Rising Up!–Overcoming the Challenges That Weigh You Down

Day in and day out, it seems as though the challenges in life are constantly piling up. Sometimes they’re little, sometimes they’re big, but either way, the challenges we face often feel like they are going to overwhelm us.

It is easy to allow the problems of life to weigh us down and make us feel like “the cross is all there is.”  In our fallen world, the cross is certainly a reality we not only can’t deny, but also need to embrace. That said, Theology of The Body tells us that embracing the cross doesn’t just mean bearing up under it. It means following Jesus up the hill with the expectation that he is leading us to the resurrection that comes after the cross.  If “carrying our cross” just means “maintaining the status quo” OR “consigning ourselves to being miserable and offering it up” then we’re doing it wrong.

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Are you struggling to overcome the challenges that you are experiencing in life?

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The Life God Wants You To Have!

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Theology of The Body reminds us that the Christian–in order to approach life in a healthy, responsible way–has to keep two things in tension at all times: the reality of what is plus the belief that God is always working to make things better.  We have to learn to respond to the problems we experience with the expectation that God is in the process of delivering us from those problems and with the understanding that each of these challenges is an invitation to respond in a way that helps us become more of the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled person we were created to be. God wants to deliver us from our crosses, but while we bear them, he wants us to respond to them in a way that will allow him to transform us into the healthiest, holiest, strongest versions of ourselves. We do that by asking God, “Teach me to respond to this in a way that will glorify you, help me work for the ultimate good of everyone involved, and make me my best self” before we take each, next step.  If we can do this, we can cooperate with God’s grace to both confidently carry our cross, and most importantly, experience the resurrection that comes after it. 

So how do we live this out?

Focus on The Growth—We often feel like our crosses are simply meant to be borne, and because of this, we lose sight of where our crosses can lead us. To combat this tendency, prioritize your focus on the question, “What can I make of this?” Or in other words, “How can I/am I growing from this?” This mindset helps us to become more empowered in our growth towards who God created us to be, rather than getting stuck in the challenges we face along the way.

Remember the Good—It can feel as though our challenges come with more bad than good. From this, we quickly lose sight of the fact that there is any good at all. Rise above this perspective by making a concerted effort to recognize the good that occurs in each day. Maybe you’ll find it in the weather, in your cup of coffee, in the smile from a stranger. But wherever or however you find it, acknowledge the good that is in every day!

Take Care—When we’re struggling with challenges, we tend to forget to prioritize our needs and do the things we need to do to take care of ourselves. Make sure you take small breaks throughout the day and/or week to check in with yourself. What do you need in this moment? A snack? To go for a walk? To take time for breathing or grounding exercises? Time with a family member or friend? Make a conscious effort to acknowledge and meet your needs.

If you would like additional support in overcoming the challenges in your life, visit us at CatholicCounselors.com!

Overcoming The Trap of Hyper-responsibility

For many of us, it’s easy to fall into the role of taking on responsibility for other’s situations or problems. We want to help, but often get hurt or frustrated when the other person is not accepting our help or allowing us to guide them. When this occurs, it may be because we’re struggling to manage the balance between self-donation and hyper-responsibility.

Theology of The Body (TOB) reminds us of the importance of self-donation–of using our gifts and talents to generously work for the good of others.  But TOB also reminds us that for a relationship to be healthy, it must be mutually self-donative.  That is, both people in the relationship have to be equally committed to giving all they have to work for each other’s good.  Even Jesus models this. He offers all of himself to us on the cross, he holds nothing back. But he doesn’t force himself on us.  For us to actually benefit from Christ’s free and total gift of self, we must respond by giving ourselves freely and totally back to him.  He doesn’t drag us, kicking and screaming into heaven against our will.  He stands at the door and knocks, but it’s up to is to open the door and let him in.

Here are three ways to be self-donative without becoming hyper-responsible:

Don’t Pretend to be Mightier than God–We often become anxious because we feel like it’s our job to make people healthier than they want to be, to force people to be closer than they want to be.  All that tends to do is stress us out and push people away.  The most we can do is offer people an open invitation to greater health and intimacy, provide incentives for pursuing greater health and intimacy, and offer consequences if they choose to engage in unhealthy or destructive personal or relational choices–and that’s a lot. But when we find ourselves trying to beg, whine, cajole, force, manipulate, or pressure another person–against their will– into making healthier choices for their lives or our relationship with them, we are committing an offense against their free will. Even God will not cross the lines a person draws with their own free will.  Don’t pretend to be mightier than God. By all means, invite people to be healthier and closer, and feel free to offer incentives, and even consequences, that help them take your invitation seriously, but it’s not your fault if they choose to walk away, literally or figuratively.  In fact, you are morally obliged to let them.

Take Your Cue From Them–We sometimes get into trouble when we try to work harder on someone else’s problem than they are.  It’s good to be generous and to give all we have to help someone, but it only produces good fruit if the other person is also giving all they have to give. Even if, objectively, the other person is limited in some way and isn’t able to give much, they still have to be actively trying to give all they have to the problem for any help to stick. Otherwise, we burn ourselves out trying to solve problems that are not within our ability to solve. And we deplete the energy we would otherwise have to solve the problems that actually are within our control.

If You Need Help, Get It
–Hyper-responsible people often struggle with asking for help, especially if the people they have asked are less than enthusiastic about giving it.  If this happens to you, don’t assume that it automatically follows that you have to do everything. Either find some other way to get the help you need–even if it is not your preferred way to get it–or, if worse comes to worse–decide what you are capable of doing without help and stick to that.  When other people complain that certain things aren’t getting done, simply tell them that you are doing all you can without their help, but if they would like to pitch in, then you are sure you could accomplish more together.  It is not your job to make everything work to an ideal standard on your own power.  Even God doesn’t build his Kingdom by himself.  He insists that we partner with him, not because he can’t do it, but because it would not be respectful of our free will or the dignity of our personhood to do it all for us.  The bottom line–respect your limits, and get the help you need. 

If you would like to receive the help or support you need to overcome hyper-responsibility, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

Dealing with Fear—Three Steps to Developing Confidence and Conquering Your Fears

Fear is an experience we are all familiar with. It is the chest tightening, palm sweating, heart pounding barrier that holds us back from living the life we want to live—the life we are called to live. But there’s good news! We can overcome fear and train our brain to develop greater confidence.

Theology of The Body (TOB) reminds us that, for the Christian, confidence is not about feeling as though we can do anything we put our minds to, but rather that we can accomplish all things through Christ who is our strength. Christians are often afraid of cultivating confidence. It feels prideful. We get caught up in the world’s idea that confidence means puffing yourself up and believing that “nothing can stand in my way because I’m awesome in every way, just the way I am!” Although we know that isn’t true. For the Christian, confidence comes from knowing that God is working with us, in us, and through us to make the world right. When we experience a problem, our job isn’t to power through it on our own, it is about cultivating trust and confidence in Christ’s power to show up for us in every moment.

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Do you want to overcome fear and live the life you were meant to live?

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Unworried–A Life Without Anxiety!

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In doing this, it is first important to understand more about what fear really is.

A study out of Texas A&M University states,

Prevailing scientific theory holds that fear and anxiety are distinct, with different triggers and strictly segregated brain circuits. Fear — a fleeting reaction to certain danger — is thought to be controlled by the amygdala, a small almond-shaped region buried beneath the wrinkled convolutions of the cerebral cortex. By contrast, anxiety — a persistent state of heightened apprehension and arousal elicited when threat is uncertain — is thought to be orchestrated by the neighboring bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST). But new evidence from Shackman and his colleagues suggests that both of these brain regions are equally sensitive to certain and uncertain kinds of threats.

So how do we overcome this fear and anxiety and train our brain to develop greater confidence?

Uncertainty vs Curiosity—Often fear/anxiety is triggered by a sense or cultivates a sense of uncertainty. This causes us to feel insecure, which makes us shut down, get defensive, or run away. We can counter this uncertainty by leaning into curiosity. While uncertainty causes us to pull away, curiosity compels us to lean in, to move forward, to explore. We can counter this sense of fear and cultivate confidence by asking questions such as, “What can I learn from this situation?” “What can I learn about myself during this process?” And “What can I bring to this circumstance?”

Feelings are a Choice–We often feel as if feelings of fear or feelings in general are something that happen to us.  And they are, but we don’t have to stay stuck in the emotions that overtake us.  We can chose to take actions that will help us feel better, stronger, calmer, more confident, and more hopeful.  No, your emotions can’t turn on a dime.  You can’t make yourself super-happy if you’re feeling sad, or perfectly peaceful if you’re feeling anxious.  But by challenging the false messages that run through our minds, we can turn sadness into hope, anxiety into resolve and powerlessness into purposefulness.  Instead giving into the thought that, “there is nothing I can do,” we can remind ourselves that, “Even a small change can make a big difference.”   Instead of saying, “No one cares about me.”  We can remind ourselves to reach out to the people in our lives honestly and give them a chance to be there for us. Instead of saying, “This situation is hopeless.”  We can remind ourselves that with God, all things are possible, and begin to ask him what changes we can make that will give him glory.

Reach Out–When you are feeling scared, powerless, or hopeless, that can be a  sign that you are trying to handle too much on your own.  Challenge yourself to reach out to God and the other people in your life–especially if you feel they won’t understand.  Make it your job to make them understand or find other people who will.  Remember God’s words in Genesis, “It is not good for man to be alone.”  We were created for community. If you’re feeling scared or low–even if you don’t want to be around others–do everything you can to make yourself connect with the people in your life and leave yourself open to other’s efforts to connect with you. Our minds are literally wired to feel better and more positive when we feel connected.  Making the effort to reach out to others for help, for support, or even just a distraction, will trigger your social brain to start producing feel-good chemicals that will help boost your mood overall.  Work with the design of your body to increase your sense of hope, strength and confidence.  Reach out to God and others and let the love that is there for you fill all those dark corners of your heart.

If you would like more support in overcoming the fears that are holding you back in life, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

Taming The Beast—3 Ways to Understand and Overcome Anxiety

Anxiety often feels like a terrible beast that runs roughshod over our lives. It can cause us to feel scared, hopeless, or worn down. It can even feel like something that becomes more of who we are rather than something we can manage or get rid of.

So how do we manage something that can become such a large presence in our lives?

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Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety

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Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (TOB) reminds us that anxiety is not God’s will for us.  Before the Fall, even though Adam and Eve were completely vulnerable, they were confident in God’s care and their love for one another. They were completely at peace.  Only after the Fall, when they were separated from God, each other, and their best selves did they feel exposed, ashamed, and anxious.  Confronted by the bigness of the world and their own sense of smallness and insufficiency when separated from God they hid, cowering behind the bushes. How often do we feel that way?  TOB tells us that while worry and anxiety are common enough experiences in the modern world, the answer to our worries is to recenter ourselves in the loving arms of ABBA, daddy, the Father who loves us, cares for us, and shelters us from the storms of life–especially when we feel alone, scared, and helpless.  That’s why Pope JPII, was constantly reminding us, “Be Not Afraid!” Yes, the task before us is great, but God’s love and providence is greater.  In the face of life’s battles, let our battle cry be, “ Jesus I trust in You!”

 

Here are three ways to win your battle with anxiety:

1. Focus on the Right Target–Resist the temptation to think that your anxiety is caused by all the things going on around you or happening to you–the overwhelming amount of work that has to be done, the weight of all your responsibilities, the problems that you face.  Yes, these are serious things that need to be taken seriously, but they can’t cause anxiety in and of themselves.  Anxiety is created in us when we let external events distract us from the need to maintain our internal sense of wellbeing.  If you are feeling anxious, it is not because you have too much to do or too many problems to face. It is because you are forgetting to take care of yourself in the face of those responsibilities and problems.  Instead of focusing exclusively on all the external things that need to be addressed, ask yourself, “What do I need to do to take care of myself while I handle these situations?  How will I pace myself?  How can I approach these challenges in a way that will allow me to stay reasonably cheerful and connected to the people that I love? How will I face all the things I have to deal with in a way that allows me to be my best self–mentally, physically and spiritually?”

Don’t brush these questions aside and say, “I can’t worry about that. I have too much to do!”  It is exactly that tendency that causes anxiety.  Remember, you can’t solve any problem or accomplish any task well if you are allowing yourself to get rattled, sick, hostile, and stressed.  The MOST important job you have to do is make sure you are keeping your head and health about you even while you handle all the things life is throwing at you.

2.  Tame the Tornado–When we’re worried and anxious, our mind spins between “I have to get control of this!” and “There’s nothing I can do!”  Tame this mental tornado not by focusing on the ultimate solution to the situation that is upsetting you, but rather by focusing on the next step. What is the next tiny step you can take that nudges you toward a satisfying resolution, gathers new resources,  enlists more support, or at least makes you feel a little more taken care of while you think about what else you can do?  If you can refocus enough to identify the next step, then the next, and the next, God will help you tame the tornado in your mind and help you find the answers–and the peace–you seek.  Don’t try to solve the whole problem at once.  Focus your mind on addressing the next tiny step in front of you and then celebrating that small success.  The more you concentrate on breaking big problems down into bite-sized pieces and celebrating the little successes you achieve along the way, the more your peace will increase.

3. Recall God’s Mercy–We often get anxious because we allow the stress of this moment to obliterate our memories of all the other things we’ve been through, all the other times God saved us, supported us, and carried us even though we thought we were overwhelmed, doomed, or done for.  Before throwing yourself into this next pile or problems, take a moment to remind yourself of all the past times in your life when you felt overwhelmed, stressed, defeated, and not up to the task and remember how God helped you make it through all those past times, even when you weren’t sure how you were going to do it.  Chances are, at least some of those situations turned out really well. At the very least, you made it through.  In both cases, God was present and he provided for you. Remind yourself that this time isn’t any different.  God loves you.  He has demonstrated his love to you by delivering you from your troubles and overwhelming responsibilities time and time again. Bring that love with you into this latest challenges. When you start feeling anxious, take a moment to close your eyes, thank God for all the times he has carried you through your past worries and ask him for the grace to face the challenges in front you with courage and peace.  The more you remember to intentionally recenter yourself in God’s mercy, providence, and grace–especially in the middle of all the craziness–the more your peace will increase.

 

For additional resources and support for overcoming your anxiety, visit us online at 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!

Resolving Repetitive Arguments

Often we feel as though we’re just going in circles, having the same arguments over and over. So how do we break the cycle and start actually resolving problems or situations?

Studies show that happy couples tend to be more solution-focused in general, and focus on spending most of their energy addressing more solvable problems. They’re aware of larger issues in the relationship but they tend to hold off on addressing these until they’ve built up enough confidence/rapport by handling the little things well.  Other couples tend to have a more emotionally-based approach that puts every issue—big and small—on an equal footing.  They are less successful at solving anything, in part because their arguments are more emotional and many of the issues they choose to focus on can’t be easily addressed, especially when there isn’t good rapport.

In the beginning, God created each of us to see the world a little differently so that, working together and using our gifts for each other’s good, we would all attend to different details in a manner that would allow us to create a more holistic solution to any challenge.  But in a fallen world filled with unique and unrepeatable people who see things differently AND don’t always work for each other’s good, there is bound to be  some degree of conflict. Pope St. John Paul the Great reminds us that the only solution to this challenge is love–the willingness to understand what the other person needs to flourish and the willingness to make personal sacrifices to help them achieve achieve those things.  By learning to be loving, ESPECIALLY in conflict, we can discover how to encourage each other through the tension, toward godly solutions, and experience even closer relationships–not just in spite of our differences, but because of those differences.

How can this be done?

Zoom Out–Repetitive arguments tend to be ones that are polarized. People stake out their positions too early in the discussion and then argue back and forth about who’s right and who’s wrong. If you’re having the same fight over and over, zoom out.  Step back from trying to solve the problem and instead, figure out how to EMPATHIZE with the other person’s position. Ask questions that allow you to have genuine sympathy for what they are trying to accomplish.You might ask, “Help me understand how things would be better for you if you got what you were asking for.” OR “What is it you’re hoping will change if we did things your way?”  You don’t have to agree with the other person, but keep asking questions until you truly understand their goal. People who feel truly understood are much more willing to negotiate in good faith.

Build The Solution Together–Repetitive arguments are usually caused because each person feels like they are trying to build something that the other person keeps taking apart–like two children fighting over the same block to build THEIR tower! Build your solution together.  Once you have zoomed out enough to understand what each of you is really trying to accomplish. Ask, the other person, “What solution could you imagine that would allow you to get what you want but still be respectful to my concerns?”  This is powerful question because it is both deferential AND assertive. On the one hand, you are humbly asking their advice. On the other hand, you are insisting that they consider your concern in their solution.  This question sets up the right spirit of honesty and collaboration that allows two former competitors to start building together.

Work on Friending, Not Fighting–The most important thing in problem-solving is NOT solving the problem.  It is taking care of each other through the conflict so that you can feel like two friends working together on the problem instead of two enemies fighting over limited resources. Focus on “Friending” NOT fighting. Tell the other person you appreciate them hanging in there with you, offer to pray together so that you are both open to God’s will, do little things to take care of them during a conflict like offering to get them a drink, or take a break, acknowledging their strengths or the value of their opinions.  The more effective you are at taking care of the other person, the more likely you will be able to break through the tendency toward self-preservation that pervades repetitive arguments.

 

For more on how to resolve repetitive arguments, check out God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts! and tune in to More2Life–weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130!

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!

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! 

You Can’t Judge Depression By Its Cover

“They seem/seemed so happy.” “They have everything together.” “I/They don’t have any reason to complain.”

Chances are you’ve said at least one of these things about someone, or maybe you’ve even said them about yourself. 

Researchers are discovering a surge in this topic that many are calling “smiling depression,” or the more technical term, “atypical depression.” These terms describe individuals who seem to “have it all together,” who appear happy—but under their external facade or appearance are struggling with depression. 

One article describes, “It can be very hard to spot people suffering from smiling depression. They may seem like they don’t have a reason to be sad – they have a job, an apartment and maybe even children or a partner. They smile when you greet them and can carry pleasant conversations. In short, they put on a mask to the outside world while leading seemingly normal and active lives.”

This type of depression can be difficult to identify, especially with the influence of social media and the norm to only share the highlights of our lives or only post what we want people to think about us. Furthermore, it can be difficult to know how to reach out for help when we are the ones experiencing this “atypical depression” because, “maybe others won’t understand,” or “I can’t let people know I’m struggling, everyone knows me as a happy and put-together person.”

So what do we do to overcome this struggle within ourselves and support those who may be dealing with atypical depression?

Make Prayer a Two-Way Communication—Often we feel as though we have to recite written prayers, or share with God our every need or dream in an eloquent, well thought out manner. While these prayers can be helpful—and all prayer is good—it is important to remember that our relationship with God should be, as with any other relationship, a two way street. While God loves to hear our prayers and our voices, God wants to communicate with us, He wants us to listen to Him. To do this, it is important that we try spending time each day sharing our prayers with God, but then spending time in silence, listening for His voice, for His direction, for His love. This is an incredible way to not only strengthen and deepen our relationship with God, but it also allows us to feel less alone and less as though it’s all up to us. God is there for us, we just have to provide the space and the silence for Him to speak to us and work through us. 

Honesty is The Best Policy—So often I hear, “my friends can always count on me to be there for them, but I can’t expect them to be there for me.” As described in the first point, relationships are—or at least are intended to be—two way streets. Allow yourself to expect from others what they can expect from you. With this mindset, be honest with those who you feel a connection with. Maybe it’s a family member, maybe it’s a close friend, or maybe it’s a co-worker or someone who you enjoy talking to but aren’t extremely close with. Sharing your feelings with the latter individual may allow for a new, beautiful friendship to blossom. No matter who you share your feelings with, be honest. Put down the appearance you so often carry, and be yourself—the put together parts, the struggling parts, and everything in between. 

Likewise, be that person for someone else. Be the person who your friends can be honest with. Ask questions about them. Remove the barriers of appearance. We will all be a lot happier when we can be our true selves with others. 

Random Acts of Kindness—Kindness and happiness can have a ripple effect. Hold the door for someone, smile at that stranger, say thank you, pay for the coffee of the person behind you in line. These seemingly tiny acts can make such a big impact. Not only do these acts touch others lives in beautiful ways, they make us feel good, positive, hopeful. These small acts bring light to the world. They allow others to feel seen, to feel cared about, they allow us to go outside of ourselves, be a positive influence on another person’s life, and do something good. Pay attention the next time you do this for someone. How do they react? Are they surprised? Do they smile a little more? Do their eyes light up?  How do you react when you practice an act of kindness, or when someone does this for you? This little moment of joy, of hope, of positivity can influence us and others in bigger ways that maybe we simply didn’t notice before. 

For more ways to overcome the daily challenges of life and bring more peace and joy to yourself and those around you, tune in to More2Life—weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130. And be sure to visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!