I’m constantly in awe over the way the brain works. Recently I’ve been fascinated by memories. I have to stop and think for five minutes when trying to remember what I ate for lunch yesterday yet I can completely recite a song by heart that I first heard twenty years ago. It boggles my mind.
I don’t know why our brain works this way but I think it can be a good thing (blessing) as well as a disaster (curse). In the middle of living our everyday life something can suddenly trigger a powerful memory. It may be that you smell, see, or hear something and it instantly brings you back to another time and place. A good memory will elicit a smile or a laugh and maybe make your day a little brighter. However, a bad memory may elicit fear or agony and keep you stuck in a dark place which you would have rather avoided. Sometimes we can’t control these memories popping up. Sometimes we welcome them in by looking back at pictures or letting Facebook remind us of what we previously posted on that same day years earlier. Either way, going back in time can lead us down an interesting path. We might yearn for that time where life seemed easier and better. We might be left regretting the past and wishing we could redo things.
When life hits you with these memories stop and ask yourself what you can learn from looking back.
Sometimes you suddenly stop, look around, and realize that the stars have all aligned and things are great. Everything is wonderful and your life is exactly where you want it to be. You might not even know when or how things all came together. This is the moment when you stop and think about what is going to go wrong. Trust me, you’re not alone if this is where your mind goes. The thought becomes, “what have I done to deserve this?”. When things in life aren’t going well we’re left feeling stressed, angry, or hurt. When things are going well we can feel on edge waiting for the other shoe to drop. Sadly, it’s hard for many people to simply live in the good moments. If you can relate to this maybe it helps to hear you’re not alone. My advice is to think about why your mind goes to a worried place. Is this purely habit? What can you do to move away from that fear? Remind yourself that things didn’t magically fall into place. You worked hard to get what you wanted. Try to push out the negative thoughts and fears you have over losing it all. Instead, appreciate the things you did to make it happen. Embrace the positive feelings you have. After all, life is always going to be full of ups and downs.
I think that social media inevitably affects our relationships with friends and family members. It might be happening in small subtle ways that don’t even get spoken about outright but things that do or don’t take place on social media tend to get noticed. I would argue that’s because most people who are on Facebook (I’ll stick to this social media outlet as my main example) are checking it often. I recognize there are exceptions and not everyone is on Facebook multiple times throughout the day. However, I think many of us are on it so often that we forget we’re even hitting refresh as much as we are. That’s simply because checking social media has become habit. Similar to checking email it’s something people do while they’re waiting in line for a cup of coffee or want a distraction from something else.
What exactly is Facebook bringing to our attention? It’s ultimately allowing us to “say” things without really saying them.
Facebook can allow us to feel closer to friends whom we haven’t seen or talked to in years. That friend you had in college but never stayed in touch with is suddenly wishing you a happy birthday (Facebook is good at reminding us when it’s someone’s birthday) or liking your posts. Truth is that the majority of people may not have been actual friends with everyone who is their friend on social media. Acquaintances, co-workers, and people you went to school with are people you’ve spoken to in real life but that doesn’t mean they know who you are. Even your closest friends from high school won’t know the person you’ve become if your only contact with them is through social media. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing either. It’s nice to feel connected to someone you once knew. Sometimes a reconnection starts online and progresses into a strong current friendship in real life.
Social media may also leave us feeling more distant from actual friends. People have spoken to me about the way they notice when one of their closest friends or family members doesn’t like or comment on things that they post. The absence and silence of not ever liking someone’s post can speak volumes. If it’s someone you’re not in touch with outside of social media you might take note of it but not care very much. I caution you not to think too deeply about it if that’s what’s happening. On the other hand, if it’s someone you’re close to you might start to wonder if that person is mad at you or start questioning whether or not they care about you and your family since they never like pictures of your little ones. Furthermore, you might see your friend write a post that appears angry and wonder if it’s secretly directed at you. You weren’t tagged in the post but it coincidentally went up after an unpleasant encounter you had with that person. Facebook allows people to be even more passive aggressive. Whenever there is tension or feelings of anger or sadness over something that has happened with a loved one I suggest trying to talk it through with that person. Passive aggressiveness may seem easier in the moment but it doesn’t give you a chance to really express how you’re feeling and it certainly won’t help solve the problem.
For anyone active on Facebook it’s obvious that it has increasingly become a platform for people to express their political views. Especially over the last year you’ve most likely found out where most, if not all, of your friends stand on certain issues. This too can dramatically change the way you see someone and determine the type of relationship you do or do not want to have with them in real life. If this happens with someone you respect and care about I encourage you to try speaking with them directly about your opposing views. Commenting back and forth on a post can prove to be productive but it can also prove to be destructive.
Social media can be a wonderful outlet and a great way to reconnect with old family and friends. It can also bring to light underlying issues we have with someone close to us. Keep these things in mind and allow yourself to think about what you want out of social media. Take the time to talk directly to loved ones. Even if you don’t agree or it’s not the easiest conversation to have you’ll at least know there’s less chance for miscommunication.
Have you ever stopped and asked yourself what you like to do for fun? Or what hobbies you have? We live in an era when work is no longer a fraction of our time but rather the majority of our day. Even if you’re at a job that enables you to leave at 5:00pm sharp (which many do not) you’re most likely answering emails or finishing up projects long after you’ve left the office. The beauty and curse of technology is that we’re constantly engaged with our work even when we’re not physically present at our jobs. It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle and forget about ourselves.
Merriam-Webster defines the word hobby as, “a pursuit outside one’s regular occupation engaged in especially for relaxation”. It’s wonderful when someone enjoys what they do for a living but the very definition of the word hobby reminds us the importance of finding activities that we get pleasure from outside of work. So much of our time is focused on someone else’s needs whether it be our children, partners, friends, parents, or colleagues. Engaging in a hobby should allow you time to do something solely for yourself. Focusing on oneself doesn’t necessarily mean thinking about what’s going on for you or trying to solve a problem. Rather, it can mean taking time to regroup and refresh.
It’s worth noting that there are a multitude of ways to relax. One person might find curling up in bed with a book relaxing while someone else might find a high intensity kickboxing class as the ultimate relaxation. We can see how drastically different these two things are from each other yet both activities provide a space for the individual.
Hobbies can either provide us with time to completely tune out from our daily lives or time to be introspective. Some hobbies might even have a way of doing both. Take running as an example. One person might listen to music or focus on their breathing and feet hitting the pavement while they run. They find a way to disengage from all the other “noise” of daily life. A different individual might use running as time away from email, phones, or other individuals so that they can process things going on in their life without extra “noise” surrounding them. Maybe a marathon runner alternates between both as they spend hours training.
As I’ve been thinking more about my own hobbies I started asking clients to think about ways that they escape from difficulties in their current lives. Some people had a challenging time coming up with things that they like to do so I thought it would be helpful to give some examples of potential hobbies:
- Playing the piano
- Building toy models
- Playing tennis
- Going to the gym
- Rock Climbing
The important thing to keep in mind when choosing a hobby is to enjoy what you’re doing. If you try something out and don’t like it then try something else. You want to find a hobby that excites and engages you. Your hobby doesn’t have to be done everyday and doesn’t have to be done for hours at a time. Even twenty minutes a day a couples times a week can help boost your overall mood. Having a hobby allows you time to focus on yourself and is a crucial part of self care.
I recently had the honor of reviewing the book Modern Brides & Modern Grooms: A Guide to Planning Straight, Gay, and Other Nontraditional Twenty-First Century Weddings for the Journal of GLBT Family Studies. This well written and engaging book is helpful for anyone in a relationship whether dating, engaged, or already married. There are many useful tips in this book about planning a wedding and having the day reflect the couple getting married. More importantly, the reader is given guidance on how to better understand their relationship and improve communication with their significant other. Mark O’Connell’s humor helps make a stressful topic fun and relatable. The author openly and honestly shares his own personal experiences and in doing so he gives his readers the freedom to acknowledge the stress that goes along, not only with planning a wedding, but creating a future with someone else.
Currently my full review is available here:
Similarly, to most people I’ve started to wonder how history will talk about this year and what will be remembered most from the 2016 election. In a few short days it will be time to get out there and vote. Regardless of what you believe I encourage you to do so. Most of all I have been thinking about what it means to have a difference of opinion. What does it mean to voice how you feel versus silently sit by and keep your opinions to yourself? More importantly, can people disagree so significantly and still get along?
Numerous people have spoken about politics on various forms of social media. Unless we ask someone we can’t know why they choose to post, tweet, or write about their personal beliefs. Based on what I’ve heard I think there are a number of reasons people speak up and express themselves this way. Someone feels confidently in their opinion and wants others to know where they stand. Sometimes that person wants to help other people think about something differently. Sometimes they might want to argue with the person who disagrees, either to persuade the opposite side to see their way or to remind themselves why they’re right in their own view. Another reason is because someone feels there are some topics they cannot silently sit by and merely witness. They feel the need to express how they feel because of how deeply they are affected by whatever is going on. Since these types of people don’t publicly discuss their opinion regularly when they do you know they mean business.
What about the people who don’t voice their opinions when it comes to controversial topics? Some of these people simply don’t care enough to debate with others. They don’t have the time to quibble with someone over something that doesn’t affect their day to day life. Sometimes these types of people rather not know where others stand. Once someone openly express their opinions you may have to face how different you are from that person. Especially, when it comes to family it can be easier not knowing when you disagree about certain controversial topics. Another possibility is that this type of person questions themselves and lacks self-confidence which makes it harder for them to want to defend how they feel about things. If you doubt yourself, you may also worry what others will think of you and want to avoid feeling judged. People may actively want to avoid any form of confrontation, it’s easier to be silent and talk to people in your life who you know see things similarly to how you see them.
There’s a third group of people, those who carefully choose who they speak to about certain things. This is because they already know where the other person stands. It’s wonderful if they see eye to eye on issues but maybe they continue the conversation even when they know there are differences between the two of them. This is because they genuinely want to start an open dialogue with the other side. They want to hear someone else’s opinion and try to understand where they are coming from, not because they want to change their mind but because they’re trying hard to continue a relationship with them even when they differ so vastly. Open dialogue can be difficult and takes openness, willingness, and a level of calmness from both people in order for it to work.
Having an opinion is great, it makes you who you are. If you think about how, when, and who you vocalize those opinions too you can learn more about who you are aside from what you believe.
People come to therapy to either work though a past or current problem. Part of the work includes opening up to the therapist and sharing intimate details of their life, sometimes even talking about things they don’t feel comfortable discussing with anyone else. Often times people feel as though they’re the only ones struggling. Here’s a glimpse into things that I’ve either felt or heard over the years:
I am not married
I am in credit card debt
I use food for comfort
I don’t like some members of my immediate family
I am depressed
I second guess myself constantly
I like being alone
I pay way too much attention to Facebook and get caught up in other people’s lives
I am not as religious as people think
I feel stuck in my life
I do not have children
I am afraid of intimacy
I am in so much pain
I think about having an affair
I am a jealous person
I am lonely
I am having marital problems
I don’t want to do this (living life) anymore
I hate the way I look
I get anxious in line at Whole Foods
I think I gossip about others so I can feel better about myself
I want to run away and start over somewhere new
I feel guilt for all that I have
This is not where I expected to be in my life by now
I use social media to make others think I’m doing better than I am
I feel like no one understands what it is like to be me
Maybe you can relate to something on this list or maybe you can relate to one of the many other things I didn’t include on here. I can guarantee whatever it is that makes you feel like an outsider is something that someone else somewhere is feeling too. People are ashamed to talk about negative feelings but it doesn’t mean they don’t feel them. You are not an outsider. You are not alone.
Wedding season is at its peak and as a result I have been thinking about the pressure that comes with planning one. There are many decisions, both big and small, that must be made when a couple plans a wedding. Where to get married, whether to host a large or intimate event, color schemes, flowers, religion, and bridal party are only a few of the decisions people typically mull over. Some couples easily agree on what their ceremony and reception will look like while others make compromises because their partner comes from a different religious or cultural background. There may be the added element of dealing with family dynamics and concern over the way people don’t get along with one another. All of these are still only a fraction of the things that are given thought when planning a wedding. No wonder why people are stressed and anxious during this time. Let’s not forget that two people are also making one of the biggest decisions of their lives when choosing to commit, through marriage, to their partner.
Now that we’ve established that wedding planning is full of stress let’s talk about another prominent concern, one’s appearance. While both men and women may feel pressure to look a certain way on their wedding day women tend to be targeted more. For whatever reason there is an enormous amount of focus on women to be in the best shape of their lives on their wedding day. Every wedding magazine and website countdown mentions starting a workout regimen. Coworkers, friends, and family members inevitably ask the bride to be about her wedding diet. Some people may be direct and others may jokingly ask if she is shedding for the wedding. That mere phrase indicates how socially acceptable and expected it is for brides to lose weight before their wedding. This is a problem. This is a huge problem.
Getting married is a milestone event and hopefully a happy day for the couple who choose to make a commitment to one another. The couple and their love for one another should be the main focus. While weddings can be an amazing time to celebrate they represent one day in the couple’s life. One day. Our society encourages you to look your best on that one day and forgets to place the importance on how you feel that day. I hope that someone who is getting married feels happy, loved, special, and like themselves on their wedding day. As previously mentioned, weddings can be stressful, even without the added pressure of looking your absolute best.
For any bride (past, present, and future) I ask you to think about your wedding and why you felt or feel the need to be either your thinnest or most fit on this specific day. Is it for your wedding guests, your future spouse, yourself? Your wedding guests are there to party with you and to celebrate you and your partner. Your spouse loves you for who you are and for how you look every day of the year. He or she does not need you to be a certain weight, shape, or size. Are you feeling the need to look a certain way because of societal pressure put on women? Can you feel secure with how you look on your wedding day without hitting a certain number on the scale? You’re already under enough pressure please don’t add this to a long list of things that have to get done in order to have a “perfect” wedding day. People come to a wedding because they love and support the people getting married. People get married because they love the person they are choosing to spend the rest of their lives with. You deserve to enjoy your wedding day regardless of what size dress you’re wearing.
As people wait excitedly for their wedding day it’s possible to lose oneself and one’s priorities along the way. What matters most during this time is the love between two people and the future beyond the wedding day.
When we compare ourselves to others we take away some of our own happiness. Sometimes we get so caught up in what other people have that we deplete ourselves of all joy. I’ve written before about the dangers of facebook and the way people are left comparing themselves to others. While social media outlets contribute to the way we make comparisons I am also talking about the way this happens in real life. What happens when we compare ourselves to friends, family members, colleagues, and people we know?
Often times we compare where we are in this particular moment in life to where someone else is in his or her own life. An example of this would be the way someone (we will call this person Joe) compares his financial situation to someone else who is the same age. Joe feels like his colleagues have more money because they own property while he still rents a studio apartment. Joe gets stuck on the comparison and forgets about the active choices he has made. He loves to travel and goes on a huge vacation every year. He also loves living on the Upper East Side. Joe chooses to stay in a studio apartment because it allows him to live in a neighborhood he loves and has not considered buying property because he spends his money on trips. If Joe solely focuses on the financial comparison he can easily forget that he is enjoying his life too.
Sometimes we might be comparing someone’s current moment to a moment from our past. A friend of yours starts wedding planning and you’re left wishing you did things differently for your own wedding. Your cousin has a new baby and you start to question the way you comforted your own child when they were a newborn. Your colleague drops weight after being on a diet for a few weeks and you’ve been struggling to lose five pounds for the last year. Suddenly you are brought back to a different time in your life and begin questioning the choices that you made in the past. Trust yourself. There were reasons you made certain choices in the moment. Appreciate your choices and recognize what was going on for you in that previous moment. Furthermore, try to respect the person you’re comparing yourself to without placing judgment on them or on yourself. It’s okay if something different works for someone else. Think about why your choices worked or didn’t work for you and grow from the experience.
We can all fall into this trap of comparison. Unfortunately, the presence of social media leaves us falling deeper and more often. If you’re able to catch yourself while it’s happening think about stepping away from social media for at least a day or two. If a particular person in your real life stirs up some difficult feelings consider taking a step back from them until you can sort through what’s going on for you. Alternatively, you could try talking to them. Maybe they will admit they compare themselves to you and then you can both recognize what you each have.
It may feel difficult to stop comparing yourself to other people. It may take time to realize that you deeply hurt yourself whenever you compare where you are in your life with where you think someone else is in their life. You don’t know what struggles the person you’re comparing yourself to is facing. It’s important to acknowledge the way you are robbing yourself of joy when you compare to those around you, both through social media outlets and in real life. Try to appreciate what you have. Recognize that everyone has their own journey. Once we stop comparing ourselves to others we can live in the moment and better appreciate what we have.
As a therapist I work with people to help them better understand themselves while also trying to make sense of the larger world we live in. We can focus on the individual and decipher out the ways they communicate to others or the patterns they continually, often unconsciously, recreate. Hopefully my clients learn more about who they are and sometimes learn more about the people surrounding them. I’m not the expert per se and I don’t pretend to know what’s best for others. Simply put, I am not anybody else. I have not lived my client’s lives or their experiences. I have only lived my own. However, I am trained to listen and to ask the right questions so the people I’m working with can find the answers to what is right for them.
Occasionally people focus on places seemingly far away where war, corruption, and sickness all exist. Lately, the conversation has turned to what’s happening close to home, here in the United States. Shooting after shooting after shooting leaves both of us dumbfounded. While the conversation may incorporate the heated topic of gun control it goes way beyond that. The underlying issue and questions circle around hate. My clients vary from each other and from myself when it comes to race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion. It’s not about my opinions or me but about the people I’m working with and how they try to make sense about what’s going on. We discuss crucial topics such as race, sexual identity, and religious beliefs. These are valuable conversations because they lead back to the individual in front of me. It opens the door for us to discuss their experiences, both past and present, and how those experiences influence their thoughts and feelings.
During difficult and sad times both my clients and myself are struggling to understand what’s happening in today’s world. We share confusion. We share sadness. We share disbelief. The therapy room ultimately remains a place for clients to have their own voice. After all, I don’t always have answers, explanations, or words of wisdom. I offer, empathy, kindness, and a place free of judgment.
At times it is impossible to help others find their own answers. Even though there may not be answers to the endless questions they ask I feel it’s important that they keep asking. Trying to figure out the world is another way of helping the individual to figure out him or herself too.