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! 

Dealing With Others’ Emotions

We all know that when someone yawns, then we start yawning too. New research shows that our emotions cause the same chain reaction. 

A study out of Yale University—lead by sociologist Nicholas Christakis—documented a variety of interactions of approximately 5,000 people living in one town over the course of 32 years. When discussing the results of this study, Christakis says, “We were able to show that as one person became happy or sad, it rippled through the network.” The study demonstrated that this can happen even through the small interactions that occur with others on a daily basis, such as smiling at someone you pass on the street, while of course there are even larger effects with those we have one-on-one interactions with. 

As this research shows, our emotions “spread” to others. Structures in our brain replicate the feelings of others. Biologically, that’s another sign of the way God created us for communion. Our ability to actually feel the emotions of others gives us an opportunity feel connected to them, to identify their needs and work for their good more effectively. The downside is that we can get too caught up in other’s feelings or allow their emotions to drag us down. The key is remembering the personalistic norm. It isn’t enough to feel what others feel. We have to always orient ourselves to working for their good, for our good, and the good of the relationship– whatever that means in the situation. We might start by empathizing, but then we have to ask “what does God want for me, for this person, for this situation?” And move in that direction. Doing this allows us to be generous in our response to other’s feelings while not getting stuck in their feelings.

The question is, how do we set this personalistic norm to ensure that we are always working for the good of others and ourselves? Here are a few tips!

Empathizing isn’t Wallowing–It is good to want to be there for others who are experiencing emotional pain, but there is a difference between empathizing and wallowing. Empathizing allows us to have enough of a taste of what the other person is experiencing that we are able to make them feel truly understood. But research shows that once we have made that emotional connection, staying in an emotional place actually makes things worse. Once we’ve made that empathic connection, it’s time to ask, “What do you think you’d like to do about this?” and start helping the other person find even tiny things they can do to respond a little better to the situation at hand, to take a little better care of themselves, or at least be more effective at gathering the resources they need to make a better response. Feelings are not an end in themselves. Neither is empathy. Empathy exists so that we can make enough of an emotional connection with each other that we can stop each other from falling into emotional holes in the first place or help each other not get stuck in the emotional holes we do fall into. By all means, be willing to meet someone where they are at emotionally, but once you have made that emotional connection, be sure to ask God what he wants you and the other person to do to respond to the situation more effectively and gracefully.

Keep Up Emotional Boundaries–Being willing to support someone who is going through a bad time emotionally doesn’t mean that you have to be willing to put up with abuse. At first, it can be appropriate to “bear wrongs patiently” as you realize that a person who is upset, frustrated, or hurting isn’t really meaning to take it out on you, but if their bad behavior persists or becomes habitual, then it’s time to set some gentle but firm boundaries. For instance, you might say, “I love you and I want to support you, but when you treat me like this its hard to be what you need me to be. I’m not your enemy and I need to you stop treating me like I am.” Setting these gentle boundaries can make all the difference between allowing yourself to be a safe landing place for the people you love versus being their punching bag.

Know Your Limits–It’s good to be there for others who are suffering, but our responsibility to work for their good requires us to know when someone needs more than we are able or qualified to give them. Sometimes, we can get in over our heads when we feel like someone needs us so much. We might suggest that they talk to the person they are having problems with or seek professional help, but they either don’t do it or they tell us that they just need more of us. Then, we feel guilty pulling back because they need us so much. It’s important to remember that in a case like this, we actually make things worse by trying to be the other person’s only or primary source of support. Instead we need to say, “I wish I could do more, but this is the point where you need to talk to so and so, or seek help from this and that. If you can’t or won’t do that, I’m not going to be able to be here for you either because you need more help than I can appropriately give you.”  Knowing our limits allows us to be there for others in a way that actually works for their good instead of allowing them to stay stuck and dragging us down with them.

For more resources on how to deal with others emotions, 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 channel 130!

Dealing With Hurtful People

We all know the world isn’t what it was meant to be. People say hurtful things and it is often difficult to know how to handle it. Similarly, it is difficult to not take what they say to heart. What’s important to keep is mind is that we can’t control what others do, but we CAN control how we react.

Theology of The Body reminds us that we are all works in progress but the best way to see that God’s plans are fulfilled in our lives is to build each other up, not tear each other apart. When we are frustrated, we have a tendency to criticize and pick at each other. It’s good to address the problems and concerns we have with others, but we need to make sure we are approaching people in a way that is respectful, loving, and solution-focused, instead of angry, hurtful, and problem-focused. With God’s grace, we can learn to address the frustrations we have with each other in a way that leads us to be closer to each other instead of worn out by each other.

Here are three More2Life Hacks for dealing with hurtful people:

Clarify and Do-Over–Believe it or not, sometimes hurtful people don’t know they are being hurtful. The first step in addressing another person’s criticisms is not to take offense or even to respond to what they said, but rather, to clarify. When you feel criticized, picked on, or attacked by someone, the first thing to do is say, “I’m sure you didn’t mean to come off as hurtful, but something about the way you said that really seemed hurtful. Can you say that again so I can hear what you’re really trying to tell me?” Don’t attack back. Don’t argue the point. In fact, don’t respond in any kind of substantive way. Instead, give the hurtful person a chance to think about what they are really trying to say by first giving them the benefit of the doubt, then telling them how their statement made you feel, and finally, inviting them to say it again–more thoughtfully this time.

Don’t Ask Permission to Be Offended–Sometimes, even after you’ve told a hurtful person how much they’ve hurt you, they react by denying it. “I didn’t mean anything!” “I was just kidding!”  “You’re too thin-skinned.” Don’t fall into this trap. The best response is to say, “Listen, I’m not asking you permission to be offended by you. I’m telling you that what you said was hurtful. If you want me to hear what you’re really trying to say, your going to need to say it again.” Then leave it to them. If they decide to respect you enough to listen and correct themselves, do your best to listen respectfully and move forward with the conversation. On the other hand, if they refuse to take a more respectful approach, it’s ok to end the conversation even if they act put out about it. Don’t ever ask permission to be hurt by someone. If they hurt you, say so and stand by it.  If they love you, they’ll adopt a more respectful approach going forward.

Build Good Fences–If your attempts to clarify and be respectfully assertive are not effective, it’s time to set some boundaries. Limit your relationship to those places or contexts where the person is less likely to be hurtful. Do they do better in public? On the phone? For shorter visits?  Limit the time you spend with them to these contexts as much as you can. If they complain, simply say that you’d love to get more time with them but in order to do that, they’d need to be more sensitive about the ways they speak to you. Then see how they respond. If they manage to be respectful in the contexts you’ve limited the relationship to, then you can re-evaluate some of your boundaries, but if they continue to be hurtful in their speech or actions, you can either hold the boundaries where they are, or further limit the relationship.  Let their good behavior determine how close you can be.  Good fences really do make good neighbors.

For more on how to effectively handle hurtful people, check out Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety and tune in to More2Life—weekdays, 10am E/9am C—on EWTN, SiriusXM 130!

Finding Peace Amid The Storm

Some days it can feel as though stress is coming at us from every direction. From family life, to work life, to the ongoing influx of news and social media, it can seem very difficult to find peace among the storm of stress. Thankfully, increasing the peace in our lives can be easier than we tend to think!

Here are three More2Life Hacks for increasing peace in your daily life:

Don’t Confuse Quiet & Peace–When things are going badly, we have a tendency to want to escape, to just ignore the problems and runaway. The temptation to do this is understandable, but it’s problematic because it assumes quiet and peace are the same thing. They’re not. Quiet is just the absence of conflict. That doesn’t SOUND like a bad thing, but if all we do is avoid conflict, eventually the problems pile up and cause even more stress, worry, and anxiety.  St Augustine said that peace is actually “the tranquility that results from right order.”  If we want peace, we have to work for it. We have to actively address the problems in our lives, address the conflicts, and make a plan for handling our responsibilities. Peace does not come from running away or pretending things are OK when they’re not. It comes from doing what’s necessary to make sure our relationships are genuinely loving and that we are being responsible for maintaining our corner of God’s kingdom.

Find Your Center–Peace is not just what happens when all our problems finally go away. That’s called “death.” But here’s the good news. You don’t have to wait for the end of your life to find peace, you can actually find it right now, even in the middle of the crazy. Peace doesn’t come from outside us. It comes from maintaining your center in the middle of the storm. How do you do that? You hold on to God. You reach out to the people who love you. And you work hard to remember what it means to be your best self in this moment. If you want to increase your peace when your stress temperature is starting to rise ask yourself three questions. 1) How can I know that God loves me right now and how can I draw closer to that love? 2) What do I need to do to remember that the people in my life love me and how can I draw closer to their love? 3) What would I need to do to love myself by acting more like my best self right now– even if I don’t feel like it? These questions will help you find your center and claim your peace even when Satan and the whole world seems to be aligned against you.

Practice Surprise-Proofing–We often lose peace because we underestimate our capacity to be surprised by the same goshdarn problems happening over and over again. We pretend that that thing that irritated us yesterday is gone for good, and then we’re SHOCKED!  Shocked I tell you, that that same problem had the audacity to show up again. Peaceful people practice surprise proofing. They make a note of the things that didn’t go according to plan. They assume that those things are going to happen again. They make a plan for how they are going to learn from their experience and handle it even better next time. And finally, they mentally rehearse their plan in the times before those problems are most likely to occur.  No, we can’t plan for everything. But we can learn from our experience and often, that’s enough. Being mindful in this way allows us to anticipate problems, see them as opportunities for growth, and then head them off at the pass instead of allowing the same problems to bushwhack us again and again, making us feel foolish and incompetent.

For more on how to increase your peace, check out God Help Me! This Stress Is Driving Me Crazy! and be sure to tune in to More2Life—weekdays, 10am E/9am C—on EWTN, SiriusXM channel 130!

Men, Keep the Ball in Play!

Guest blog post by Dave McClow, Pastoral Solutions Institute.

Fighting that works!

Ever been in conflict and not known what to do?  Some men like a fight, some avoid it at all costs.  Too many of us drop the ball during a conflict….But first, let’s look at the bigger picture.

The Ball

When I taught a marriage class at a local Catholic high school, I held up a 10-inch playground ball and said, “This ball is going to teach you about the deep mysteries of life, relationships, marriage, and the Trinity.”  Yes, I went big!  I threw the ball back and forth with volunteers in each class.  I asked them what they learned about the Trinity from this.  They understood immediately that it reflected mutual self-giving, or extending and receiving, between the Father and the Son, which becomes the Holy Spirit.  I explained that the body speaks this same language in sex—males extend and females receive, bringing forth new life—babies and/or bonding.

The Infinite and Primordial Liturgies

Extending and receiving is the basic movement of life and love.  This movement within the Trinity I called the “infinite liturgy,” defining liturgy as a ritual and routine that communicates love and creates communion.  God uses liturgy to remind us who we are in God, to form our identity—think the liturgies of creation, the seventh day, and the Mass.

On a psychological level, this movement is seen in all our communication, starting with hello.  “Hello” is an extending; and if the other replies, “Hello,” the cycle, the liturgy, is complete, bringing new life to the relationship.  Deeper exchanges increase both our risk and rewards, while no response causes a little death.  Since our human extending and receiving was from the beginning, in the Garden, it could be called the “primordial liturgy.”

In the domestic church, the family, the primordial liturgy is our expression of love and the bedrock of our identity.  Without love, St. John Paul II says our lives become senseless and incomprehensible.  Without love, we live in fear.  Even more, these liturgies are the very structure and movement of love which casts out fear.  In fact, I think this extending and receiving should be the foundation of all spirituality, especially a lay spirituality—the micro-level of Therese’s little way.  Families should not imitate a monastic spirituality, carving out hours of time for prayer and feeling like failures when life interferes.  Instead, what if every interpersonal exchange, where extending and receiving is completed, is considered a prayer and a gift, directly reflecting the Trinity’s love?  That’s a liturgy we could practice all day long!

Fear, the Ball, and Bad Liturgy

In the class, I talked more about fear, explaining that while love moves us towards others, St. Augustine says sin (or fear) curves us back in on ourselves.  I then demonstrated our fear reactions of fight, flight, and freeze, or as we call them in our counseling practice, tantruming, pouting/withdrawing, and expert mode.  When my volunteers threw me the ball, I smacked it to the ground—tantruming on the receiving side.  And I faked a hard throw that made the first rows jump—another tantrum, but on the extending side.

Next, my volunteers threw me the ball, and I caught it and walked away.  This was pouting/withdrawing, or flight.  Expert mode happens when one person has a wonderful solution for the other person (extending), but the other is not interested (not receiving).  To represent this, when they threw me the ball three times, I let it hit my chest and fall to the ground.  Teasing, I told the kids I was sure they never did this to their parents.

Satan’s Anti-Liturgy

The tantruming, pouting/withdrawing, and expert modes are fear responses and always disrupt the primordial liturgy.  They are Satan’s plan for relationships and illustrate the literal meaning of his names: Satan—to accuse, and Devil/Diablo—to separate.

Conflict: Rally Ball vs. Ping-Pong

In conflict, we tend to forget love, the extending and receiving, and respond in fear—we “drop the ball” in some way.  The primordial liturgy is disrupted.  We start playing ping-pong, where we try to outsmart the other person to win.  But rally ball is the model needed during a conflict, where the object is to keep the ball going back and forth as long as possible.  If the ball is dropped, you simply start over.  The ideal in conflict is to receive the other’s hostility with empathy while not allowing yourself to be destroyed.  But sometimes this can be difficult, and you may need to end the argument with, “I am too upset to continue this conversation,” so you don’t move into ping-pong.  More on this in upcoming articles.

The Trinity, with its extending and receiving, the infinite liturgy, is the new foundation for a lay spirituality. Reflecting the Trinity in the primordial liturgy of the domestic church can make every interaction between persons a connection with God.  Men, radiate the Father’s love by living the extending and receiving in your families—and keep the ball in play, even in conflict!

 

For more about Dave McClow and Pastoral Solutions Institute, visit us at https://www.catholiccounselors.com

Maintaining Your Marriage Connection

It’s easy to tell when someone is happy. People often express outward signs when they are feeling good, such as smiling, using an upbeat tone, or having a bounce in their step. But it can be harder to tell what someone is thinking when they are feeling down, tired, or upset. These emotions are often masked or do not come with as markedly definitive expressions. While you may think you know all of your partners’ “tell tale signs” of their emotions, new research suggests otherwise. Psychologist Chrystyna Kouros states “We found that when it comes to the normal ebb and flow of daily emotions, couples aren’t picking up on those occasional changes in ‘soft negative’ emotions like sadness or feeling down…They might be missing important emotional clues.” Because of this, there are a few things that we must keep in mind to maintain the connection in our relationships.

Theology of the Body reminds us that we were created for communion, but of course, sin ruptures that communion.  Because of sin, instead of coming naturally to us, making connection to others takes effort.  It requires us to be intentional about asking questions, scheduling dates, praying, reflecting and planning in order to create the kind of closeness and intimacy we were created to enjoy naturally. The sense that great relationships should “just happen” hints at the time before the fall, where Adam and Eve enjoyed Original Unity and it also hints at how things will be once we are united with God and the Communion of Saints in heaven. But here, in this sinful world, creating connection takes real work, and doing the work that is necessary to create loving communion–first, within our families and then in the world–is what it means to “build the kingdom.” Doing good works, serving in the parish or community, saving the world are all important things, but creating connection is the most important work a Christian can do.  Remember what St. Paul said, “If I have the faith to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” Let’s refocus on the great work of being intentional about creating meaningful connection with the people closest to us and let God multiply our efforts to bring the world to him through our efforts to consciously connect.

Don’t Assume–Too many couples assume that things are “fine” if there isn’t any conflict.  They think that the lack of arguments is the same things as satisfaction. But there are a million reasons a couple might not be fighting that have nothing to do with intimacy. Don’t ever assume your marriage is on solid ground just because you’re not arguing. Instead, ask. Make time everyday to say to each other, “What can I do to make your day a little easier or more pleasant?”  Make sure you get meaningful answers. Don’t settle for “I don’t know” or “Nothing.” If those are the answers you get more often than not, make a point of scheduling more focused conversations–at least weekly–about how close you feel to each other, what pressures you might feel are challenging your sense of togetherness, and what you might need to do to grow closer–even if things are good. Happy couples, don’t wait for conflict to tell them they are off-course, they regularly check their course and make tiny course corrections every day so they can make sure to stay on track

Give Your Connection to God–God wants you to have a great marriage, both because he wants to fill your hearts with his love AND because he wants to show the world–through your relationship–that the love that everyone longs for is truly possible. But God doesn’t expect us to create that kind of connection on our own.  He wants to teach us, and he will, if we bring our relationship to him everyday.  Take a few minutes every day to sit down together with your spouse and say to God, “Lord, we give you our relationship.  Help us to love each other the way you want us to. Help us to really listen to each other, take care of each other, be honest about our needs, and be generous in our response to each other’s needs. Teach us to be a couple after your own heart, so that our hearts would be filled with your love and so that the world would see your life in us.” Let God teach you how to create and maintain a powerful, loving connection. Sit at The Master’s feet and learn to love each other with his love.

Connect Consciously–Most couples assume their relationship will “just happen” since they’re living under the same roof. But truly happy couples are conscientious about creating times to connect. Make a point of scheduling even 10 minutes every day to work, pray, talk and play together. Working together might mean setting the table together or cleaning up the kitchen together after dinner. Praying together just means bringing your day and your relationship to God and asking for his grace. Talking together means asking, NOT just about what happened in the day or what’s on the schedule tomorrow, but about how you’re feeling about the direction of your life and relationship and how you can better support each other. And playing together can be as simple as taking a 10 minute walk around the neighborhood, or playing a couple rounds of a favorite game. The point is, happy couples don’t assume relationship connection will “just happen.” They make mini-dates everyday to briefly maintain their ability to work, play, talk, and pray together, and then they look for bigger blocks of time to have more significant opportunities to connect across those levels as well. Being conscious about connecting daily, helps prevent you from feeling alone even though you’re always together.

For more on how to maintain the connection in your marriage, check out For Better…Forever! and tune in to More2Life—weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 139.

Practically Perfect in Every Way – Three More2Life Hacks for Overcoming Perfectionism

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In the age of social media, self-criticism and perfectionism are more prominent than ever. We continue to become increasingly focused on being “perfect”: having the perfect physique, having the perfect job, or keeping the perfect house. In reality, however, this striving for “perfection” simply makes us increasingly unhappy as we lose focus of what we are really working towards.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to improve ourselves, but both theology and science show us that it is a mistake to believe that we can somehow mentally force ourselves into perfection.

Theology of the Body reminds us that God’s plan for us is written in the design of our bodies. Brain science shows that the more self-critical we are, the more our brains lock down and become resistant to change. It’s actually self-acceptance that creates the chemistry necessary for new neural connections to form.  Ultimately, it’s important to remember that while none of us is perfect, it is God’s love that perfects us.  We are destined to be, as Jesus puts it, “perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect” God does not expect us to get there on our own.  TOB teaches us that it only by cultivating a receptive posture to God’s love and grace that we are able to be transformed from the inside out through an authentic encounter with God’s love.  Perfection doesn’t come from flogging ourselves to be better. It comes from letting God love us and learning to see ourselves as he sees us–works in progress, certainly–but on the road, by his love and grace, to becoming the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled people we are meant to be.

Here are three More2Life Hacks for preventing perfectionism from taking its toll on you:

Mind Your Mind–Beating yourself up, feeling “not good enough,” engaging in  self criticism are all signs that your brain is overheating. Brain science shows that giving into these behaviors actually makes the brain resistant to change as it locks down in the face of a perceived threat.  When you hear that inner-critic ramping up, don’t try to challenge those thoughts directly at first.  Instead, remind yourself that self-criticism is just a symptom of the real problem–trying to do too much, too fast.  Give yourself permission to slow down, to create more realistic goals, and make a more realistic plan.  Remind yourself that jobs take the time they take.  Getting mad at them, or yourself, doesn’t alter time.  It just makes you less able to make good time by making you less efficient and less effective.

Deadline and Done–Perfectionistic people have a hard time just walking away. They always feel like they have to add just a little more or review it just one more time. A better approach is to pretend that you are on one of those reality shows where you have a certain amount of time to complete a task and when the clock runs down you have to step away and be done.  Whether you are working on a particular project or trying to plan your day, give yourself what you think will be a reasonably generous amount of time to accomplish your tasks, but when that time hits, walk away.  You can always come back to it some other time if you need to.  But for today? Be done! Perfectionistic people tend to get lost in the details and lose sight of the big picture. Setting an arbitrary deadline allows you to step back and gain perspective.  If a particular project really needs a little more effort, then it will still be there tomorrow. For now, move on to other things–like taking a break to connect with the people who love you and can remind you that you are a person, not a machine.

What’s the Point?  Perfectionism is almost always a faulty means to achieve some deeper end.  We WANT love, approval, validation, acceptance, peace, but we PURSUE being a perfect employee, a perfect parent, a perfect homemaker, a perfect…whatever.  But the harder we work at being perfect, the further we get from satisfying the real emotional need driving our perfectionism.  Ask yourself what the point of your perfectionism really is.  Take some time in prayer to reflect on what you are trying to accomplish–emotionally and spiritually–by being so self-critical and task oriented?  When you find yourself giving into the temptation to perfectionism, remind yourself what you are REALLY looking for, and ask yourself what you would need to do to get that?  If you honestly don’t know, then it’s time to seek some help so that you can step off the hamster wheel and start getting your needs met instead of constantly running but never getting anywhere.

For more information on how to strive to be the person God meant you to be, check out Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart, and tune in to More2Life Monday-Friday 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 139.

Unsupported? Simple Tips to Get The Help You Need

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Feeling overwhelmed is something that we all experience all too often. Our “to-do” lists are seemly endless between work, home life, family life, relationships, and every other commitment or obligation we may have. Because of this, it becomes very easy for us to fall into the mindset of “I have to get everything done!” and we feel like “everything is up to us” which hinders us from getting the help we need.

Furthermore, sometimes, we struggle to open up to the help that’s available because “it’s just easier to do it by ourselves.”  And other times, we know we need help, but we’re not sure how to ask for it, or if it’s even worth it. However, Theology of the Body reminds us that we’re never alone. We were created for communion. By helping each other and opening up to the help that others are able to offer, we grow together and support each other in becoming everything we were meant to be. We should never hesitate to ask for help or, for that matter, offer help when given the chance. Mutual service is the heart of creating a community of love.

Here are three More2Life Hacks for getting the help you need:

Recognize You Need Help–Sometimes it’s hard to know that we need help. We get so caught up in “just getting through this” that we don’t notice that we’re getting further and further in over our heads. If you are starting to feel harried or resentful, those are your emotions’ way of telling you it’s time to ask for help. Whether you are struggling with keeping up with the house work or having a hard time working through a marriage or family problem, resist the temptation to just keep pushing through. Instead, ask yourself, “what kind of support would help me get through this situation more gracefully?” Even if it’s difficult to arrange for that kind of help right now, identifying the help or support that you need allows you to start looking for ways to get more of that kind of support in the future.

No One Is A Mind-Reader!–Often we don’t ask for help because we assume it’s so obvious that we need it that if other people aren’t offering, they must either be too busy or just uninterested in helping us. People can’t read minds! If you need help, you need to ask for it! Remember, Theology of the Body reminds us that there are two ways to be generous; by helping people, and by allowing people to use their gifts to help us. Don’t you feel good when you can make a difference in someone else’s life? Well, give someone the gift of feeling good about making a difference in yours. No, that doesn’t justify being a “user” but it does remind us that we’re not meant to struggle alone. You have a right to ask for–and expect to get– the help you need.

Keep At It–Sometimes it can be hard to get the support we need even when we ask for it.  Sometimes that help isn’t readily available. Other times, people are reluctant to help. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that means you’re doomed to keep feeling like it’s all up to you. Instead, bring the situation to God, and ask him for the strength to keep seeking the help you need to overcome the particular challenge you are facing. God did not mean for us to struggle alone. He wants you to get the help you need to thrive. Don’t stop looking for ways to either find the right help or hold accountable the people who are meant to help you. Remember the parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge. The widow only got the judge to help her because she persisted to the point of driving him mad. If we need help, have the courage to persevere in asking for it until you get it.

For more insight into getting the help you’ve been looking for, check out God Help Me These People Are Driving Me Nuts!, tune into More2Life Monday-Friday 10am E/9am C on SiriusXM 139, or check out our tele-counseling services at CatholicCounselors.com