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The Ultimate Guide to New Year's Resolutions

Author: Stephanie Camins - MA, LPC

It’s that time of year again.  Time to reflect on your past year and set your intentions for the upcoming year. As I’ve been having these discussions with clients and friends, I’ve noticed a common theme in conversations. “I can’t wait for this year to be over, I need a fresh start, good riddance 2017”

Leaping 2017 to 2018

Being a therapist as well as a self-proclaimed avid new year’s ‘Resolutioner’, I started thinking about the powerful emotions behind these statements and the influence this negative language has on our thoughts, feelings and actions moving forward into the coming year.  Of course, January 1st is an arbitrary day to set your yearly goals. It could really be any day, but we’ve all become accustomed to the concept of New Year’s Resolutions.  Love them or hate them, they’re everywhere at this time of year:  news shows, Facebook, articles like the one I’m writing now, conversations at Starbucks.  You name it. We are a goal driven society. 

My goal in sharing a Resolution article this year is to change the way you think about a “New Year” and what it represents to you.  I’m going to take you through a series of questions to create a meaningful story of 2017.  We will also evaluate the goals you had or did not have and create a positive and realistic set of personal goals for 2018.

Start button 2018

I want to share with you my own journey this year as a guide post for these questions.  I use this time of year to look back at the resolutions I wrote down for the previous year.  I check off those that I accomplished and I contemplate what barriers I encountered in not attaining the others.  Sometimes the resolution gets carried over and sometimes it is eliminated as it was no longer important or the barriers were not in my control to remove or work around. 

As I contemplate my resolutions and my own year, I referred back to my article “Life Goals 2017”. I described my formula for writing my resolutions which includes four categories that I have used for many years as my guidepost:

  1. Better health goals
  2. Professional goals
  3. Relationship resolutions
  4. Personal financial planning

As I was looking back over the years in my resolution journal, I realized that at the core of what I have achieved is an uncompromising priority to incorporate self-care into every day in some form.  Taking care of myself physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually has helped me continue to stay on track while accomplishing these goals through some tough years. 

rear view mirror 2017 to 2018

Sometimes your goals may take longer.  They may be accomplished through a different path than you originally thought or you may be guided to an altogether different goal that fits better with your current circumstances.  In the end, don’t punish yourself for those goals you have not accomplished, rather, celebrate all that you did accomplish, even in the face of life’s trials, tribulations and tragedies.

I had a very difficult start to 2017 with my youngest daughter becoming critically ill.  We spent many weeks in the ICU and had major surgery.  My resolution list of course was nowhere in my mind during all of this.  I knew after coming out of this crisis, I would probably have to pare down my 2017 goals.  In actuality, I accomplished the majority of what was on my list as well as some that I’d been trying to tackle for years. 

Maintaining a strong self-care toolbox increases your resiliency in difficult times.

When I’m successful with self-care I am able to maintain motivation, increase creativity and improve my relationships.  This, in turn, increases a sense of confidence and empowerment which again adds to positive momentum. 

Whatever it is that leads you to statements such as “Please let this awful year come to an end”, take a moment to reassess what is real and what is exaggerated.  The language we use is powerful.  In the following list of  15 questions, I encourage you to use positive language without the drama, black and white thinking and 'catastrophizing', that we so commonly go to when we are feeling discouraged or down:

  1. What went well in your life last year?
  2. What did you struggle with?
  3. Where did you fall short?
  4. Where did you go over and above?
  5. What circumstances blocked your successes?
  6. What circumstances led to your successes?
  7. Who supported you in achieving your goals?
  8. Who sabotaged your goals?
  9. In what ways did you sabotage yourself?
  10. How can you adjust your goals to give yourself the best chance for success next year?
  11. What are your core values?
  12. Do your goals reflect these core values?
  13. Are they your goals or someone else’s?
  14. What was your biggest surprise this year?
  15. How did you handle it?

Now list your resolutions that were intended for 2017, even if they were only thoughts in your head or general goals:

  • Identify which of these resolutions you accomplished, even if only partially.
  • Identify the goals you didn’t accomplish and why.
Index card 2018 goals

Review all of this information and formulate your 2018 resolutions.  I will continue to use my four categories, but this year I will also highlight the four areas of self-care, physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual, that have given me the strength and fortitude to accomplish as much as I can.  As a reference point, I have provided the top 10 resolutions according to surveys:

  1. Get organized
  2. Help others
  3. Learn something new
  4. Get out of debt
  5. More family time
  6. Enjoy life more
  7. Quit drinking
  8. Quit smoking
  9. Lose weight
  10. Exercise

All of these can be categorized into health goals, professional goals, relationship goals and financial goals; the four categories I use.  Remember goals must be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. Start with a broad goal statement, then add your step by step action plan.  Decide how you will hold yourself accountable and what your time frame is for accomplishing your goal. Keep your list where you can refer to it easily. Remember, this is a fluid document, make changes as needed.

*Celebrate each success along the way*

*Treat each year as a blessing*

*Become a seeker of positivity*

Happy 2018

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How to Build A Support System?

Author: Stephanie Camins - MA, LPC

Isolation is a major cause of depression in adults. As we move into adult responsibilities: work, parenting, marriages, we tend to let our relationships fade into the background. You may not be exposed to groups of people in your daily life like when you were younger. Many of us have jobs that are isolating.

The trend to work remotely has increased our isolation. In the ever increasing tasks of “adulting,” self-care often takes a back seat. Self-care includes Physical, Psychological, Emotional, Spiritual, Personal and Professional tasks. A healthy support system plays a role in all of these categories of self-care.

A support system is made up of individual people who provide support, respect, and care.

These are people who are in your corner. They do not judge you or ridicule you. They provide feedback that is genuine and in your best interest. Their support is not self-serving. They have a positive impact on your personal goals. These people may be close friends, relatives, or simply acquaintances. You may talk to them frequently or just occasionally.

Sometimes your support system includes people in your community.  Any interaction that is friendly and positive leaves you feeling happier. Frequent enough contact with that clerk, barista, or gym mate, is the foundation of building a network.  Any social connection can have a positive influence on your life. Being connected with others is vitally important to your happiness, self-esteem and ability to cope in difficult times. It also has a positive impact on self-acceptance and emotional health.

Most of us recognize the importance of this but it can be hard to build a network of supportive people, and stay connected to the support system we already have. Life is busy. It’s easy to find reasons why NOT to get together or call or email or even text. The excuse list is long:

  • I don’t have time.
  • I don’t know what to say.
  • ​It’s been so long since I’ve talked to them.
  • ​It will be awkward.
  • ​They’re probably too busy.
  • I don’t want to intrude on their life.

We all need people. I’m often asked how to overcome this list and build a support network?

Let's start by make a list of who is already in your corner.

Who do you already have in your life? Make a list of ALL the people you currently interact with. This should include family, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. Think of your home, your work, your community, your church, your gym, your children’s school, your local Starbucks, any activity you do in your life that you are around people. You can also include professionals such as counselors, teachers, mentors, and clergy.

Go through this list and put a star next to each person who is supportive. Write next to their name what makes them supportive. Answer the following questions.

  • Do I feel respected by this person?
  • ​Do I trust this person?
  • ​Does this person bring out my best qualities?
  • ​Does this person allow me to feel good about myself?
  • ​Do I leave interactions feeling positive?

Make a point to contact these people and ask how they are doing.

How do I Build my Network?

You may find that your list is much smaller than you’d like. If this is the case, what is standing in the way of you building a support network? You may decide that seeing a counselor or talking with another professional advisor such as clergy or personal coach can help you develop your capacity to connect with others in a safe and supportive environment.

You might need help to identify the roadblocks you have created that keep you from connecting in meaningful ways with other people. A few examples of roadblocks include, low self-esteem, lack of confidence, depression, misguided life priorities, disorganization in your life, or difficulty asking for and accepting help from others.

Support systems are only effective if you use them.

Let’s work through the following roadblock example, "I dont like to rely on others." It’s hard for many of us to ask for help. Consider the following questions if this is an obstacle for you in using your support system.

  • When do I ask for help?
  • In what situations have I asked for help in the past?
  • ​When I ask for help, what am I feeling?
  • ​What do I think will happen?
  • Do I have negative or positive expectations?

Identify one situation you are dealing with in your life right now that you are overwhelmed with. Look through the list of supporters you made in this exercise, pick one person you can ask for assistance…and ASK.

Your support system should be just that, supportive. If you find that certain people tend to take much more than they give, if you feel drained after each interaction, this isn’t considered supportive. In relationships there is an ebb and flow to support. Each person takes turns being the supporter as life happens.

However, if this support isn’t balanced it may be time to set healthy boundaries for yourself -See my article: Setting Emotional Boundaries in Relationships

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  • What Makes a Healthy Relationship?
Stephanie Camins

What Is Resiliency?

A 12 Step Plan to Increase your Own Resilience When Life becomes Overwhelming

Author: Stephanie Camins - MA, LPC

Resilience is referred to often in emotional wellness circles but typically without adequately describing the importance of having or attaining this quality. Any challenging life circumstance that creates a flood of emotion and a perceived loss of control can challenge our ability to cope. Resilience is the human ability to rebuild or come back from difficult situations.

reslience 1

We all cope in some way to extraordinary life events. The positive psychology movement has long focused on the skills people use to navigate major life events. Sometimes negative events such as loss and sometimes positive events such as marriage or a promotion can challenge our ability to cope.

What’s the point of this movement? Why is this important?

The answer lies in the extraordinary number of people who cope in self-destructive ways, ruining relationships and sabotaging anything good in their lives.

Resilience theory states that we all have the ability to cultivate these positive characteristics and traits. Building resilience is a skill set involving thoughts, behaviors and actions which can be learned. It is an important component of PTSD Recovery, as well as, recovering from depression and anxiety. With these skills in place you not only manage the distress caused by PTSD or other major life events, but also inoculate yourself from the adverse effects of negative life events in the future.

Resilient People Display the Ability to:

resilience 2
  • set and move toward realistic goals
  • ​have an ability to look long term
  • accept change as part of life
  • ​engage in active decision making
  • ​engage in self-discovery
  • ​communicate and problem solve
  • actively learn new things
  • ​have an optimistic outlook
  • ​have a realistic perspective of themselves and the world around them
  • ​accept and manage the presence of strong feelings
  • be flexible
  • ​have a positive view of self
  • ​actively engage in self-care
  • build connections with others

As you begin your journey down this road to resilience, focus on your own strengths. Remember what has worked well for you in the past. Who did you reach out to? What activities did you incorporate to reduce stress and anxiety? How have you overcome obstacles in the past? What gave you hope and purpose? Use the list below to develop and execute your own personal plan. The Road Map to Resilience is a task list to increase resiliency. Take your time focusing on each step. It will be helpful as you move through this process to create a journal to keep track of your emotions, thoughts and the actions you take.

Road Map to Resilience – A 12 Step Plan

reslilience 3
  1. Develop Caring and supportive relationships that are filled with love, trust, encouragement and reassurance.
  2. Manage your feelings You will feel strong emotions. Give yourself space to feel them. You can regulate emotions by focusing on positive emotions, such as, hope, courage, and happiness and decreasing the focus on negative emotions, such as anxiety, depression, frustration, anger, and resentment. To decrease these uncomfortable emotions, it’s important to remember to give yourself permission to feel these feelings, get support when needed and then shift your focus. Denying feelings only intensifies your reaction. Feel and release is a good rule of thumb here.
  3. Build on your strengths Remember to celebrate small achievements.
  4. Have positive expectations and expect things to turn out for the best. Visualize what you want rather than focusing on a negative outlook. Reframe negatives to positives, look for the silver lining in situations, others and yourself. Difficult life events happen. What lessons can you learn from adversity? How can you help others in a similar circumstance?
  5. Practice positive self-talk rather than engaging in self-sabotaging thoughts.
  6. Engage in activities which increase self-confidence including hobbies, personal development and work projects. Do what you love, what you’re good at and take action daily.
  7. ​Increase positive physical behaviors such as exercise, healthy eating, and good sleep habits. Develop regular routines.
  8. Create meaning and purpose
  9. Set SMART goals to increase and enhance your sense of self-control, mastery and competence, break tasks down to achievable parts, prepare and plan for setbacks, commit to hard work. Identify one thing you can accomplish today in the direction of your goal.
  10. Be flexible Create a list of alternative thoughts, feelings and actions by looking at things from different or opposing perspectives. You may need to shift your goals or direction in your life as a result of events that arise in life. Focus on the road in front of you, and adapt.
  11. Create a social support system Seek and accept help, access community resources, volunteer in your community, work toward positive communication and problem solving with those around you, actively engage in a social network, share your feelings with someone you trust.
  12. Forgive others and yourself

Following this road map, you will be able to identify not only your own personal map but also what your roadblocks are. This process involves deep emotional work and may require the assistance of a professional counselor. Life is a journey! Embrace your strengths!

Resolutions or Life Goals 2017?

Author: Stephanie Camins - MA, LPC

2016 is now in the history books and 2017 in well under way! - It's a great time to reflect on what we have accomplished in the last year and what we want to achieve in the coming year. I know many people are put off by the idea of New Year’s resolutions. The notion that you will “resolve” to make some giant life change, a change you’ve resolved to make for years, can seem like a set up for failure. Countless times I’ve heard from the very people who come to me for help getting their lives back on track, “I don’t believe in making New Year’s resolutions.” To this I reply, how do you propose to get your life back on track without setting goals. The New Year is a perfect time to reflect on self-development and create an effective plan for achievement in the next year.

Time to Plan Your Personal Goals

As those around me know, I’m an avid “New Year’s Resolutioner”. I’ve been writing and tracking my resolutions since 2009. I have 8 years of resolutions I keep in my daily planner. They are a reminder of where I was, where I am now and where I’d like to go next. I use this annual exercise to plan my personal goals for the coming year. I write them down and sometimes share them with others. This helps hold me personally accountable for my own achievements. When writing these resolutions or goals it’s important to keep in mind goal setting activities, and use a goal planner to guide you toward higher achievement over the coming year.

Common resolutions include wellness, emotional health, personal financial planning, weight loss motivation, exercise motivation, better health, self-acceptance, achieve fitness, have a positive attitude, or simply improve yourself. Good New Year’s resolutions are simple and measurable. The main reason goals fail is that they are ill defined, too vague, and have no way to measure success. The best New Year’s resolutions or life goals for 2017 as we will call them are clearly defined, broken down into achievable tasks, and have a measured outcome for success.

You will find all sorts of articles and strategies on making effective New Year’s resolutions this month. This has worked best for me and I encourage you to follow my simple system to define and measure your progress toward achieving your goals this year. I divide my goals into four categories:

  • Better health
  • Work goals
  • Relationship resolutions
  • Personal financial planning

I’ve always used these same four categories as they seem to cover all the growth areas I like to focus on. For each category, I write simple, measurable activities I can achieve and check off throughout the year. Small actionable items are achievable steps to a larger goal. Experiencing the success of accomplishing these tasks increases your energy and motivation to work toward your bigger goal. For example, under better health you may want to include a wellness plan. To make this specific you will elaborate tasks to accomplish wellness such as exercise 3 times per week, participate in four races this year, or follow clean eating recipes 4 times per week. For relationship resolutions you may include, game night once a week with the family, Sunday dinner and movie, or meeting a friend for coffee once a month. The key here is a small task that can be accomplished in short time frames with a defined frequency. Use this recipe for each category.

How to Get Motivated?

A challenge in achieving New Year’s resolutions is maintaining motivation over the span of a year. Once you’ve established clearly defined, measurable, actionable goals the question becomes, how to motivate yourself for the long haul. Plan for periods of no motivation. Experiencing episodic lack of motivation is to be expected. With well-defined goals, both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is inherent. As you achieve each small success, you will increase your own self-empowerment and you will begin to get positive feedback from those around you who will notice the changes you are accomplishing. Happy New Year! and Happy New You!

See my Reading Recommendations

How to Control Anxiety - 10 Tools for Managing Stress

Author: Stephanie Camins - MA, LPC

How many times have you heard the phrases chill out, find your happy place, let it go, it could be worse, or seen workshops for stress management or anger management. We are flooded with information on how we should manage our feelings of stress, anxiety, panic, fear, depression and anger. All of these messages can be overwhelming and confusing. This tool box for managing stress gives you 10 straight forward steps to resolve these difficult feelings, overcome anxiety and increase satisfaction in your life.how to control anxiety

Use Your Mind to change your negative thinking

 1.  Stop focusing on negatives and start focusing on positives.

2.  Thought Stopping – To disrupt the chain of negative thoughts in your mind use a distraction, say out loud “stop” or say “stop” and snap a rubber band on your wrist.

3.  Use positive self- statements to replace the negatives:

-“I do the best I can.”

-“I am satisfied with who I am.”

-“I’m in control of my life.”

Use your body to reduce physical agitation

4.  Deep Breathing

-“Belly Breathing”- lay on your back putting one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Take a deep breath in until the hand on your belly rises. You may need to practice moving the air past your chest all the way to your diaphragm. If only the hand over your chest rises you are not breathing deeply enough.

-“7-2-7 Breathing” – Inhale for 7 seconds, hold your breath for 2 seconds, exhale for 7 seconds.

5.  Visualization – Close your eyes and imagine a place that you are safe, calm and content. Include all five senses in your visualization. What do you see, smell, hear, feel and taste.

6.  Progressive Muscle Relaxation – As you are lying down, focus on each muscle group starting at your feet and moving progressively up to your face. Tense and relax each muscle group for 7 seconds. Hold the tension for 7 seconds then relax the muscle group for 7 seconds. Move up to the next muscle group and the next until you’ve completed each muscle group.

7.  Focal Meditation – Choose an object such as a lit candle, a tree, or a stream. It helps if the object has some inherent movement. Set a timer and focus on the movement of the object for 5 minutes. Let any thoughts that enter your mind pass through as you focus only on the movement of the object.

8.  Physical Activity – Walk, Stretch, Dance, etc.

9.  Biofeedback  – Using a heart rate monitor such a fit bit, vivo, etc., in times of stress when you notice your heart rate is elevated above what is normal for you; take deep breaths until the number reaches your normal

10.  Schedule Downtime – Allow no less than 15 minutes in your schedule every day for relaxation. That can include reading, soaking in the tub, drawing, sitting in the sunshine. NO screen time.

We all agree that stress, anxiety, depression and anger are a part of life. However, if ongoing, these emotional states have a detrimental impact on our emotional and physical health. It takes a commitment of time and effort to learn and incorporate these coping skills into our daily lives to head off the consequences of lingering and long term negative emotions. Practicing these skills daily will improve your mood, your relationships and your overall health.

Setting Emotional Boundaries in Relationships

Author: Stephanie Camins - MA, LPC

Setting good personal boundaries is critical to creating healthy relationships, increasing self- esteem and reducing stress, anxiety and depression. Boundaries protect your personal self by setting a clear line between what is me and what is not me. A lack of boundaries opens the door for others to determine your thoughts, feelings, and needs. Defining boundaries is a process of determining what behavior you will accept from others and what you will not.

Boundaries include physical boundaries, as well as, emotional boundaries. Physical boundaries include your body, personal space, and privacy. Violations include standing too close, inappropriate touching, even looking through your personal files or your phone. Emotional boundaries involve separating your feelings from another’s feelings. Violations include, taking responsibility for another’s feelings, letting another’s feelings dictate your own, sacrificing your own needs to please another, blaming others for your problems, and accepting responsibility for theirs. Strong boundaries protect your self- esteem and your identity as an individual with the right to make your own choices.

Emotional Boundaries

Boundaries are your own invisible force field and you are in charge of protecting it. As important as this may sound, most of us have a difficult time setting healthy boundaries consistently. At times it is difficult to identify when our boundaries are being crossed. We may even fear the consequences to our relationships if we set them.

To identify when your boundaries are being crossed, stay tuned into your feelings. Red flags include, discomfort, resentment, stress, anxiety, guilt and fear. These feelings stem from feeling taken advantage of or not feeling appreciated. Think about the people who you feel this way around. Do the following statements ring true: I can’t make my own decisions, I can’t ask for what I need, I can’t say no, I feel criticized, I feel responsible for their feelings, I seem to take on their moods, and I am often nervous, anxious or resentful around them.

Unhealthy boundaries are often characterized by a weak sense of your own identity and your own feelings of disempowerment in decision making in your own life. This leads you down the road to relying on your partner for happiness and decision making responsibilities thereby losing important parts of your own identity. An inability to set boundaries also stems from fear; fear of abandonment or losing the relationship, fear of being judged or fear of hurting others feelings.  I have found  The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Dr. Patricia Evans helpful in identifying broken boundaries.

relationship boundaries broken

Our lessons about boundaries begin early in our lives, first in our families and then in our peer groups. These early boundaries are internalized as our way of asserting our own needs and wants, as well as, in taking responsibility for others needs and wants. How comfortable we are standing up for ourselves, verbalizing our feelings and expressing our needs starts very early in our development.   Steps to build better boundaries begin with knowing and understanding what your own limits are. Who I am, what I am responsible for and what I am not responsible for. I am responsible for my happiness, my behavior, my choices, my feelings. I am not responsible for others happiness, other’s behaviors, other’s choices, and other’s feelings.

Emotional Boundaries and Boundary Traps

Emotional boundaries fall into the categories of time, emotions, energy and values. Be aware of boundary traps in relationships. The following scenarios may seem familiar. Start by recognizing which boundary traps you commonly fall in.

  1. I am nobody if I’m not in a relationship. My identity comes from my partner and I will do anything to make this person happy.
  2. This is better than the last relationship I was in.
  3. I spend all my time involved in my partner’s goals and activities. There just isn’t enough time left to do what I want to do.
  4. My partner would be lost without me.
  5. If I just give it more time, the relationship will get better.
  6. Most of the time the relationship is great…Ok well occasionally it is and that’s enough for me.

Setting Emotional Boundaries

Make a commitment to yourself to put your own identity, needs, feelings and goals first. Healthy emotional boundaries come from believing that you are OK just the way you are. Commit to letting go of fixing others, taking responsibility for the outcomes of others choices, saving or rescuing others, needing to be needed, changing yourself to be liked, or depending on others approval.

Make a list of boundaries you would like to strengthen. Write them down. Visualize yourself setting them and finally, assertively communicate with others what your boundaries are and when they’ve crossed them. Remember, this is a process. Start with a small, non-threatening boundary and experience success before taking on more challenging boundaries.

Boundaries to start with:

  1. Say no – to tasks you don’t want to do or don’t have time to do.
  2. Say yes – to help.
  3. Say thank you with no apology, regret or shame.
  4. Ask for help.
  5. Delegate tasks.
  6. Protect your time – don’t overcommit.
  7. Ask for space – we all need our own time.
  8. Speak up if you feel uncomfortable with how someone is treating you or your needs are being infringed upon.
  9. Honor what is important to you by choosing to put yourself first.
  10. Drop the guilt and responsibility for others.
  11. Share personal information gradually and in a mutual way (give and take).

relationship boundaries healthy

If you are shifting the dynamic in the relationship you may feel resistance from the other person. This is normal and OK. Simply stick to your guns and continue to communicate your needs. Use the ”broken record technique” and repeat the same statement as many times as you need. Healthy relationships are a balance of give and take. In a healthy relationship you feel calm, safe, supported, respected, taken care of, and unconditionally accepted. You are forgiven without past offenses being brought up repeatedly, seeming acts of revenge or passive aggressive behaviors from the other person. You are free to be who you are and encouraged to be your best self.

Good boundaries are a sign of emotional health, self-respect and strength. We teach people how to treat us. Set high standards for those you surround yourself with. Expect to be treated in the same loving way you treat them. You will soon find yourself surrounded by those who respect you, care about your needs and your feelings and treat you with kindness.  My favorite book that I often refer clients to for positive relationship building is  The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.

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Boundaries in Relationships

  • Why do People Abuse Relationship Boundaries?
  • Setting Emotional Boundaries in Relationships
  • What Makes a Healthy Relationship?
Stephanie Camins
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10 Days To Reduce Stress and Increase Happiness

Author: Stephanie Camins - MA, LPC

People ask me all the time, what is the #1 problem I see in my counseling practice. I would extend this answer to, not only my clients, but my friends, my family and even myself. Hands down, the answer is STRESS!  As a culture, we are overwhelmed and over- stressed. The causes are many, but the foundation is the same; too much to do and not enough time to do it. Sounding familiar?  I’d like to introduce you to 10 easy steps to reduce your stress and live a happier life.

We live in a fast paced, achievement focused society. Our worth is determined by how much we achieve and how fast we accomplish these achievements.  When we get there, we are expected to go even further and in fact questioned as to why we aren’t already there. Then, when we are nearing the end of our proverbial rope, some well-meaning person, be it our friends, family, coworkers, boss or even stranger tells us to chill out, relax, enjoy life, find your happy place… (Insert ensuing explosion here!)

The expectations we put on ourselves or that others put on us snuff out any time or energy we have for this elusive “happy place”.  We stress out about money, health, kids, parents, spouses, work, bosses, coworkers, the endless to-do list. Some of these things are real and some are irrational.  This is when it’s essential to shift your focus from stress overload to a calmer state of mind.  I’m going to show you how to put the brakes on anxious, negative thinking and switch gears.

STOP Technique
Let’s start with the simple STOP technique.  STOP stands for Start To Observe Positives.  First,  you need to literally, STOP.  When a negative thought pops into your mind, say out loud, STOP.  Picture in your head the red octagon shape with the white letters you learned to read when you were a toddler.

STOPUse this as your visual cue to STOP thinking negatively. 

The next step is Start To Observe Positives. Look at each situation and find something positive. It can be a lesson you learned, a comical observation, a new way of understanding another person, or even the all-powerful, ”well, I’ll never have to do that again”. Learning to consciously shift your thinking from negative to positive is a huge step. You’ve been thinking a certain way for many years. Be consistent with this new way of thinking. Think of it like learning a new language. Just as it takes consistent repetition and practice over time to perfect a new language, this will also require practice!

Here are 10 simple, easy steps to reinforce positive thinking.  Break this down into one a day for ten days:
Day 1.   Take deep breaths – set an hourly alarm on your phone and take ten deep breaths each time it goes off
Day 2.   Say please and thank you (to as many people as you can)
Day 3.   Smile (A LOT and to as many people as you can)
Day 4.   Tell 2 people something you appreciate about them
Day 5.   Write 5 positive intentions for your day on a sticky note and carry it in your pocket
Day 6.   Visualize yourself accomplishing a goal
Day 7.   Get physical (walk, bike, jog, stretch, skip)
Day 8.   Set up a “coffee date” with someone (increase your social time)
Day 9.   Take 15 minutes for yourself (read, walk, meditate, take a bath, have a cup of tea, listen to music…)
Day 10. Write 5 positive things that happened today

Once you’ve reached your 10 day mark, congratulate yourself on a job well done!  Evaluate which of these tasks were easy and which were more difficult.  Each of these tasks plays an independent and integral role in your road to greater happiness. These 10 steps,  done in combination, and repeated over time, will change your life!