5 Tips To Be Happier Today

It’s gloomy outside of my window as I type. Everything is gray. The days are getting shorter. And at mid-life, there are all kinds of stressors! If you’re at all like me and could use a pick-me-up on this, the Monday after Thanksgiving (or, as my friend Becky Burch writes, The Monday of All Mondays), here are five Darwininian-inspired tips.

The evolutionary perspective on human emotions holds that our emotions, including happiness, evolved as they did to serve important evolutionary functions for our ancestors during the bulk of human evolutionary history.1 Under these conditions, largely when ancestrally modern humans lived in the African savanna in small, tight-knit groups, people experienced happiness when they encountered outcomes that would have been associated with survival and/or reproductive success. Such outcomes would have included, for instance:

-Finding a great new food source
-Creating something that is admired by others
-Natural phenomena such as a fresh water stream during drought conditions
-Sharing laughter and stories with family members
-Experiencing mutual love with a partner who is adoring, trustful, and attractive

As we experience the time of year associated with waning sunlight in North America, here are five ways to harness happiness based on this evolutionarily informed approach.2

1. Eat something healthy and yummy.

Under ancestral conditions, humans evolved to prefer foods that put fat on one’s bones, anticipating drought and famine. For this reason, we evolved to prefer foods that are high in things like carbohydrates and salt. Ironically, the modern food industry has hijacked these food preferences. And this is why places like Burger King are so good at making money but also at distributing food that is obnoxiously unhealthy.

For these reasons, eating something that is simply tasty does not always have happiness-inducing effects in the modern world. Tasty foods, such as chocolate chip cookies that are fresh from the oven, come with a price. And such foods might come with guilt from not being able to control one’s impulses.

Natural foods, which map onto the kinds of foods that our ancestors would have eaten before the advent of agriculture, can be tasty but they are also generally guilt-free. Find your favorite tasty natural treat today. It may be grapes, clementines, salmon, sweet potatoes, etc. Eat something tasty and natural today, and do it with a guilt-free smile.

2. Create and share something today.

The creative spirit is a basic part of our evolved psychology. We admire creative others and we tend to take joy in the creative process. Under ancestral conditions, creativity was widely respected, likely as it had all kinds of benefits when it came to surviving and reproducing.3 Further, creativity is an inherently social endeavor. And sharing with others is a critical piece of happiness in a species such as ours with sociality being so foundational.

When it comes to forms of creativity, the options are nearly endless. Write a quick story or joke to share with a friend. Or a poem that captures your spirit today. Or maybe draw something. Perhaps a doodle during that department meeting will emerge into something that makes you really smile. Whether it is big or small, I say try to create something every day. And share it with someone who will appreciate it. And maybe see if they will share back. Sharing creative products, no matter how small, provides a simple route to joy on a daily basis.

3. Get out into nature.

Sure, it’s harder to get out into nature when it’s cold and gloomy outside. Add a saturated schedule to this and you’ve got a recipe for staying indoors and doing not much of anything. But remember, for the lion’s share of human evolutionary history, our ancestors were outside constantly. We evolved to be surrounded by fresh air as well as both plant and animal life. Natural water features, sky, and sun were all regular players in the daily lives of our ancestors. As such, we evolved a strong love for nature that goes deep into our evolved psychology.4

It might be a two-mile run before work. Or a quick walk in a park near the office. Or maybe, if time allows, an intensive hike deep into the woods. But whatever your schedule allows, make sure to get some outside time with some elements of nature in it. Nature experiences famously go hand-in-hand with happiness.

4. Share and communicate with family members today.

As is true in many species, kin matter quite a bit in the human experience. From an evolutionary perspective, kin are those special people in the world who disproportionately share specific genetic combinations with ourselves. As a consequence, kin have an inherent evolutionary interest in our successes. This is why “blood is thicker than water.”

Think of a family member whom you get along with well and send them a text or give them a call. No agenda is needed. Just make sure that there are some laughs involved.

5. Make time for love.

In the human experience, love and happiness go hand-in-hand.5 For this reason, finding and cultivating loving relationships is a critical part of the human experience. And love has a way of facilitating happiness that truly cannot be matched.

Want to learn more about how you can FEEL HAPPIER? Reach out to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation with one of our therapists, info@hillarycounseling.com.

Article By: Glenn Gear, Ph.D, of Psychology Today

Relationship Tool…How Conflict Helps You Understand Your Partner

The purpose of conflict is to more fully understand your partner.

Does this sound familiar? You think the conflict is about who is going to pick up your child after school. It’s going to be a simple decision—it’s either you or your partner. But, somehow, there is no simple resolution. The conflict seems bigger than that. It feels like something deeper is going on for one or both of you.

The conflict
Let’s use this scenario as an example:

Sam and Chris are discussing who is going to pick up their daughter from school. Sam says to Chris, “I can pick her up after school today.”

Chris says, “No, I’d like to pick her up.”

Sam comes back with, “You’re so busy at work today and I have the day off. I’m happy to do it.”

Chris persists, “You should enjoy your day off. I can fit it into my work day.”

They go back and forth like this for a while.

When the resolution for the conflict feels like it should be easier than it turns out to be, that is the indicator that there might be some dreams within the conflict at play. Step back and go deeper to the dream level.

Questions to gain understanding
To get there, Sam and Chris can ask each other these kinds of questions:

“Can you tell me what makes this important to you?”
“Does this relate to your background in some way?”
“Is there a deeper purpose or goal for you about picking up our child at school?”
“What do you feel about it?”
“What is your wish in this situation? What is your need?”
“What will happen if your dream isn’t honored?”

Chris might share that when they were growing up, Chris’s parents weren’t involved in the daily school pick=up. Perhaps because of this, Chris feels distant from their parents. Chris has decided to parent differently.

Sam might share concerns about Chris’s job stability and doesn’t want to interrupt Chris’s workday when Sam could do the pick-up without intruding on work. Sam might further express a craving for financial security because that was absent from Sam’s childhood.

Dreams within conflict
Consider two things. First, relationships are not better if they are free of conflict, and in fact, all relationships have some sort of conflict in them. Second, the purpose of conflict is not resolution. The purpose of conflict is to more fully understand your partner.

With this conflict definition, understanding each other’s dreams within the conflict can lead to a successful conflict outcome.

Learning to recognize when there is this deeper dream level in a conflict will allow you to explore the dreams within the conflict and then move through the conflict more easily and peacefully.

Sam and Chris now understand each other’s perspectives more fully. Even if they still disagree, they’ve deepened their understanding of one another, they’ve grown closer, and they can come to a solution.

Article By: Jennifer Pesetky of The Gottman Institute

Man hiking

Can You Train Yourself to Become a More Optimistic Person?

The brain has a natural optimism bias—we are what I call “wired for love”. This means that when we are connected to others in deep and meaningful ways, and when we are satisfied with where we are in life and where we are going (even if we have ups and downs, which are normal!), we can function at a healthy level. The brain likes it when we are in a good place!

If this is so, why does the negative seem so…overwhelming? Why do bad things and bad people tend to stick to our mind like super glue? Why is it so easy to fall into negative thinking spirals?

The negative affects us more because it is so unusual. Think about the many noises you hear at night: cars driving by your home, the chittering of crickets, the hum of the washing machine or refrigerator—these sounds are “normal” and don’t disturb your sleep because you are used to them. But, if you hear a door quickly open or a window break, you are suddenly on high alert. Something is out of place/out of balance, and your attention will stay fixed on that noise until you figure out what is going on and if you are safe.

The negative is like this “out-of-place” noise: it doesn’t make sense and your brain is not happy about this imbalance, so it tries to figure out how to fix this situation. It is easy to fix all your attention on this abnormality until it does make sense, but this can have some serious mental and physical repercussions if we are not careful, because, over time, toxic rumination disrupts the energy flow in the brain. Whatever we think about the most grows!

As I mentioned above, when we think too negatively or just focus on the bad (a pessimistic state of mind), the energy flow in the brain becomes distorted and incoherent, which can result in inflammation in the brain and body, jumps in cortisol levels, digestive issues, heart problems, mood swings and so on. In fact, this state of mind, which is what is known as a “red brain” on qEEg scans can even activate weaknesses in our genetic code! And, over time, it can become a pessimistic thinking habit—the more we think this way, the more the world seems like a terrible place.

Thankfully, we can combat and heal the effects of focusing too much on the negative by self-regulating our mind. This means focusing on how we think, feel and choose. Dr. Caroline Leaf discuss’s this in detail in her book, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess. When we learn how to control our mind, we can rebalance the chemicals and energy in the brain and combat the negative health effects of toxic rumination.

This doesn’t mean that we should fear negativity. It is normal to have negative thoughts and experience uncomfortable emotions. If we think we are happy all the time, then we are lying to ourselves—we are suppressing the negative, which will only make things worse. Rather, we need to change the way we perceive the negative. We need to see negative thoughts and feelings as signals that something is going on in our lives that needs to be addressed; there is an “out-of-place noise” in our mental house that we need to get to the root of. This means asking questions like “why I am so pessimistic?”, “what are my triggers?”, “how does the negative affect me?” and “what is the thinking pattern behind my thoughts and feelings, and how can I change or rewire this?”.

The brain changes all the time because it is neuroplastic. The great news is that you can direct this change with your mind (your thinking, feeling, and choosing). You are always thinking, which is why self-regulation is such a great habit—it gives you the tools to control your mind!

Based on decades of research and practice, Dr. Caroline Leaf developed a self-regulation method that harnesses the neuroplastic nature of the brain through specific techniques to combat the negative influence of toxic rumination. Although there is a lot going on behind the scenes when you self-regulate your thinking and manage your mind, the process itself is not only simple but also accessible, no matter where you are, who you are with or what you are doing:

1. When you find yourself getting trapped in a toxic thinking spiral, take a 10 second pause, for as many times as you need. I recommend deep breathing during this pause, which helps bring brain energy back into balance. Breathe in for 3 counts (say, mentally or out loud, “think, feel”), then breathe out for 7 counts (say mentally or out loud, “choooooooose”).

This is like a reset button in the brain, and will increase your decision-making ability and clarity of mind. Indeed, doing this 6 to 9 times can really reorganize chemical chaos that results from negative thinking in the brain by transferring this energy from the toxic thinking pattern to cleaning up your mental mess!

2. Do a NeuroCycle, which is the self-regulation technique.

Here are the steps:

  • Gathering awareness of your physical and emotional warning signals. We can only change what we are aware of!
  • Reflecting on why you are feeling these things in your body and mind.
  • Writing down your reflections to organize your thinking.
  • Rechecking what you have written and how your thoughts and feelings have changed.
  • Active Reach: taking action to reconceptualize your thinking and find sustainable healing.

If you do this daily for 63 days, you can actually rewire a negative thinking habit or a pessimistic mindset. Each of these steps essentially reset the brain, taking you deeper into your own mind and transferring energy from toxic to healthy. Doing this not only makes your mind and brain more resilient to the pull of negative rumination; it teaches you to use your mind to change your brain! It shows you how to make negativity and life challenges work for you and not against you—YOU TAKE CONTROL, which will have positive carryover effects in other areas of your life.

When you learn how to self-regulate your thinking, you change the energy flow in the brain, which has a host of positive effects on your wellbeing. You still have negative thoughts, of course, but they don’t control your thinking, you control them!

For more information on the optimism bias and self-regulation, listen to Dr. Caroline Leaf’s podcast on MindBodyGreen.

Want help improving your own optimism? Email us at info@hillarycounseling.com to schedule a COMPLIMENTARY 30-minute consultation. Let us help you “Live A Life You Love!”

Article by: Dr. Caroline Leaf

Happy couple with a healthy relationship

Milwaukee Relationship Experts Discuss Dating After A Breakup

It can be very hard to get back into the dating world after a breakup or divorce. Some clients that I work with were in a relationship for a short time, and it’s not as hard for them to get back into the swing of things. However, for some who were in decades-long marriages, they are now out on their own trying to figure out the dating world. It can be daunting and scary, and some people give up after only a few tries because they feel overwhelmed.

There are some things to consider when you’re getting back into the dating world or even considering dating.

Getting “back out there”

First thing is to make sure that your friends and work colleagues know that you are ready to start dating again, since it always helps to have friends on your side. They may know somebody they could set you up with or suggest a coffee date with a friend of theirs who might be a good fit. It is good to think in terms of just getting to know new people rather than having to feel like it’s got to be an instant, lifelong connection. Sometimes it can just be meeting somebody new for coffee and striking up a friendship if there’s no romantic spark.

Swiping and clicking

These days roughly one-third of single people have an online dating profile. As you probably already know, this way of dating allows you to find and view people that you would never otherwise meet, and you can chat with them before meeting.

A downfall is that there can be too much choice in online dating. Columbia professor Sheena Iyengar has done experiments revealing that an excess of options can induce indecision and paralysis in decision making. Her experiment involved jam samples at a grocery store. When they offered six types of jam as opposed to 24 types of jam, people were ten times as likely to buy jam from the smaller sample number.

This same indecision and paralysis can happen in online dating, so try to give yourself compassion and know that it’s hard work. You may consider hiring a matchmaker if you can afford it—they gather your information and preferences and find matches and then they also set up the dates, making much less work for you!

From message to meeting

Don’t spend too much time talking online—a week or two at the most—then meet to see if you have chemistry. Helen Fisher, noted anthropologist and consultant for Match.com, states that it is best to avoid long online exchanges. The only way to know if you have a future with a person is to meet face to face since “the brain is the best algorithm.” Laurie Davis, author of “Love at First Click,” recommends no more than six messages before meeting offline, since that gives you enough information to know if they are someone you’d want to date. Meeting someplace public is always the best option for safety reasons. Do post photos on your profile.

People still meet in more traditional ways also (work, neighbors, school, through friends), but no matter how you meet a potential partner, you still have to go on dates! However you meet, remember to ask open-ended questions. Also, remind yourself to be interested in your date rather than trying to be interesting yourself. See the Gottman Card Decks, and go to the Open-ended questions deck if you want some good ideas.

Don’t talk about your ex

Don’t talk about your ex-spouse or -partner! This is crucial. If your date asks you something about your past relationship then it is appropriate to give a brief response. Example: “We grew apart but we get along now when we need to talk about the kids.”

If it was a difficult separation or divorce then keep that very brief. Example: “It was painful and hard but now I am ready to move on and not dwell on the past”

If your date hears you talk about your “crazy ex” and you go on and on about it, that could be a red flag. Same goes if they hear you talking at length about how great your ex is and how you are best friends now—they are going to wonder if you may reconcile or they may feel you are not “over” that person.

Who can you trust?

I’ve had many people ask about how to know who’s safe and trustworthy when you are dating. I find it helpful in my private practice with single clients to go through some of the important points from the book “Safe People” by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

Here are some important things to be looking for when you consider safe vs unsafe people:

  • Safe people allow you to feel like an equal vs feeling like their parent or their child.
  • Safe people are stable over time vs being inconsistent.
  • Safe people have empathy and act on it vs being solely concerned with themselves (“I” not “we”).
  • Safe people want to mature and grow, and can admit when they are wrong, while unsafe people avoid working on problems, or admitting fault because they believe they are perfect.
  • Safe people are willing to earn your trust while unsafe people demand it without earning it.
  • Safe people can respect your “no” and honor your boundaries.

In addition: unsafe people apologize without changing their behavior, they blame others, they gossip instead of keeping secrets, and they show up only when they need something.

If you consistently find yourself drawn to unsafe people, then there may be an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. This can be addressed through personal exploration or even individual therapy. As stated in “Safe People,” this could be driven by the need to rescue that unsafe person, fears of isolation or abandonment, or even familiarity with negative relational patterns.

Dr. Gottman has done research on trustworthiness, and found the following five criteria to help separate those who are trustworthy from those who are not. These five criteria are from the book “What Makes Love Last.”

  1. Honesty. Do not trust someone who lies to you. Don’t come up with excuses for why they lied, or talk yourself out of your doubts.
  2. Transparency. Make sure they are an open book, and that they invite you to meet their family and friends.
  3. Accountability. Do they keep their promises and follow through on their commitments?
  4. Ethical Actions. If you are detecting immoral actions or if you are uncomfortable with their morals, then move on.
  5. Proof of Alliance. If they can demonstrate that they have your back, even in small ways, then that is a good sign. Do they take your best interests to heart instead of acting only out of self-interest?

Have fun, try to think about it as an adventure. Stay safe, and make sure you take things slow so that you have time to determine if they are safe and trustworthy. Remember, it is hard work, but it’s worth it. Good luck in your dating journey.

Article By: Stacy Hubbard, LMFT, The Gottman Relationship Blog

Woman meditating in nature

Body Obsession: How My Weight Consumed My Life and Why I’m Done Dieting

“You are not a mistake. You are not a problem to be solved. But you won’t discover this until you are willing to stop banging your head against the wall of shaming and caging and fearing yourself.” ~Geneen Roth

I’ve spent so much time on the dieting hamster wheel that I am almost too ashamed to admit it. Throughout my teen years I went from one crash diet to the next. When this proved more than unfruitful and disappointing, I changed strategies.

The next twelve years I spent searching for the “right lifestyle” for me, which would allow me to shrink to an acceptable size, be happy and healthy, and make peace with my body.

You can probably guess that I never found such a lifestyle. And I’m sure that it doesn’t exist for me. I’m still making peace with my body, but now I know this is internal work. No diet or size can bring me to this place.

How This All Began

I first became aware that I was fat when I was four. We had this kindergarten recital, and regrettably, my costume didn’t fit, so I was the only one with a different dress. It was horrible. It didn’t help that my mother was very disappointed in me.

Years later, I started dieting at the ripe age of ten.

In my teenage years my focus was mainly on losing as much weight as possible, as quickly as possible. It was exhilarating to get praise from my mother and grandmothers. They were so happy that I was taking charge of my weight and that I could show such restraint and will power.

I sometimes went months on almost nothing eaten. Eventually, I’d start to get dizzy and nauseous, and I’d get severe stomach aches. I was hospitalized multiple times for gastritis. But no one made the connection between my eating and these conditions.

When the pains were severe, I knew I needed to get back to eating more regularly, and then the weight would return. You wouldn’t believe the disappointment this elicited in the ones closest to me. If only I could eat like a normal person, but not be fat.

I was told hundreds upon hundreds of times that if I didn’t find a way to lose the weight, I’d be lonely, no one would like me, I’d have trouble finding a boyfriend, and I’d have almost no chance of getting married. This was so heartbreaking. And I believed every word of it.

It became a major focus of my life to get my body in order, so I could be a ‘real’ girl.

When I turned twenty, I learned that my weight was all my fault. That I wasn’t doing enough. That I just wanted results, without doing the work. And that “there’s no permanent result without permanent effort.” So, I decided to find the sustainable lifestyle change that would lead me to my thin and better self. This was just another wild goose chase.

No matter what I did, the pattern was the same: I would lose ten to thirty-five pounds in about six months. And then—even if I doubled my efforts in terms of eating less and training more—I would start gaining weight and return to close to where I started.

Even though it was soul crushing, I didn’t give up. Not even for a day.

I was convinced that I just didn’t know enough, or hadn’t found the right diet for me, the right exercise, or the right combination. Or that maybe I was just doing things wrong, for some reason.

I hired trainers, dieticians, the whole shebang. It didn’t help.

This lasted more than ten years and took a lot of money that could have been spent better.

I was convinced that I was missing something. Obviously, the professionals knew what they were doing, and there was something wrong with me.

How Things Got Even Worse

When I got married, even though my husband and I were planning to wait a couple of years before having children, the pressure to prepare for pregnancy was on.

I went into crazy researcher mode and read every book on the best diet for pregnancy and ensuring healthy offspring.

It was 2016 and keto was in (as it still is now). I was convinced that keto was the way to go.

This was a turning point for me. First, because I was so determined to succeed at this point, and second, because keto is one of the most restrictive diets in existence.

I became super obsessed, and for two years. I couldn’t see that things were going wrong. Very wrong.

There were both physical and psychological signs. I just didn’t have the mental capacity to notice them. And regrettably, there wasn’t anyone around to point out that something was amiss. My environment was, and still is to some extent, more conducive to disordered eating behavior than to recovery.

On the physical side:

-My nails were brittle.
-My hair was falling out.
-My heart rate was slow.
-I lost the ability to sweat, despite the vigorous exercise I did.
-I was often tired.
-I was getting dizzy a lot.
-I was shivering cold all the time.

On the psychological side:

-I was irritable.
-I felt I needed to deserve my food, so I exercised compulsively, at least two hours and up to five hours a day.
-I had forgotten how hunger feels. I was eating on a schedule, and that was that. Not feeling hunger was even reassuring.
-But despite the latter, when I got to the bakery or the supermarket, I felt intense cravings. My stomach was tight, but I would start salivating strongly. And I would think about food for the rest of the day, weighing the pros and cons of ice cream and my rights to a little pleasure and indulgence in life. My solution was to order just the ‘right’ food online and go out as little as possible.
-I started avoiding my friends and family and any outings with food. I couldn’t risk eating anything if it wasn’t prepared by me.
-On the other hand, I was keeping some sense of normalcy, while cooking normal food and desserts for my husband. I don’t know why, but the pleasure of cooking was somehow enough, and I didn’t get cravings from this.
-I was also obsessed with food and thinking about what to cook for myself and my husband, and what great things we had eaten, but I could never have again.
-It was a torturous time. And even though my focus was on being my healthiest self, I had never been sicker in my life. I was suffering deeply.

How I Got Better

I can’t tell you I had a sudden realization about the errors of my ways. As I said, my whole environment supports the dieting mentality, and I had much more support in my dieting efforts than I do now in recovery. But still, I am managing.

I started seeing a therapist because I was lashing out at my husband, and I wanted to control my emotions better. By digging deeper into the issues underlying my anger I found a deep sense of inadequacy and not being enough. In the process of unravelling, I was able to make the connection that my problems with food stem from the same place, and I started working on them.

There are a few things that helped me most.

The first is meditation. Meditating has made a huge difference in my life because it’s enabled me to distance myself from my thoughts, and stop believing everything I think. This was huge.

It was important for me to observe this nasty, critical voice and to realize that it’s not mine. It sounded more like my mother. To distance myself from the voice and the emotionally charged image of my mother, I started seeing it like a mean, old witch. By associating a funny image with this chatter in my head, I was able to acknowledge it was there but go about my life, without engaging too much with it.

This has helped me treat myself much more kindly. And by being kinder to myself I started to accept myself more. I am human and not perfect. In some situations, I still start berating myself. But I catch myself quickly and don’t fall into the rabbit hole.

Second, I reached out for support from some trusted friends and started to go out more and observe other people. To my surprise, most people were not on the brink of death just because they ate pizza a couple times a month or because they enjoyed a drink or two.

Also, I started reading more books written by fat activists, and they have been of great help. They are full of humor, compassion, love, and understanding. They have helped me feel less alone, and I’ve benefitted immensely from their recommendation to normalize your view of your body by looking at images of other fat people.

For me, seeing other women of my size and finding them gorgeous and beautiful helped me accept myself more. Taking more pictures of myself, and getting used to how I look, was also huge for me. Because it’s very different from looking in the mirror. In the mirror you can look at just certain parts of your body and not pay attention to others. In a photo, you don’t have much choice.

This can be really hard at first. But it gets so much better.

Also, I found new ways to move my body and enjoy myself, and rekindled my passions for types of exercise I used to enjoy. This has made it so much easier for me to appreciate my wonderful body. I feel grateful for all I am able to do, every single day.

Choosing what to eat is still a battle sometimes. The disordered voices in my head are not abolished, as I said. But now, I can choose not to pay attention to them or believe them.

So now, when I am debating between pizza and fish with salad, I do a couple of things differently than before.

First, I ask myself what do I really want, and why. If I see that I am leaning toward the fish, but only because it’s “better for me,” I remember the sad person I was before. I remember how bad I felt when my life was ruled by rules. And then I clear the rules from my head and imagine what will taste better for me in this moment. And choose that option.

Of course, I don’t always eat pizza. I strive for balance and make healthy choices on the whole. The point is I don’t constantly deprive myself.

What helps me not fall into my old patterns is remembering the way I feel now. I know that despite being heavier, I haven’t felt happier and freer in my life. Not having that constant anxiety is my motivation.

It’s very hard, but I couldn’t be happier that I am going through this journey. I am connecting to myself, my body, and my wishes in a way I was never able to before. And I feel this is the most valuable experience.

I hope that if you’re battling with the same demons, you’ll win. I am rooting for you. And yes, it is possible.

Article By: Vania Nikolova, PhD of Tiny Buddha

mother and daughter

How To Talk To Your Parents about Racism

Over the last few weeks, many of us have had to face a pretty ugly realization: Some of the people we love the most and who’ve cared for us throughout our lives are also people who harbor racist beliefs.

Hearing our parents make racist comments can be particularly upsetting, especially if you’re close to them and talk to them regularly. But the good news is, our family members are the people we’re likely to have the biggest effect on because of our close personal relationships with them.

Addressing racism in your parents—or any loved one, for that matter—can feel daunting, but it’s not impossible. We reached out to three therapists for advice on the best ways to open the conversation and actually help our parents overcome their prejudices:

1. Understand where your parents are coming from.

Try to have a mindset of understanding about your parents’experiences that may have led them to have these beliefs, says therapist Alyssa Mancao, LCSW.

“Keep in mind the generational differences and the conditioning that was bestowed onto them. Remind yourself that you have more access to information that they may not have had access to growing up, due to the whitewashing of history books and absence of social media and internet use during their times,” she explains. “Approach your parents with compassion and understanding. It is also important to note that your parents have had these views and beliefs for their entire lives.”

Understanding your parents background will help you meet them where they’re at and help them unpack prejudices that may be a product of their generation, culture, or upbringing.

2. Avoid using blame statements.

People rarely respond well when they feel like they’re being blamed or attacked, licensed psychologist Ebony Butler, Ph.D., points out. You want to avoid putting your parents on the defensive from the start of the conversation.

“The thing to remember in these types of cases is that you want to be heard and want to feel listened to,” she explains. “Leading with statements that accuse or place blame increases people’s defensiveness and decreases their ability to hear with the intent of understanding. Instead, they listen with the intent to defend.”

Butler recommends leaning on factual information and your trusty “I” statements, rather than “you” statements. Approach with a spirit of warmth and love.

3. Provide them with information and resources.

It can be hard to find the right words, especially when we ourselves are still learning and educating ourselves. In such cases, it can be helpful to offer up links and resources that you’ve found helpful that you think might also be helpful for your parents.

Mancao explains:
“Oftentimes, when parents hold racist sentiments, their sentiments stem from distortion thinking (overgeneralization) and skewed media perspectives, and therefore it is highly important to approach them with factual information regarding institutional racism, systemic inequality, and social stratification. This is a lot to learn and unload, and therefore, when approaching your parents, coming in informed will be helpful. I would also recommend looking for infographics that break down information, offering to watch an educational documentary together, and finding information in their primary language if English is not their first language.”

It can also be helpful to watch movies or podcasts about racism together, she adds, or you can host a book club about race as a family.

4. Remember that helping someone recognize their mistakes and grow from them is a way of showing love.

It’s not your responsibility to “fix” your parents, Mancao says. They are responsible for themselves.

But she notes, “This does not mean be complacent, throw up your hands, and say ‘it is what it is.’ No, we do have a responsibility to share education with them, continually challenge, point out errors in their thinking, and be steady with our approach.”

And as humans who care about justice and equity, she adds, we all have a responsibility to educate each other and to question beliefs that uphold systemic oppression.

5. Know when it’s time to establish boundaries.

As important as it may feel to you to change your parents’ minds about racism at all costs, remember that your time and energy are limited—and there may be better uses of your resources than getting into huge arguments with your parents every time you see them.

“Instead of focusing on changing your parents’ mind to make you feel at ease, use that motivation to motivate others around you to change their viewpoints and hold others accountable,” therapist Patrice Douglas, LMFT, recommends.

If your parents have persistently racist beliefs, Douglas adds that you may need to establish boundaries with them. Unless you’re experiencing significant harm from interacting with them, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to cut your parents off entirely.

“Changing your parent’s mind may never happen, but it’s important to understand where you stand and how you want to move forward in your own life,” she explains. “Instead of your parents having a major role in your life, you may decide to decrease contact and only check in when necessary or have surface conversations with them.”

6. Take care of yourself throughout this process.

“Addressing racism and a person’s anti-blackness can provoke feelings of anger, rage, and helplessness, especially when you feel like your conversation is falling on deaf ears,” Mancao notes. “Learn when to take a pause from the conversation.”

Reach out to loved ones or a mental health professional who can help you cope with the understandably jarring experience of feeling so alienated from a parent.

“This level of rupture can feel like high-level betrayal and might be difficult to recover from,” Butler adds. “In such instances, it can be really beneficial to enlist the help of someone trained in healing and working through interpersonal betrayal and trauma.”

7. Be patient.

“You won’t change a person’s entire belief system in one conversation,” Mancao reminds. “Be steady, persistent, and patient with the process while you keep in mind that these are tightly held beliefs, and it can be quite common for a person to get defensive when their belief systems are being challenged. The conversations you are having with your parents are planting seeds. It’s important to have realistic expectations of how quickly your parents digest and process information.”

Change takes time. Be patient.

Article by: Kelly Gonsalves of Mind,Body Green

happy woman

How To Be Happy

Behavioral scientists have spent a lot of time studying what makes us happy (and what doesn’t). We know happiness can predict health and longevity, and happiness scales can be used to measure social progress and the success of public policies. But happiness isn’t something that just happens to you. Everyone has the power to make small changes in our behavior, our surroundings and our relationships that can help set us on course for a happier life.

Happiness often comes from within. Learn how to tame negative thoughts and approach every day with optimism.

Conquer Negative Thinking
All humans have a tendency to be a bit more like Eeyore than Tigger, to ruminate more on bad experiences than positive ones. It’s an evolutionary adaptation — over-learning from the dangerous or hurtful situations we encounter through life (bullying, trauma, betrayal) helps us avoid them in the future and react quickly in a crisis.

But that means you have to work a little harder to train your brain to conquer negative thoughts. Here’s how:

Don’t try to stop negative thoughts. Telling yourself “I have to stop thinking about this,” only makes you think about it more. Instead, own your worries. When you are in a negative cycle, acknowledge it. “I’m worrying about money.” “I’m obsessing about problems at work.”

Treat yourself like a friend. When you are feeling negative about yourself, ask yourself what advice would you give a friend who was down on herself. Now try to apply that advice to you.

Challenge your negative thoughts. Socratic questioning is the process of challenging and changing irrational thoughts. Studies show that this method can reduce depression symptoms. The goal is to get you from a negative mindset (“I’m a failure.”) to a more positive one (“I’ve had a lot of success in my career. This is just one setback that doesn’t reflect on me. I can learn from it and be better.”) Here are some examples of questions you can ask yourself to challenge negative thinking.

First, write down your negative thought, such as “I’m having problems at work and am questioning my abilities.”

Then ask yourself: “What is the evidence for this thought?”
“Am I basing this on facts? Or feelings?”
“Could I be misinterpreting the situation?”
“How might other people view the situation differently?
“How might I view this situation if it happened to someone else?”

The bottom line: Negative thinking happens to all of us, but if we recognize it and challenge that thinking, we are taking a big step toward a happier life.

Controlled Breathing
Science is just beginning to provide evidence that the benefits of this ancient practice are real. Studies have found, for example, that breathing practices can help reduce symptoms associated with anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and attention deficit disorder. For centuries yogis have used breath control, or pranayama, to promote concentration and improve vitality. Buddha advocated breath-meditation as a way to reach enlightenment.

Try it.

Rewrite Your Story
Writing about oneself and personal experiences — and then rewriting your story — can lead to behavioral changes and improve happiness. (We already know that expressive writing can improve mood disorders and help reduce symptoms among cancer patients, among other health benefits.)

Some research suggests that writing in a personal journal for 15 minutes a day can lead to a boost in overall happiness and well-being, in part because it allows us to express our emotions, be mindful of our circumstances and resolve inner conflicts.Or you can take the next step and focus on one particular challenge you face, and write and rewrite that story.

We all have a personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves.But sometimes our inner voice doesn’t get it right. By writing and then editing our own stories, we can change our perceptions of ourselves and identify obstacles that stand in the way of our personal well-being. The process is similar to Socratic questioning (referenced above). Here’s a writing exercise:

1. Write a brief story about your struggle. I’m having money problems. I am having a hard time making friends in a new city. I’m never going to find love. I’m fighting with my spouse.

2. Now write a new story from the viewpoint of a neutral observer, or with the kind of encouragement you’d give a friend.

-Money is a challenge but you can take steps to get yourself into financial shape.
-Everyone struggles in their first year in a new city. Give it some time. Join some groups.
-Don’t focus on finding love. Focus on meeting new people and having fun. The rest will follow.
-Couples argue. Here’s what your situation looks like to a neutral observer.

Numerous studies show that writing and rewriting your story can move you out of your negative mindset and into a more positive view of life. “The idea here is getting people to come to terms with who they are, where they want to go,” said James Pennebaker, a psychology professor at the University of Texas who has pioneered much of the research on expressive writing. “I think of expressive writing as a life course correction.”

Get Moving
When people get up and move, even a little, they tend to be happier than when they are still. A study that tracked the movement and moods of cellphone users found that people reported the most happiness if they had been moving in the past 15 minutes than when they had been sitting or lying down. Most of the time it wasn’t rigorous activity but just gentle walking that left them in a good mood. Of course, we don’t know if moving makes you happy or if happy people just move more, but we do know that more activity goes hand-in-hand with better health and greater happiness.

Practice Optimism
Optimism is part genetic, part learned. Even if you were born into a family of gloomy Guses, you can still find your inner ray of sunshine. Optimism doesn’t mean ignoring the reality of a dire situation. After a job loss, for instance, many people may feel defeated and think, “I’ll never recover from this.” An optimist would acknowledge the challenge in a more hopeful way, saying, “This is going to be difficult, but it’s a chance to rethink my life goals and find work that truly makes me happy.”

And thinking positive thoughts and surrounding yourself with positive people really does help. Optimism, like pessimism, can be infectious. So make a point to hang out with optimistic people.

Article by: Tara Parker Pope, New York Times

Happy couple enjoying their relationship

Cabin Fever for Couples…Here’s How to Make the Most of It

If you live…anywhere in the world, you’re probably practicing social distancing. If you live with your partner, you might be craving a little social distance from them.

Around the world couples are being kept in a pressure cooker called… our homes.

Depending on your dynamic, it might be a little harder than you thought to keep things sailing smoothly.

It’s perfectly normal to experience a little cabin fever at this point, but don’t let isolation turn you and your beloved against one another. Like a research team on Antarctica, you’re going to have to work together to get through the winter til the snow thaws. No matter how annoying your teammates snoring gets.

Here are some key points to battling cabin fever as a cohabitating, quarantined couple.

COMMUNICATE

Now, more than ever, it’s important for you and your beloved to find ways to communicate clearly and respectfully. If you were the last two people on earth, would you passive aggressively complain about the dishes while your teammate is working? Probably not. So why try the same in your own home? You need to think of your household like a team in this time of crisis, and with any team you’re only as strong as your weakest link.

Finding constructive ways to communicate any problems you come across are incredibly important for keeping your team strong and stave off cabin fever. When in doubt, take a deep breath, and remember that your sweetie loves you before spilling any harsh truths about the bad breath that’s been driving a wedge between you for days.

KEEP IN TOUCH WITH THE OUTSIDE WORLD

Just because we’re being asked to stay in our homes, doesn’t mean that the outside world has disappeared! It’s important for you and your partner to keep up contact outside of your apartment bubble. Whether it’s solo calls with your family, or a group hang with other couples, connecting with others can help brighten your mood and give perspective on your current situation. And please, don’t be afraid to have fun with your friends!

Those of us who are healthy need to take every scrap of love that we can right now. So help the greater good and have a Zoom happy hour or play some games with your loved ones on House Party. There are so many great apps to help you stay connected and refreshed for the coming weeks of being cooped up with your honey.

GET SOME AIR

When things are feeling overwhelming or stagnant at home, there’s no harm in blowing off steam by going on a walk by yourself. As long as you can maintain social distancing that is! Go on off-peak hours or to a remote location so that you can skip the weekend bustle of most city parks. Do your part, but also, look after yourself. If going outside is going to help your mental health, and keep cabin fever at bay, then please do it! In a safe way.

If you can’t safely go outside, open up a window! Light some incense! Play some tunes! Anything to get the energy flowing and the mood lifted is a good idea right now. Your sweetie will thank you later. Also: If you and your partner were stranded on the international space station, you’d be isolated for a year AND you couldn’t even open a window! So, you know….be thankful!

MAKE A SCHEDULE

Speaking of space stations, Scott Kelly was isolated on the international space station for an entire year, and his biggest advice for isolating with one other person? Make a schedule. “My wife and I have been making a schedule like we were in space because if you keep to that schedule and it has variety, I think what people will find are the days go by much quicker. ” Keeping a schedule for you and your cutie is a great way to maintain productivity while also spending quality time together. While we’re stuck in the same place, every day doesn’t have to be the same! And scheduling can help achieve that.

CHANGE THINGS UP

After you’ve made that schedule, remember to add in time for whatever the hell you want. Embrace the chaos of the world right now and do what feels good! Have sex, draw a couples bath, take up a new hobby, or hop on the bandwagon and bake a loaf of bread. Doing something outside of your normal routine has the potential to brighten your day and bring you closer as a couple.

Doing something productive together can be fun, but making impromptu margaritas on a Tuesday night is even funner. Embrace your inner child and remember that we’re in uncharted territory right now. That means there’s no rules for what’s normal behavior, so drink that drink, make love in the middle of the day, and do what makes you happy right now. Within reason of course.

REMEMBER YOU’RE IN THIS TOGETHER

More than ever, COVID-19 has made us realize exactly how connected we all are. Globally, nationally, and as a household. Whatever problems you and your sweetie might encounter, remember that while you’re living together. You’re each other’s lifelines. Look out for one another and know who your sweetie wants you to call if things get bad. You can get through cabin fever, but only together. Winter will pass, and spring will come. Try to have as much fun as you can while we wait for the thaw.

Stressed woman

Resources to Help Get You Through COVID-19

In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity. –Sun Tsu

The past month has made it clear to us how serious the escalating coronavirus pandemic is for many people in the United States. Schools and workplaces across the country are closed, major events have been canceled, we are having to practice “social distancing” and wear masks in public. With so much going on, and so much uncertainty, it’s no wonder many of us are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and anxious in these rapidly changing times. We want to provide you with some resources to help you cope during this time of uncertainty.

Stress & Anxiety Management:

The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety, A Guide to Breaking Free from Anxiety, Phobias, and Worry Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) put together by John P. Forsyth, Ph.D and Georg H. Eifert, Ph.D

Show Anxiety Who’s Boss, A Three-Step CBT Program to Help You Reduce Anxious Thoughts and Worry by Joel Minden, Ph.D

The Anxiety Skills Workbook, Simple CBT and Mindfulness Strategies for Overcoming Anxiety, Fear, and Worry by Stefan Hoffman, Ph.D

Living With Worry And Anxiety Amidst Global Uncertainty, This guide includes a mixture of psychoeducation about normal and excessive worry, and a selection of practical exercises that you can use to manage worry.

The Calm App, The number one app for Sleep, Meditation and Relaxation

 

Mindfulness/Meditation:

Meditation For A Healthy Immune System, A guided meditation designed to boost your immune system and fend off unwanted health problems.

21 Day Meditation Challenge, 21 Days worth of short, guided meditations

Free 30-Day Online Mindfulness Course 30-days, Self-paced, online program featuring today’s leading mindfulness teachers, helping you support the habits that foster ease and well-being.

Accessing inner calm amidst the Coronavirus, Targeted and brief guided meditations by clinical psychologist and meditation teacher Kelly Werner, PhD

 

For College Students:

53 Virtual Activities to Keep College Students Engaged Includes a list of everything from TikTok videos to online painting classes

Coursera Together Free online learning and classes to help you explore a new career path, learn a new language, or pursue a new hobby

 

For Kids:

Covibook, Free downloadable book about COVID-19 for kids (versions available in multiple languages)

Free information book, For kids explaining coronavirus with

Managing Stress and Worry, (ages 5 – 15) GoZen is a site that creates online social and emotional learning programs for kids ages 5-15.

Yoga Ed, Youtube Channel – Yoga for Children

Fun Ed, A site full of educational games, books and videos, grades pre-school through eight. Read favorites like Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Judy Moody or have your child sort through a plethora of fun but informative games.

Imagination Tree Blog, Resources and Activities for Fun at Home

Scholastic Learn at Home: Day to Day Projects to Keep Kids Growing

PBS Kids Learn and Grow, Age by Age Tips & Activities for Social Emotional Learning, Literacy, Arts and More!

Mindful Schools, Free Online Mindfulness Classes for Kids

 

For Parents:

“I feel like I have 5 jobs: Moms navigate the pandemic”, New York Times article

Special Audio Series, Simplicity Parenting Podcast episodes all about parenting through COVID-19

 

Things To Do From Home:

Have A Virtual Netflix Watch Party This Google Chrome extension lets you stay in sync with friends while watching Netflix

12 Famous Museums Offering Virtual Tours Take virtual tours of famous art exhibits

Virtual Disney Rides That will make your couch the Happiest place on earth

Virtual National Park Tours 5 National Parks offer online tours from home

Free At-Home Fitness Classes With Planet Fitness Planet Fitness is offering free group fitness class

Do Yoga With Me Free Online Yoga Classes, choose from a variety of styles, levels, durations and teachers

7 Online Workouts That Are FREE (for now)

 

Father and son

Stressed and Anxious? Here’s How to Stay Emotionally Healthy

“Health is not just about what you’re eating. It’s also about what you’re thinking and saying.”

A virus is spreading across the globe. Schools are shut down. People are out of work. Grocery stores are empty.

Weddings, graduations, vacations, a day in court—canceled.

This is the ultimate test in emotional resilience.

Uncertainty is one of the main reasons we stress, along with a lack of control, and right now we’ve got it in truckloads. I’ve spent the last decade building my mental and emotional resilience to stress and adversity, and yet fighting off the anxiety is still a challenge.

I’m putting all the tools in my toolbox to good use.

And they are working. So I want to share these tools with you.

1. Talk to someone, but limit the bitching.

It can be cathartic to share with others the fear, panic, and challenges we’re experiencing. It makes us feel not alone. It validates our feelings and makes us feel connected. So talk to someone about what is stressing you out right now.

But set a time limit to focus on the negative. Maybe ten or twenty minutes each to share. Then it’s time to change the conversation.

Here are some cues:

What is going right?
What are you proud of yourself for?
What are you grateful for?
What are you looking forward to?
Despite the hardships, how are you coping?
How can you encourage and praise your friend?
When we only focus on the negative, we forget what is going well and then all we can see is the bad.

I also find it incredibly helpful to notice how differently my body feels when I’m complaining, angry, and blaming than it does when I’m grateful and optimistic. One feels tight, hot, and heavy. The other feels lighter, looser, and freer.

And as I listen to my husband, mother, or friends share their pain with me, I always make it a point when they are done to change the conversation and ask them what’s going good. I can hear the tone in their voice change as they bring their thoughts to the positive.

2. Be generous.

This doesn’t need to be a gift of money!

It can be a roll of toilet paper. It can be an hour Facetiming your grandmother who is held up in her nursing home with no visitors right now. It can be offering to pick up and drop off groceries for a neighbor or making them a plate of enchiladas.

I have a three-month-old and am blessed with an ample supply of breastmilk, so donating some of my freezer stash costs me nothing, but can mean so much for a needy mother and child right now.

Generosity can even come in the form of well wishes or prayers for others dealing with difficult times.

Giving is scientifically proven to be good for your emotional health.

It activates regions of the brain “associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a ‘warm glow’ effect. It releases endorphins in the brain, producing the positive feeling known as the ‘helper’s high.’”

Giving has been linked to the release of oxytocin, a hormone that induces feelings of warmth, euphoria, and connection to others.

It’s been shown to decrease stress, which not only feels better, but lowers your blood pressure and other health problems caused by stress.

What can you give right now?

3. Take a mental break.

It’s so easy to get stuck in mental go-mode all our waking hours. Especially since our brains crave being busy or entertained.

Even when we rest, we flip through Facebook, watch TV, or daydream.

These past few weeks I haven’t been making the time to take my mental breaks. I usually meditate daily, but with a baby who doesn’t yet have an eating and sleeping schedule, plus with all the extra stresses right now, I’ve not given my mind a break!

So I could feel the anxiety creeping in. It started in the body. I felt the tension in my muscles. My jaw was tight. Breathing was shallow. And I was irritable!

I know it’s time for a mental break when something as simple as my husband leaving another towel on the banister makes me want to file for divorce. (Or end up on an episode of Dateline!)

So I put my husband on baby duty, ran on the treadmill trying to focus on my breath and not my to-do list, took a shower, and brought my attention to the warm water instead of worry over how I will get clients. Then I meditated for fifteen minutes zoning in on my breath every time my thoughts turned to worry over daycare and the coronavirus.

I felt like I’d washed my brain. The tension was gone, my mind was clear, and I no longer wanted to strangle my husband.

From our anxious place, we catastrophize as we spin out in our negativity bias. All we can see is the negative.

We need these mental breaks to create space from these ruminating thoughts. We need to hit the reset button.

A mental break is taking anywhere from thirty seconds to thirty minutes to consciously turn our attention inward, away from outside influence, as well as our flow of thoughts.

We can’t stop the flow of thoughts, but we can notice when they’ve taken our attention, and purposefully redirect that attention to something in the present moment like the breath, a mantra or sound, or a visualization.

Here are a few ways to take that mental break:

Breathwork
Meditation
Time in nature
Walking, exercise, or dancing
Practicing mindfulness
Listening to music
Simple mental break breathing:

Start with a re-calibrating big, big inhale, hold it, and breathe out all the way.
Now breathe in slowly to the count of four, then hold for a second.
When you hold, hear the silence between the breaths.
Then breathe out to the count of four and hold for a second at the bottom.
When you hold, feel your mind clearing as you listen for the space between inhale and exhale.
Repeat until you feel relaxed.

4. Allow all the feels.

This stress and anxiety feel terrible. And it can be hard to muster up the strength and will to try out some of the items on this list to make yourself feel better.

That’s okay.

But what tends to happen is we want to run from the discomfort, try to suppress it with distraction like TV or social media, or numb it with wine, food, or drugs.

It’s normal to want to avoid pain. We’re naturally geared to avoid it. However, when we block this pain from flowing, when we don’t allow ourselves to feel our emotions, they get stuck.

Emotions are energy in motion. If you stop it, it just bottles up. It doesn’t disappear.

Try this exercise to allow your emotions to flow:

Take a moment to close your eyes and sit in a quiet space or block out distraction as best you can.
Take a deep breath in and slowly breathe out.
Notice the physical feelings of stress. Where are you holding it in your body? What does it feel like?
On your next exhale, release as much tension as you can.
Repeat:
“I am allowing these feelings to be present.”
“I let these feelings flow through me.”
“These feelings are causing me no harm.”
Now scan your body starting from your head, jaw and neck. Shoulders and hips. Down your legs and feet. Release any tension you find along the way.
Once you’ve allowed these feelings to exist and flow, the following tool is a fantastic next step toward emotional health.

5. Express gratitude.

We humans have a natural negativity bias. It’s a mechanism in place designed with the intention of keeping us safe.

Being on the lookout for danger, in theory, might be a better tactic to keep us alive than ignoring any signs of danger for the sake of focusing on pleasantries. Like being on alert for a mountain lion instead of enjoying a bed of flowers.

But 99 percent of the time, or more, our lives are not in imminent danger. Yet the negativity bias remains.

As it turns out, much like generosity, gratitude is also scientifically proven to be good for our emotional health.

It’s shown that people who express gratitude are more optimistic and feel better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercise more and have fewer visits to physicians than those who focus on sources of aggravation.

In some studies, it’s also shown people immediately exhibiting a huge increase in happiness scores, as well as improved relationships.

Here are some ways to express gratitude:

Write a thank-you note or email
Thank someone mentally
Try a gratitude journal
Pray or meditate on something you are grateful for

6. Ask for help if you need it.

I am so proud of our communities coming together, staying home, helping each other out. If there is something you need, there are whole groups of people ready and willing to help a stranger out. I see it all day on my Facebook feed, people offering up formula or diapers, services to drop off food, or offering homeschooling tools and advice.

Thankfully, this pandemic has come during a time of advanced technological capabilities, allowing us all to connect digitally.

Doctors, teachers and coaches are now available online. From the comfort of your socially distant home, you can find help right at your fingertips.

Ask. It doesn’t make you look weak. You aren’t impositioning anyone. People inherently like to be helpful.

Especially if you need help dealing with the anxiety of our current situation. We don’t make good decisions coming from a place of fear. Now more than ever it is essential to have emotional resiliency to get through this tough time and come out the other end whole and ready to move forward.

We’ll get through this. Together, even though we’re physically apart. Wishing you much love, luck, and light on your journey.

Article By: Sandy Wosnicki of Tiny Buddha