There is a lot of pressure in our society to seem like everything is always okay, that we’re always doing great, and to always keep a “happy face” on even when we’re not okay. The reality is, is that there are going to be some not so fun times that happen in life. Life can’t always be easy and stress free.
Many of us have been taught that it’s not okay to be sad or to be angry and to stuff those feelings down or tuck them away. When we’re not okay, we can set ourselves up to feel worse if we try to ignore the feelings and attempt to go through life wearing a “happy face”. Not taking off our “happy face” can unintentionally cause us to feel isolated or alone because we’re not allowing others to know that we’re not okay. Also, when we hide feelings that are considered by some to be bad feelings, like sadness or anger, we deny part of our experience. When we put our “happy face”, we can forget that we human beings are complex with complex feelings. When we pretend that everything is okay, we fail to remember that those less appreciated feelings, like sadness and anger, are part of who we are as human being, and that those feelings are often our body’s way of telling us or reminding us that somethings off.
It’s okay to take off your “happy face” and to experience and share what you’re feeling. If you’re struggling to take your “happy face” off, know that there are people in this world who will support you even when you’re not okay.
Photo by Kaci Kellman
We can get in the habit of doing something we don’t really care to do because we are afraid of taking the first step to create the change we desire. We may stay at a job too long, in a relationship that no longer makes us happy, or hesitate starting a passion project. Also the fear of failure or things turning out badly can cause us to not take action. The longer we wait to take action, the harder it can become to do something different and then we settle. We settle staying at a job that we don’t like, staying with a partner that doesn’t appreciate us, or settle on not achieving a dream. We all have the option to take a risk and face our fears, or to stay put where we know what to expect from our unhappy situation. It’s important to remember that we always have a choice. If we decide to do something differently, we set ourselves up for accomplishing something that we may have thought we’d never be able to do. A small act or step towards our desires and needs, can create a positive ripple effect in our life. Every small or large action that we take can help us to find the courage and the motivation to take more steps towards creating the life we desire and need. Know that the change will be worth it, and take that first step. You’ll then find yourself one step closer to living the life you’ve dreamt of.
Photo By Samuel Zeller
By a show of hands, how many of you have felt pressure to be perfect? I know I have. With every new adventure (getting married, having a child, starting a new career) we can strive to be our most perfect selves. We can want so badly for everyone to know how great we are and that we have every aspect of our lives in order, that we sacrifice our inner peace, joy, and health. The pursuit of perfection can become a vicious cycle if we become to accustomed to trying to be appear as though everything in our lives is perfect and worthy of praise. On top of that, we may fail to realize that we lose parts of ourselves during those moments when we are striving to be perfect. The less than ideal or desirable part of ourselves, that help to makes us who we are as an individual, get pushed away and denied every time we try to be perfect. We can become fractured when we deny the less ideal or desirable parts of ourselves to show or be known which can cause us to experience low self-esteem, anxiety, fear, regret and depression. If you’re struggling to achieve perfection, ask yourself, is it really worth it? Or will it even be worth it 5, 10, or 20 years from now?
Photo by Jonathan Hoxmar
Life can be full of hard-knocks, and at times it can feel as though we can’t get a break. Throughout life we will experience the loss of a loved, job, housing or something else that impacts our sense of comfort. When we experience a difficult loss or a series of losses, we may question if we’ll be able to go on living. We may feel stuck and not sure how to get away from the pain and discomfort we are feeling. The pain can be so blinding that we forget that help is nearby and that we are not alone. If there is something painful that has occurred in your life, there are people who can help you get through it.
People often ask me why I chose to become a psychotherapist. The answer is simple but complicated just like life. I’ve experienced my fair share of heartbreak, pain and struggle. I also know how important it is to have someone to walk the path towards healing and recovery with versus walking it alone. I also know how hard it can be to admit to another person when the hurt and pain becomes unbearable. As difficult as it may be during moments of extreme emotional pain, remember that there is always help nearby. Taking that step towards a helpful hand will require you to be vulnerable and admit that you can no longer carry the weight of the pain by yourself. If you do not feel comfortable allowing a friend or family member to help you, reaching out to a support group, spiritual or religious leader, or counselor can be helpful.
Photo By Gus Moretta
Daydreaming is sometimes frowned upon by people because it’s an activity that some believe is a waste of time. What some people may not realize is that daydreaming allows our creative side to take over. When we daydream, we give ourselves the okay to think about all the possible answers to the question “what if?”
Daydreaming can also give us the freedom to think, and to reflect on what is and isn’t working in our lives. For example, if we’re not happy at our job, we can daydream about a job that will make us feel fulfilled, more effective and happier. Daydreaming can also help us to map out and create action steps towards obtaining that better job.
It can be helpful to remember that during the times that we allow ourselves to think about all of the infinite possibilities that we become limitless. Happy daydreaming.
Photo by Tyler Nix
I think it’s safe to say that most of us at some point in our life have had to deal with self-doubt. Sometimes the reasons behind our self-doubts are easy to pin down, while other times we struggle to figure out what’s causing the self-doubt. I’m sure you’ve heard the quote “self-doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will”. Self-doubt can stop us from applying to a dream job, approaching a potential mate or even starting a new project. So why do we doubt ourselves? What makes us doubt that we’re capable of completing or achieving something? Some people may say that it has to do with a lack of self-esteem, while others may say it has to do with not having the skills we think we need to accomplish the task. Some would even go as far as to say that we develop self-doubt after we fail at something. In any case, self-doubt has a way of causing us to limit ourselves. Sometimes we may struggle with not focusing on our failures and regrets. Thinking negatively about ourselves and our past mistakes, can become automatic and cause us to feel stuck or unable to move forward. It’s good to remember that self-doubt and negative thoughts, can be combated by being curious about what’s happening internally, and by focusing on positive thoughts and outcomes. If you’re struggling with self-doubt, ask yourself “what is it that I’m scared of?” And “what will I miss out on if I allow doubt to stop me from having _____?” It can be helpful to think about the many good things you’ll gain from not allowing self-doubt to stop you. Additionally, I think it can be helpful to also ask yourself when you feel self-doubt creeping in, “am I sabotaging myself and if so, what will I get out of it?” Sometimes change can be so scary that we allow self-doubt to stop us, so that we can remain in a place that feels safe (because it’s familiar and we know what to expect) even though we’re unhappy.
In moments of self-doubt, try to also focus on the many successes you’ve had throughout your lifetime. I bet there are many amazing things you do each and every day that requires a lot from you, whether it’s raising children, dealing with stress at work, supporting friends and family or participating in physical activity. Self-doubt doesn’t have to rule your life. Through curiosity, reflecting on our past successes, and the benefits of what we’ll gain if we don’t allow self-doubt to stop us, we can achieve whatever it is that we desire.
Photo By Redd Angelo
I recently watched the movie Blindspotting, which takes place in Oakland. It was fun and interesting to see many familiar streets around the Town, and to witness the movie characters as they tried to navigate the gentrification that’s happening in the Bay Area. I won’t ruin the movie for you but will only say that there is a lot of subject material around identity and labels. I walked away from the movie reflecting on how I’ve struggled at times with the many labels and traits that make me who I am as person. I also thought about how natural it is to do a lot of questioning and searching as we try to figure out who we are while remembering that some of the ways in which we identify in this moment, can and may change in our lifetime.
As I’ve continued to reflect on the movie, I’ve thought about what it means to be something (whatever that may be) and the conflict that can arise within ourselves when that something is challenged by other people, or when other people assign a label or trait to us that we don’t agree with. For example, say you think of yourself as a generous person and then someone tells you that you’re a selfish person. It can make you feel crappy when someone tells you that you have a negative trait. We may feel discomfort and emotional pain when other people label us as something that we don’t identify as because the label can cause us to negatively question our awareness or thoughts about ourselves. These negative labels can have a lasting impact on us which can be hard for us to let go of.
I think it’s important and healthy to reflect on and challenge a label that someone else gives to us, that doesn’t feel right. Sometimes during our reflecting we realize that we need to do some work to grow into being a better person. While other times we get to practice not internalizing negative comments about us by other people. I do also think that it’s important and healthy for us to reflect on, and question, our own thoughts and perceptions about ourselves when a label is given to us by a person we know, trust and respect. I think it’s safe to say that because we as humans are so complex that we don’t always see or acknowledge all the traits that make us unique. Sometimes the people that we know, trust and respect can show us the parts of ourselves that we don’t see. These special people in our lives also provide us with the opportunity to learn more about ourselves and what makes us so unique.
Photo By Darius Bashar
I recently saw a couple with a young baby hanging out outdoors, and both of the parents were on their own smartphones. It made me think about our society’s love affair with our smartphones. I think if we did a survey, most people would say that they can’t live without their phones. I think some would even go as far as to call their phone their best friend. How did we get to this point? I remember when pagers/beepers were all the rage. But then again, we didn’t have access to what feels like unlimited information when we had pagers. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it seems like some people have begun to miss out on unplanned and magical moments that happen in life. You see them (or you may be one) going about their daily activities outside of their home, but only look up to see the world around them for a few seconds to make sure no one walks into them, to see who sat down next to them, or if their it’s safe to cross the street. Sometimes I sit and wonder at what point (or even if) we’ll stop being okay with missing out on the unplanned and amazing moments that happen in life that don’t involve our phones? You may be thinking to yourself, what amazing moments? There are LOTS of amazing moments and videos I can see on my phone. You’re right. There are lots of funny, fascinating and cool things to look at on our phones but there are also opportunities we miss out on when we’re looking at our phones. Like for example, maintaining your relationships with your friends and family members. Studies have found that many people say that they feel lonely even though they may have Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat accounts. I think we can forget that we need other people. Let me be more specific, we need to interact (hugs, kisses, gazing into eyes) in real time with other people. I think it’s easy to miss out on these magical moments with loved ones when we’re on our phone from sunrise to sunset. Also, when was the last time you watched the sunrise or sunset WITHOUT trying to get the perfect recording of it so that you could post it to social media? I think we miss out on making memories (in our long-term memory) because we’re too busy trying to include our phone in the process instead of just being present and being okay without having a digital record of the event. With that being said, I challenge you, the next time you’re out and about to put your phone away so that you can see some of the amazing things that happen when your fully present to what is happening around you at any given moment. I bet you’ll learn or see something new that’ll leave a smile on your face.
Photo by Julia Caesar
Have you found yourself reflecting on the past lately? I think it’s safe to say that most of us have periods in our lives when we think about the past more than other times. Sometimes reflecting on the past can be helpful because it gives us the opportunity to acknowledge how much we’ve grown over the years. Other times, reflecting on the past can bring up old painful feelings which can be discouraging if we thought we had “gotten over” whatever (or whoever) we’re thinking about.
I think it’s important to reflect on the past for a few reasons. The first being that we can honor and reflect on where we’ve been (relationships, career, etc.) and help us to map out the path to the future we’d like to have. The second being that reflecting on the past gives us the opportunity to decide what has and what hasn’t been helpful in our lives, and to learn and grow from past mistakes we may have made. I believe it’s difficult to choose to do things differently in the present and future if we haven’t taken the time to reflect and grow from past decisions we made that didn’t have the result we wanted. Another reason reflecting on the past can be a good thing, is that we can take pride in our accomplishments, and again, how much we’ve grown. Life happens quickly, and we often get distracted by our daily responsibilities that we can forget to acknowledge the amazing person we’ve become because of the positive and not so positive adversities we’ve faced in our lifetime.
Like I mentioned, reflecting on the past can also bring up not so good memories that cause us to feel a sense of pain, regret, grief or anger. It’s helpful to get support when those memories resurface. Often with the support of others, sharing our memories about the situation(s) that caused the pain can be healing. Also, I think it’s important to remember that although painful memories don’t feel good, they also signal to us that there are parts of ourselves that still need to be healed so that we can move on.
Reflecting on the past doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Remember, it gives you the opportunity to take pride and joy in how your life has changed, helps with decision making during life transitions, and reminds us that pain can be a sign that a part of us has some unresolved stuff that needs some tender loving care so that we can heal and feel better.
Photo By Mohammad Gh
It’s natural to crave change when life isn’t how we want it to be. We may adopt a grass is greener on the other side mentality. What we need to remember is that change takes time and often multiple attempts. If we don’t see the results we desire after we started to set a change in motion, we may take additional action as an attempt to bring about the change we want see. It’s important to remember that with change, there are often setbacks and mishaps and it’s wise to plan for them, and not to give up if you experience a setback.
Change is a process and something that happens over time. The stages of change are well-known in substance abuse and recovery healing world. The stages of change can be helpful even if you do not consider yourself to be in recovery because you may go through a similar cycle when working on making changes in your live. The stages of change include pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, relapse and maintenance, and termination. We are often in the pre-contemplation stage when life is getting funky, but we haven’t started thinking about making any change in our lives. When we experience the contemplation stage, we’re thinking or daydreaming about the pros and cons of how life would be better if we did something differently, behaved differently or had something that we perceived would raise our status (examples a college degree, a wife or husband, a CEO, etc). During the preparation stage, we do research and plan out how we’re going to make the change happen. An example would be looking into diets or exercise programs to try in order to live a healthier lifestyle. The action phase is when we finally take that leap of faith to make our lives better by changing something (starting something new or letting something go) in our life. Something helpful to remember is that when we go to make a change, it’s common to experience a mix of excitement and anxiety because we’re happy to make the change and nervous because we’re not 100% sure how the change will play out. A part of the next stage is relapse. If you’re not in recovery, you may initially think this stage will not apply to you. That’s not necessarily true. Have you ever ended a relationship and missed your ex-partner to the point of calling them to reconnect? Or have you ever decided to stop eating an unhealthy food but after a few days or weeks found yourself eating that food again? I know I’ve done both. It is helpful to anticipate that with any change, there is a possibility that there will be some setbacks or mishaps. It’s also helpful and healthy to create a list (call a friend, go for a walk, read, journal, listen to music, etc.) of things you can do when you have a desire to do something you said you weren’t going to do anymore. The other part of this stage is maintenance. Maintenance is important because most of us will have a setback, but the change we desire is still possible if we keep trying. Maintenance also helps us to apply what we’ve learned from our setback or multiple setbacks so that we can maintain the change we’ve started or created. For example, say you have a break-up, call your ex, hook-up with them and afterwards remember why you broke up with them in the first place. The next time you have a desire to call them, you’ll be able to reflect on the reasons why you left in the first place (they have different values, want something different than you need or treat you poorly or whatever the reason was) and you’ll be able to acknowledge that calling them is not the best idea and choose to keep doing something different. The more setbacks you have, the wiser and more resilient you may become because you’ll start to realize that the desire to do what you used to do in the past will eventually pass. Like I mentioned, setbacks should be expected. If you have a setback, learn from it and choose to do something different next time. The final stage is termination. Termination happens when you’ve hit that point where your efforts to create change have been successful, you haven’t had any setbacks for a while and you’ve been able to keep the change going without feeling the need to go back to life as it was before you made the change.
Remember that change is a process filled with many unexpected twists and turns but you can navigate them if you plan ahead for any obstacles you may face. If you’re creating change in your life, be gentle with yourself if you experience a setback, and remain determined to achieve whatever change you desire.
Photo by Adam Cao
Christina is a Psychotherapist in private practice in Oakland California.