Four Simple Ways to Change Your Thoughts and Change Your Life

Memories have a powerful impact on our lives.  They shape how we feel, how we act, and the choices we make.  When painful memories emerge, it can be especially hard to shake the negative feelings that bubble up and the way they affect our quality of life.

A new study by the University of Alberta provides us simple ways to manage the level of emotional intensity that we experience when recalling past memories.

Researchers report that when we recall our memories from a third-person perspective we are able to decrease the emotional intensity of that memory. “Specifically, the results show that recalling memories from an observer-like perspective, instead of through your own eyes, leads to greater…interaction among brain regions that support our ability to recall the details of a memory and to recreate mental images in our mind’s eye.”

Not only does this third-person perspective allow us to recall memories with higher accuracy, but it also enables us to experience relief from troubling or even traumatic memories more successfully.

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Do you want to overcome past hurts and live a whole, healed, and healthy life?

Check out Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety

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Learning to decrease the emotional power of negative memories is especially important because it helps us overcome limiting “core beliefs.”  Cognitive behavioral therapy defines core beliefs as central beliefs that people hold about themselves, others, and the world. These core beliefs then influence what CBT refers to as automatic thoughts—those thoughts or beliefs that seem to pop into our mind that shape our daily self-talk.

In addition to recalling our memories from a third person perspective to decrease their emotional power, here are three ways to re-story our core beliefs and develop healthy self-talk:

Label Thoughts—One of the best ways to get control of our self-talk is to label our thoughts as either helpful or hurtful. When we do this, we can learn to lean into helpful thoughts and let go of hurtful thoughts, just like we would listen to helpful advice from others and dismiss unhelpful advice.

Live Intentionally—When we live busy lives it’s easy for us to operate on “auto-pilot.” We go about our day moving through our tasks without really being present. But when we live in this more passive state, we are living more out of reaction rather than intentional action. Gain control over your negative feelings by being intentional about your actions and your self-talk. This can be as simple as changing your self-talk from “I have to go to work,” to, “I’m choosing to go to work because…(of this benefit I get from it).” Likewise, instead of saying “what is the day going to bring?” you might say, “what do I want to make happen today?” Living intentionally helps us regain control over our emotions and our lives.

Focus on Strengths—We often focus on what we didn’t do well or what we wish we could do better. However, this kind of thinking often leads to negative core beliefs and automatic thoughts.  Instead, practice focusing on what you CAN do instead of what you can’t do. Make a point of acknowledging your successes throughout the day. Even in the face of hardships, identify the strengths that you displayed and give yourself credit. For example, did you have a positive conversation with your spouse, co-worker, kids, or friend? Acknowledge that as a success and identify, “I was thoughtful, respectful, empathetic, (etc.) in that conversation which helped me be successful.”

For more ways to re-story your core beliefs and self-talk, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

Stop Labeling Yourself: 3 Steps to Stop Holding Yourself Back

The terms “mental health” and “mental disorder” are extremely common, but research from biological anthropologists are calling into question these definitions in relation to depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

New research published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology posed the question, “What if mental disorders like anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder aren’t mental disorders at all?” A summary of the results indicated that, “With a thorough review of the evidence, they show good reasons to think of depression or PTSD as responses to adversity rather than chemical imbalances. And ADHD could be a way of functioning that evolved in an ancestral environment, but doesn’t match the way we live today.”

So what does this mean for our mental health and treatment for such mental health difficulties?

As evidence has shown, we have a tendency to identify with our “emotional problems” in a way that we don’t identify with “physical problems.” When we contract a virus, we don’t say, “I am flu.” We say, “I have the flu.” But when we struggle with anxiety (or other emotional difficulties), especially if we deal with chronic disorders, we do often say, “I am anxious,” or “I am high strung,” or something similar. It becomes an identity statement. The problem is, when we personally identify with the anxiety we feel, we begin to think of it as a necessary part of who we are.

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For more on this topic, check out Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety
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How do we, then, break free from these labels and finally identify with our healed, healthy, “true” selves?

1. Identify with strengths, not weaknesses—To counter the tendency over-identify with our emotions it is important that we make an intentional effort to focus on our strengths. Write down at least one thing you did well every day. Identify the strengths that you displayed in that situation in order to handle that moment well. Prioritizing this thought process enables us to begin to identify with our healthy, true selves, rather than identifying with the areas where we may be struggling.

2. Stick to a routine, create “healthy habits”—No matter what we deal with in our daily lives, having a routine helps us to stay on track and cultivate healthy habits. Routines, like getting up and getting ready at the same time every day, doing chores at the same times every week, and going to bed at the same time every day, help us create order out of chaos and make us feel like we are on top of things. Make time for the things that help you feel good, such as journaling, prayer, exercise, or your favorite activity/hobby.

3. Be a gift to others—Look for ways to serve others, nothing is too small. Bake cookies for a friend, hold the door open for a stranger, let someone in front of you in line, reach out to someone you love or someone you haven’t checked in on in a while. Use your gifts to in big and small ways to be a gift to others. When we reach out to others in this way, we are able to make a positive impact on their lives AND feel good about what we have to offer at the same time.

For more on breaking free from labels and becoming the person you were created to be, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com and check out Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety.

The Power of Our Thoughts

Most of us know that negative thinking isn’t good for our mental health, but did you know that repetitive negative thinking has harmful effects on our physical health?

A study led by researchers at University College London evaluated 123 participants to determine the relationship between repetitive (chronic) negative thinking patterns and dementia. The results of this study reveal that individuals who exhibit repetitive negative thinking (RNT) patterns have higher levels of tau and amyloid—two proteins which cause the most common type of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, when they build up in the brain. Over four years, the individuals who displayed RNT showed greater cognitive decline, including decline in memory.

As this study shows, negative thinking not only has harmful effects on our emotional life, but on our physical body as well.

So how to we break our habits of repetitive negative thinking and live healthier lives?

Find your power: In any situation, ask yourself, “What can I make of this?” Don’t simply allow yourself to be a passive participant in your situation. Seek your power through intentionality. Asking yourself questions such as, “What can I make of this/learn from this/do with this?” helps engage your cortex (your thinking brain) and allows you to focus on resources and solutions as opposed to getting caught in the trap of negative thinking. 

Focus on gratitude: Intentionally recall your blessings, your strengths, and your skills. This can be done in several ways, such as keeping a running gratitude list throughout the day, focusing on the things that you did well during the day, or keeping a “got done” list to remind yourself of your daily accomplishments. This type of thinking helps cultivate more helpful thinking patterns instead of the hurtful thinking patterns caused by RNT.

Cultivate Connection: Cultivate connection and maintain a sense of community by actively seeking ways to be a blessing to others—even when you are struggling. When we are focused on serving others and acting out of self-donation, we are more effectively able to break the cycle of negative thinking.

To find more resources for breaking your habits of negative thinking, visit us at CatholicCounselors.com 

Quarentine Blues: How Can Your Family Cope While You’re All Cooped Up

By: Dr. Greg Popcak

 

Beyond the obvious challenges we all face in dealing with the pandemic, many households are experiencing real shock as the activities that used to fill our days suddenly come to a grinding halt.  Schools are closed. People are working from home.  Life as we know it has been upended.

On the relational front, “sheltering in place” is guaranteed to ramp up your family dynamic at least 10 fold. When you’re around each other 24/7, you can’t avoid little irritations and personality conflicts as easily as you can when you’re running in a million different directions.That can be intimidating, but you can make it work to your advantage if you keep a few tips in mind.

1.Make a Routine & Stick To It.

When our schedules get thrown out-of-whack, we’re tempted to let our routines go out the door. All of a sudden we start getting up and going to bed at different times.  Mealtimes become a free-for-all. Chores may or may not get done. That can be fine for vacations, but for times like this, maintaining routines are critical for managing expectations and cultivating a sense of normalcy.

You don’t have to maintain the exact same schedule you did when the kids were in school and you were going to the office, but it would be a good idea to create a schedule and stick to it.  Get up the same time every day. Get dressed.  Eat meals together at regular times. Pick specific days for laundry, cleaning, and other chores. Go to bed at the same time every evening. Sticking to a routine can feel a little arbitrary when the school bus isn’t coming and your boss doesn’t see you coming in late, but do it anyway. The fact is, kids and adults need routines to feel safe, cared for, and connected. When we’re going through chaotic times, stable family routines help your household become a little island of sanity in a world gone mad.

2. Manage Your Relationships

When we’re following our normal schedule, we’re used to finding ways to connect (and stay out of each other’s way) as we move from thing to thing. But when the normal schedules are kaput, everyone’s expectations for the day—and each other–inevitably begin to clash. 

Now is the time to become more intentional about managing your relationships. If you want to function like a real team, you’re going to have to start planning for it.  Break up the day into chunks.  At breakfast, have a short conversation about what you all need/want to do with your time until lunch. At the same time, discuss little things each family member can do to take care of each other over the next few hours. Are there times when you will especially need quiet for a conference call?  What can everyone do during that time? Are there certain chores that really to get done?  How can you work together (or divide and conquer) to make them happen? Discuss how the next few hours between breakfast and lunch are going to go.  Have the same conversation about the time between lunch and dinner, and dinner and bedtime.  

Instead of letting your family devolve into an every-person-for-themselves dynamic, manage your time and expectations. Become the  team you’re meant to be.

3. Work Together

Do at least one chore together as a family every day.  It doesn’t matter if you usually do X chore yourself.  When you’re talking about how the day is going to go, choose a chore that you can all do together.  The kids might groan at first, but put on some music (let the kids take turns picking something appropriate), and do your best to keep a playful attitude while you all pitch in to get the job done.

Working together cultivates a strong sense of team spirit as you pull together to maintain a more orderly household and start getting used to counting on each other to show up–not just for the fun times–but the other times too.

4. Play Together

Don’t forget to have a little fun together everyday. Don’t let the kids play video games all day while you obsess over the headlines on social media. Dust off those boardgames and card games.  Read a book aloud to each other. Play catch. Just waste some time together—on purpose. Remind each other how fun it can be to be around each other. Maybe, when life gets back to normal, you won’t be in as big a hurry to spend so much time apart again.

5. Pray Together

Now, more than ever, let’s make an extra effort to pray as families. Take a few minutes every day to gather together and intercede for a quick end to this pandemic, for people’s health and safety, for the restoration of the economy, and for our own intentions.  While you’re at it, make sure to praise God for the times when he has led your family out of past difficulties and for the little blessings of each day. When we’re stressed, it’s important to remind each other that God has always been present and that he still is right here, right now, guarding and guiding us.

Though the witness of  Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection, Christians have been given the gift of seeing that it is possible to draw the greatest blessings out of the darkest times. Although we all hope for a speedy end to this global tragedy, I pray that you and yours will be able to use this time to rediscover the blessing your family has been meant to be all along. And I pray you will spark a connection that will bless you for years to come.

Dr. Greg Popcak is director of CatholicCounselors.com, a Catholic tele-counseling practice.

Hurting/Angry Over Mass Suspensions? Finding Spiritual Consolation in Times of Pandemic

It felt like a gut punch.  This past week, the Ohio Bishops’ Conference, along with many other dioceses and bishops’ conferences across the country have suspended the celebration of Mass through Easter.

Last weekend was the first weekend I haven’t been to mass since…I can’t remember.  It was certainly the first time I have ever missed mass without being ill and unable to leave the house.  And I have never once missed any of the Holy Week liturgies—especially Easter Sunday mass. I found myself experiencing a mix of emotions; sadness, frustration, a spiritual ache, even some anger.

Not Alone

I know I’m not alone. I have had many conversations with clients in my Catholic tele-counseling practice and callers to my radio program around this issue.  People–already worried and anxious about how the pandemic is impacting their lives–are feeling cut off from their most important spiritual resources.  As one caller put it, “They are taking away the Eucharist when we need Jesus the most!”  

As I was praying through my own pain of not being able to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist, I felt the Holy Spirit move in my heart.  I remembered the parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37).

The Good Samaritan

You may remember that in the story, a man is beaten by robbers and left to die on the road. A priest passes by on the way to temple, but can’t stop for fear of being made unclean from contact with the wounded man.  Next, a Levite, also fails to stop to help the man for fear of being made unclean and unable to attend temple.  Finally, a Samaritan stops to tend to the man’s wounds and bring him to a place where he can be cared for.  At the end of the story, Jesus challenges us to be like the Samaritan. 

What does this have to do with our present crisis? It means we need to step back and ask our selves, “What is the point of going to Church?  What is the fruit the Eucharist is meant to bear in our lives?”  The answer, of course, is that by attending Mass and receiving the Precious Body and Blood, God heals the broken parts of our hearts so that we can more effectively love our neighbor as God needs us to.

Love One Another

Of course, the Eucharist exists to be a source of personal consolation, but it has to be more than that.  It has to ultimately equip us with the grace we need to love more, to love better, to love as God wants us to.

Loving someone means “working for their good.”  If the entire point of receiving Christ in the Eucharist is loving others, what does it mean to “work for the good of our neighbor” in the midst of this pandemic?  It means willingly embracing the cross that social distancing requires of us so that we can “flatten the curve” and end this crisis quickly with as little loss of human life as possible.  Sometimes, true love requires abstinence.  This is one of those times.

A True Lenten Mortification

In Lent, we’re called to make sacrifices that will enable us to love better and build God’s kingdom. Sometimes, it can be tempting to choose sacrifices that make us feel good about ourselves.  “I’m going to do THIS for God!  Aren’t I wonderful?!?”  Although rooted in a good intention, this misses the point. True sacrifice isn’t about doing what we want to do for God. Rather, it’s about doing what God asks us to do for him and our neighbor.

It takes real humility to cheerfuly accept the sacrificies God brings into our lives, to consecrate those sacrifices to him, and to ask him for the grace to rise to these challenges in a manner that glorifies him, helps us respond to the people around us in a way that works for their good, and helps us become the people he wants us to be.  

Spiritual Communion & Commission

If you are struggling, as I am, with not being able to attend mass for the next several weeks, bring it to God. Offer up your pain with a prayer that goes something like this.  “Lord, my heart is longing to receive you, but while I am waiting to be reunited with your Precious Body and Blood, fill my heart with your love and grace. Heal the broken parts of my heart.  Help me respond to this challenge in a way that gives you glory, shares your love more fully with the people in my life, and makes me the person you want me to be.”

This prayer, and others like it, are what Catholics call “spiritual communion.”  It represents a desire to pursue union with God and the grace to build his kingdom even when the normal avenues of grace (i.e, the sacraments) are not available to us.  God gives us the sacraments as a gift, but he is not bound by his sacraments and his love and grace rush to fill in any space we open to him.  

While we wait in joyful hope to be able to encounter the Lord at mass and receive him once again in the Eucharist, make a spiritual communion as often as you can and participate in masses broadcast on TV or the radio as opften as possible. Until we can once again receive the Body of Christ, let us all pray for the grace to be the Body of Christ—especially to those the Lord has placed in our path.

Get a Grip—Mastering Your Emotional Life

What feelings tend to get the best of you?  Do certain people or situations provoke emotional reactions in you that are hard to get a handle on?  For that matter, does someone you love struggle with their emotions and you’re not sure how to support them?

In order to handle these difficult situations for ourselves and others, it’s helpful to understand the answer to the following question: Are our emotional reactions universal, or are they conditioned by culture and environment?  

Researchers at the University of North Carolina examined the words used to describe feelings in over 2500 languages to see how people in various cultures experienced emotion.  They did find differences in the ways different cultures describe the experience of certain emotions.  For example, some languages view grief as similar to fear and anxiety, whereas others view grief as similar to regret.  But researchers found that ALL cultures think about and categorize emotions in a similar way. Specifically, all languages distinguish emotions primarily based on whether they are pleasant or unpleasant to experience, and whether they involve low or high levels of arousal. For example, no languages view the low-arousal emotion of sadness as similar to the high-arousal emotion of anger, and no languages viewed the pleasant emotion of “happy” as similar to the unpleasant emotion of “regret.”  This suggests that there are universal elements of emotional experience that are rooted in biology more than culture.  The takeaway? The challenge of  understanding, expressing, and cultivating a healthy emotional life is a universal human experience.

Theology of the Body reminds us that just like the rest of our bodies, emotions and feelings can only do what they were designed to do–that is, help us recognize what is happening in and around us and respond to it in godly, effective ways–if we learn to bring our emotions to God and ask him to teach us how to use them. 

Emotions and feelings are two different but related things. Brain scientists tell us that emotions are the body’s monitoring station. Emotions represent the primitive brain’s general, collective sense of both our overall state of our well being and the circumstances in our environment.  Feelings, on the other hand, are what happens when our cortex, our higher brain, gathers all these general impressions and creates a story about what these impressions mean and how we are to respond to them and that’s where things tend to get complicated.  Because of sin, we often do a poor job of evaluating emotional impressions well and developing responses to those impressions that work both for our good and the good of others.  By bringing our emotions to God we can relearn how to let our feelings serve our physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual wellbeing.

Here are a few, effective ways to understand and gain control over your emotional life:

Pause and Pray–Get in the habit of briefly pausing and praying before you act on an emotion–especially a negative emotion like anger, sadness, or anxiety.  When you notice yourself having a strong emotional reaction, pause–even for a second–and say something like, “Lord, help me correctly identify the specific thing I am reacting to and respond to it in a way that will glorify you.”  Brain scientists tell us that pausing even a second or two allows the higher brain to catch up with the emotional reactions generated by our more primitive parts of our brain.  This allows us to make better, and more complete,  responses to the situations that provoked our emotional reaction in the first place.  On top of this, bringing our emotional reactions to God reminds us our feelings aren’t God.  God is.  And everything we do–including acting on our feelings–has to be motivated by a desire to serve him.  If we can get in the habit of doing this, we give both God, and the natural talents for emotional management God built into our body–the opportunity to teach us to handle even the most provocative situations gracefully.

Add Feathers–Do you know how people can be really good at telling others how to manage their emotions but really bad at managing their own?  A new study by the University of Waterloo found that practicing one simple habit can allow people to manage their own responses as well as they can help others manage theirs.  The trick?  Add feathers.  Just like an arrow that has feathers flies straighter than an arrow without them, people who ask themselves what virtues they need to express their emotions well are much better at identifying and hitting the right emotional targets than people who just act on feeling.  If you want to be as good at taking your own advice as giving it, before you act on an emotion, ask yourself, “What virtue would help me express this emotion well?”  The study found that asking simple virtue-based questions like this helps people both avoid the temptation to repress negative emotions and also helps people make better emotional choices by reminding them to keep the big picture in mind. Next time you feel a strong emotional reaction welling up, don’t just let it fly with your feelings.  Add feathers, and let virtue guide the path toward the right response.

Get a Boost–Sometimes it can be too hard to learn to handle our feelings on our own.  If your emotional reactions are consistently complicating your life or relationships, seek professional help.  Psychotherapy is like physical therapy for the brain.  New research shows that modern therapy techniques help boost the brain’s ability to process emotional reactions more efficiently and identify healthy responses to emotions more effectively.  You don’t have to be a victim of your emotional reactions.  If you aren’t happy with the way your feelings are causing you to respond to the people or situations in your life, getting professional help sooner than later can help you get the skills you need to have a healthier emotional life.

For more information on gaining control of your emotional life, check out God Help Me! This Stress Is Driving Me Crazy!, and visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com.

Speak Up! The Negative Effects of Self Silencing

We all have a desire to “keep the peace,” and because of this, we tend to do a lot to maintain our relationships. Often, one of these tendencies is to self-silence—to not speak up for ourselves, express our needs, or vocalize our needed boundaries. We think that filtering ourselves, or keeping our needs to ourselves helps us to “keep everyone happy.” 

New research, however, shows that there are a great deal of negative effects that come from self-silencing. Not only does this practice not help us develop the types of relationships we deserve to have, but it actually is detrimental to our physical health as well. Researchers have found that individuals who self-silence—particularly women—have increased carotid plaque buildup, which could lead to a stroke or other cardiovascular problems.

Speaking up—respectfully and effectively—to get our needs met is crucial for our mental and physical health. Here are three ways to effectively speak up:

Making the implicit explicit—when someone says or does something that hurts your feelings, don’t keep it bottled up inside. Instead, say something like, “I’m sure you didn’t mean anything by this, but when you did ____ or said ____ I felt hurt (or specifically state what you felt). What did you intend to mean by that?” Saying something like this phrase is effective because it offers the other person the benefit of the doubt—we are not accusing them of anything, however it asks the clarifying question to better understand the other person’s intention. 

Look for solutions—When you and another person have differing needs or opinions, ask the question, “What can we do to get everyone’s needs met?” This helps convey that there are options and that no one’s needs are less important than another’s. 

Create healthy habits—Create a routine where you and your spouse/significant other ask each other, “What can I do to make your day better?” This helps build the rapport between you and your spouse to say, “I want to work for your good.” Likewise, when we are in this habit of asking and being asked what we need to have a good day, it makes it easier for us to ask for something when a need arises. 

For more on how to effectively communicate our needs with others, tune in to More2Life—weekdays at 10am EST/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130 and check out God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts!

It’s the End of the World as We Know It (A Gospel Reflection for the Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time)

“…do not be terrified; for such things must happen first”

 
These words from Jesus, spoken in the midst of truly unsettling, apocalyptic-seeming predictions, are at once calming and baffling. He tells us all about the many awful things that will happen throughout human history – war, betrayal, natural disaster, the destruction of those things which our societies hold most sacred – and then basically tells us that we should relax anyway. Is He telling us merely to trust Him? Is He just insensitive to our plight?
I think it goes deeper than either option. In actuality, Jesus wants us to focus on the right things, regardless of what else is going on. Remember, he’s speaking to an audience ringing their hands over whether or not the liturgical salad fork is in the right spot. This is a people easily distracted by the pettiness of life, and Jesus is basically saying, “buckle up, fam. If this stresses you out, it’s gonna get a lot worse.”
But Jesus isn’t just trying to scare us straight, so to speak. What Jesus wants us to focus on instead, it seems, is the person right in front of us. How many of us, like the Lord’s audience in this Gospel, fret over trivial things while forgetting about what matters right now? We ask, “What if my kid doesn’t turn out right?” But Jesus asks, “How does your kid need to be shown love right now?” We ask, “What if I never get what I need from my spouse?” He asks, “But how can you show more love to your spouse right now?” We ask, “Will I be stuck in this dead end job forever?” He asks, “How can you use your dead end job to love somebody right in this moment?” To Jesus, it doesn’t matter what’s on the news or what’s falling from the sky or even what evil lies in your neighbor’s heart. What matters to Jesus is loving right now.
His words remind me of my favorite line from The Avengers“Until such time as the world ends, we will act as though it intends to spin on.” Or my favorite REM song: ‘It’s the End of the World as We Know it (and I Feel Fine)’. In a world where every message from the radio, the TV, and even unfortunately the pulpit tells us to worry about something that’s going to supposedly kill us sometime over the next 2-50 years, let’s listen to Jesus instead and ask ourselves: how can I love the person right next to me just a little better right in this moment?

Jacob Popcak, M.A., L.P.C. is an award-winning Catholic artist and a counseling associate of the Pastoral Solutions Institute. He can be contacted through CatholicCounselors.com.

The Resilient Person – Overcoming Burnout

Are you feeling tired? Uninspired? Like there’s too much to do? You’re not alone. These are all typical signs of the very common experience of burnout. But the good news is, you can overcome burnout and build your resilience in your every day life just by making a few simple changes. 

Theology of The Body reminds us that although the world is fallen, God is working through us to build the kingdom or set the world on fire. That rebuilding starts in our lives and our relationships. Sometimes that job can feel too hard, like we can’t do it on our own, and of course we can’t. But there are a few tips we can draw from the Theology of the Body to persevere even when we feel burned out. First we need to keep our eyes, not on what’s in front of us, but rather on how God wants to work through us to make the situation into what he wants it to be. Second, we need to remember that it isn’t all up to us. We need to keep bringing the situation to God and asking him to help us discern the next small step. Third, we need to lean into virtue. We need to prayerfully ask, “What are the virtues or strengths we need to apply to this situation to glorify God in our response?” Fourth, we need to look at failure–not as a closed door–but as feedback that we bring back to prayer and then leads us back thought these steps until we find the solution. If we can work this process, we can fulfill the promise that St Paul makes in Romans 8:28 that to those who love God, all things work to the good.

Here are three, small, concrete changes that will help you overcome burnout and build your resilience:

1.  Center Yourself– When you’re struggling to recover from a setback or disappointment, before doing anything else, the first step has to be centering yourself.  First, bring the situation to God, pray, “Lord, help me rest in you, trust in your grace, and gather the resources and support I need to make a plan and see this through.”  Then refocus on yourself on a goal–any goal–that represents the next small step you can take.  You’ll feel less like running away if you can identify the next step forward and focus on gathering the resources to help you take that next step.

2.  Get Out of the Tunnel–We often find it hard to bounce back from disappointments because tunnel vision causes us to get stuck trying to find the ONE BIG THING we can do to solve this problem ONCE & FOR ALL.  Especially with more complicated situations, there is rarely one thing you can do to make the problem disappear. Instead, concentrate on the next small thing you can do to EITHER address the problem OR insulate yourself from the problem OR BOTH.  Focusing on small steps you can take in several areas– instead of searching for ultimate answers to the one big question–allows you to come out of the tunnel and begin to see new options on the horizon.

3. Make A “Got It Done” List–We all know about To-Do lists but what about making a “Got it Done” list?  Sometimes we struggle with bouncing back from a problem or setbacks because we feel like we’re  just not up to the challenge.  You can combat these feelings by intentionally calling to mind–and better yet, writing down–all the PAST times in your life when you were sure you weren’t up to a challenge but, through God’s grace and your good efforts, you managed to succeed.  Making a “Got It Done List: will help you remember that you have conquered many difficult situations before and remind you that between you and God, there is nothing you can’t handle moving forward.

For more on overcoming burnout and effectively handling the stress in your life, check out Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety and visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com.

Authentic Optimism – How Do We Actually Make Our Lives Better?

Sometimes it feels like it’s hard to be optimistic in the midst of stressful situations. But often this is due to a misunderstanding of what true optimism really means.

Theology of The Body reminds us that optimism isn’t rooted in wishing our problems away or telling ourselves pretty lies about how things aren’t really as bad as they seem.  TOB explains that our optimism is rooted in the fact that at the beginning of time, God had a plan for the world and that–in spite of sin thwarting that plan in the present–God’s plan will be restored through grace at the end of time.  The fact is, as St Paul reminds us in Rom 8:28 all things work to the good for those who love God.

A study by Boston University School of Medicine found that optimistic people live up to 15% longer and are up to 70% more likely to live to at least age 85.

This study demonstrated that optimism isn’t so much a trait as it is a skill made up of three qualities:

-Goal orientation: Rather than “thinking positively” optimistic people acknowledge that bad things are bad, but they ask. “What can I make of this?”  (c.f. Rom 8:28).

-Gratitude: Optimistic people intentionally recall their blessings, strengths, and skills as a reminder of what they have to work with in responding to life’s challenges.

-Gregariousness: Optimistic people maintain a sense of community and actively work to find ways to be a blessing to others even when they are struggling.

So how do we become more optimistic in our daily lives?

1. Keep the Big Picture in Mind–Joy requires us to be able to step out of the chaos of everyday life and remember who we are and what’s important. This requires us to stay connected to God–to be able to see things from his point of view. Find ways to bring the present moment to God no matter how crazy it is. Ask him, “What do you want this moment to look like? How can I respond to this in a way that glorifies you?” Then re-engage the situation from this more graceful perspective.  Keeping the big picture in mind helps you remain connected to what’s important

2. Be Kind–True joy comes from seeking little ways to be a gift to others all day long.  As you go about your day, consciously ask yourself how you can make a difference in this moment?  Is there something you can do to make this person’s day even a little easier or more pleasant?  Is there something you can do to take down the tension in this situation?  Is there some way you can surprise someone with a small thoughtful gesture or little act of service? You don’t have to be a martyr about it.  In fact, it’s better if you aren’t.  Just look for those little ways to be a gift or create caring connection while you’re passing by or passing through.  These little acts of kindness increase your joy by helping you see all the ways you are making a positive difference in your world and in the lives of those around you.

3. Stay In School–Research shows that joyful people are eager students in the “school of life.”  Joyful people are always open to seeing things from a new perspective, trying a new experience, and growing in ways that help them be stronger, healthier, more well-rounded people.  Joyful people aren’t shy about sharing what they like.  They know who they are and what they stand for, but they are open to discovering all the ways God is revealing himself to them through the people and the world around them.  And the more ways we open ourselves to this experience of God the more his grace makes us joyful. So, be yourself, but don’t be afraid to be more, learn more and grow more.

 

For more on increasing authentic optimism in your life, checkout God Help Me! This Stress is Driving Me Crazyand tune in to More2Life, weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXm 130!