottle fed (*gasp*). They didn’t get any breast milk from the very start (*double gasp*). With the second one we even gave up within the first month (*exists and slams door*). But did you know that I was never able to produce the milk to begin with…. and yes we tried every tip/suggestion/hint we could find or were given… nothing worked. I had the storage… just not the stock. My girls were frustrated, hungry and missed out on bonding with their mom because each feeding session caused more and more stress for all of us (at one point I had a nurse milking me like a cow while another tried to attach my baby to the boob…. very sexy.. and relaxing) In the end, feeding them formula made them just as happy and healthy and we could focus again on the key issue of getting them fed and enjoying the time to bond and love them.

A number of friends have breastfed their babies in public (*gasp*)… they didn’t use a feeding schedule (*double gasp*) and some are even still breastfeeding their toddler (*the crowd goes wild*). But did you know that it makes them feel so much closer to their little ones.. and yes they know formula could do the trick just as much to give them a break…. but they don’t need nor want it. This is their choice and they are happy about that and I don’t see the kids complaining either.

Everyone has their own prerogative on how they feed their children and damnit.. as long as these babies are fed healthy (meaning breast or formula… not whiskey) then they’ll be just fine!

2. Dad’s don’t babysit, they parent

Ok, the breastfeeding can be more relatable to moms (in account of the whole ‘having boobs’ thing) but for too long have I seen the dads be pushed on the bench when it comes to ‘knowing how hard it is to be a parent’. So with this, I would like to do a little shout-out to all the papas out there. Being parents is about being a team, and like any team, everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses that we bring to the field. There is no superhero and the silly side-kick when it comes to parenting (although it’d be fun to start wearing our underwear on the outside).

It bothers me when people refer to daddies ‘babysitting’ to give mom a night out, but I don’t see us paying them at the end of the night and sending them on their jolly way for a good night’s sleep afterwards.

And believe it or not, when mommy’s not there, daddy also knows how not to kill the baby, what lyrics go with ‘Do you want to build a Snowman’ and that ‘snugglebut’ is the only teddy that helps them sleep better.

Just like moms no longer want to be seen as the 1950s housewife who gets excited about the new washing machine, dads no longer want to be seen as the authoritarian parent who couldn’t tell the front or back of a diaper if their life depended on it.

3. What if I told you that our babies slept through the night without using controlled crying nor co-sleeping…

When it comes up that our girls slept through the night from 3/4 months onward, I am often immediately greeted with the “Oh, I could never listen to my baby cry it out”. Often, one style of parenting is joined with a number of assumptions linked to that style and we don’t look at the background of the situation or most importantly…. is the kid happy?

We used somewhat of a schedule when feeding our girls (of course if they were really hungry before their scheduled time… we fed them… duh). But having a bit of a routine for both of them when it came to feeding and bedtime seemed to really work for us and them and of course I also take into account the immense amount of luck we’ve had with good nighttime sleepers… a lot of luck.

In saying that, parents who do decide on controlled crying are not sadists who sit outside their baby’s bedroom door and giggle every time the child cries out … like the rest of us, they are just trying out what works best for everyone involved in finding the right way to get our babies to sleep. We might not always agree on other people’s methods, but everyone is trying to just figure it out as we go..

I also know a number of parents who co-sleep, and even though it’s not something we did ourselves, we seen their kids as happy and healthy mini-humans. Yes, the parents are tired, I can’t think of any parent who isn’t, and no, none of them have gotten squashed just yet.. they’re fine!

Again, as long as the kids are happy it’s ok to find a schedule or a method that works for both the parents and the children. Sleep deprivation is just part of the game… find your own way to make it manageable.

4. If you have found the solution, share, don’t shame

I applaud those parents who have found the light and the only true way to parent their babies effectively. I even more so enjoy their regular social media blasts where they share their newfound enlightenment with the clear assumption that the rest of us are all still in the dark and know nothing or are ignorant and resistant to change.

If you find some interesting articles out there, or new research that could interest others, by all means, do share the love! But don’t shame the rest of us for not knowing this obvious valuable piece of information (even though you just read about it only 2 weeks ago yourself).  I’m glad people have found the light and maybe it is indeed the best way to go… if so, give the rest of us a chance to get their on our own … because your smug attitude will just make we want to rebel even more.

(*side note: not everyone sharing an article on parenting is considered a douche, we’ve got the right to speak our minds (this blog post being case in point)

5.  Don’t make up statistics or facts to prove a point

This is where fictional information on the Internet comes to play, or as our buddy D. Trump calls it ‘fake news’. Some people out there are good at relaying their personal opinions as hard facts. An example, chocking and SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) is a big worry for all parents, so please don’t tell a parent that their way to put their child to bed can lead to SIDS unless you have the scientific facts to back you up. We have been told that our use of ‘sleep positioners’ (to stop baby from rolling) could lead to SIDS… bullshit. Some of my co-sleeping friends have been told they could squash and choke their baby while they sleep…. bullshit. We’ll always find that one case where a baby did die etc, but don’t use someone’s horrible (and most likely rare) experience as a statistic to support your opinion on.

6. If you feel very strong about something, that’s fine, but does it need to be said?

In saying that, I feel strongly about this, but vaccines do not cause autism (I’m sorry that is just a scientific fact, we really can’t dispute that one can we?). That doesn’t mean I’ll go hunt down the parents that choose not to vaccinate, nor will I ever confront them about it (however hard it can be). The same goes for people who choose not to have medical, life-saving, interventions for their children because of their religion… I admire doctors who have to deal with this on a regular basis because I know I would struggle at keeping my mouth shut. Again though, this is the parents choice and it sucks big time to see this happen no matter how strongly we disagree with it (I know I do… just write a blog about it instead :p )

As usual, these are all just a compilation of my own personal opinions and suggestions (this being a personal blog and all). If I’ve offended some people with what I wrote please know this was not my intention, but it can be seen as such a ‘taboo’ topic these days that it’s hard to know what you should and shouldn’t write. I guess the main objective I’m trying to get at here is to try and live in a community where we support each other, not to make each other feel bad because we do things differently.

We can’t stop from judging… it’s in our nature.. but think before you speak … is it necessary to say out loud or could we just think it to ourselves?

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*(yep, these our kids watching TV… whaaaaaa?! 😉

Making the Heart grow Fonder: 7 Tips for when your partner works Long Distance

(Also posted in BonjourFrance.eu, Nov 2016)

Growing up, I remember my father being away for work quite often and we did not see a whole lot of him during the week. With that said, his weekends were for us and us alone (and maintaining the garden, but he’d put us to work in there together so you know… two birds… one stone).  We didn’t have Skype and mobile phones back then, yet seeing my parents work together like a well-oiled machine really influenced my future relationships.

When I met my husband whilst living in Australia, one of the first things he told me about himself was that he was a French national (although the accent kind of gave it away pretty quickly) and that his work required him to relocate on a regular basis. Our relationship kicked off with a long distance stint before I followed him overseas 14 months later. We traveled in Europe and Asia for his job and settled back in France 2 years ago to plant our feet in the soil and settle down. Nevertheless, his job still has him travelling quite often as I stay behind with our two daughters and the dog.

I certainly am not the only person in this situation, far from it, and have connected with a number of men and women that have spouses working away from home. I thought to share with you some of the tools that we have used over the years and that have proven to be helpful at times.

  1. Communication is key

This is pretty much a given. Communication is vital in all relationships, but it doubles in importance when that same relationship must battle the distance. In today’s tech savvy society, we’re extremely spoiled with all the applications and programs available to us to connect with our loved ones. That doesn’t mean communication over the net is as easy as it seems. Although you miss someone every day, you don’t always have a lot to talk about when you get your 15 minutes on the phone together. Often it can feel a bit forced as you try to sift through the day in your mind and share the highlights. Don’t put too much pressure on having the perfect phone call or a deep and meaningful e-mail, simply touching base can be enough to let each other know you’re thinking of one another.

  1. Prioritize each other

Enjoy the small talk and joking around, but also leave room for the bigger issues.  Let your partner know where you’re at, even if it’s not the fun news of the day. I know some of us hold back as we don’t want to worry our partner while they are away (or vice versa, worry the ones at home).

Call each other on the times you agreed and touching base during the day can also minimize the ‘out of sight out of mind’ pitfall. Send a sweet video of the kids or a romantic picture to let your better half know they’re on your mind. (Side note: Be cautious with the romantic portraits though, you wouldn’t want to accidentally send a sultry image to their boss or have your sexy face pop up on their computer during a presentation).

  1. Learn how to Argue Constructively

Like any relationship, clashes and disagreement happen from time to time. It feels almost artificial to follow what the books say and start an argument calmly with “I feel that…” and “How can we approach this together”.  Take away the face-to-face aspect of the argument and there can be even more room for miscommunication and conflicts. There is nothing wrong with allowing yourselves to have a heated dispute at first, where you throw random arguments at each other and even bring up stupid things from the past (like when they said they would be home at a certain time and strolled in an hour later without a text… the drama :p. Release that frustration, albeit somewhat incoherently. Once all issues have been thrown on the table, that’s when we can calmly focus on the bigger picture and work through the important ones together (some of them might simply go away once you’ve said them out loud).

  1. It goes both ways

After a rough day, you might feel  that you’re doing a lot staying behind and taking care of the family, while you think your partner is ‘sleeping in’ at the hotel and having a nice dinner, but that is not always the case.  While it can be exciting to visit new locations and network, the demands of being away for an extended period can cause both physical and mental exhaustion. A few days away might feel like a nice break, but all the comfy hotel beds in the world don’t make up for missing out on the everyday things at home. Working away, while the  significant other stays behind, can be stressful and taxing for both parties. It’s not a competition and being part of a team requires a little give and take from everyone.

  1. Make the best of it

At first it didn’t bother me too much that my partner was away a lot. Before we had children, I took advantage of the ‘me-time’, and indulged in ‘girly-my-husband-would-rather-have-a-lobotomy-than-watch-these’ movies as well as meet up with friends. After the arrival of our daughters however, we became a bit more house bound and our priorities changed. Nevertheless, as soon as those monkeys are in their bed, I might grab a glass of red and put on the corniest series I can find (I have no shame in admitting I’m currently hooked on the show ‘Pretty Little Liars’… well maybe a little bit ashamed). It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling a certain void while your partner is away, but making the best of a less favorable situation avoids cutting into your couples-time once they are back. (e.g.: file paperwork, catching up with your own friends, or finally do that ‘extreme Spring clean’ you’ve been planning… even though it’s November).

  1. Perspective

Whenever I do feel a bit down in the dumps because, yet again, my husband gets called away for a few weeks, I try to put things in perspective. I have friends in the military who can be away from their partner and kids for 18 months at a time… looking at it that way, our measly 2-3 weeks feel modest. This does not mean that your situation is irrelevant nor that it feels any better being apart. However, reflecting on others’ situation could bring a certain comfort in knowing you’re not the only one doing this and people are rocking the long distance relationships every day! It does take a village to raise a child, so don’t be afraid to accept outside help where offered and build yourself a little support network.

  1. You’re a rock star!

Maintaining a relationship from a distance (any relationship for that matter) is not always easy and needs us to be bold and to hang in there. It’s for those who are willing to spend a lot of time alone; in exchange for a little time with the ones they love. It’s for recognizing a good thing when they see it, even when they may not see it nearly enough”. I read that once somewhere (thank you random late-night Internet searches whilst hubs is overseas).

Long distance relationships (however short or long) are hard, but they are also incredible. If you can communicate with, love and respect each other from a distance, well then you can knock it out of the park when you’re together!

“Distance gives us a reason to love harder” (Anon).

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“When we try our hardest not to be a f°ker, but we end up being a bigger f°ker just to outf°k the f°ckers”: Can’t we all just get along?

After a recent rage induced build up, resulting in my first public argument with a total stranger, I got to thinking why the number of ‘assholes’ seems to have increased in our society over the last few years? Have they always been there? Am I just more susceptible to them now? Or worse even.. am I an asshole myself?

I did a little brainstorming session on the possible causes responsible for “assehole-itis” (which funnily enough is actually a term already defined on the internet).

1. Delusional Anonymity

Because the world is becoming vastly overpopulated, it’s only natural we’re running out of space. The morning rush on public transport with a sea of nameless faces, endless traffic jams and access to the Internet behind a hidden desk; all provide us with this false sense of anonymity. We can pretty much do what we want and no-one knows who we are or where they can find us, which in turn could lead us to forget about the consequences of our own crappy behaviors. You see, “we try our hardest not to be a fucker, but people we deal with everyday are fuckers, so we become a bigger fucker, just to outfuck the fuckers” . I read that somewhere a while back, I couldn’t tell you the original author, but they were spot on! I think most of us do try to be the best we can be, but even the best intentions have their limits.

Treatment for this does not require taking drastic measures, like hugging random strangers out of the blue, but rather starting with the basics, like the common smile. When making eye contact with someone, a smile goes a long way (please note: this can be brief and minimal – staring with an overbearing grin for longer than 4 seconds will most likely result in the person freaking out a bit and probably changing seats). If you accidentally bump into someone,that’s okay, sh*t happens, but excuse yourself and continue on your busy day.

When in the car, I know- I for one- have a very short fuse.. It drives me crazy when people don’t indicate, drive careless and don’t even get me started on what I think of texting and driving (idiots). It would be unrealistic to expect we all drive like saints following the speed limit to the dot with our hands on the 10 and 2 position at the wheel…and yes, it becomes a bit of an ‘eat or be eaten’ mentality on the road at times, but just be careful. It goes without saying that if your driving also puts others at significant risk, you’re not considering the consequences (and if you do think about the consequences but still don’t care, well then my friend, you’re an asshole).

2. Social Media overload 

It’s true that social media networks have given every man and his dog a platform to share their ideas. I remember the days where our news feeds were flooded with people’s lunches, holiday pics and baby/pet gushers… but lately the majority of posts seem to comprise more opinion pieces, scary documentaries and 500 different ways on how I will get cancer from pretty much anything I eat…. Don’t get me wrong, I fully support the right for absolutely anyone to share their opinions and info (our differences is what makes us such a dynamic bunch!). However, when social media is no longer based on sharing information but rather aiming towards judging others for not thinking the same and downright spreading the hatred, that’s another story (I’m looking at you, Donald Trump). This isn’t just limited to the big guns like politics and religion though, as people are becoming more and more divided on daily topics (what we eat, marriage equality, how we parent, the things we watch on TV, the fact we even watch TV at all, etc)

Since when did it become an intolerant “us vs them” mentality as opposed to the less aggressive “let’s agree to disagree” attitude? I’m not suggesting we all go hug a tree together, but unless someone’s opinion or actions are directly affecting your life in a negative way, do we really need to break each other down the way we do and create even more hatred in an already pissed-off society?

3. Seasonal Affective Disorder 

This is an actual mood disorder that affects an individual the same time each year, usually starting when the weather becomes colder, and ends when the weather becomes warmer. People with SAD feel depressed during the shorter days of winter, and more cheerful and energetic during the brightness of spring and summer. It seems to be related more to daylight rather than temperature.  That being said, of course, not every Grouchy Marx in winter is diagnosed with this disorder, but I have noticed a difference in behaviors during the colder seasons (especially on the train where people are sweaty from their thick coats and pressed together like sardines).

For those who truly struggle with this, treatments such as light therapy and medication (for more severe cases) are available. For the rest of us who are just grumpier in winter, we need to acknowledge that it’s not our neighbor’s fault that it rained last night nor can the woman on the bus help it that you slipped on that patch of ice earlier (unless she pushed you, then well..).

4. The Departure of Basic Etiquette 

Gone are the days of curtsying, bowing and throwing your coat over a puddle. But it seems that basic etiquette rules have reduced (and a few disappeared all together) for some people. Again, this doesn’t have to go to the extreme case of shaking everyone’s hand in the store and striking up a conversation, but knowing a few basic terms will help us go a long way and not shit on anyone’s day. Words such as “hello”, “thank you”, “you’re welcome” and “goodbye” are still in today’s dictionary… let’s use them more often.

I stopped counting the times where I’ve seen people buy something at the store without eye contact or any form of acknowledgement of the seller, or where strangers tell another stranger to ‘fuck off’ merely because they were standing in their way, and many more examples come to mind.

It’s okay to not be the friendliest, most social person in the world… just don’t be a dick.

5. Someone else’s story 

Of course, anonymous-fast and the furious-Facebook-users standing in the cold, are not the only ones that can act out and behave like an a-hole. We don’t know everyone’s backstory and you could be having the worst day of your life, with someone else’s feelings being the last thing on your mind. But be mindful, that this goes both ways..

Just be kind to people, always, as everyone is battling their own demons that we know nothing about…

The last thing I want, is to encourage a divided society of thin skinned wieners who get offended at the slightest hint of conflict. We can of course still clash with each and show our annoyance at others…we can be angry, grumpy, and downright moody when we need to.. but there are many ways we can do so, and being an asshole is just not a very productive one.

Disagree, just don’t be disagreeable…

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Developing an Emotional Toolbox: How to help you and your child manage high emotions

From an early age, children understand the concept of a ‘toolbox’ and that it contains a variety of tools that are there to repair a machine or help fix a household problem. The idea of an ‘Emotional Toolbox’ (developed by Tony Attwood, PhD) is to develop different types of ‘tools’ that will help with the struggles associated with negative emotions (for example: anxiety, anger, depression, etc).  Over the many years working as a child psychologist, I have found it to be extremely helpful for just about anyone (not just young children) struggling with managing their emotions…

The initial idea of the Emotional Toolbox was linked to successful strategies in the treatment of anxiety and anger in children with Asperger’s syndrome (Sofronoff et al 2005/2007). Like any household toolbox, the tools are divided into different categories : physical, relaxation, thinking, social, special and inappropriate tools. Each category has tools that quickly and effectively reduce emotional energy, and promote thinking.

As a therapist,  I work with children/adults and their family, to develop personalized tools that can help manage their negative emotions, as well as look at some ‘inappropriate’ tools that, for them, possibly makes the emotions worse.

Today, I would like to share with you the basic template of developing an emotional toolbox together with your child. (*PLEASE NOTE: This is just a template to help you get started at home and not equivalent to a therapeutic session. Any ongoing concerns you may have for your child should be followed up through professional psychological intervention)

With your child, set some time aside where you can uninterruptedly brainstorm and work together on creating their own set of tools and activities that can help them manage their negative emotions when they feel overwhelmed. Below you can find the different categories and a brief explanation, as well as a sample template, to get you started…

Physical Tools

This category represents tools or actions that release emotional energy through a physical activity. Choose a ‘logo’ that symbolized physical activity for them (for example, sneakers, a soccer ball, etc). Then, with your child, discuss which physical actions could help them ‘release’ their excess energy at the time and when this tool could be best implemented (remember, playing soccer might be a very helpful tool to calm them down, but will not be useful at night just before bedtime).

Relaxation Tools

Just as it sounds, relaxation tools are there to help them calm their body and mind through mediation-related actions. This can include reading a book, taking some time-out and listening to music, and the most effective form of relaxation…breathing techniques. Breathing techniques can be practiced together for your child to understand how they work and the benefits as they feel their heart rate slow down and their body relax. Again, choose a logo that will help them identify with this type of tool (for example, a flower, the sun, a book, etc)

Social Tools

Social tools include the involvement of your child’s support network. That can be their immediate family, school staff, friends etc. The social tool requires them to enlist someone from their support network to help them manage a stressor, this can include asking mom for a hug, talking to their teacher about a problem at school, or asking a friend to play or sit with them. A logo I found useful is the outline of their hand (where each finger signifies a person in their support network).

Thinking Tools

Thinking tools focus on helping them understand and rationalize their behavior when dealing with negative emotions. Have them write down what is happening at the time, using three columns: 1. What am I feeling 2. What was I doing before I started feeling this way 3. Which tool can I use to help me work through this feeling until I feel better? Some children respond well to having their very own notebook (which can be decorated as they see fit) to help them take notes and track their progress.

Special Tools

Some children might have a special interest that takes up a lot of their time, or a special toy (for younger children). This can be placed in any of the above categories, however, some children like to have an ‘extra’ tool for the things they hold ‘extra’ dear.

Inappropriate Tools

It is also important to identify the tools they use that have proven to be unsuccessful and aggravate the situation (for example, hitting someone, breaking property, hurting themselves etc). Once you have, together, established these tools, write them down in their toolbox and draw a big red line through them. This helps your child understand that these tools are not helpful and puts focus on the other, more useful, tools around that they have created for themselves.

Important Notes:

  • Help your child understand that they have developed a variety of tools to deal with different situation and locations, and it is up to them to choose a tool that works best at the time.
  • Mastering their toolbox effectively will take time and practice. Just like learning any new skill, the more they practice and evaluate their progress (with your help), the easier managing their emotions will become overtime…but this does not happen overnight !!
  • Allow room for error.. just like adults, they are bound to slip up once in a while. Take the opportunity to reflect and evaluate and look at how it could be done better next time ..
  • Managing negative emotions does not mean suppressing negative emotions. Your child needs to know they are absolutely allowed to feel these feelings and find helpful ways to work through them rather than ignore them and act out.
  • Sometimes, some tools might need some tweaking or new tools are developed as their needs and interests change and grow constantly.

I hope this template helps you get started….. Once you have created the Emotional Toolbox (this can be a piece of paper, an index card etc) it is useful to display it somewhere your child can easily access it (for example, the fridge door). Whenever they feel overwhelmed, help draw their attention to the toolbox and together discuss which tool would work best for them at the time… (depending on your child’s emotional management outside the home, sometimes having a replica of their toolbox at school/nanny/etc can help them practice further).

As mentioned earlier, any significant, ongoing concerns you may have are always best followed up through professional intervention..

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“Bottoms Up”: The Cocktail Menu of Sexy Hook-Ups

Before you read this and think ‘jezz, what a trampy tramp tramp’, I would like to clarify that the following are all a compilation of sexual escapades taken from the many stories my friends and I have shared over the years. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that we can have our wilder years before settling down in order to know what we want (and most importantly, what we don’t want). Not an opinion that is shared by everyone, which is completely fine as each to their own for sure, and also an opinion I will shelter my daughter from until she is old enough to be able to learn from those mistakes we make during those years. To clarify, I don’t agree these wilder years should start at 14 and can wait well into the early 20s, so tweenies.. put the vodka cruisers down and go enjoy being young just a bit longer.
Anyway, rather than just tell the hook up stories we’ve shared, I’d like to attempt to categorise each style of hook-up as a type of a drink (because often it was the drink that got us there in the first place).

 

1) “The Lawn Mower”
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been sexually active or how many naughty films you have seen…. before you become the stud muffin you are today… you will have sex like a rabbit where you have no idea what you are doing and she won’t say anything as you jack hammer until the finish line. You start up like a lawn mower and rakatakatakataka…

2) “The Long Island Who’s He/She?”
Where you had so much to drink that you don’t actually remember bringing this person into your bed last night.

3) “The Don Juan”
The fling with some Brazilian/Argentinean foreigner. You met in the club, knowing very well what his game plan was seeing you were the 6th person he hit on, but decided to hook up anyway for the sake of taking in some culture.

4) “The Ol’ Fashioned”
The good old, boy meets girl, boy meets boy, girl meets girl you name it; where your eyes meet across a crowded room, you go on a few romantic dates and hold back just enough so as to show how much you respect each other before diving under the clean sheets, missionary style as you spoon post-coital and plan a weekend away.

5) “Sex on the Beach”
It sounds super romantic – waves crashing down, a slight breeze, and the shimmer of the full moon….but let’s share one word… crumbed sausage.

6) “The Forbidden Fruit”
Often the best hook ups of them all, because let’s face it…we all like what we can’t or shouldn’t have. It can be someone else’s crush, a friend’s sibling, or plain just a naughty little secret. This also works when you’re coupled up and have naughties somewhere you’re not supposed to. Basically anything that is frowned upon or taboo… is often the most fun. (Like junk food really)

7) “The Friendini with a Twist”
Friends with benefits have been around since the dawn of time. Be it because of a shortage of potential partners in your area, hanging out waaaay to often with the same crowd, or just wanting something familiar and comfortable… having a friend to lean on (and with ‘lean’ I mean bump uglies) can sometimes be quite fun as you both embark and explore this new world of ‘sex’.

8) “The Expat”
An elaboration from the Friendini, where you have a friend you only see every few years or so for a little woopie. Long enough to have a good time and kick your socks off, but short enough before it turns into a regular friend with benefits.

9) “Gotch Ya RedBull”
The over eager, or very horny person who just can’t wait to get their hands on you. I once had a mate who encountered this very person and walked away with rope burn…. on his penis. Safe to say, he didn’t call her back.

10) “The GodFather”
The guy who thinks the phrase “who’s your daddy” actually works outside of bad 80s porn flicks.

11) “Enough-Bush City”
This goes for both genders…. landscaping is a must. This does not mean you need to follow the trends of ridding your special areas to look like a 10 year old, nor do you need to take that trip to the salon to bleach your a**hole… but a little TLC ‘down there’ can go a long way for you as well as your partner under the sheets.

12) “The Paparazzi”

Where you’ve hooked up with a famous person and you’ll always have that … regardless if the sex was good or not

13) “The Tri-jito”

When two become one…. plus one.

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Constructive Arguing: “Those who dont’ do…”

How often has it happened that you end up in an argument; be it with your significant other, a friend, a family member or a colleague; and you just can’t seem to get your messages across or you struggle in finding an effective resolution for an often simple situation?

I’m a bit of a hypocrite writing a post on effective and constructive ways to have an argument, however, as the saying goes “Those who don’t do…” So a few tips from a more life coach point of view rather than a personal one (as I’ll take notes and try to continue to apply these to myself and the ones in my life):

1) Be direct and to the point
This does not mean you switch off your filter and say whatever is on your mind, but rather, focus on the main issue you are trying to communicate (without a never-ending back story attached to it).

2) Don’t be mean
As it often goes with arguments, negative emotions can sometimes take over the reins resulting in the saying of hurtful and mean things to the other person, just to get a reaction or because you are angry. These are things that won’t always be forgotten once the fight has died down!

3) Forgive, not forget
When someone has said something hurtful that upset you, but you’ve talked it over and decided to move on, it is not easy to forget. But it is easier to forgive…I read somewhere that holding on to a grudge and anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intention of throwing it at someone else.. you’re the one that end up burnt.

4) Listen!
Often when people are arguing they’re just waiting for their turn to speak in order to defend their point and might not always really hear what the other one is saying. Listening to each other and finding out what it really is you’re trying to say… can sometimes even lead to the conclusion that you’re trying to say the same thing!

5) Take a break.
Some of us want to dig in and talk that sh*t out for hours on end, others need the occasional break to cool off and reflect. Respect that about one another and find a common ground where maybe a break is taken, but then an agreement is made to re-visit the conversation at a later time.

6) Agree to Disagree
How important is it for the other person to know that you are angry/annoyed/right? Is it worth a heated discussion or not? Maybe pause and reflect, and if you’re still as mad as you were 24 hours ago, it might be worth bringing it up with them.

7) There is no need to ‘convert’ others to your opinion
The goal of an argument is often that you both try to explain how you are feeling, the reason you feel that way, and the outcome you had in mind. There is no need to spend hours trying to convince the other person that their side is wrong and you are the winner. There is no need for a winner or a loser… just an effective outcome.

8) Don’t be condescending.
Just because someone doesn’t agree with you, does not mean they are stupid or wrong. Speaking to someone as if they are a 4 year old, will only add insult and escalate the situation.

9) Don’t yell
The volume of your voice, will not determine the validity of your argument. Most people, when getting yelled at, will only shut down and focus on their thought and a useful comeback they can use on you later. They won’t be listening.

It is necessary to argue in life! It would be freaky if we didn’t disagree from time to time (the world would be a pretty boring place if we all agreed on the same things and never challenged each other). And of course; it is important to express how you feel as well: your anger, disappointment, excitement, you name it! We can’t all hug each other, sit on a couch and talk about how we need to ‘feel our feelings’, sometimes you just gotta get mad!! But we can try and find constructive ways to get to the end result…

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“Caution Hazard”: The Traits of a Toxic Friendship

We’ve all been exposed at one point in our lives to a person who seems to cause more damage than good; be it a friend, a lover, a work colleague or a complete stranger on the street. As the saying goes “some people are meant to stay in our lives, others are merely passing through to teach us a lesson” …..and boy have we learned some lessons.

Of course, a ‘toxic person’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘a bad person’, and I’m sure that I may have been a toxic person to someone else at some point as well. Some relationships (be it platonic, romantic or professional) may fade out because you just move on and do different things in life, sometimes it can be because you unintentionally place certain (and not always realistic) expectations on a person ….and sometimes it’s as simple as.. ‘they’re just an a**hole’.

Below are some traits viewed as toxic (albeit maybe not at the time itself) and that have taught me some life lessons (and re-taught me them over and over again, because of course I didn’t learn the first time). I believe we have all fallen victim as well as have been the culprit in contributing to the toxicity…. I’d like to think it wasn’t intentional, and I hate to admit I have been guilty of some of these traits myself in the past… but that what irritates us the most in others, is often what we thrive to better in ourselves right? (thanks Carl Jung).

1) When someone puts you down all the time

There is the funny banter amongst friends where you can tease each other about certain shortcomings, but then there is the other side of the spectrum where someone puts us down every chance they get. Of course, criticism can be good as long as it stays constructive (let’s not live in a bubble here). But I don’t think being called ‘useless’, ‘you won’t amount to anything’ and ‘you cooked the taco sauce wrong’ are very helpful…. yep, a few gems from a couple of toxic friends I was stupid enough to invite to our Senior Years school holidays.

2) When someone only seems to be around when they need something

Of course we are there to help one another, and each favour should not be viewed as being used, however, we’ve all been exposed to that person who seems to be endless in their demands of favours but nowhere to be found when you need them. Or the person who didn’t want to join you for a drink because they were too tired, until you mentioned you’d be the one paying etc. I think we all may have been guilty of doing that at one point in our lives, but boundaries around what to expect from friends/colleagues etc should be respected.

3) When someone is, more often than not, unsupportive

This kind of goes with the previous point on putting you down..the friend who will always look at the negatives first when you have something big to share and who will downplay your achievements, however big or small they are.

4) When someone manipulates you all the time

When someone tries to ‘work you’ during every conversation, every act has a deeper meaning or agenda. They usually know exactly which buttons to push to get you to comply or react (be it a guilt trip, blaming you when you’re upset because of something they did or bombarding you with compliments to try and flatter you out of the real reason as to why they are diverting the conversation).

5) When someone is possessive, wanting their cake and eating it too

When someone will put down everyone else in your life and become jealous and possessive. They won’t appreciate that you’ve made a decisions without consulting them first or that you chose to socialise with a friend without an extended invitation their way. They are happy to rub your nose into their success but will accuse you of showboating when you want to share yours. They can be competitive with you or with other people close in your life.

6) When someone feels inconsiderate and artificial

Those people who don’t seem to care that their requests are inconvenient and don’t seem to appreciate your efforts when you do comply. They will often ask how you are going, but you can see the glazed over look in their eyes during your answer, whilst they wait for their turn to speak.

7) When someone doesn’t respect you

Relationships with people in your life don’t mean they all have to like you, but it’s important that they respect you. Someone who doesn’t respect you, who will intentionally ignore your calls/message or who will avoid you (but will gladly hitch a ride, get a referral or meet for a beer when they need to kill some time) are people not worth your effort.

8) When someone talks behind your back

I think I speak for most of us when I say we all gossip and we all have a vent about the people we know at some point in our lives… I know I have and I’m certain I’ve pissed off anyone I know at some point or another (but I guess they forgave me if I’m still around so.. yay 🙂 I do believe, however, there is still a big difference between a frustrated outlet and going out of your way to make someone’s life miserable. Having someone who spreads rumours or badmouths you to get ahead, no longer feels like a general annoyance, but rather a personal vendetta. Like having a ‘friend’ talk someone out of wanting to date you (for reasons you still don’t know) which made you doubt what the heck you did wrong for them to be so mad at you that they were steering people away from you (obviously still a sore spot…. but..tick… another lesson learned).

9) When someone drains you

There are tough days of course where we need to lend an extra hand to someone we know and put in that extra effort during their time of need (e.g.: a colleague needs help with a project, a friend is going through a break up, or your partner needs a vent after a hard day at work). But things change when someone will drain your energy each and every time you’ve made contact with them. You feel psychologically and emotionally depleted after spending time with them and are dreading the next time they will contact you.

The aim of this post is not for you to go running for the hills when someone you know shows a toxic trait, but rather for us to look at the larger picture… Do you feel good/respected? Are you happy around each other? Do you feel anxious or drained when you have contact? Do you both get something out of the relationship? Basically, are they worth sticking around for or is it time to move on?

 

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The Ex-files : When… staying friends with an ex

Let it be known, that I am one of those people who is still friends with her ex . I guess I find the whole notion of ‘we didn’t work out, you no longer need to exist’ a bit harsh. I feel that (in a lot of cases) although there was some connection there, it just wasn’t enough for it to remain a romantic one.

Of course, there are people who are just not comfortable being friends with and ex, and that too, is more than normal. We all have our own ways of dealing with relationships and we all have our own boundaries and limitations as to who we have in our lives.

Don’t get me wrong, my husband is not plagued by an array of visits from exes coming over at our house for dinner or anything. I can safely say I am really good friends with only one or two still… and although these guys are still in my life, I am pretty darn lucky I have a partner who is secure enough to be ok with it.

In saying that….. I do support there should be a few boundaries in place in order to remain friends with an ex.. .whether you have found someone new, or if you are still single… I believe certain rules do apply…

1)      Stop having sex! Everyone has heard of ‘bonus night’ and it can indeed be an effective way to get some form of closure with one last ‘bang’ if you will, but this does not apply if you continue to have ‘bonus night’ for the next 3 years… you may be officially single and unattached.. but the fact of the matter is.. if you continue to sleep together, but not ‘get back’ together, it means you’re just keeping each other busy until someone better comes along. You won’t meet someone else or open yourself up fully (emotionally that is, get your head out of the gutter) until you stop sleeping with your ex.

2)      If you do decide to stay friends…take some time apart after your break up… it is important to take a step back and re-assess who you are without this person and how they will fit into your new life without them as your ‘other half’. One can’t just go from ‘boy/girlfriend’ to ‘just a friend’ overnight… these things take time… and it’s ok to allow for it.

3)      When they move on, and find happiness with someone else… support them! You would want them to do the same for you, yes ?! Sure.. .there might be some form of resentment, or just that wee bit of jealousy (you’re only human after all). But it didn’t work out between you two, and if you want to keep them as a friend in your life, you need to take their new partner as part of that life. That doesn’t mean you need to be BFF’s and share inappropriate stories about how your ex prefers to make love with their socks on… but you can show an interest in who they are as a person… at the end of the day the main question is : Do they make your ex happy? (because that’s all that matters)

4)      Don’t call your ex more than you do your own partner. It is super cool you are still able to chat about many things, and having a good friend in your life who knows you so well is fantastic, but make sure that your partner remains your priority.. there is nothing more off-putting then you on the phone jabbering away to your ex while your partner has had the movie paused for about 40 minutes now … they won’t be impressed (you wouldn’t be either if the tables were turned).

5)      Make sure you and your ex are on the same page !!!  It needs to be super clear that your current connection remains platonic, and you’ve officially ‘friend-zoned’ each other. There is nothing worse than a love unreturned and you don’t want to place yourself into an awkward situation where your ex is secretly hoping your new partner will be called away on some covert government mission, never to return… (or vice versa for that matter.. if you want to get back together with your ex, and they don’t, you can’t be just friends.. why put yourself through that anyway).

At the end of the day, some friends are in your life for the long haul (regardless of how they came into your life to begin with) and some just drop by for a quick stop over, and that’s more than ok as well 🙂