5 Secrets to Finding a Great Partner

My friend Katie met her husband-to-be, Tom, during orientation week in college. They were the couple everyone envied. They spent all their time together and they never seemed to argue. They had the same major and shared many of their hobbies. They liked each other’s families and friends. So it wasn’t a big surprise when Katie and Tom got married soon after graduation. They have two sweet kids, a boy and a girl. Katie stays home taking care of the kids and Tom has a well-paid job as an architect in a local company.

And last year… they got divorced.

Katie and Tom’s story is not unique. Almost every second marriage in the U.S. gets divorced at some point.

And yet, if Katie and Tom had been looking for a partner through a matching company, they would have been pretty much a perfect match for each other. But something didn’t go right.

What is it that Katie and Tom, and so many others, are missing? Why do our “perfect matches” often turn out to be less than perfect or downright disappointing?

The Unconscious Foundation of Your Relationships

In our research, we’ve found that there’s much more to true compatibility than variables like age, religion, culture, hobbies, attitudes, and beliefs. Part of the issue is that there’s a lot we do not know about ourselves, and not knowing ourselves sometimes gets in the way of successful relationships.

Everybody has a set of love stories, that is, a set of ideas, beliefs, and preconceptions about what a relationship should be like, how to behave in a relationship, and what the ideal partner should be like. But—we’re not consciously aware of our love stories.

So if you want to find someone who’s a truly good match for you, here are five keys that you need to keep in mind:

1. Your love stories influence every aspect of your relationship.

You have love stories in your mind that determine which potential partners you’re interested in and that shape your expectation of what a relationship should be like, how you should behave in a relationship, how you should interpret your partner’s actions, how you should interact with your partner, and so on.

Your love stories represent the essence of your life—the relationships of family members, neighbors, and friends you have observed since you were a child, your own experiences with other people, the stories you have read in books and watched in movies.

There is no objective reality; rather, it’s your stories that give your relationship meaning.

2. Happy relationships involve matching love stories.

Obviously, you’re not the only one with love stories; everybody else has them as well. But there are stories that tend to work better and others that are maladaptive. Additionally, some stories work better together than others. For example, if you have a fantasy story and are looking for a super romantic relationship with your own personal princess, but your partner is not so much interested in romance but rather in creating a relationship that runs smoothly like a business, ensuring you are making good money and have clearly spelled out duties that need to be fulfilled responsibly, both of you are likely to end up disappointed.

You and your partner do not need to have the same story, but for a happy long-term relationship, you will need stories that are compatible with each other.

3. Understand what you really want from your relationship.

The love stories you have given rise to what we call the “core components of love.” Depending on your love story, you may have a different need for:

  • Intimacy (that is, how close, bonded, and connected you feel)
  • Passion (that is, how much emotional and physical attraction, as well as romance you have in your relationship), and
  • Commitment in your relationship

The issue is—we often are not consciously aware of what we truly want, and where our relationship lags. Dig deep and figure out what you want from your relationship in terms of intimacy, passion, and commitment. Does your partner want the same as you do? If not, try to close those gaps to make your relationship work and fulfill your own needs as well as the needs of your partner.

4. Your partner’s feelings for you matter less than you think.

In our studies, we have found that people often haven’t the foggiest idea of how their partner feels about them—and the people who participated in our studies were in stable relationships!

The point is, we can’t ever really know what someone else thinks or feels.

What matters to our happiness is how we want our partner to feel for us, and whether we believe they’re actually feeling that way. For example, your partner may feel that they’re very committed to your relationship. If you don’t feel that they are committed and consequently feel anxious or jealous most of the time, your partner’s factual commitment really doesn’t matter that much to your happiness.

Think about whether you have enough (or too much) of intimacy, passion, and commitment in a relationship, and if there’s a gap, act!

5. Your relationship needs to match your (and your partner’s) needs—not the expectations of those around you.

Your love stories determine the kind of relationship and partner you’re looking for and what you expect your relationship to be like. You’ll be happiest when you and your partner have compatible love stories and you meet each other’s needs. The expectations of those around you—parents, family, and friends—as well as those of society matter much less.

You have to realize that there is no wrong or right love story, and it’s all right for you to seek your happiness no matter what others think of your conception of a loving relationship.

The key to your happiness is finding someone whose love story is compatible with yours.

Looking to learn more about finding the RIGHT relationship for YOU? Contact us to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation with one of our relationship experts, info@hillarycounseling.com.

 

Article By: Karen and Robert Sternberg, Ph.Ds

How High Expectations Can Lead to Disappointment, Depression, and Anxiety

“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” ~Alexander Pope

I was sitting on the couch in my bedroom, at sunset, looking at the trees outside my window. I felt a profound sadness, frustration, disappointment, and desperation taking me over.

While I was staring into oblivion, all my expectations came flashing to my mind.

“No, this is not what my life was supposed to be. I was supposed to be successful. I was supposed to have my own house. I was supposed to be happy. What happened?”

What happened was that I am part of the majority, not the exception.

My entire life I expected to be the exception. I assumed that if I worked hard enough, I would succeed; if I did well in university, I would succeed; if I poured my heart and soul into something, I would succeed; my dreams could come true.

I had become a slave to my expectations, and they were ruining my life.

In my mind, things were supposed to be different. My great expectations were robbing me of happiness, because I wasn’t where I wanted to be, I didn’t have what I expected to have, and I wasn’t who I expected I should be.

The truth of the matter is that there are few people out there who are lucky enough to be living their dreams.

Most of us survive on crumbs of our expectations. We have a job, even if it’s a job we don’t like. We work from nine to five every day to pay the bills. If you’re lucky, you get to go on a vacation once a year, and for the very lucky, two of them.

Statistics show depression and anxiety are on the rise. I am part of those statistics, along with 350 million other people who suffer from the same hell I do.

How could depression and anxiety not be on the rise when we are constantly bombarded by repetitive messages that tell us about all the great things we can accomplish?

Of course giving people high expectations is what sells. If beauty creams advertised their products by saying, “It will moisturize your skin and that’s pretty much it,” not too many people would buy the product.

Marketing survives by raising people’s expectations. When the product doesn’t meet up with their expectation, disappointment follows. And so it goes with most things in our lives.

Don’t get me wrong; I truly believe that dreams can come true. The point is that we shouldn’t expect it to happen. If it does happen, it will be a nice surprise. But if it doesn’t and we’re expecting it, we are likely doomed for disappointment and frustration.

Of course it would be amazing if we could all live our great expectations, but we shouldn’t base our happiness and personal satisfaction on them, because there is no rule that says that we will all live to fulfill them. I know this might sound pessimistic, simply because it goes against everything we’ve heard.

We read great stories of people who defied the odds and became a success, but we never read about the people who did their best and failed. Their stories never become motivational quotes and bestselling books, because they didn’t make it.

We never hear their stories about how they put their heart and soul into something and failed, because that doesn’t sell books; that doesn’t sell conferences.

Many motivational books and personal coaches survive by raising people’s expectations instead of focusing on finding happiness with what they already have.

Of course meeting our expectations could bring happiness, but if we’re waiting to be happy for that to happen, we might be waiting a long time.

Maybe you’re not Anna Wintour or Mark Zuckerberg, and you don’t have a million dollars in the bank.

Maybe you’re feeling frustrated because parenthood didn’t turn out to be what you had expected (it’s tiring and demanding).

Maybe your job is not fulfilling, and at one point you expected you’d grow up to be somewhere completely different from where you are today.

I could sit here and write that you can change everything and you should fight to meet your expectation. I think you should, but you shouldn’t base you personal satisfaction and happiness on that.

I’m here to tell you that it’s all right if you didn’t meet your expectations.

Sometimes life throws curve balls at us, and for some reason or another life doesn’t go to plan. It doesn’t mean we have to stop working toward our goals; it just means that we can be happy regardless.

Instead of focusing on what we don’t have, we need to focus on what we do have.

Capitalism shoves down our throats to strive for more, and we obediently follow, only to meet a brick wall and realize how frustrated we are for not being everything the system promised we could be.

Millennials in particular are battling this problem harshly.

We were sold the idea that if we went to college, got great marks, and did tons of unpaid internships we’d be destined for the stars. Instead, millions of millennials have a huge amount of debt from student loans and are finding it hard to find a job. I’m not even talking about their dream job—just a job.

Did you know that millennials have the highest statistics on depression and anxiety ever recorded in history? That’s mainly because we expected to at least have the quality of life our parents had. But things have changed, and now we are not even close to what they had at our age.

Our expectations were too high, and we live in a world where it’s harder to meet those expectations.

It would have been a lot better to break things down to millennials in a realistic way, and if some of them got to meet their expectations, then good for them. But for the rest, we’d know that not all expectations need to be met for us to be happy.

I know you might be reading this and thinking of all the expectations that you had that you didn’t get to live up to. Maybe you’re feeling frustrated and sad.

The best and easiest way to be happy is to work toward our goals but never expect for them to become a reality. It’s a paradox. It’s the duality of existence.

We need a goal and a dream to keep us motivated, but at the same time we need to not expect anything from life. That way, regardless of the outcome, we don’t become disappointed.

I know it kind of goes against the motivational quotes we read, and it especially goes against the greedy perception that has been incrusted in our minds. We are taught to never be content with what we have and to always strive for more. But this greedy mindset is what has many feeling frustrated with their lives.

I’m not saying that it’s good to get comfortable in mediocrity, but to push ourselves to be the best person we can be without expecting a great outcome. To do things because we love doing them, not because we’re expecting something.

It’s like doing a good deed expecting a “thank you.” If the “thank you” doesn’t come, you become disappointed. If you do it regardless of the gratitude, you still feel content.

It’s about being happy while working to be better, not by placing happiness on a goal. You find that happiness in your progress, in your daily life, in feeling grateful for the small things—for having food on your plate, a roof over your head, health, and loved ones to share your life with.

It is about coming to terms with the idea that your dreams might not come true. Making peace with life—that even if it doesn’t allow you to fulfill your dreams, it has given you life, and life itself is a treasure.

As the saying goes, happy people are not those who have the best of everything but the ones who make the best of everything they have.

Article by: Carol James of Tiny Buddha

Take Time To Reflect On The Past Year…

The end of the year is a time to reflect, take stock of the year past, and plan for the year ahead. Each year we share an article with 12 questions to help guide a year-end reflection. A year has passed yet it feels like a nano-moment since the last year-end reflection. Not surprising – our lives, work and society move at an unprecedented pace.

To help you take stock and prepare for the year ahead, take time to reflect on this year’s questions.

THE YEAR BEHIND

What went well? This is a staple question we ask each year. It’s far too easy to bypass the wins and the good that comes within any year. Take stock of what went well this year and know that nothing is too small to own, celebrate and bring forward as positive fuel for the days and year ahead.

What surprised you? The pandemic aside, life is always full of surprises. Whether for better or otherwise, the skills of the day are adaptability, heartiness, and resourcefulness. Reflect on the surprises that came your way – and then on how you responded. What do you notice about your ability to adapt and pivot within the unexpected?

What did this year teach you? Every experience for better or worse can be a ‘teacher’ if we use it well. How did you grow from your year? What insights, knowledge, skills were gained or reinforced?

What are you noticing or even having hunches about? Sometimes if feels like change comes out of the blue. But often there are early signs and/or hints abound. Think about the year past and your world of work (and life). What signs or even inklings of change need to be heeded? Where might the opportunities come from? What are you ignoring that can put you at risk? Paying attention with an open mind and some self trust can prepare you better for even the seemingly unknown.

What needs to be left behind? Old ideas, poor habits, and self-limiting behaviours – ahh, who doesn’t have at least a few of these? When life and work pressures demand the best of us it is a good idea to take stock of what’s no longer working and might be holding us back. Also, ask yourself if it’s time to let some doors close this year (if they must) and shift your energy to new areas of opportunity? Where do you need to discard ideas, strategies, and ways of doing things that don’t work any more despite your best efforts?

Wrap up your year with a name that fits: Give 2021 the distinctive, memorable quality it deserves by considering the stand-out experiences and lessons and complete this phrase: “2021 was the year of ___.

THE YEAR AHEAD

Where do you need to go next? Think about the changes showing up (internally and externally). What’s next for you personally and professionally? Even if you don’t have precise answers yet, staying in this question will keep you on your toes so that you can plan and pivot to opportunities more easily. To paraphrase the famous words conveyed by Wayne Gretzky, ‘Focus on where the puck is headed and skate towards there.’

How will you evolve in the year ahead? While you can’t predict the whole picture, it’s a good idea to get intentional in your development and identify new skills, experiences and knowledge that will help you grow. Visualize yourself at the end of 2022 and ask in what ways will you have grown? This is your chance to reflect so you can plan for this to happen.

What are your top goals? Now it’s time to get specific and concrete. Forget resolutions – they don’t work. But goals – if meaningful, relevant and backed up with a plan – can provide focus, direction, a sense of purpose, and energize you with new motivation. Got any goals for yourself?

Who will you connect with? Don’t wait for sudden change to test the strength of your network and relationships – invest now. Take stock and make a commitment to connect meaningfully, authentically with those important to you. Expand and/or deepen your professional and personal network and find ways to show reciprocity by giving back to others.

How will you navigate ambiguity and uncertainty? Ambiguity and uncertainty often comes with disruptive change. How do you cope (thrive) in the unknown? Those who do well tend to foster flexible, resilient, hearty mindsets – along with other skills. Take heed, if not yet natural strengths, know that we can all tap into our deep-rooted capacities to adapt, learn, and find heartiness even in challenging conditions. Start by setting the intention and then commit. Then don’t be afraid to seek support in developing these skills.

What’s your mantra for 2022: What stands out for you that marks your intentions for the year ahead? Create a mantra to hold on to this by completing this phrase: 2022 will be the year of ________.

Article By: Eileen Chadnick of the Globe

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

5 Ways Perfectionism and Depression Feed Off Each Other

Perfectionism is defined as a personality trait characterized by efforts toward and desires for flawlessness. Perfectionists set unrealistically high standards for themselves, others, or both. Although perfectionism can boost performance in some cases, it often undermines the achievement of goals when people succumb to highly critical attitudes.

Understanding Different Types of Perfectionism
In a recent study entitled “Is Perfectionism a Vulnerability Factor for Depressive Symptoms, a Complication of Depressive Symptoms, or Both?” (2021), Smith and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of a multitude of studies on perfectionistic concerns and perfectionistic strivings to determine in what way perfectionism and depression feed off of each other. Perfectionistic concerns center on the belief that perfection is required of oneself, shading into obsession.

Those with high perfection concerns overreact to errors, often second-guess their actions, experience discrepancy between their actual self and their ideal self, and fear disapproval from others. On the other hand, perfectionistic striving is associated with self-oriented perfectionism. This person typically holds lofty goals and has internalized expectations of success and productivity; this may be associated with higher achievement.

Unpacking the Links Between Depression and Perfectionism
Although there have been previous studies investigating links between perfectionism and depressive symptoms, it’s unclear exactly in what ways they connect.

A meta-review was conducted in order to reveal how these two factors are linked. Is perfectionism a vulnerability for depressive symptoms? A complication? Both? Many of the studies that have been done on perfectionism and depressive symptoms have assumed the way in which the two are linked instead of testing how they are linked.

Vulnerability for depressive symptoms means that perfectionism could increase the risk of clinical depression, whereas perfectionism as a complication of depressive symptoms means that perfectionism may overlap with and be amplified by depression symptoms. Awareness of the effects that perfectionism and depressive symptoms have on each other, which can lead to a vicious cycle, is of benefit for better understanding and coping with both depression and perfectionism.

The study found key relationships between various aspects of perfectionism, and depression, including:

1. Perfectionistic concerns can lead to increased depressive symptoms over time.

Perfectionist concerns conferred vulnerability for increased depressive symptoms over time. Perfectionist concerns lead people to think, feel, and behave in ways conducive to depressive symptoms. Perfectionistic concerns—including being overly critical towards the self or overreacting to mistakes—create the opportunity for depressive symptoms to creep in and take over.

2. People higher in perfectionistic concerns perceive and encounter more negative social interactions.

People with elevated perfectionist concerns perceive and encounter more negative social interactions, which often leads to social disconnection and, in turn, depressive symptoms. They also are at risk for depressive symptoms due to a propensity to generate—and respond poorly to—stress. Overall, expecting nothing less than perfection from yourself can set you up for failure; this translates to how stress is handled and can negatively infect interactions with others.

3. People high in perfectionistic concerns may see themselves as having less emotional control.

For many people with high perfectionistic concerns, experiencing depressive symptoms itself may be seen as a failure of emotional control. This translates into additional pressures to meet expectations and heightened concerns about failures and making mistakes. Depression can easily influence the person and their emotions, translating into a loss of control over the self which goes against the notion of being perfect.

4. Unrealistic goals can lead to a higher frequency of perceived failures.

Failure doesn’t seem like an option to many perfectionists—and if it does happen, it can alter the perfectionist’s view of themself. Unrealistic goals that people high in perfectionistic striving strive towards, such as needing to be the best at everything, can lead to a higher frequency of perceived failures and a lower frequency of perceived successes.

5. People with self-oriented perfectionism are more vulnerable to depressive symptoms.

The study found that self-oriented perfectionism was associated with an increased vulnerability for depressive symptoms. On the other hand, perfectionism did not appear to be a complication of depression. In other words, those who fit the “perfectionistic striving” definition of perfectionism may be vulnerable to depressive symptoms, but the reverse did not appear to be true: that is, it’s unlikely to develop perfectionistic striving as a result of depression.

How to Break the Cycle of Perfectionism and Depression
Smith et al (2021) found that perfectionism and depression often constitute a destructive vicious cycle. Perfectionistic concerns leave us both vulnerable to depression and are driven by depression.

As with any research, there are limitations. There is a lack of research on the role perfectionism takes in diagnosed depressive disorders. This study used self-report measures that could be inaccurate or distorted; this is especially true when studying perfectionistic people. Prospective studies with different treatment arms, looking at interventions and outcomes rather than looking back at self-report measures, are likely required to understand more fully what might bring relief.

People with perfectionistic concerns become locked into a cruel loop in which obsession drives depression and especially low self-esteem and helplessness, which in turn intensifies maladaptive perfectionism coping strategies. Learning strategies to reduce self-criticism and ease unrealistic expectations, including psychotherapy and meditation-based approaches including self-compassion practice, can help to interrupt maladaptive thought patterns and shift toward a kinder, gentler attitude toward oneself and others.

Treating depression, likewise, can ease perfectionism by removing many of the drivers of perfectionistic concern. Generally shifting one’s mindset over time, with broad attitudes and values as well as changing day-to-day habits, can change the world and the way we live in it.

Want more help with your perfectionism? Email us at info@hillarycounseling.com to schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation.Let us help you “Live A Life You Love.”

Article By: Emma Newman of Pscyhology Today

Downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Welcome Jacob Martinez, Milwaukee’s ACT Expert And Relationship Therapist

You should have listened to your gut, but didn’t, and now you feel stuck. Stuck in a life (relationship, career, city) that isn’t making you happy. The tricky part is…you know intuitively what changes you need to make, but are frozen by your mind, expectations, social pressure, or other responsibilities.
     As an experienced therapist, Jacob can help you create a road map to re-align your life based on what matters most. He is passionate about helping his clients cultivate a life they love.
     Jacob works with highly motivated, deep-thinking individuals who know that tomorrow is not guaranteed and are eager to live a more fulfilling life. He enjoys working with first-time therapy clients, and those who have tried therapy before, but are looking for a more action-oriented therapist who can provide specific guidance.
     Jacob also enjoys working with couples and relationship units who struggle communicating. After careful examination of the way his clients communicate, Jacob offers feedback on crafting words that are more likely to be understood by their partner. Through communication training, deeper connections and more workable solutions can be found. Jacob uses the Gottman Method for relationship counseling, a research-based approach to successful relationships.
     Ultimately, Jacob excels at helping his clients find new and different ways of coping, while moving toward what matters to them most according to their values.
Read more about Jacob on our website:
https://www.hillarycounseling.com/meet-jacob-martinez-lpc/
Email us at info@hillarycounseling.com to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation.
Let us help you “Live A Life You Love.”
Love yourself sign

Love Yourself This Valentines Day

It’s that time of year again where every grocery store is filled to the brim with pink and red heart-shaped everything. Certainly Valentines Day is supposed to be a day all about love and relationships. But what about the most important relationship of all?

The relationship you have with yourself. Self-love and self-care is an important part of maintaining your mental health. However, a lot of people fall into the trap of being too hard on themselves and not giving themselves the same affection that they give others. So for this Valentines Day, be your own Valentine and take some time for self-care!

13 Ways to Practice Self-Love and Self-Care for Valentines Day

1) Make yourself a nice dinner of your favorite food or treat yourself to Door Dash or Grub Hub (COVID style)

2) Take some time for a thorough self-care routine. For example, try a DIY spa day at home or book yourself a massage!

3) Do something that makes you happy that you might not normally have time for. For example, indulge yourself with a fun fiction book, pour yourself a glass of wine and draw yourself a bubble bath, or go for a walk.

4) Get some sleep! Because staying well-rested is incredibly important for maintaining your mental health.

5) Go volunteer. When you volunteer in your community, you are improving your own mental health while also helping others.This can be a great way to be social and meet new people.

6) Have a friends day. Have some fun with your closest quarantined friends in order to help you destress.

7) Buy yourself one of those heart-shaped boxes of chocolates or something else cute that you’ve had your eyes on.

8) Though, if you wait until the day after Valentines Day, all the heart-shaped boxes of chocolates will be half off.

9) Do something that empowers you! Different things empower different people. Above all, on a self-love day, it is important that you do things that make you feel great about you.

10) If you enjoy working out, hit the gym, go for a hike, or go running. On the other hand, if you don’t enjoy working out, feel free to give yourself the day off to do something else that makes you happy.

11) Declutter. Cleaning can be a way to cleanse your space, so you feel calm and organized.

12) Unfollow people on social media who don’t make you happy or who post things that don’t make you feel good about yourself.Because their negativity is not something that you need in your life.

13) Practice self-acceptance. In order to feel good about yourself, you must forgive yourself for past mistakes, appreciate yourself for who you are, and enjoy the person that you are becoming.

14) Be mindful. Whether it is journaling, writing a Valentines Day card to yourself, or coloring to destress, mindfulness can help improve your mental health.

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

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.