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 Comfort Zone

The comfort zone. We all have one. We believe our comfort zone makes us happy, keeps us safe, and helps us maintain our lives. But new research shows that might not be true.

Whether it comes to relationships, our work lives, our friends, or our personal lives, we all have our comfort zone—our set way of doing things—that we typically prefer to stay in. But a new study demonstrates the benefits of going outside of our comfort zone and how doing this actually makes us happier.

Researchers at the Universe of California—Riverside asked 123 participants who identify as introverts to push the boundaries of their willingness to engage with others for one week, while participants in a control group were asked to maintain their usual boundaries and act as they typically behave. At the end of the study, those who pushed their boundaries and went outside of their comfort zone reported having more pleasant experiences and being happier throughout the week. 

Lyubomirsky, a UCR psychologist and co-author of the study stated, “The findings suggest that changing one’s social behavior is a realizable goal for many people, and that [doing so] improves well-being.”

So how do we increase our happiness and successfully expand our comfort zones?

Exercise your strengths—What are the things that you’re good at? Make a list of your strengths and then choose one each day to practice in some way. Generous? Pay for the coffee for the person behind you in line! Good listener? Take an extra minute to really ask someone how their day is going. Organized? Clean up that stack of papers that’s sitting on the counter. These are examples of small ways that we can be intentional about going outside of our typical routine and help us be the best version of ourselves in our every day lives!

Ask yourself one, simple question every day—Ask yourself, “What is one thing I can do today to make someone’s day better?” Asking ourselves this question sets the intention that we are looking for ways to reach out to others. Does your partner have a favorite snack? Pick it up on the way home from work! Is someone walking through the door behind you with their hands full? Wait that extra second to hold the door for them, smile and greet them as you do so. Do your kids have a favorite game? Put that chore aside for a few minutes and play their favorite game with them! Putting others first and looking for ways to make another’s day better helps us expand our focus from our own comfort zone to the happiness of others.

Focus on your successes—We do a lot in a day. But because we’re so used to doing what we do, we don’t even notice all of the things that we are accomplishing. Because of this, we’re often left feeling drained at the end of the day, too tired to do anything else, but we don’t even REALLY know why. Start writing down the things that you are accomplishing throughout the day. Did the dishes? Write it down. Stayed awake during that boring work meeting? Write it down. Cleaned the bath tub? Write it down! No task is too small. Writing down your success, such as in the form of a “Got-It-Done” list will help you remember all the things you “got done” throughout the day leaving you feeling accomplished and less drained. Focusing on our successes sends the message to our subconscious that we are capable of achieving goals. Sending this message to our brain makes it much easier to change our behavior in other, desired ways. 

For more resources on how to live a happier life visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com and be sure to tune in to More2Life—weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130!

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!

The Road to Recovery: Psychotherapy or Medication—Which Is Right For Me?

Depression is often an ongoing struggle, which can make it difficult to know what approach is best for us to find lasting healing. New research, however, gives us a deeper look into understanding how to treat our depression in a way that does not just lessen our symptoms, but works with and through our depression symptoms to achieve sustainable healing. 

A new study out of Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health in Australia, shows that psychotherapy should be the first approach for depression treatment, with medication being a secondary option. 

This research, published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal, reveals that individuals ranging from 15-25 who received psychotherapy alone experienced equal improvement in their depression symptoms as their counterparts who received psychotherapy and medication treatment. 

These findings demonstrate the reality of the common misconception that medication treatment for depression should be a first approach. Often it is said or believed that medication should eliminate all of our symptoms of depression and that once we are on medication, ‘everything will be fine.’ This, however, is not the case. 

Medication helps to address or alleviate the physical symptoms of depression such as body aches, fatigue, and lethargy. What this really means is that medication is helpful in allowing us to feel ‘better’ enough to do the work towards directly addressing our depression and finding lasting solutions. 

Essentially, medication functions on the level of addressing our limbic system (our emotional reactions/the physical symptoms of depression), whereas therapy also focuses on our cortex (our thinking brain) to help us work through our thoughts and emotions in order to find and achieve health and healing. 

To think of it another way, if depression ran on a scale from 1-10, and without treatment we are constantly living at a ten—feeling excessively lethargic, achy, entirely disinterested—typically this means that we can’t get out of bed or do anything to effectively work towards healing. When this is the case, medication can be a helpful approach in lowering that scale—from, say, a ten to maybe a five or a six. Lowering our symptoms from a ten to a six is extremely helpful, but it doesn’t mean our depression is completely gone. What it does mean, however, is that we are now at a point that we can get out of bed, we can face our struggles, and we have the energy to do the work we need to do to lower or even eliminate our depression. 

This and other research suggests that psychotherapy should be the first approach for sustainable depression treatment, especially for younger individuals. Medication is best reserved as a secondary approach and has been found to be more effective for older adults. 

If you are struggling with depression or other mental health concerns, Catholic Counselors is here to help you find faith filled answers to life’s difficult questions. For more information or to schedule an appointment, give us a call at 740-266-6461 or visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com.

The Small Changes That Lead To Greater Happiness

Do you ever just feel “off,” but you don’t know why? Everything seems to be fine, daily life is running along relatively smoothly, but you just feel down, melancholy, or disconnected from life/others?

A new study out of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and Texas A&M reveals that making small changes—such as smiling more—can make an impact on our emotions and overall mood. It seems like a small change, but a meta-analysis of 138 studies demonstrates that smiling really can make us happier. 

“We don’t think that people can smile their way to happiness,” lead researcher, Nicholas Coles, said. “But these findings are exciting because they provide a clue about how the mind and the body interact to shape our conscious experience of emotion.”

If simply smiling more can make an impact on our emotions, what are some other ways for us to lift our mood and feel reconnected?

Acts of kindness—Buy coffee for the person behind you in line, pick up flowers for your significant other on your way home from work, volunteer at the local food pantry. Acts of kindness give us the opportunity to go outside of ourselves and do something to help and bring joy to others. In return, this helps us to feel more positive, purpose driven, and connected to others!

Set daily goals—Setting small, daily goals allows us to feel proactive, productive, and in control. These goals can be anything from doing one load of laundry, to spending five minutes outside, or even simply brushing your teeth on days where accomplishing a larger goal just doesn’t feel doable. Choose whatever small, attainable goal appeals to you each day. It’s not about the task itself, its about the feeling of accomplishment!

Pray—Take time to pray each day. Share with God what you are thinking and feeling. No emotion is too big or small for God to handle. Ask God to help you express your emotions in ways that glorify Him. Setting aside time to pray, or simply praying as we go about your daily activities helps us to feel reconnected to God, to our surroundings, and to our purpose. 

Listen to music—Listen to music that reflects the mood you want to be in, not the mood that you are in. Often when we are sad, angry, etc. we listen to music that reflects that mood. This typically causes us to remain in this mood, however, listening to music that reflects the mood you want to be in (i.e. listening to happy music when you are sad or listening to energetic music when you are tired) actually causes us to adjust to a mood that better matches the music we are listening to. Surprisingly, this can make a big difference in our emotions throughout the day. 

For more on increasing positive emotions, check out Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety and tune in to More2Life—weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130!

Increase Your Happiness in Less Than 20 Minutes

As the weather warms up, our ability to spend time outdoors increases. While we are aware that this may make us happier in the moment, new research shows that spending time outside has a significant impact on improving our mental health.

A recent study published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research reveals that spending 20 minutes in a park, regardless of physical exercise, can have lasting health and mental health benefits. 

“Principal investigator Hon K. Yuen, Ph.D., OTR/L, discovered park users experience physical and mental health benefits such as stress reduction and recovery from mental fatigue.”

This and similar studies reveal how even small things can make a big difference in improving our mental health. Here are a few tips to improve your emotional and physical health today:

Take time each day to do something you enjoy—Take at least five to fifteen minutes each day to do something that brings you joy. Reading, taking the long way home so you can spend a few more minutes driving and listening to your favorite music, drawing, writing, or doing a brief workout are all examples of activities that you can do even for just five minutes a day. Taking this time to do something that brings you joy allows you—no matter what kind of day you had—to feel as though you were productive, experienced peace and happiness, and even gives you something to look forward to the next day. Whatever your favorite activities is, try to spend at least five to fifteen minutes each day engaging in that activity. 

Be present—It’s often easy to get engrossed in the chaos of daily life, and when this happens, we often experience a sort of “tunnel vision” where we are so focused on the task or tasks in front of us, we unintentionally forget what is going on around us. To avoid this tunnel vision mindset, take moments throughout the day to look up and look around. Notice the ceiling, let your eyes rest on a part of the room you don’t usually look at, note what sounds are going on around you, even what smells are in the air. Doing this periodically throughout the day helps to bring us back into the present moment and acknowledge what’s going on in the world around us and takes us out of feeling “trapped” by the things we have going on in our lives. 

Express gratitude—Make a list of three to five things you are grateful for each day. This can be a physical list that you write down or just a mental list that you reflect on during your day. Acknowledging the things that we are grateful for each day does not mean minimizing our struggles by saying things such as, “I have things to be grateful for so I shouldn’t feel ___.” Expressing our gratitude allows us to acknowledge the blessings that we have in our lives, it highlights the positive things, however it does not mean that our struggles do not matter. The intention is to lighten the load of those heavier things. Or simply find the joy among the potential chaos. 

For more on increasing happiness in your daily life check out The Life God Wants You To Have and tune in live to More2Life—weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130!

The Circle of…Stress?

Are you stressed? Having difficulty sleeping? Is your difficultly sleeping causing you stress? You’re not alone. 

A recent study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology discusses how stress can effect our ability to sleep or stay asleep and the negative ramifications this pattern can have on our health, particularly cardiovascular health. Although the greatest risk of increased blood pressure and other negative health effects come from a combination of stress and lack of sleep over the course of many years, experiencing this type of sleep disruption for even a few days, weeks, or months can be difficult and have a large impact on our mental health–further exacerbating our stress. 

So what are some techniques we can use to decrease stress and increase our ability to fall asleep and peacefully stay asleep? 

Take time to process stress earlier in the day—often we run around all day, attempting to get everything done, and then when it’s time for us to go to bed, we lay down and suddenly start thinking about all the stressful things we have going on, try to come up with solutions, worry about the following day, etc. It is important to process all of these thoughts, but it should not occur while we are laying in bed. Instead, set aside time earlier in the day—after the work day, after dinner with your family, after the kids go to bed—to process these thoughts and emotions. Journal in either a freeform format—writing down your thoughts as they come—or in a more structured format (i.e. write down the most stressful occurrence of the day, and write down at least three things you are grateful for). Take fifteen minutes to pray, talk to God about your worries, ask Him what the best solution would be, and thank Him for the blessings in your day. Whatever way you choose to process your stress, intentionally set aside a few minutes earlier in the day to work through your thoughts and feelings. This way, when it is time for bed, your mind won’t be racing because you have already processed emotions, identified possible solutions, and acknowledged the positive things that happened during the day. 

Light exercise—Although doing a more intense workout in the evening will wake us up and make it more difficult to fall asleep, doing light exercise such as stretching, squats, leg lifts, etc. will actually increase blood flow through our legs. Increasing circulation in this way can actually create a soothing effect to decrease stress and make it easier to fall asleep. 

Keep your sleep space tidy—It can be all too easy for our life stress to pile up—literally. Although it can be difficult to keep our homes neat and clean at all times, prioritize tidying the spaces in which you and your loved ones sleep. Keeping the piles of clothes put away—or at least hidden away, putting that paperwork in a drawer, making your bed, can provide the visual space needed to allow stress to slip away when it is time for bed. Not having the visual reminder of the things we have to do while we are attempting to get a good nights sleep can make all the difference in our ability to peacefully fall asleep and stay asleep. 

Make a plan—Ask yourself, “What is one thing I can do tomorrow that will bring me joy, help me feel productive, or get me closer to my goal?” Asking and answering this question for ourselves allows us to set intentionality for the coming day, gives us something to look forward to, and helps remind us that we are control of our reactions, actions, and decisions. 

For more on decreasing anxiety and increasing the peace in your life, check out Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety, and tune in to More2Life—weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130! 

To Cohabitate, or Not to Cohabitate. That is The Question

Celebrity couples live together, regular couples live together, if everyone’s cohabiting, that means there has to be some benefit to it, right? Not so fast…

A new study published by the Institute for Family Studies found that cohabitation is rapidly becoming more popular than marriage, even “shotgun cohabitations” are statically more common than “shotgun marriages.” However, research released by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and The Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University has reveled that married couples report three key differences in the quality of their relationships than couples who are cohabiting. 

According to the results of this research, the first statistically significant difference in these relationships revels that married couples are more likely to report relationship satisfaction than couples who are cohabiting. After controlling for factors such as age, education, and relationship duration, it was found that 54% of married women report higher levels of satisfaction while married men report 49% relationship satisfaction. When compared to their counterparts of cohabiting women and men, these individuals reported 40% and 35% satisfaction rates, respectively. 

Next it was found that married couples report greater levels of commitment in their relationship than couples who are cohabiting. As the top three reasons for couples to cohabit include convenience, financial benefits, and “to test a relationship,” it should be no surprise that 46% of married couples report higher levels of commitment in their relationship, compared to approximately only 30% of cohabiting couples. 

Finally, research has found that married couples are more likely to report relationship stability than cohabiting couples. When respondents were asked how likely they were to say that their relationship would continue, 54% of married adults reported relationship stability and continuation, while only 28% of cohabiting adults reported stability and a future for their relationship—this includes cohabiting relationships that include children. 

This and further research reveals that cohabitation fundamentally changes the way that couples view marriage. Couples who cohabitate naturally develop the mindset of, “What if it doesn’t work out?” This thought pattern that a cohabiting couple can simply move out and move on with someone else distresses these three important factors of relationship satisfaction, commitment, and stability that are essential to a successful and thriving marriage. 

When discussing these results, the Institute for Family Studies reports, “despite prevailing myths about cohabitation being similar to marriage, when it comes to the relationship quality measures that count—like commitment, satisfaction, and stability—research continues to show that marriage is still the best choice for a strong and stable union.”

For information on how to have a successful and thriving marriage, check out Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five years of Marriage, and find more resources by visiting us at CatholicCounselors.com!