Category Archives: strategies for self-care

On News Anxiety

For as long as people have had widespread access to daily news, there has been news-related anxiety. But the age of social media has dramatically increased the amount of time we spend keeping up on current events. After 9/11, while I was completing my doctoral internship, many clients told me they were watching the news for 8 to 10 hours a day.

Instead of limiting news consumption to once a day, e.g., reading the morning paper or watching the local news before heading to work, many of us are immersed in a neverending news cycle. Alerts throughout the day make it hard to avoid a never ending barrage of information. Neuropsychological research indicates that when we hear a ping on our phone, it may contribute to hypervigilance.

Today, at least 1 in 5 Americans get their news through social media. A conservative estimate is that the average inter-webs user spends more than 4 hours scrolling per day. Every year, that number steadily increases. The term “doomscrolling” describes when the consumption of negative news events leads to information overload and becomes a compulsive habit.

While some amount of worry can be useful for planning ahead, it is easy to cross the line from staying informed to inducing anxiety or exacerbating a dysphoric mood.  Individuals who suffer from anxiety or mood disorders are particularly vulnerable.  The pressure to stay up-to-date on serious topics like COVID-19, civil unrest, violence in every form, and climate change can make it difficult to stop doomscrolling. We are survival driven and searching for information is built into our frontal lobes.

Many empathic people have expressed to me that it might even feel irresponsible to avoid news that is negative. ‘If people are suffering, why am I such a wimp that I can’t even read about it?’ To be informed is important, to be vicariously traumatized saps our energy and will to proceed.

How to Manage News Anxiety; the Clinical Psychology Research:

  • There is no “one size fits all” solution.
    The key is to find an approach that works for you, which starts with recognizing your triggers or personal vulnerabilities. Try to pay attention to what happens right before you feel the urge to reach for your phone or tablet. If your scrolling is brought on by certain thoughts, feelings, or situations, or centers around a particular subject, take note.
  • Acknowledge addiction potential.
    People who experience addiction have a higher likelihood of relapsing when exposed to certain triggers, e.g. walking by the bar they used to frequent, seeing an ashtray, or being near slot machines. The same goes for people with digital addictions like social media or doomscrolling. If you are particularly consumed or obsessed with a specific subject, limit yourself to spending 15-30 minutes reading about it each day. Set a timer.
  • Curate News and Social Media Consumption.
    Swearing off social media altogether can be too big of a leap for most people. Instead, think about ways you can alter the way you use social media. For example, if there are accounts that you notice often cause you anxiety, mute or unfollow them. Also, consider disabling alerts for social media platforms. This way, you will be less tempted to open apps throughout the day.
  • Incorporate Positive Stimuli.
    When breaking a habit like doomscrolling, finding positive activities to supplement the time you spend reading news can make a big difference. Try engaging with something non-educational that simply serves to make you smile. This could be exploring a light-hearted hashtag, like #catsoftiktok, visiting the wholesome page on Reddit, or watching an animated show or movie. Though it may sound silly, empirical studies have shown that watching cute animal videos can measurably lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety.
  • Move and Stretch.
    Disrupting your thought processes with physical movement is another strategy to break a rote scrolling cycle of doomscrolling. Get up and walk around. Set a loud timer that’s across the room, one that forces you to get out of your chair or bed.
  • Seek Professional Help.
    If you are still having trouble gaining control of your scrolling or social media consumption, there are therapists who specialize in helping clients who struggle with social media use and anxiety.

The Takeaway:

  • Timing and dosage.
    Limit your time and the amount of news that you consume. If you tend to have a harder time at night with anxiety, maybe watch/read/scroll news in the morning only. During times of trouble such as the pandemic, insomnia, was a significant symptom of our anxiety and stress. We need to avoid and monitor as much as possible the stimuli that may add to our already dysregulated bodies.
  • QC.
    Pick news material that is factual, thorough, and data driven. Keep it brief and succinct.
  • Balance.
    Mix doom-scrolling with something lighter. watching something that makes you smile is good for you. Those of us of a certain age used to wake up on Saturday mornings and watch cartoons with eager anticipation. They transported us away from the rest of our week, past and upcoming.

Mindful Choices

A good Friday and weekend to everyone as we round out Janvier. It has been an interesting month that feels longer already, for many. You might be amazed, or maybe not, at so many people who are actually in distress, even while looking just ‘fine’ on interwebs. We are really not inclined to tell people that we are vulnerable. Yet. That’s my professional and personal goal and bias, the big yet.

Whether you follow the Gregorian, Corinthian, Islamic, Persian, or the Lunar calendar: It’s been a weird twilight zone.

I often field mental health, clinical psychology, and neuropsychology questions through my various websites.

I’m asked every year why I don’t write psychologically about New Year’s resolution and goals. I’m a big believer in personal agency, and I think people can start whatever they need to do, now. And now. And now. Dates are random. I have seen incredible deeds start at 10:30 AM on a Friday.  Absolutely no association with anything esoteric.

If there’s one small intention I would mention that is doable by all is to make mindful choices, about things that seem not a biggie. The practice of mindfulness is so small and so powerful. People ask me what it means. It’s not a fancy ‘Om’ in an exclusive enclave of yogis and meditators. It’s basically looking around, observing habitually, and making small choices on a daily basis based on what you see. It is the ultimate change mechanism.

Many of us have friends and loved ones who are not doing so great. I’ve been on both sides in my life. People don’t always tell you they need support.  I guess before we go out for that $150 mimosa Sunday brunch, it might be helpful to go to a local delicious taco family owned business and help a friend who might need support with the other $120.

I completely own this bias.  If you know me, IRL, I am far from averse from pleasure. However, it’s possible to have a great time and also help somebody at the same time. Our Frontal Lobes are pretty phenomenal.  But you all asked.  Big love. I’m not shy, but I’m always open to learning. Sorry for the delayed response. A great weekend and February to all.❤️

We are Tired: On Mental fatigue

Her: “It is 7 PM and it feels like midnight.“

Mental fatigue is an all too common feeling these days. Uncertainty, high stress levels, juggling responsibilities, financial hardship, medical problems, and a demanding lifestyle are making our minds feel downright exhausted. In addition to lengthy and tiring days, we have numerous daily hassles that take up hours and hours of time: being on the phone with tech-support after the computer crashed again, the jammed printer, the fraud alert on the credit card, sitting in traffic for hours, standing in line for more hours.

But living in a state of permanent mental fatigue can have consequences on our personal and professional well-being. It is painful and unsustainable.

When your brain feels exhausted and unable to function properly, it leaves you mentally and emotionally drained. This is commonly known as ‘brain fog’ or mental fatigue.

According to neuropsychology research, a tired brain impairs your cognitive abilities. This affects your productivity, decision-making skills, learning, and memory. For example, brain fog makes it hard to concentrate. Even simple household tasks like washing dishes, going to the grocery store, changing kitty litter, or doing the laundry seem cumbersome.

Mental fatigue is a state of tiredness that sets in when your brain’s energy levels are depleted, usually the result of prolonged stressors. Long-term stress can be brought on by a variety of factors, including a challenging life transition, grief/bereavement, a demanding job, feeling unsupported or alone, or executive functioning weaknesses, such as procrastination, poor planning, organizing, or prioritizing.

Long-term mental exhaustion can also affect your professional life. When your symptoms aren’t managed, it can lead to workplace burnout. Symptoms of workplace burnout include a lack of belief in your abilities, decreased job satisfaction, cynicism, and a lack of motivation.

The Covid-19 pandemic has turned mental fatigue into a widespread global issue. The World Health Organization (WHO) describes this “pandemic fatigue” as demotivation, alienation, complacency, disconnection, and feelings of hopelessness. Mental fatigue is insidious — its symptoms develop gradually and are not always noticed. The pandemic created an unprecedented time of stress and uncertainty for millions of people around the world. Many people have been in survival mode.

4 emotional symptoms of mental fatigue:
1) Anxiety
Anxiety is one of the most common symptoms of mental fatigue. It develops because prolonged mental fatigue triggers the sympathetic nervous system. This is also known as your fight/flight/freeze mode. This causes you to be in a constant state of panic or worry about the future, which can lead to impulsive behavior, avoidance, and indecisiveness.  Always feeling anxious should act as an alarm bell, telling you something isn’t right. Anxiety is not an enemy, it’s a signal/warning that something is wrong.

2) Languishing
Languishing can be described as a feeling of emptiness and stagnation. This feeling develops when your mind feels depleted of energy. Someone stuck in a state of languishing frequently feels apathy and a disconnection from friends, partners, and work colleagues. It can manifest as zoning out, variable attention and concentration, and not listening. If this feeling persists, it can gradually isolate you from people in your life who start to think that you just don’t care.

3) Low resilience
When you’re mentally fatigued, challenges seem nearly impossible to overcome. You’re going up the hill that everybody expects you to climb, but with a backpack full of rocks. For example, someone with reduced resilience can easily crumble under the pressure of a challenging work assignment or deadline. They may make mistakes, miss deadlines, or procrastinate.

4) Depression
Mental fatigue and depression are interconnected. Fatigue is a symptom of depression and vice-versa. Depression is a mental health disorder that can have multiple causes, including trauma and stressful life events. It’s characterized by a sense of hopelessness, feelings of low self-worth and a lack of energy to engage in daily life. If low resilience is a backpack full of rocks, depression is the boulder.

4 Physical symptoms of mental fatigue:
The characteristics of mental fatigue aren’t just emotional. They can also show up as physical symptoms that impair your health and well-being.
1) Aches, pains, and muscle tension
Your mental health has a direct effect on your physical health. The high level of stress that causes mental fatigue also causes you to feel tired, weary, achy, sore, and lethargic.

2) Sleep issues
People suffering from mental exhaustion often experience trouble sleeping, insomnia, and even hypersomnia. These sleep problems arise due to the emotional side effects of mental fatigue like anxiety or depression. Being in a constant state of hypervigilance and worry makes it harder to get a good night’s sleep.

3) Increase in illness
A weakened mental and physical state can lead to various health problems. Some of these include:

  • Muscle strains
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Weakened immune system

4. Poor eating habits
Unhealthy eating habits are common for someone suffering from mental exhaustion. A number of studies indicate that people are more likely to engage in emotional eating or conversely eat less under mental stress and fatigue. Not getting the proper nutrients and indulging in foods high in sugar can slowly impair cognitive abilities. It also contributes to upticks in anxiety and depression (‘crashes’).

Related, what to do about mental fatigue.

Clinical Psychology + Eastern Philosophy + DEI = Mental Health

7 Eastern Concepts for Mental Health

SANGHA
Community of friends practicing together in order to encourage awareness and mindfulness. Buddhist writings state that the water from all the oceans has only one taste, salt. And for all humanity there is only one desire, freedom. This requires community as a practice.

METTA
An attitude of kindness and goodwill, wishing other people well with affection, but also realizing that true happiness is something that they ultimately will have to find for themselves. It’s fully loving another without being responsible for the other person‘s happiness. That doesn’t mean you don’t help them. It means you don’t own their stuff.

SAMSARA
Impermanence or state of flow. The idea that people are constantly in a process of development/ stages of life. The literal translation from Sanskrit is “a wandering through.” Where we are right now, the good or the bad, it’s not permanent. As the expression goes, the good news: nothing last forever; the bad news, nothing last forever.

DUKKHA
Existential suffering. That experiencing the pain of illness, aging, death, loss, abandonment, is part of the human experience. We are not individually cursed with misery. We are in this together. Empathy is required.

CETANA
Intention or volition. Intention determines whether an action is ethical. We are human and make errors. We may have good intentions (a desire to act) that do not pan out in a desired result/outcome. However, intention encompasses present action regardless of consequence and predicts future behavior. Intention matters.

SEVA
Compassion, service to others, giving without expectation of return, recognition, or glory.

KARMA
The most misunderstood of concepts, karma is not a vengeful creature looking to bring down people. It is an accumulation of all events and actions. It is the universal checking account of withdrawals and deposits. Sometimes we are in overdraft, because human, other times, we are earning interest.

Love, health, and peace to you and yours. 🙏🏽

Wishes for the New Year From a Psychologist

If you’ve ever been to see me for a consultation, these will sound familiar.

Rest More
Over 3/4 of my clients report having sleep problems. Whether it’s insomnia, restlessness, nightmares, inconsistent patterns and schedules, or screen interference, we’re not sleeping. Ruthlessly protect your sleep. At Embolden, we also believe in individualized analysis of personal energy patterns and schedules. Work with your circadian rhythms as much as possible. What works for someone may not for another.
See also Got Sleep.

Everything is Therapy
What you consume: eat, watch, read, buy, wear, listen to. Do. Content matters. Make choices that are nourishing.

Connect
Find relationships with safe and supportive people. This gives us an anchor and an army. I always say, there’s plenty of troubles out there, don’t seek them in your personal life. Your alliances should be based on loyalty, trust, humor, reciprocity, affection, and great hugs.

Disconnect
Learn how to be alone with you. Sitting, resting, standing, or walking without anyone else or other stimuli is something that we forget how to do. It can feel very weird at first, just doing nothing. Start slow and build it up.

Workout your brain
As we live longer, we have seen a significant uptick in dementia and brain disorders. Recently, I have seen a scary wave of cognitive disorders related to long Covid in my neuropsychology practice. Your brain craves stimulation. Give it something new to do and learn. Engage socially. Oxygenate by cardiovascular activity. Nourish with great food. Minimize alcohol and don’t use tobacco products. Take care of your health- sometimes you can do everything right, but you may have a genetic loading that has to be monitored. For example, the South Asian community has a huge vulnerability for diabetes, that has a cultural basis from times of colonization.

Get out of your comfort zone
If you are right handed, try writing with your left hand. It’s not easy. Do math by hand instead of a calculator, do crosswords, practice a new language, explore safely, put aside the cookbook and make a recipe on your own, read, write, take a different route when driving. Do you know what the date is without looking at your phone? Short cuts do not stimulate us. Challenge your brain, it likes it.

Learn
We all have things that intrigue us. Try them. Draw, sing, take a dance class, take jujitsu, write the book that’s been in your head, learn a new language, try a musical instrument try a new cuisine.

In her 40s, Indian writer Jhumpa Lahiri, raised in England and Rhode Island, speaking Bengali and English as her primary languages, decided to learn Italian. After taking numerous classes online, she moved her family to Rome for the full language immersion experience.  She later wrote a book in Italian, a language that she did not learn until middle age. There are no time limitations on learning.

Speak your truth
I tell clients to speak as clearly as they can about what they want to convey. I call it the Occam’s Razor of communication. Oblique communication leaves everyone dissatisfied. Be polite, but you don’t need to make excuses for your needs: “Thank you so much for inviting me, but I’m not going to be able to make it. I really appreciate that you thought of me!”

Talk to people in public
You don’t have to be creepy. Most of us don’t know our neighbors, communities, or even coworkers. It’s OK to say hello, I really like your scarf, and asking your Uber driver, cashier, or takeout person how they are doing. Interaction matters. Insular lives add to our (huge) collective loneliness.
Related:  The Art of the Compliment.

You don’t have to focus on the positive
The gratitude attitude, smile at all costs, I am fine, it does not work for many people. That doesn’t mean you have to vent every detail of your personal angst, but you also don’t have to be fake happy.
Related: Smiling Depression.

Ask for help
We are awful at asking for help. Somehow, a tit-for-tat mentality has created fear of asking for anything.  We would not be here today, as a species, without cooperation and community.
Related: How to Ask for Help Without Feeling Weird.

Don’t Withhold Affection
Whether you were gone for five minutes, five days, or five months, your dog is overjoyed to see you. We are not dogs and we overthink with our frontal lobes, but letting people know that we are extremely fond of them it’s not a bad thing. It creates oxytocin and a sense of well-being for both the giver and the receiver of affection.

Practice Self-Compassion
Self compassion beats self-esteem and even self-efficacy when it comes to mental health. Being kind to yourself also spills over to being kinder to others. Self-esteem is based on skills and external accolades. Self-efficacy comes from the expectation that you will do a good job in the future.  Self-compassion is extending grace, empathy, and kindness to yourself no matter the circumstances.
Related: Why Self-Compassion is More Important Than Self-Esteem.

Start
Dates do not matter. It doesn’t have to be the first of the year, a Monday, your birthday, or some external date. You can start at 11 AM on Wednesday, December 28, setting the intentions for yourself that are meaningful to you.
Related: Me, Myself and I: Self-Care as Daily Practice

Love and Peace to you and yours. ❤️

What is Winter Fatigue?

I enjoy receiving psychology/mental health questions on my website and social media. A couple of times a month, I write a post or article to respond to questions I feel are particularly timely and helpful to many people, including me!

ST writes: Do you have any tips for dealing with endless cloudy, cold, and rainy days? I saw the extended forecast, and it’s not letting up anytime soon. I get very down and cranky, and sometimes even anxious when there is no sun for days and days…

What is Winter Fatigue?

The sky is grey, and the chill wind blows outside. Right now, the best thing in the world feels like curling up in a fluffy blanket with a cup of something hot to drink, a bowl of decadent noodles, and a good book, binge-worthy series, or movie. Sure, there is meal prep to do, work deadlines, appointments to keep, and an elliptical machine to hop on, but you just don’t have the motivation.

There are five types of fatigue—medical (such as chronic illness), physical, mental, emotional, and environmental. Welcome to winter fatigue. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, at least 20% of people experience a form of winter fatigue, from mild to significant.

Common symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Cravings for carbohydrates (“comfort foods”)
  • Irritability/easily frustrated
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty with concentration
  • Avoidance of social situations (hibernating)
  • Hunkering down (stock piling snacks, home supplies, and groceries)
  • Difficulty getting out of bed
  • Increased sensitivity to social rejection (feelings easily hurt; loneliness)

Our nervous systems are designed to handle short-term stress and distress- we get hits of adrenaline and cortisol as part of the body’s fight, flight, or freeze response. When acute stress becomes chronic stress, when we become normalized to being in this state, it takes a huge toll on our bodies.

Recently, people have also been experiencing what I call catch-up fatigue. After 2 1/2 years of having to modify lifestyles and juggle uncertainty, people are attempting to celebrate, meet others, travel, be sociable. It takes a lot out of us. There’s been a recent study in the Washington, DC area that there has been an uptick in rage incidents while driving. Frankly, we’re not used to being around other humans. We are slightly socially stunted.

Circadian rhythms and Cortisol Fluctuations
It would be great if your sleep-wake cycle could align with the season/winter’s light-dark cycle. But I don’t think many of us could sustain families or jobs resting from 5 pm to 8 am each day. Being completely aligned with the season’s natural rhythms is not possible with our multiple responsibilities. However, we can certainly take steps to better align with the winter season. At my company, we come up with an individualized daily schedule, that works with commitments, deadlines, and personal biorhythms as much as possible.

Below are some of the best things you can do to remedy winter fatigue:

    • Schedule 8-9 hours of rest/sleep each night.
    • Most of us have morning commitments; therefore, waking up later is not an option. Instead, make your bedtime earlier. This means that if you need to get up at 6 am, ensure your lights are out no later than 10 pm.
    • Make your bedroom a sanctuary.
    • Adjust the temperature of your house: Your body prefers to be slightly cool before bed. Decreasing the temperature of your house a few degrees overnight will likely improve your sleep quality. Do you know how you feel chilly if you’re woken during REM sleep? Our body temperature drops while sleeping. Having cooler air temperature or taking a hot bath and your body cooling after mimics sleep.
    • Avoid bright lights in the evening: Try using accent lighting in your home in place of overhead lights, or use dimming switches. If you’re using electronic devices, install apps like f.lux. to block the blue light from being emitted.
    • Practice relaxation techniques before bed.
    • Reading, audiobooks, podcasts, hot baths, meditation, pranayama, or a cup of tea are a few great ways to unwind in the evening. Turn off screens as much as possible.
    • Stress makes you tired.
    • Much like melatonin, the cortisol hormone follows what is called a diurnal rhythm. In a perfect scenario, cortisol levels peak optimally after waking. After waking, there is a gradual decline in cortisol levels. Cortisol reaches its lowest point of the day shortly before bed. As you sleep, cortisol levels increase and the cycle starts again. However, excessively high levels of cortisol also cause fatigue. Stress causes a surge of cortisol or adrenalin at different times of the day which can be exhausting to the body. Stress cannot be completely avoided, but learning to recognize the buildup and stave it off is so important.
    • Light therapy: During the winter months, exposure to morning sunlight may not be an option. Sometimes it’s dark when leaving the house and it’s dark coming home. Using a light therapy device for 10 minutes immediately after waking can ensure you have the energy needed to get out of bed (a light therapy box mimics outdoor light, which causes a chemical change in the brain that lifts your mood; Amazon offers a wide variety of such products that are well priced). This therapy is an alternative to pushing snooze dozens of times.
    • Get outside: Exposure to sunlight keeps melatonin production under control. Even five minutes of outdoor sun exposure can improve your energy levels. Open your curtains and blinds early in the day to let in as much sunlight as possible. This is a mood booster, but we cannot obtain the necessary Vitamin D that we need through windows. Direct exposure to sunlight, even on a cloudy day, helps us get our required
    • Vitamin D.
    • Mood disturbances and symptoms: Many people struggle with sadness, depression and anxiety during the winter. Add physical distancing, post-holiday blues, and sleep problems to the mix, and it’s no wonder exhaustion sets in. If you have an uptick in symptoms of anxiety or depression, it’s time to talk to your primary care doctor or a mental health specialist.
    • Exercise matters (in addition to outdoor time): Try to fit in 30 minutes of exercise four to six times a week. Whether it’s walking on the treadmill, taking a couple of laps around the block, taking the stairs at the mall, or walking around your office building, exercise keeps endorphins pumping in your body, helping keep you energized to combat the winter blahs.
    • Balance your food: Comfort foods like mashed potatoes, bowls of rice, macaroni and cheese, etc. sound great when the weather is chilly and the days are short. Our bodies crave more sweets and carbohydrates to help us build that insular layer of fat that kept us alive back in our caveman days. However, balanced eating gives you more energy to fight the cold, and a well-rounded diet keeps the cravings at bay. Find comfort foods that boost energy, such as a delicious lentil curry, a veggie frittata, or homemade soup.
    • Relax: Find hobbies and activities that help relieve stress. Meditation can be a great time to let the mind relax and unwind, journaling, crochet/knitting, coloring in an adult coloring book, chatting with a good friend, and yoga can all reduce out of control cortisol levels.
    • Massage Therapy: Therapeutic massage can ease body tension and pain, and wakes up your nervous system, turning on your power so you can fight the winter blues. A great massage can also release oxytocin, the hormone of relaxation and contentment.

Timing and Dosage

    • Time your exercise: Exercise can help combat winter fatigue, particularly if you take your fitness time into the sunlight. Exercising first thing in the morning can help wake up your body and regulate your circadian rhythm. Exercise in the afternoon can get you through that tired slump. Exercise too close to bedtime, and you may have trouble sleeping.
    • Take a power nap: If you can sneak in a 25-30 minute nap between noon and 4 p.m., you’re more likely to power through your day. Snoozing too late in the day could make it more difficult to fall asleep at night.
    • Use caffeine. Judiciously: Well-timed caffeine can help you feel more alert, awake and ready to take on the day. Need to perk up before a presentation? Get some caffeine about an hour before it begins. You can also have a cup of coffee before you take a nap. By the time you wake up, the coffee has kicked in.
    • Monitor sleep patterns: People demonstrate patterns of sleep that are individual. Biphasic or polyphasic sleep was more common before standard office hours. Sleeping two or even three times a day was not uncommon to combat fatigue and complete life tasks. Learn more: Got Sleep?
    • Keep an eye on medical concerns: Are you tired during certain times of the day, all the time, or in specific situations? There can be chronic medical fatigue from a host of significant conditions including sleep apnea, diabetes, fibromyalgia, hypertension, and autoimmune disorders. These conditions and their subsequent fatigue do not necessarily respond to everyday strategies. For example, recently I have started completing evaluations for individuals suffering from Long Covid. The fatigue, cognitive fog, and impaired attention I have assessed has been striking. Getting a medical differential for your fatigue is imperative.

Also see: Pandemic Fatigue.

How to get motivated when you’re not feeling it

Reasons for low motivation can include:

Avoidance of discomfort.
Sometimes a lack of motivation stems from a desire to avoid uncomfortable feelings. Discomfort could include feelings that a task is too hard, too big, too exhausting, or too complicated (task expectations that are not clearly laid out are one of the biggest motivation killers). Feelings of distress or task aversion are one of THE most common reasons for de-motivation.

Boredom.
Repetitive everyday tasks are often avoided. From doing dishes, laundry, to cleaning up after the kids, every single day feels like Groundhog Day. It feels never-ending. For students, the parallel is ‘busywork’, such as repetitive homework.

Self-doubt.
When you think you can’t do something—or just don’t know how to get it done. When you lack the tools, skills, or even the training to get it done, it can be very un-motivating.

Being over-extended.
When you are juggling a lot in life, you’ll likely feel overwhelmed. You may not even know what to tackle first and this feeling can zap your motivation.

Perfectionism.
Procrastination has a positive correlation with perfectionism. Often, perfectionists have difficulty starting or staying on task because the internalized goal of doing it perfectly feels so hard to meet.

Executive Functioning Weaknesses.
Executive function is mediated by the frontal lobe, the conductor of the brain or the Head Chef. What appears to be low motivation is sometimes a direct result of difficulties with planning, organizing, sustained effort, attention, processing speed,  prioritizing, and self monitoring. If you have a bunch of talented musicians who can’t work together in an orchestra, the result is a jarring cacophony of sound no matter the skill level. Learn more: What Is Executive Functioning?

Lack of commitment to a goal.
Agreeing to a task simply because you felt obligated, may mean your heart really isn’t in it. And you are less likely to take action when you aren’t committed to your goal.

Mental health issues.
A lack of motivation is a common symptom of depression. It can also be linked to other mental illnesses, like anxiety. So it’s important to consider whether your mental health may be affecting your motivation level. Read more on how mental health can sap your motivation.

Strategies for Motivation That Work
One Goal.
Probably the most common mistake that people make with regard to motivation: they try to take on too much, try to accomplish too many goals at once. You cannot maintain energy and focus (the two most important things in accomplishing a goal) if you are trying to do two or more goals at once. You have to choose one goal, for now, and focus on it completely.

Find inspiration.
Inspiration can come from all over: clients, mentors, friends, entrepreneurs, colleagues. Read blogs, books, magazines,  Watch movies and shows, talk to people. Write down ideas that you find inspiring. Having an inspiration journal is a boon when it feels like your mind is blank.

Ask for help.
Having trouble? Ask for help. Join an online forum. Talk to a colleague or friend you trust.  Find somebody who can coach you through the rough bits. Having an executive coach or emotion coach can get you back on your feet.

Reward Yourself.
Create small rewards for yourself that you can earn for your hard work. You might find focusing on the reward helps you stay motivated to reach your goals. For example, if you have a long paper to write for a class or a work assignment, you might tackle it in several different ways: Consider whether you are likely to be more motivated by smaller, more frequent rewards or a bigger reward for a complete job. You may want to experiment with a few different strategies until you discover an approach that works best for you.

Use the 10-Minute Rule.
When you dread doing something, like walking on the treadmill for three mile or lifting weights for 30 minutes, you may lack motivation to do it. You can reduce your feelings of dread by breaking it up into short components.  The 10-minute rule can help you get going. Give yourself permission to quit a task after 10 minutes. When you reach the 10-minute mark, ask yourself if you want to keep going or quit. Life, 10 minutes at a time.

Break it down.
I work with a lot of students, researchers, and writers. Having to write or produce a large amount of material is a daunting task for most people.  Learning how to break down a large project or paper into smaller steps, each with its own deadline, requires practice. One of the largest factors in motivation is feeling overwhelmed by the huge-ness of a task.

Ebb and Flow.
Motivation is not a constant thing that is always there for you. It comes and goes. But realize that while it may go away, it usually doesn’t do so permanently. Be patient with yourself on bad days.

Start small.
If you are having a hard time getting started, it may be because you’re thinking too big. If you want to exercise, for example, you may be thinking that you have to do these intense workouts 5 days a week. Do small, tiny, baby steps. Just do 5 minutes of exercise. Organize one cupboard or drawer.  Want to wake up early? Don’t think about waking at 5 a.m. Instead, think about waking 10 minutes earlier for a week. That’s all. Baby steps are powerful. Just think about it, a tiny human learning to walk. That’s a powerhouse.

Manage Your To-Do List.
First of all, it’s impossible to keep everything in your head. When some of my students or clients tell me it’s all up there, I just nod politely. No matter how great your memory, something will slip through the cracks. Having a list is not optional.

It’s tough to feel motivated when your to-do list is overwhelming. If you feel like there’s no hope in getting everything done, you might not try to do anything. Keep in mind that most people underestimate how long something will take them. And when they don’t get it done on time, they might view themselves as lazy or inefficient. This can backfire by causing them to lose motivation, which makes it even harder to get more things done.

Take a look at your to-do list, and determine if it’s too long. If so, get rid of tasks that aren’t essential. See if other tasks can be moved to a different day. Prioritize the most important things on the list, and move those to the top. I like keeping separate notebooks, for tasks that are essential and those that are long-term. You can further divide both categories into work deadlines, social commitments, family commitments, self-care,  and academic or educational endeavors. I actually like to use different color pens for each area. The important thing is to break your to do list down into components that are actually possible or else you will have the same long list day after day.

Mindfulness and Self-Care.
You’ll struggle with motivation as long as you aren’t caring for yourself. Sleep-deprivation, poor nutrition, stress/worry, and lack of leisure time are just a few things that can make trudging through the day more difficult than ever. Learn more about Mindfulness and Self-care.

The Pillars of Self-Care.

    • Exercise regularly.
    • Get plenty of sleep.
    • Drink water, and eat a healthy diet.
    • Make time for leisure and fun.
    • Use healthy coping skills to deal with stress.
    • Find meaningful social connection.
    • Avoid unhealthy habits, like binge eating and drinking too much alcohol.
    • Seek professional help as needed.

Get support.
It’s hard to accomplish something alone. A landmark study in 2016 (Journal of Experimental and Social Psychology) found that not feeling alone was an incredibly potent variable in motivation. Researchers gave out an impossible task, that is, it had no actual solution. The participants were split into two groups and given a complex puzzle to complete. People in one group were told they’d be working in teams, and were introduced to their teammates before being sent off to work on the puzzle alone. The other team was told they’d be working alone, and didn’t meet any teammates. While working on the puzzle, those in the team group were given handwritten notes supposedly from their teammates (they were actually from the researchers). These notes, and the process of meeting their teammates before starting the puzzle had an impact on their experience, despite the fact that they were working on the puzzle all alone, just as those in the non-team group were.

The participants who felt like they were part of a team, worked 50% longer on trying to solve the puzzle. They also reported finding the puzzle more fun and more interesting than participants who didn’t have teammates. The mere idea that one is working with a group and not alone can increase intrinsic motivation, that is, an inner drive to finish the work and increased internal satisfaction working persistently.  Read: How to Ask for Help Without Feeling Weird.

State Your Mantra.
Print out your goal in words. Make your goal just a few words long, like a mantra (“Exercise 15 mins. Daily”), and post it up on your wall or refrigerator. Post it at home and work. Put it on your computer desktop, bathroom mirror, and cell phone. You want to have real reminders about your goal, to keep your focus and keep your excitement going. Learn more about Mantras.

Pair a Dreaded Task With Something You Enjoy.
Our emotions play a major role in motivation level. If you’re sad, bored, lonely, scared, or anxious, your desire to tackle a tough challenge or complete a tedious task will suffer. Boost your mood by adding a little fun to something you’re not motivated to do. You’ll feel happier and you might even look forward to doing the task when it’s regularly paired with something fun.

Here are some examples:

  • Listen to music while you run.
  • Call a friend, and chat while you’re cleaning the house.
  • Light a scented candle while you’re working on your computer.
  • Rent a luxury vehicle when you travel for business.
  • Invite a friend to run errands with you.
  • Listen to audiobooks or interesting podcasts while commuting.
  • Turn on your favorite show while you’re folding laundry.

Give yourself a time out.
Giving yourself breaks throughout a large task can be very energizing. The average person can only sustain attention for30 to 45 minutes and often less. Get up, stretch, move, see below.

Include physical movement.
Although you might be getting ready to do something that’s not physical, like working at a desk, your schedule routine should include some movement. Exercise oxygenates your brain and can do wonders for your motivation and energy.

Get outside.
Walking or spending time in nature can be very beneficial. A 2013 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that walking half a mile through a park or working in a garden for thirty minutes reduces brain fatigue.

Write it down.
Numerous studies have shown that you are more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down. A guided day planner with a daily list of goals will give you the motivation to achieve your objectives step-by-step. When you know what steps to take to achieve your goals and you see them in writing, you’re more likely to get motivated to complete them.

Practice Self-Compassion.
You might think being hard on yourself is the key to getting motivated. But harsh self-criticism doesn’t work. Research shows that self-compassion is actually much more motivating, especially when you are struggling with adversity. For example, a 2011 study conducted by researchers at the University of California found that self-compassion increases the motivation to recover from failure. After failing a test, students spent more time studying when they spoke to themselves kindly. Additionally, they reported greater motivation to change their weaknesses when they practiced self-acceptance (a key component of self-compassion). Self-compassion may also improve mental health (which can increase motivation). Having a kind inner dialogue is a key component of avoiding discouragement, the motivation killer. Learn more about Self-Compassion

A mental health perspective on the season

Someone asked me today why I always say ‘Have a Peaceful Holiday’ in my writings. I don’t say Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas. The desire to wish sincerely for another to have a season that is personally significant is absolutely wonderful. It’s a desire to connect.

What would it mean to approach this festive time of year from a mental health or trauma-informed perspective? How should we greet people and wish them well in a way that does not inflict hurt?

One of my clients says that the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is the MOST _____ time of the year.

The most stressful.
The most triggering.
The most binge eating and drinking.
The most expensive.
The saddest.
The most hectic.

The most disappointing after engaging in wishful thinking about one’s familial relationships.

Another client tells me he spends every brain cell he has trying to stay sober between November 20 and January 2.

Yet another wishes that she could just sleep through the entire season and wake up in January.

Though happy and merry are synonyms, they actually have different connotations. Merry implies a degree of revelry that is missing from happy, which tends more toward quiet contentment. Merry was actually slang for inebriation in the 18th and 19th centuries. Not everyone is merry and it’s invalidating to assume that. And not everyone is happy.

The desire for personal faith and ritual is nearly universal. The context is uniquely individual. There is agency to say whatever you want to say; but know that each word has connotation. Language is life.

I wish you peace, joy, love, and health this season.

See also:
Personal Praying May Boost Mental Health
How to talk to your family about mental health.

14 Ways to Parent Yourself

* Be tender with your own heart.
* Give yourself a curfew; don’t stay out too late.
* Eat nourishing food.
* Offer yourself praise.
* Allow yourself lots of care and support when sick.
* Avoid bullies and meanies.
* Give yourself small rewards and gifts.
* Put yourself down for a nap, with a soft blanket.
* Check to make sure you do your chores.
* Validate the full range of your feelings.
* Delight in play and moments of joy.
* Stay away from danger.
* Teach yourself something new.
* Pay attention to your daily needs: are you tired, hungry, sleepy, cranky, sore, overwhelmed, under the weather, bored, lonely, scared?

Also see:
On the Power of the Self-Hug
The Small Things that Are Huge

How to be Mean… to Yourself:

25 Ways to be Mean… to Yourself

    1. Not asking for help: school/work/personal.
    2. Carrying a negative narrative or origin story about yourself.
    3. Not keeping your word to yourself.
    4. Not trying something new.
    5. Not allowing yourself to rest, or feeling guilty when you do.
    6. Procrastinating.
    7. Habitually saying self-derogatory things about yourself.
    8. Apologizing for everything.
    9. Setting unrealistic goals.
    10. Not setting goals.
    11. Faking having fun, pleasure, togetherness.
    12. Maintaining hurtful relationships.
    13. Not being appropriately assertive or reciprocal in personal relationships (Say: “Hey, you said that you would pay me back on this personal loan that you needed by such and such, can we work on getting that together? “)
    14. Giving up when you slip (well, I already ate the ice cream so I might as well eat everything else).
    15. Not keeping up with hygiene, health habits, or medical regimens.
    16. Doing something self-destructive when things are actually going well. 
    17. Not accepting compliments or appreciation.
    18. Avoiding daily responsibilities and chores that are relatively small until they become not so small.
    19. Paying for services that you don’t use (such as the dozens of subscriptions and services that are free for a month and then kick over to your credit card).
    20. Beating yourself up for past mistakes.
    21. Minimizing yourself because you get messages that you are “too much“.
    22. Raising your hand for a task because no one else is.
    23. Not protecting your emotional energy when you are going through a vulnerable time.
    24. Wasting time on things that bring no actual sustenance.
    25. Not speaking up when someone is being overtly rude.

And one more for good measure:  Allowing others to steal your creativity, product, or hard work.

Many of these things require practice and unlearning old habits. Also see How Can I Be More Self-Compassionate.

Embolden Psychology
Embolden

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

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