Got the Midwinter Blues? It’s Okay to Take Care of Yourself

Midwinter can be tough on even the sunniest, most upbeat people. The Christmas lights are gone, it’s cold, it’s dark, and once-pristine snow is getting gray and slushy…kind of like a lot of our moods.

That’s doubly true if you’re at home caring for toddlers and preschoolers. The sheer effort required to get out with the kids (boots, hats, gloves) may mean you’re not getting out as much.

During a recent video chat, Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak helped parents in the CatholicHÔM community brainstorm strategies for getting through the winter blues. Their advice? Give yourself a break!

Take a Break from the “Shoulds”

Before the advent of electricity, the dark days of winter were traditionally a time when life slowed down. The lack of daylight forced people to work less and rest more.

You should feel free to embrace that vibe on days when you’re feeling especially “low energy,” Lisa Popcak told parents.

“It’s okay to take care of ourselves as if we were down with the flu,” said Popcak, co-host of More2Life Radio and co-author of Parenting Your Kids with Grace. “This is a day for canned soup and grilled cheese sandwiches! Everything doesn’t need to be ‘on’ all the time.”

All of us can fall victim to a case of the “shoulds” now and then: I should be cleaning the house, I should be doing more at work, I should be volunteering more at school. Stay-at-home parents can be especially prone to the “shoulds,” often out of a felt need to prove they’re being “productive” by the standards of the marketplace.

But Catholic theology clearly prioritizes being over doing. Our worth isn’t measured by our economic output. Sometimes, the best thing to do—for you and the people you interact with—is to take a break.

One creative mother gave herself a break from her active kids by inventing a game she called “What’s on My Butt?” While she lay down on the couch, her kids placed various objects on her bottom, and she had to guess what they were. She got a break, and her kids were entertained.

“It’s not about the doing of things, it’s the being together and making a connection that matters,” Dr. Popcak affirmed.

 

Ask for What You Need

Don’t be afraid to ask your family for what you need to make it through the day.

Maybe due to the example of idealized television families, many of us seem to think that the people closest to us ought to “just know” what we need, Lisa Popcak said. But expecting our loved ones to be mind readers just isn’t realistic.

Be explicit in naming exactly what would help you: “I really need a half-hour break after lunch.” “Could you help me with…?” “It would mean a lot to me if we could spend an hour together this evening.”

You might be pleasantly surprised at how willing your family is to help you out. Even the littlest children will often cooperate with a request that is worded in a way they can understand.

 

Give Your Body a Break, Too

Catholic theologians have long insisted that our bodies are more than “accessories” to our souls (see Catechism of the Catholic Church #364–365). More recently, brain researchers have increasingly shown how much influence the body has on the state of our minds.

If you’re struggling with the midwinter blues, then, be sure that you’re caring for your body in a way that will boost your mood. As Dr. Popcak writes in Unworried: A Life without Anxiety, three practices are especially important to maintaining our ability to handle external stressors. Those three practices are:

  • Sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, most people need between seven to nine hours of good sleep every night in order to function well. Besides healing and recharging the body, your brain does a lot of its most important “maintenance work” during deep sleep. No wonder it’s so critical for mental health!
  • Exercise. Exercise, especially the type that raises your heart rate and leaves you a little short of breath, releases endorphins (natural mood-boosters) and helps stimulate the growth of the hippocampus—the part of the brain that regulates emotion.
  • Good nutrition. What we eat affects how we feel, physically and mentally. Foods rich in magnesium, zinc, probiotics, and B vitamins all have been shown to have a significant positive effect on our mood. In addition, certain nutritional supplements have also been shown to have as much of a positive impact on mood as some prescription medications.

See chapter 6 of Unworried for details on all of these practices.

 

Tap into the Power of Prayer

Prayer is often one of the first things to go when we’re feeling down, which is unfortunate, given how ready God is to help us.

Fortunately, your prayer doesn’t need to be complicated; God responds generously to the simplest, most forthright prayers: “Lord, it’s another cold, gray day. The kids are climbing the walls, the house is a mess, and I’m really struggling. But I trust in your love for me; please give me whatever I need to abide in your love today.”

 

So, to review: Give yourself a break from the “shoulds.” Ask for what you need. Take care of your body. Ask God to supply the grace you need to make it through the day.

These four strategies should be enough to beat your run-of-the-mill winter blues. If you’re struggling with a more serious case of depression or anxiety, though, don’t hesitate to reach out for one-on-one help from a licensed therapist 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

New Research Finds Tele-Counseling To Be Even More Effective Than Face-to-Face

Since the beginning of the global pandemic, there have been significant changes in the way physical and mental health care are delivered. Many providers and patients have moved to tele-health, which certainly makes health care more accessible, but is it as effective as face to face treatment?

Timely research that began prior to COVID-19 and continued after utilized randomized control trials to evaluate the effectiveness of tele-counseling.

A recent study, involving randomized control groups found that that tele-counseling across a variety of modalities (e.g., telephone, videochat, etc) is, in many ways, more effective than traditional face-to-face counseling.

According to lead researcher, Zena Samaan, “The common understanding was that face to face psychotherapy has the advantage of the connection with the therapist and this connection is in part what makes the difference in treatment…However, it is not surprising that electronic interventions are helpful in that they offer flexibility, privacy and no travel time, time off work, transport or parking costs. It makes sense that people access care, especially mental health care, when they need it from their own comfort space.”

As Samaan describes, not only is tele-counseling an equally if not a more effective in treatment that face-to-face counseling, tele-counseling creates greater accessibility to individuals with busy schedules or limited resources (i.e. those who are home bound, in rural areas, or areas with limited specialized counseling).

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As leaders in the field of pastoral tele-counseling, Catholic Counselors has been providing pastoral counseling for individuals, couples and families by telephone since 1999 and conducts  over 15,000 hours of tele-counseling services per year. Interested in learning more about how Catholic tele-counseling—and our many other resources–can help you get more out of your marriage, family or personal life? Visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

The Power of Our Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By: Dr. Greg Popcak

 

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

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

1.Make a Routine & Stick To It.

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

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

2. Manage Your Relationships

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

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

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

3. Work Together

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

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

4. Play Together

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

5. Pray Together

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

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

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

Four Ways to Keep Your Relationship Afloat In Tough Times

Husbands and wives pledge to love each other through good times and bad, sickness and health, wealth and poverty. On the day of the wedding, these promises feel comforting. But when bad times come through the door, love often flies out the window.  How can a couple stick together even when the going gets tough?

Decades of research have revealed the following four habits to be essential for staying close through difficult times. They are like four pontoons that keep your relationship afloat (see what I did there?), especially when the storms of life lead you into choppy waters.

1.Meaningful Couple Prayer—Turns out, the Venerable Patrick Peyton, CSC. was right. The couple that prays together really does stay together.  Research by Baylor University found that couples who engage in meaningful couple-prayer are significantly more likely to think positively about each other and feel closer to each other, especially through hard times.

Meaningful couple prayer isn’t just about “saying words at God.”  It requires you and your spouse to take a little time every day—even just five minutes—to talk to God about your life, your fears, your hopes, your dreams, and your feelings.  Sit down together and speak to God as if he were the person who knew you best and loved you most.  In addition to the graces we receive from prayer, couple-prayer “works” on a human level because it gives couples a safe, quasi-indirect way to reveal our hearts to one another.  We talk to God while our spouse listens in.  Then, as our spouse prays, we ask God to help us really hear what our spouse is trying to say.  What are their needs, their fears, their wants and concerns?  How do these fit with our own needs, fears, wants and concerns?  By listening to each other in prayer, the Holy Spirit can guide you toward graceful solutions.

2.Talk Together—Create a daily talk ritual; a time where you intentionally discuss topics that don’t natually come up.  Specifically, focus on three questions.  1) How are each of you holding up?  Be honest.  What do you feel like you’re handling well?  Where do you feel like you’re struggling?  When were you at your best today?  When were you at your worst?  2)  When did you feel closest to your spouse/most grateful for your spouse’s support today?  First of all, discussing this question daily makes you more conscious of the need to do things to support each other.  Second, acknowledging the ways you have shown up for each other throughout the day reminds you that you aren’t alone. You have a friend who really wants to be there for you. 3) What could you do to help make each other’s day a little easier/more pleasant?  Is there a project you need some help with?  Is there something you need prayer for?  Are there little things that your spouse sometimes does that mean a lot?  Take this time to ask each other to do those little things that say, “Even when life is falling apart, you can count on me to be here and to take care of you.”

3.Work Together—Your household chores aren’t just something to get through.  They’re actually opportunities to build a sense of solidarity and team spirit.  It’s a funny thing.  You might not know how to weather the latest crisis, but doing something as simple as making the bed together, or cleaning up the kitchen after dinner together, or picking up the family room together before you turn in sends a powerful unconscious message that says, “I’m not just here for the fun.  I’m here for the hard stuff and the boring stuff too.  Somehow, we can get through this. Together.”

Research shows that couples who make a daily habit of cultivating simple caretaking behaviors like doing chores side-by-side develop better cooperation, communication and problem-solving skills. It turns out that the way you work together to avoid bumping into each other and stepping on each other’s toes while you clean up the kitchen becomes the unconscious template for how you work together to handle that health crisis, financial problem, or other unexpected challenge.

4. Play Together—When you’re going through tough times, you don’t want to play.  We just want to isolate and hide.  Resist that temptation as best you can. Make a little time every day to do something pleasant together. Think about the simple pleasures you enjoy in happier times and make yourselves do them–even if you’re not really feeling it.  It might not be all laughs and giggles, but worst case scenario?  You might help each other remember that life isn’t completely horrible and you’ll have each other to thank for that little moment of joy.  Psychology reminds us that humor and play are two the most sophisticated defense mechanisms.  They help us stubbornly resolve to make beautiful moments even when life is anything but.  The couple that learns how to gently play together even the face of trials are true masters at life and love.

Life can be hard, but cultivating a love that “endures all things” (1Cor 13:7), isn’t complicated. By remembering to Pray, Talk, Work, and Play together, you can build a relationship that can stand up to whatever life throws at you.

Dr. Greg Popcak is the author of many books including Just Married. Learn more at CatholicCounselors.com

Speak Up! The Negative Effects of Self Silencing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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!

And Indeed It Was Good

Guest post by Rachael Popcak.

 

When thinking about Genesis 1, people typically focus on God creating the world, and then He created man. While of course this is extraordinary, something really struck me recently while re-reading this section of the Bible.

After God creates each piece of the world, it is specifically noted that He took the time to acknowledge that “it was good.” God could have easily created everything in the world all at once. He could have simply blinked and the whole world, His greater plan, could have been created. But He didn’t. Instead He carefully and lovingly molded each aspect of the world. He made it beautiful, He acknowledged its goodness, and THEN he created man, and placed man in a world where everything was perfect and was created to provide for all of man’s needs.

In our daily lives it is all too easy to say “God, why can’t I get my dream job now, or have the perfect relationship now, or [fill in the blank with your hopes and dreams for you life] now.” However, like with everything in life, we need to strive to be like God. We need to carefully and lovingly acknowledge the goodness of each piece and each step of our lives. While our mind, our ambitions, and our society are screaming, “hurry up! You need to be successful, in shape, in a picture-perfect relationship, working your dream job, etc., etc., right now!”, we need to do as God did. We need to acknowledge the goodness of where we are in life now in order to truly value and appreciate the plan that God has for our lives.

Just as God takes His time to prepare us for His greater plan by appreciating each step of His process and acknowledging that “It was good.”, we need to walk with God in our lives and say, “And indeed it was good.”