Grief — The Other Pandemic

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COVID19 is not the only pandemic we are currently experiencing. There is also a pandemic of grief, and it is not only because we are grieving the deaths of those we love, but also because we are grieving all the other losses we’ve experienced as well. Additionally, COVID has greatly complicated our grief processes.

Understanding Grief

When we think of grief, we think about mourning the deaths of people we love. During our grief process, we are faced with accepting the reality of losing that person, which can be especially challenging if their death was sudden or unexpected. We’re also flooded with a variety of emotions that can be very intense and confusing. You might feel a strange combination of sadness, anger, or even fear. Grief is experienced differently by different people, but working through that thunderstorm of emotions is necessary for all of us.

Sometimes we try to avoid dealing with our emotions when we lose someone. We might just bottle up our feelings and try to ignore them. We might believe that we need to keep it together so we can be strong for everyone else. We might be uncomfortable crying or showing emotion in front of others. Or we might be in a crisis situation where it would be unsafe to be emotional — like a soldier in a combat zone or a nurse or doctor who needs to be able to keep treating other patients. Regardless of the reason, when we avoid dealing with our grief, it is called inhibited grief.

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The problem with this is that grief eventually demands that we deal with it, even if it is years later. Inhibiting our grief is a temporary fix. Just because we bottle it up and ignore it does not mean that it goes away. Unresolved grief lives within us and will eventually come pouring out. This can be confusing and might make you wonder why you are suddenly so emotional about something that happened a long time ago. When this happens, it is called delayed grief.

There are times when we are not able to work through our grief and all the assorted emotions and adjustments that it requires. It feels like we get “stuck” in our grief, like we can’t seem to get past it and move forward. Some people feel too emotionally overwhelmed to go to work or school. Some struggle with their marriages and other relationships. Some try to cope in really dangerous and unhealthy ways. And others may even think about ending their own lives. This is called complicated grief.

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It’s important to also understand that grief is not just about death. We can go through a grieving process anytime we experience a significant loss. We grieve divorces and break-ups, the loss of a job or a home we loved, loss of our driving privileges, or leaving behind our hometown when we move away. It’s natural for us to grieve when we lose things that are dear or important to us.

Current Events and the Pandemic of Grief

COVID19 not only created grief but also complicated it. It’s difficult enough to wrap our minds around the number of lives lost, but let’s also consider that, for each person who died, there is usually at least one person left behind to grieve. Some who died left behind dozens of mourners. If we were to do the math on this, we would clearly see that there is a staggering number of grieving people in our world right now.

But grief isn’t just limited to lives lost to COVID. Everyday, people die of heart attacks, cancer, and strokes, as well as in car crashes, freak accidents, overdoses, and suicides; and their loved ones mourn for them as well. But this isn’t all. As a global community, we are also dealing with terrorism, war, gang violence, racism and mass shootings. A condominium collapses, leaving a community to mourn multiple losses. Shots are fired in a high school, leaving a community in shock and grappling with traumatic grief. Tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, and wildfires are claiming both lives and homes and leaving behind destruction … and grief.

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During the COVID19 pandemic, many people lost their jobs, their homes, and their financial stability. They lost family businesses that had been in operation for generations. They lost opportunities for major celebrations like weddings and graduations. And they lost opportunities to be present with their loved ones and say their goodbyes as they died in hospitals and nursing homes, separated from their families. COVID restrictions also limited their ability to have public funerals where they would have received the social and emotional support they needed — all of this greatly complicated their grief.

How This Contributed to Our Conflict and Division

Everyone lost something during the COVID19 pandemic, even if it were just the freedom to go where we wanted to go and do what we wanted to do. We all had to do things differently — teachers had to learn how to teach virtually, some of us had to adjust to working from home (with spouses and kids and critters), and we all had to wear masks whether we agreed with the rule or not. Everything was suddenly different, which was stressful and confusing for us all. People panicked and hoarded toilet paper. Kids and teens couldn’t see their friends in person. Workplaces had to swiftly adapt. Borders were closed between countries. Non-essential businesses were closed. Vacations ceased. And no one knew what was going to happen next.

This swirling environment of change, fear, and stress, combined with the heartbreak of multiple losses, overwhelmed our ability to work through our grief. It is my professional opinion that our society, as a whole, is struggling with complicated grief. We had not worked through the grief of one loss before another occurred — and another and another.

When we couldn’t be there, exhausted medical professionals stood beside the bedsides of our loved ones as they died. They saw so much death, and as humans, they feelings about it. But they had to keep going — they couldn’t stop and deal with emotions. They have inhibited a vast amount of grief for the patients they lost.

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Because we all lost something, the emotions of grief came upon us all — denial, fear, anger, bargaining, depression. Some were able to work through their grief and come to a place of acceptance. Others were not. These turned on each other, unleashing a flood of anger that has resulted in hostility and division. When we are emotionally overwhelmed, we have very little patience or tolerance. And when we are exhausted, we are easily irritated. When we bottle up our feelings, they often morph into anger. And anger is always searching for a target.

All the events going on in our world left many of us feeling uncertain and fearful. We looked to leaders we trusted for guidance and, when it came, we latched onto it for dear life. Being already emotionally overwhelmed, we began to lose patience with those who disagreed with us, and they quickly became the target for our anger.

How to Turn This Around

It’s time that we stop the madness. We have to grieve, but we don’t have to hate each other — and people who disagree do not have to be enemies. It is a perilous thing indeed, when we choose hatred. Voice your concerns, but do it with love and compassion. Debate your differences of opinion, but do it with respect.

  1. We all need to work through our grief. This will mean accepting the reality of what we lost, processing the pain of that loss, adjusting to a world without that person or thing, and finding a way to move on. If you get stuck in your grief, ask for help.
  2. Help others with their grief. They may need someone to listen or a shoulder to cry on. Provide that support. The sooner we can begin to heal as individuals, the sooner our society will begin to heal as well.
  3. When you begin to feel frustrated with others, remind yourself that you might not know what it’s like to walk in their shoes. You might have no idea about their struggles or losses. Maybe they act the way they do because they need to heal. At least offer them the benefit of the doubt.

How to Be a Safe Space for Someone

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Have you noticed that people are brimming over with anger lately? One of the reasons for this is because we’ve bottled up too much emotion. Instead of dealing with our emotions, we’ve developed a tendency to just stuff them away. We bite our tongues, choke back tears, stifle sobs, and try to suppress every outward show of emotion because we want to be “strong.”

The problem is that all those pent up emotions just keep accumulating. And we can only bottle things up until our bottles get full. And then one day, without much provocation, our bottle overflows — often in the form of an angry outburst.

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But let’s back up — why are we holding everything in? Is it because we think we’ll seem weak if we cry or admit that we’re struggling? Is it because we are afraid people will think we’re dramatic? Is it because we don’t know who we can trust? Is it because we think we should just be able to handle it? Are we afraid we’ll be judged? Yes. It’s all of these.

So let’s become part of the solution. Let’s revisit the lost art of human connection, deep conversations, and bonding. Everyone needs a safe space to share what’s on their hearts and, unfortunately, this isn’t easy to find. Here are 7 ways you can help heal our society, one hurting heart at a time, simply by becoming a safe space for others.

#1) Connect with People — Start by just noticing people. Strike up conversations at work, at home, on the bus, in a hospital waiting room, wherever you encounter other people. Don’t be creepy about it — just make some good old-fashioned small talk. Ask the cashier if they’ve had a busy day. Ask the waitress what she recommends on the menu. Roll your window down and tell your neighbor their new landscaping looks really nice! Pop in your co-worker’s office just to say hi. Smile and tell someone it’s fine if they want the seat next to you. And it’s ok to talk about the weather. Amid a downpour, I love to jokingly ask others if they think it will rain. AVOID striking up random conversations about politics or controversial issues — it’s better to start with neutral topics. Smile a lot and throw in some humor when possible. Try not to come across fake or creepy. Just be genuine and pleasant. And it’s ok to keep it brief — pressuring someone to talk too long can be awkward and they will avoid you in the future. But the more brief encounters you have, the more comfortable the person will become with you.

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#2) Ask People How They are Doing — While this seems overdone and cliqued, it’s very effective. The trick is to ask the question like you mean it. Ask with sincerity, focus on the person, and wait for their answer. Some people will immediately begin to open up and talk, while others are more guarded and might avoid eye contact. It’s ok to nudge, but don’t push too hard. If they tell you anything personal, build on that next time you see them: “Hey, how’s your daughter doing now?” “Are you feeling any better? You had a bad cold last time I saw you.” “Has this been a better work week for you?”

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#3) Let Others Know You Care — Circling back around to previous conversations (as I described above) helps people know that you care. So does simple kindness. Let your facial expressions and body language convey unconditional positive regard. (In other words, let people know you still care about them, even when they’re not at their best or even if they’ve made a huge mistake.) Don’t act like taking time to talk is inconveniencing you. Give them your undivided attention when possible. And if someone seems to be struggling, tell them that you’re willing to listen if they ever need to talk. One day, I apologized to my boss for venting and she replied, “It’s ok. I’m a safe space for you.” That really resonated with me. In that simple statement, she let me know that it was ok to have feelings, that there was no judgment, and that I could trust her to be confidential. Which leads me to my next point….

#4) Keep it Confidential — Don’t betray people by repeating things they say to you. People are hesitant to open up in the first place, often because someone they trusted in the past was a blabbermouth. If you want to be part of the solution, be trustworthy. If you tell someone you won’t repeat what they say, don’t. Even if they didn’t specifically tell you not to repeat it, use some common sense and discretion. Don’t gossip, don’t tattle, and don’t throw anyone under the bus.

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#5) Don’t Give Advice — It’s generally best not to tell other people what to do. Even if they come to you trying to figure out what to do about a certain situation, it’s better for you to just let them talk through their options until they arrive at their own decision. People don’t generally go looking for someone to tell them what to do — we go looking for someone who will just let us talk through the pros and cons, the questions, the scenarios, the feelings. If they do persist in asking, “What do you think I should do?” respond with: “What are you hoping I will say?” Their answer to that question might guide them to their conclusion about their situation.

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#6) Be a Good Listener — Sadly, good listeners are hard to find. Being an active listener isn’t difficult, but it does take conscious effort. We are so easily distracted and we’re usually busy multi-tasking. Active listening just simply entails giving someone your full attention, making eye contact, focusing on what they’re saying and trying to understand. Nod your head, lean toward the person, don’t cross your arms, and try not to let your attention stray. Give them your full attention and focus. Don’t interrupt — let them say what they need to say. Remember, sometimes we all just need to vent and get things off our chests.

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#7) Show Compassion Instead of Judgment — Humans all around you are bottling up their emotions because they don’t know who it’s safe to talk to. We’re all afraid of being judged, and this is a justifiable concern since there is so much judgment in our society. In whatever way comes natural for you, let the other person know that you are not going to judge them. Let them see compassion in your eyes and hear it in your tone of voice.

Our world needs to heal. We have a lot to process and we can only do it in safe spaces. A few moments spent being a safe space for someone could prevent an angry blowup at a family dinner table, salvage someone’s career, or even save a life. Thank you for learning to be a safe space for others.

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How to Prevent Your Emotions From Ruining Your Career

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There are two ways that your emotions can derail your career track. One way is to let your emotions run amuck in your work life — the other way is to try to suppress them all. Emotions are a natural part of the human existence, even when we are at work. But many a career has been shipwrecked by unbridled emotions. How can you prevent this from happening to you? Below are 12 tips.

#1) Learn Appropriate Ways to Express What You Feel — In all areas of your life, even when you’re at work, you are a human being and you will have emotional reactions to certain things from time to time. This is normal. You may have received misguided advice in the past that there is no place for emotions in your work life. But we don’t have the ability to simply flip a switch and turn our emotions off. What we can do is learn how to better process and express them. Research has shown that we are more innovative and productive when we work in an environment where it is safe to express our fears, concerns, and other emotions. However, this does not mean that we should allow powerful emotions to go unchecked in the workplace. How we express what we feel within a work place setting is key — communication should always be respectful, even when we’re frustrated.

#2) Realize That You Can Sometimes Choose Your Emotions — Many people think that they have no control over what they feel. But this isn’t always true. The emotions we feel are generated by our thoughts first. How we choose to look at something determines how we feel about it. When we are able to shrug something off and let it go, we are also able to avoid a strong emotional reaction. In other words, we don’t have to have feelings about everything. We can pick our battles. We can choose not to take offense at certain things by 1) assuming positive intent on the other person’s part, 2) by offering a bit of grace (maybe by understanding where they’re coming from), or 3) by chalking it up to the basic nature of the other person (perhaps they’re always a bit too blunt?). But don’t just pretend to let it go while inwardly seething — either truly let it go or, if that’s not possible, address it respectfully once you’ve calmed down enough to communicate professionally.

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#3) Be Self-Aware — Be mindful that your own mood, stress level, personal circumstances, and health affect your emotional reactions to things. When you don’t feel well physically or are stressed to the max, it is more likely that you may easily become emotionally overwhelmed. If you’ve not had enough sleep or you haven’t taken time to eat, you will find that it is more difficult to keep your emotions in check (you might be “hangry”). If you want to perform well at work, it’s vitally important that you take care of yourself so that you will be at your best. None of us want the last-straw meltdown to occur at work.

#4) Maintain a Healthy Work/Life Balance — We’ve all been told not to drag our personal problems into our work, and likewise, not to bring our work home with us. It is ideal to try to maintain a distinction between your personal life and your professional life. But in all reality, there will be times when this line will be blurred. Just do the best you can with it. Create some healthy boundaries for yourself. And understand that you have a limited amount of mental and emotional energy each day. If you spend all your emotional energy being upset about work-related situations, you may not have any emotional energy left for your family when you get home.

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#5) Remember QTIP: Quit Taking it Personal — In any social setting, including a workplace environment, there will be differences of opinion. There will be times when someone disagrees with you. There will be times when someone shirks their duties and tasks get dumped on you. There will be times when a policy changes and you don’t like it. Perhaps someone points out that you made an error. Or maybe someone offered you some constructive criticism. How you react emotionally to all of these things depends on whether or not you took it as a personal attack. Give pause long enough to consider that perhaps that wasn’t the case at all. And if a colleague seems to be in a foul mood, don’t automatically assume they are upset with you.

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#6) Limit the Amount of Time You Hold Onto Negative Emotions — In addition to sometimes being able to choose whether or not you get upset about something, you can also choose how long you stay upset. Think back to a time when you were perturbed about a work-related issue — how much time did you spend thinking about it, venting about it, ruminating on it, rehashing it in your mind? This probably affected your productivity, creativity, and ability to get things accomplished. In other words, it became a roadblock for you. If this happens often, it will hinder your ability to advance in your career. When you become upset, do what you can to resolve it as quickly as possible so that you can move past it. Intentionally get your mind on something else. Don’t nurse hurt feelings or grudges — nothing good will come from this.

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#7) Give Yourself a Safe Space for Emotional Release — Again, it’s not feasible to try to suck up all your feelings. Bottling everything up can lead to an accumulation of suppressed anger and frustration that could result in a blow-up that you might regret. You need a safe space and a healthy way to work through what you feel. Take a break, take a walk, pause for lunch, call a friend, take some deep breaths. Let the tears fall, if necessary. Perhaps talking with your supervisor or a trusted colleague would help — just be mindful of the difference in sharing and over-sharing. Do whatever helps you to sort yourself out and get your head back in the game. If you’re not comfortable with processing your emotions during work hours, that’s fine — just make sure that you give yourself a space to do so later on.

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#8) Don’t Make Hasty Retorts — One of the deadliest career killers is a quick temper. When angry, we often say and do things that we regret later. The key is to take a few seconds to carefully choose your words. Pause. Take a breath. Think about what you need to communicate. What is the goal here? If you want to make things worse, go ahead and unleash that string of expletives and accusations that are on the tip of your tongue. But if you want to make things better, choose your words more carefully. Communicate with respect and assertiveness (not aggression). Tackle issues, not people. And if you’re responding via email, always re-read what you wrote before you send it. Read it from the perspective of the recipient — is this really what you want to convey?

#9) Don’t Make Emotional Decisions — Powerful emotions sometimes cloud our ability to make good logical decisions. Don’t allow your anger or frustration to lead you to make hasty decisions that you might later regret. Instead, give yourself time to calm down first. Once you’ve de-escalated, if you still want to resign or back out of something, you still can.

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#10) Don’t Catch Other People’s Bad Attitudes — People emit either positive or negative energy. Catching someone else’s positive energy can be a great thing — for example, we’ve all gotten excited about something because someone else’s enthusiasm was simply irresistible. But we’ve also all fallen prey to that negative energy that can suck the soul right out of a room when it walks through the door. You will need to make a conscious effort to guard your own energy. Just because someone else is in a crabby mood doesn’t mean that you have to join them in their misery. Negative moods and rudeness can be as contagious as COVID — stop the spread!

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#11) Learn to Move On — When a problem gets resolved, let it be. Bury the hatchet and move on. Don’t keep bringing it up over and over in the future. This will profit you nothing and will keep you stuck in a vicious cycle of unresolved negativity, grudges, distrust, drama, and suspicion. Don’t get bogged down in what’s behind you. If you’re able to resolve it, do so, bury it, and keep your focus on what’s ahead instead of what’s in the past.

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#12) Master the Art of Having Difficult Conversations — Learn to resolve conflict instead of avoiding it. Don’t go around intentionally creating problems, but when one arises that must be dealt with, don’t be afraid to tackle it. Do so with an honest, respectful approach, with the goal being resolution. For additional tips on how to have difficult conversations, follow this link: How To Approach Difficult Conversations – Navigating Life (juliebailey.net)

If you want to succeed or perhaps advance in your career, it’s in your best interest to learn the art of managing your emotions in the workplace. Be emotionally sensitive but also emotionally controlled. This doesn’t mean that you should function like a robot void of any feelings. Not at all! It just means that you have developed the ability to discern what is appropriate to express. And when you do so, it is always in an appropriate, respectful manner. Become the kind of leader who can demonstrate stability, consistency, and calmness, even when under pressure. Develop the art of keeping your cool in stressful situations as much as possible, while also granting yourself the safe space you need to process your feelings. Accept and embrace your emotions, but don’t let them run amuck and destroy your career. Instead, harness your emotional intelligence and utilize it to be sensitive to others and to promote personal and professional growth for yourself and your colleagues.

Mental Fatigue & What You Can Do About It

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Do you ever struggle with “brain fog?” Are you re-reading that same paragraph over and over because you’re having difficulty focusing? If you feel like you just can’t think through something, make a decision, or figure out what to do, you might be experiencing mental fatigue.

Mental fatigue happens when your mind becomes tired. Just like the rest of your physical body, your brain needs energy and sometimes that energy has been depleted. When this happens, you will find it difficult to concentrate or to solve problems that would normally not be challenging for you. You might also find that you feel more stressed and irritable because you feel pressured to complete tasks that your mind simply does not have the energy to handle at the moment.

Mental fatigue can negatively affect your efficiency and productivity. As a further result, it can also negatively impact your emotional and mental health and can lead to burnout. You use your brain for so many tasks every day — it is no wonder that it gets tired. The bad news is that your brainpower is exhaustible; but the good news is that it is also completely renewable.

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There are several factors that can contribute to mental fatigue. Some are biological — perhaps you didn’t get enough good quality sleep or maybe you are experiencing hormonal fluctuations. Perhaps you haven’t eaten. Or perhaps you’re a tad dehydrated. All of these play a role in how much mental energy you have available. Try not to get sucked into the vortex of the societal mindset that you must always push yourself beyond reasonable limits. Instead, embrace the healthier holistic mindset that self-care is essential rather than optional. Not practicing good self-care will lead to mental fatigue. Take care of yourself and don’t ever feel guilty about it.

Another factor that greatly contributes to mental fatigue is cognitive overload — meaning, you’re simply trying to think about too many things at once. You might be great at multi-tasking and mental juggling, but at some point, you might get tired. You might find that having your attention divided between so many things causes you to feel overwhelmed. It may make it more challenging to think through things, make decisions, process information, and keep up with all the tasks at hand. Additionally, worrying about all your unfinished tasks also requires mental energy and will cause your available brainpower to deplete even more quickly.

So what can you do? To tackle the biological factors, just simply take good care of yourself as stated above. Make sleeping well a priority. Eat healthy and have some snacks throughout the day, but try to avoid refined sugar which will lead to an energy crash. Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water. If you’re interested, do an online search to learn about “ultradian rhythms” — your body’s natural cycles which include periods where your performance is at its peak, followed by a short period of rest. It creates a cool wave pattern. You would benefit from learning to pay attention to your waves and rhythms and work with them instead of against them. Do these things so that your brain can be at its physical best.

To tackle the cognitive overload factors, you’ll benefit from getting organized, using time management skills, and prioritizing tasks by simply realizing that sometimes it just isn’t possible to get everything done. What are the most urgent things? Prioritize these. What tasks are important but not urgent? What could be delegated? And what could just be deleted? Look up the Eisenhower Matrix — it’s a really cool guide developed by former President Dwight D. Eisenhower that helps you take a quick glance at your to-do list and make decisions about which items will get your time and attention (since you have a limited quantity of both). There are even apps such as EisenTask that you might find really helpful. Begin to look at each task on your list and either do it, schedule it, delegate it, or delete it.

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Additionally, stop saying “I can’t catch a break,” and just take one. If spending 10 minutes away from all your demands helps you to be more productive and efficient when you return to them, you will not be losing ground. Walk away from everything long enough for a short walk or a power nap and occasionally, for a much-needed day off or vacation. Work some short spurts of exercise into your day — remember when you were a kid and you looked forward to recess? Give yourself an adult recess time.

Compare yourself to a smartphone — if it isn’t working well, you check to see if it has enough battery life. If not, it needs to be recharged. (The same goes for you.) If it has enough charge but is still not working properly, check to see if there are too many apps running at once and slowing it down. If so, close some. (The same goes for you.) Stop trying to live life on low battery — take time to rejuvenate and be refreshed. And stop trying to do too many things at once — prioritize, do the things that are the most important to you, and be ok with letting a few less important things go.

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Peel Off Your Labels

“Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Wouldn’t that be nice if that were true? Unfortunately, words can cut deep and sometimes they don’t heal quickly. You can probably still remember something hurtful that someone said to you or about you many years ago.

You are probably also painfully aware of the labels that have been placed on you. Granted, labels can be positive or negative, but the negative ones are so destructive that I believe it would be better if we just did away with the whole concept of labeling people altogether. We’re not all the same — but we’re all human beings. And we’re all complex. None of us fit neatly into tidy little labels and categories. And yet we hand out labels left and right — ugly, stupid, hopeless, unstable, needy, attention-seeking, loser, idiot, drughead, whore, pompous jerk, narcissist, abomination, felon…. the list goes on and on.

Not only are these labels hurtful, but worse yet, the people we label often believe what we say about them. They may internalize these things. They may begin to look at themselves through the lens of their labels. They may believe they’re stupid. They may believe they’re ugly. They may believe that no one will ever love them because of “how they are.” They may worry that they’ll never amount to anything, that they will never be successful or happy. And they may begin to live out their labels — beautiful people hang their heads in shame and withdraw from social situations because they believe they are ugly. Brilliant people don’t contribute their ideas to a group because they believe they’re stupid. We are disabling our own society by tearing each other down instead of building each other up. We’ve got to turn this around. Where do we start?

First, begin by peeling off the labels that have been placed on you. Just because someone sticks a label on you doesn’t mean you have to keep wearing it around. Peel it off and throw it in the trash! No one else can define who or what you are. You don’t have to believe everything that others say about you.

Make a pact with yourself not to accept judgment from someone you wouldn’t accept advice from. I know this is easier said than done and when someone says something mean, it’s going to hurt your feelings. But you don’t have to get stuck in those feelings — feel them and then let them go. Don’t hold onto them. Don’t give them the chance to destroy you. Peel off the label.

If there are things about yourself that you would like to change, go for it! If there are old labels that you fear might have been accurate, peel them off and start doing things differently. People can change — you can change. Become who you want to be. And in the process of becoming your best self, commit to not labeling others either.

Tips for Managing Stress

This article is written to provide you with tips for managing your stress in healthy ways. Lots of other articles begin by defining stress, but I think it’s a safe bet to assume that you already know what stress is — otherwise, why would you be reading this article?

Instead, let’s start by taking a look at how you’re feeling in regard to your stress. Are you irritable or easily annoyed? Constantly tired — either physically, mentally, or both? Are you having difficulty sleeping well? Do you feel overwhelmed? Are your muscles tense or sore? Are you struggling with headaches, upset stomach, or difficulty focusing? Are you depressed or anxious or unable to relax? Are you snappy with others? Do you feel burned out? Are you experiencing hair loss, acne, or high blood pressure? These are just a handful of examples of how stress can negatively affect us.

So, what can we do about our stress?

Figure Out What Causes Your Stress — There are multitudes of things that can cause us to feel stressed. And these things can be different for different individuals. One of my big stressors is conflict. Another is performance pressure — because I often set standards for myself that are a bit too high. I feel stressed when I feel like I have more to do than I have the time or energy to get done. What makes you feel stressed? Are you comparing yourself to others? Worrying about money? Are you anxious about meeting the endless expectations of others? Is your stress related to pressure to succeed? Are you having trouble keeping up with everything? Try to think specifically about what ramps up your stress level. Look for patterns. Try to fill in this blank: “I hit my highest level of stress when _____________.”

Take Control of Your Stressors — There are many things in life that we are not able to control. However, there are many things that we can change in some way once we’ve realized that they are major sources of stress. For example, if the constant dinging of your notifications on your computer or mobile device cause you to feel overwhelmed, silence them — you will give attention to each of them when you are able. If you are stressed because you waited until the last minute to finish an important assignment, promise yourself that you won’t procrastinate next time — it’s like doing yourself a huge favor! 🙂 If you are stressed by the relentless, fast-paced demands of your life, let a few things go. Give yourself permission to take a break — even a 5 minute break can help you feel re-centered. If there is a person in your life who is the source of a great deal of stress for you, consider approaching the relationship differently, perhaps by not worrying so much about what they think. You might also consider distancing yourself from toxic interactions as much as possible. Whatever or whoever your stressors may be, consider ways to make changes that are within your control. After all, wouldn’t it be better to let something go and be able to relax than to try to do everything but continue to be a frenzied ball of nerves? Reduce and eliminate your stressors when possible. When that’s not possible, do what is within your control to make them manageable.

Other Tips for Managing Your Stress Level — An important trick for managing your stress is to keep your baseline stress level as low as possible. When you are able to do that, you won’t constantly feel like you’re right on the verge of snapping at any moment. The following are some super helpful ways to keep your stress baseline at a lower level:

  • Keep a healthy work/life balance. Life can’t be all about work. And your work can’t be all about your personal life. Separate the two. Try not to drag your personal life into your work and try not to drag your work home with you. Overworking can leave you depleted of both time and energy and add to your stress level.
  • Self-care is a must. If you have a lot of stress to handle, then you need to be at your best in order to handle it as well as possible. This means giving yourself permission to take time for yourself — to relax, to unwind, to go to the doctor, to get a massage, to eat and sleep and laugh. Take care of yourself with the same love and compassion that you would take care of others you love. And don’t feel guilty about it!
  • Find an outlet for your negative energy. You need a way to get frustrations and emotions out instead of keeping them bottled up. This might mean talking or venting or crying. Let the tears out — your stress will flow out with them! Or your preferred outlet might be physical exercise or a creative hobby. Make time for these things. Don’t relegate them to your “spare time” because we all know there is no such thing. Prioritize them as necessary parts of your life for survival.
  • Deep Breathing. Don’t be a skeptic until you’ve tried it — it really does help. Take some slow, deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. (Like smelling the roses and then blowing out the birthday candles.) This instantaneously lowers your blood pressure, slows your heart rate, and helps you feel calmer and more relaxed and self-controlled. It’s almost like a magical reset button. And it’s free! Use it! 🙂
  • Relax your muscles. When you’re stressed, you are holding tension throughout your body. Take a quick second to think about your body from head to toe — a “body scan” — to determine where you’re holding your tension. If your fists are clenched, open them and rest them palm up. Are your jaws locked? Are your neck or shoulders tightened up? Let your muscles relax so that stress can subside.

If you’re struggling with stress, you’re not alone. Avoid the temptation to try to cope in unhealthy ways since this will only create more problems for you in the long run. Use the tips above to cope in healthy ways, and don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help if you feel that you’re unable to cope on your own.

Make Time for Your Wellness

We do a much better job talking about self-care than actually doing it. If asked, we would say that we understand that taking care of ourselves is important. But unfortunately, this isn’t something we always prioritize in the way we actually live out our daily lives.

Our chaotic schedules keep us so busy that sometimes we don’t leave any time for ourselves. Often, we put the needs of others before our own for so long that our own mental and physical health begin to suffer.

Devoting our lives to meeting the needs of others is a noble and compassionate venture. But this doesn’t mean it’s OK to neglect our own needs in the process. Truly, if we don’t take reasonable care of ourselves, we will not be able to continue to take care of anyone else.

Take time — MAKE time — to take care of yourself the way you encourage others to do in their lives. And stop feeling guilty about time you spend resting, relaxing, or unwinding.

If you want your car to continue running as it should, you do the maintenance on it. You change the oil, rotate the tires, and stop for gas. If you drove it hard and didn’t take care of it, it would eventually break down and leave you stranded on the side of the road. The same is true with your body and spirit.

If you want to keep on keeping on, then do the maintenance — get some sleep, take care of your health, and give yourself a much-needed break. Do this and you’ll be able to continue making a positive difference in this world.

Are You a Person Who Can Accept “No?”

We talk a lot about learning to say “no” and being able to set healthy boundaries for ourselves. But are you able to accept “no” from others?

It’s true that learning to say “no” is an important part of guarding your mental health so that you don’t become overwhelmed. Saying “yes” to too many commitments is a quick way to skyrocket your stress level and deplete your energy. However, if we accept that this is important for us, then we must also understand that this is also important for others.

There is a competing philosophy that empowers us to never accept no as an answer, to never give up, and to keep trying until we achieve our goals and get what we want. This philosophy is great in many circumstances. It can inspire us to keep practicing our skills or reaching for our dreams. However, it’s crucial that we are careful not to apply this philosophy to people — people who also have the right to say “no.”

Think of someone you would be able to say “no” to. There are two types of people who might fall into this category: 1) people who are understanding, gracious, and able to accept your answer without responding with anger or a guilt trip, or 2) people whose opinions mean very little to you.

Now think of someone you would struggle to say “no” to. What makes it different? It’s likely that this is either 1) a person whose opinion means very much to you — someone you don’t want to disappoint. OR 2) someone who will not accept no for an answer. This might be someone who makes you feel horrible if you don’t do everything they want. Perhaps you’re afraid that they will hold it against you or do petty things to get back at you. Maybe this is a person who makes you feel that you must always walk on eggshells — and saying “no” would crack those eggshells.

Now let’s put the shoe on the other foot. Let’s say that you ask someone to do something for you or to be a part of a project you’re working on. Are you the kind of person that it’s safe to say “no” to? Do others know that you will understand if they are too stressed or tired or busy to say “yes?” Or would you respond with guilt or pressure or irritation? Which type of person do you want to be?

By all means, learn to set boundaries for yourself and be able to say “no” when necessary. But also remember that others need to do the same.

Prioritizing Peace in Your Life

Prioritizing Peace in Your Life

On a scale of 1 to 10, how high is your stress level lately? If your answer is 6 or over, you may be struggling with worry, anxiety, burnout, or exhaustion, all of which commonly occur when our stress levels remain high for a significant period of time. You may find that sleep is a challenge and that your relationships are strained as well. In general, it may feel like life is just simply overwhelming.

If you want to feel better and be able to manage your stress as well as possible, begin to prioritize peace in your life. The hectic, non-stop pace of our lives leaves very little opportunity for peace. But without peace, we are unable to manage stress long-term.

It may be hard to imagine how you could possibly add one more thing to your busy schedule. But prioritizing peace in your life does not have to be extremely time-consuming. Below are some quick and easy ways to cultivate peace and reduce stress.

Avoid Perfectionism — Always do your best, but learn to accept that your best may not always be perfect. And that is ok. No one can be perfect at everything 100% of the time. Don’t be overly critical of yourself. Avoid the pitfall of thinking that you are either perfect or a complete failure. You wouldn’t judge others like that, so don’t do that to yourself. By giving yourself a break, you’re also giving yourself an opportunity for peace.

Avoid Procrastination — You’re super busy. I get it. But don’t put things off until the last minute if at all possible. We create an enormous amount of stress for ourselves when we procrastinate and then have to approach our deadlines in a frantic frenzy. If you’ve ever done this, you know there is no peace in this. Do yourself a favor — plan ahead, use your time wisely, and then you can trade the panic for some peace.

Take a Moment — When you feel your stress level rising and your emotions swelling, just pause. Give yourself a moment to think and to breathe. Ask yourself how you would like to respond to the situation. Use words you won’t regret. Give yourself permission to excuse yourself for a breather. Get some fresh air, take a few deep breaths, say a prayer, take a drive, take a nap, take a break, have a snack — whatever works for you and helps you maintain your composure.

Change your media — Watch a comedy instead of a violent movie. Listen to an uplifting song instead of a dark one. Watch the news, but don’t overwatch it. Avoid engaging in unnecessary social media arguments — instead, look for social media groups that uplift and inspire you. Be aware of what your spirit is being fed by the books you read, the music you listen to, and the series you watch. Find media that uplifts, inspires, soothes your soul, and brings you peace. But also unplug and give yourself some quiet time occasionally as well.

Sync Yourself with Nature — Nature can soothe our souls and rejuvenate our minds, but it’s easy to be disconnected from nature if we live and work indoors. A trip to the beach or the mountains or the rainforest might be just what you need from time to time. But on a normal day, it can help to just take a few seconds to enjoy some fresh air, the birds in our yard, or the smell of coming rain. Notice the beauty of the sunrise or sunset, pay attention to the trees as new leaves develop in the spring, plant some flowers and watch as they grow and blossom. In these simple things, there is abundant peace and joy.

As you begin to enjoy the benefits of peace, you may want to explore additional healthy lifestyle activities such as yoga, meditation, or massage therapy. Injecting some peace in your life where possible will help you manage your stress, guard your mental health, and feel calmer and more self-controlled.

Photo credit: Donald O. Smith, Illinois Photography

Stop thinking about what you hate…

Stop thinking about what you hate and start thinking more about what you love.

How much time are you spending thinking about the people or things that upset you? Are you obsessively worrying about the things in your life that are problematic? If so, then you are letting the wrong things control your mind, your time, and your life. You need a break from the toxic people who stress you out! But if you keep thinking about them even when you’re away from them, that isn’t really a break. Don’t get caught up in the temptation to dwell on things that upset you. Instead, spend more time thinking about people and things that you love. Decide right now to consciously choose to give more of your thoughts to who and what you love. And positive feelings will follow. 🙂

Your Self-Image Colors Your Perception

Do you tend to assume that people don’t like you? Do you always jump to the conclusion that others are angry with you, even if there is no real reason? Do you worry that they are disappointed in you? Or secretly annoyed by you?

If you tend to constantly worry about what others think of you, the problem might actually be what you think of yourself.

Your self-image is how you see yourself. But it’s also the way that you believe others see you as well, and that may not always be accurate. You may see yourself as a failure and therefore, you believe that other people see you as a failure too. But generally, this is not true.

In reality, most of us tend to be harsher with ourselves than we ever would be with someone else. If you call yourself names, put yourself down, and blame yourself for everything that goes wrong, then your self-esteem is probably low. You may find it difficult to accept a compliment from someone because it goes against what you believe about yourself.

Having a negative self-image of yourself makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to believe that others might actually like you or accept you. This can create problems for you in your relationships with other people because you make negative assumptions about what they think of you. Because of this, your low self-esteem can create a wedge between you and other people.

If you want to be able to enjoy better relationships with others, begin by working on your relationship with yourself. Start with changing the way you talk to yourself. A good rule of thumb is to never say something to yourself that you wouldn’t say to someone else. Stop calling yourself ugly names and start having a little patience with yourself. Being humble does not mean that you need to emotionally abuse yourself.

Having a healthy level of self-esteem does not make you arrogant. It does not mean that you think you are better than anyone else. But it also doesn’t mean that you are inferior to everyone else either. Be as fair and kind and forgiving with yourself as you would be with others. Make peace with yourself. When you have been able to do so, you will find that you are better able to accept compliments, trust others, and feel secure in your relationships.

How To Approach Difficult Conversations

How To Approach Difficult Conversations

Sometimes the most important discussions are also the most difficult. Below are some helpful steps for approaching those conversations.

Step 1: Pick your battles. You will constantly live in drama instead of peace if you make an issue of everything that bothers you. There are times that it’s best to just let things go. But there are other times when something is important enough that it needs to be addressed. Only you can determine which things should be dismissed and which should be discussed. Give some thought to this — don’t let important things go unaddressed but also try not to make mountains out of molehills.

Step 2: Think through the outcome you want. Never approach a difficult conversation with someone without first determining what you hope will be accomplished. If you try to have a difficult conversation that only focuses on the problem, you will come away with even greater frustration. Instead, approach the conversation with a suggested solution in mind.

Step 3: Jot down your concerns ahead of time so that you don’t forget what you want to say. It’s great to also mentally rehearse your words, but if you’re nervous, things may slip your mind when it comes to actually having the conversation. Having something written down can help you feel more prepared and less anxious about the conversation.

Step 4: Call it what it is. Start with a statement like, “I need to have a difficult conversation with you,” or “there is something important that I need to discuss with you and it may be an awkward conversation.” This helps the other person to know that you need their attention and that this is something important to you. Try to say you want to “talk with” them instead of “talk to” them. Try to say it calmly and not with an attitude.

Step 5: Be careful with your tone. People tend to hear your tone more than they hear your words. Don’t initiate a conversation like this when you are highly emotional or you will most likely end up saying things that make it worse instead of better. Have this conversation when you can be genuine and respectful and resist the urge to escalate, even if the other person does. Remember — things generally get better when you have a conversation but worse when you have an argument.

Step 6: Stick to the issue at hand. Don’t let the other person throw you a curveball and get you off the topic that you wanted to discuss. They may try to bring up other things so that they can avoid discussing the problem. If this happens, redirect the conversation back to the main issue and let the other person know that you will agree to discuss the other issues at another time. Don’t attempt to tackle too many issues in one conversation or you may not get anything resolved. If you can resolve one issue, that is progress that you can build on.

Step 7: Stay calm. Hopefully if you keep your cool, the other person will too. However, if they become defensive and make accusations of you in an attempt to shift the blame, remind yourself that you don’t have to take any unreasonable guilt trips. Try not to raise your voice and try to express your feelings in a respectful manner, without calling names or making intentionally hurtful statements. Again, keep in mind what you want the outcome of this conversation to be. Be mindful of what your body language conveys — try to avoid rolling your eyes, huffing, pointing your finger, or waving your arms around. Those things happen in arguments, not conversations.

Step 8: Make sure to listen. Express your concerns but also be willing to listen to what the other person has to say. This may help you better understand where they’re coming from or why they said what they said or did what they did. Don’t interrupt them — give them a fair chance to speak and try to genuinely understand their perspective. It’s ok to calmly ask for the same respect when you are speaking.

Step 9: Clarify. It’s critical that you understand each other and what you are both attempting to communicate. If you’re not sure that you understand something clearly, ask the other person to explain a little further. It’s ok to let them know that you’re uncertain of what they mean. It’s better to ask for clarification than to continue a misunderstanding. On the flipside, make sure that the other person understands what you are trying to say as well. Be willing to put it in other words if necessary and don’t let that ruffle your feathers. If you’re going to all this trouble to have this difficult conversation, then be willing to talk it through. Don’t fall prey to thoughts like, “they should just know.” They don’t just know — this is why you’re having this conversation.

Step 10: End with a plan for the next step. Try to wind up your conversation with an agreement about what will happen next. What will each of you commit to do differently? When can you discuss this again? Make sure to tell the other person that you appreciate their willingness to talk through this issue with you. It’s also ok to let them know that it was difficult for you to initiate this conversation. Being open about this can help them to understand that this is an important matter to you.

Following these steps will help you navigate difficult but necessary conversations that will hopefully lead to positive and lasting change.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

Avoiding Stress Instead of Just Managing It

Avoiding Stress Instead of Just Managing It

by Julie Bailey, LCPC

We talk a lot about managing stress or trying to reduce it. But what if we could just simply avoid some of it to begin with? Below are some suggestions to help you do just that.

Suggestion #1: Start saying “no” sometimes. Part of our stress originates in our overwhelming expectations of ourselves. We create to-do lists that are unrealistically long and then beat ourselves up when we don’t accomplish everything. To make your list more manageable, start saying “no” to a few things. Don’t keep agreeing to take on more than you can reasonably expect yourself to be able to do. This may even mean saying “no” to yourself about some things as well. When your to-do list is more realistic, you can actually avoid the stress you would feel if your list were unrealistically long.

Suggestion #2: Stop expecting perfection from yourself all the time. By all means, always strive to do your best. But also realize that you cannot always function flawlessly. You will make an occasional error or mistake and it is ok. You are human. Try not to think about things in such a black and white manner — just because something isn’t absolutely perfect does not mean that it is an utter failure. You can avoid a lot of stress if you begin to offer yourself a bit of grace and accept that no one, including you, is perfect.

Suggestion #3: Stop comparing yourself to others. We create so much unnecessary stress for ourselves when we guilt ourselves for not being as thin or rich or successful as someone else. Life is not a competition and shouldn’t be treated as such. We are all unique individuals with different talents, abilities, life circumstances, and priorities. Stop making assumptions that everyone else’s life is perfect except yours — because everyone else most certainly does not have it all together. What you see on the outside may not give you the slightest hint about that person’s struggles. If you want to avoid some stress, just be happy for others when good things happen to them and remember that you are not competing with them. Keep score in basketball, not in life.

Suggestion #4: Get organized. If you’re constantly stressing over losing your keys or your phone or your debit card, come up with some sort of organizational plan and make it a routine. Put your keys on a lanyard so they are easier to find inside a purse or bag, and create a designated place to leave your keys. And then make a habit of always putting your keys in that same spot. Organize your papers and your bills so that you know where to look when you need something. Use calendars to keep track of your appointments, when your bills are due, and when birthdays and anniversaries roll around. Avoid the stress of being late because you couldn’t find your keys. Avoid the stress of forgetting your anniversary. Avoid the stress that comes with that late fee. A few minutes spent organizing will be time you will never regret.

Suggestion #5: Stop procrastinating. When we put things off until the last minute, we end up creating a lot of stress for ourselves that we could have avoided. When we’re hurrying and trying to finish things before the deadline, we may lose sleep over it and still not produce a final product that is our best work. Try to change your habits and start working on big projects in advance. This allows you to perform to your highest potential, to have time to pick up a missing ingredient, or to ask questions if there are things you don’t understand about the instructions. Remember how stressful it was to try to finish at the last minute? That is stress that can be completely avoided.

Suggestion #6: Get plenty of sleep. When we don’t get enough sleep, we are not capable of coping with things nearly as well as we could if we were well-rested. Lack of sleep negatively affects our moods, making us more easily irritated and frustrated — and stressed. When we’re tired, tasks seem bigger and more difficult. We don’t have enough physical or mental energy to do everything we need or want to do, which seems to just add to the stress even more. The good news is that this is stress that could be avoided. Give sleep the priority it deserves and then enjoy the benefits of what a well-rest “you” can accomplish — with more energy and less stress.

Five Tips for Better Moods

Are you struggling to stay positive? Do you find yourself battling with your moods and wishing that you could have more control over how you feel? Here are five tips to help you maintain a more pleasant state of mind.

  1. Don’t overthink everything. While it’s great to think through things, it’s easy to cross the line into overanalyzing or obsessing, which always leads to negativity, fear, or frustration. Overthinking is like running in circles in your mind — it depletes your mental energy and you’ll find it difficult to concentrate on anything else. And much like a hamster in a wheel, you will generally find that, in the end, you didn’t even make any progress.
  2. Don’t catch other people’s bad moods. Moods are highly contagious and if we’re not careful, we can easily let someone else’s crabbiness color our own moods as well. You can probably recall a time when a grumpy person walked in the room and seemed to suck all the joy right out of it. This doesn’t have to be the case though. Guard your own positive mood by consciously choosing to let someone else’s negativity be their problem and not yours.
  3. Be a little kinder to yourself. Don’t call yourself names and don’t blame yourself for everything that goes wrong. That will only tear you down and frustrate you. You won’t be able to enjoy good moods if you are constantly tearing down your self-esteem with insults. It’s ok that you’re not perfect. It’s not ok to emotionally abuse yourself. If you want to feel more positive and upbeat, be more forgiving of yourself.
  4. Pay more attention to the positives. It seems to be human nature to keep a running mental list of all the things that went wrong in a day. By evening, we have a gripe sheet a mile long, which gives us every reason in the world to be in a bad mood. It’s normal to feel frustrated and discouraged with those things. But we could balance them out a bit by also just taking note of the positive things as well instead of dismissing them or failing to even notice them. Make it a point to look for reasons to smile. Notice what’s going right, what went smoothly, and what was helpful. Make a mental list of those things too and you’ll be much more likely to maintain a pleasant mood.
  5. Create an atmosphere to match the mood you want. The music, movies, or television shows that are playing in the background of your life set a tone for your moods. You might need to change the channel. You might also need to let some natural sunlight into your living space or tidy things up and make them look more inviting and cheerful. Incorporate some splashes of color. What you see, hear, and feel around you play a huge role in helping you maintain a positive mood.

Who I Am

“Never mind searching for who you are. Search for the person you aspire to be.”

Robert Brault

Since at least 5th grade at Century Elementary School in Grand Chain, Illinois in the 1980s, I have known I wanted to be a writer. I guess a more accurate way to say it is that I knew I needed to be a writer. Writing has never just been something I enjoyed — it has been something I felt I had to do.

Over the years, I took countless steps toward publishing, but always stopped just short of actually following through. There were many reasons for that, all of which were just lame excuses. There are two callings on my life — one is to write, the other is to help people. So I have concluded that it’s time to share my words with the world. Perhaps there has never been a more urgent time since humans everywhere are struggling.

And so, I have launched this website, entitled “Navigating Life.” From this platform, I will create articles and blog posts that will be aimed at helping you deal with life’s challenges. They will post here as well as on my Facebook page (“Perspective”), Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

I have also authored a book entitled “What Now?! What to Do When Life Has Beaten You Down,” and I am currently pursuing publications options. You’ll be hearing much more about this as I work toward its official printing.

My credentials? I have a master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and I am a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) in the state of Illinois. I am the clinical manager at a mental health agency and have worked with many individuals with emotional, behavioral, and mental health concerns as well as addictions. But above all of this, my heart is in my work. It is who I am.

The struggle is real. My hope is that something I write will help ease your stress or help you to develop a healthier perspective. I want to help you heal from the pain of your past, cope with the challenges of the present, and work toward the best future possible. I am working toward being the person I aspire to be and I want to help you do the same.

If you find something helpful on this site, please share it with others.

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