How do you talk to your teenager about vaping?

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Two women vaping outdoor. The evening sunset over the city.

Two women vaping outdoor. The evening sunset over the city.

Though researches won’t know the true effects of vaping for years, unfortunately, it is not a big leap to say that vaping is likely to be harmful. We all know about certain drugs to be on the lookout for and talk to our teenagers about. For example, how widespread Opioid abuse has become — reaching epidemic levels — and how horribly it can affect our families. But how much do we as parents really know about Vaping? Sure, it’s recently gotten some attention in the news and you might think you have a handle on what it is, but I think it’s worth diving a little deeper into something that’s become such a part of mainstream culture for our teenagers.

My business partner recently attended a CPR training class taught by Dr. Christopher Byron, founder of the Nationwide Instruction for Cardiovascular Education, aka NICE. NICE provides both the AED equipment and AED/CPR training to thousands of organizations (schools, camps, corporations, etc) and to many First Responders. At the end of the class, Dr. Byron touched on Opioids and Vaping and their effect on First Responders. Based on Dr. Byron’s research, I put together a few highlights that I found pretty impactful.

How does vaping work? E-Cigarettes and “Juuling” devices heat a liquid into an aerosol that uses an inhaler. This vapor contains nicotine (an additive). Teenagers can use these devices in class because, since there is no smoke or smell, they can go virtually undetected. A common practice is to exhale into their sleeves.

In some ways, vaping sounds harmless because it’s vapor, not smoke. However, E-Liquid is NOT water. It is generally a liquid comprised of nicotine, flavorings, propylene glycol and glycerin. When it is heated by the coil, it changes to an aerosol. When measuring the metal levels in the aerosol, research has found traces of the following: chromium, nickel, zinc and lead. According to Dr. Byron, the amount of these metals that is acceptable in your system is ZERO.

Did you know?

  • Juuling and e-cigs are not regulated. The only protection is that they are not supposed to be sold to kids under 18. It is the Wild West at this point — no one knows for sure what is truly in them.
  • One e-cigarette “pod” has as much nicotine as a whole pack of cigarettes. Some kids are averaging 3-5 pods per day.
  • The potent amount of nicotine in e-cigarette liquids may be toxic if it is accidentally ingested or absorbed via the skin.
  • In a recent survey, 1 in 4 high schoolers (25%) said that they have used an e-cigarette in the last 30 days. So if your high-schooler has 8 friends, statistics show that 2 of them likely used an e-cigarette this month.
  • The same survey indicated 1 in every 10 middles schoolers have tried it.
  • Though retailers are not supposed to sell to kids under 18, there is nothing stopping companies from marketing to kids under 18, as evidenced by flavors like Cotton Candy, Tutti Frutti and Sour Gummy Worm. The sheer number of vaping stores opening around schools is further proof of the intended audience.
  • As we know, teenage brains are still developing, so they are uniquely vulnerable to addiction. Not surprisingly, vaping affects behavior, concentration, memory and the ability to learn.

As parents, hearing all these facts probably instills a healthy dose of fear, particularly since it’s something that is so relatively new and wasn’t something you dealt with as a teenager, or even as a young adult. And while you might be tempted to place vaping into the same category as other drugs and alcohol that you want to teach your kids to stay away from, it’s important to recognize how this specific problem might be the most pervasive at your child’s school, and they might not recognize it for the danger that it is.

So, what can you as a parent do about this? What is the best way to talk to your children about the risks of vaping?

For starters, learn as much as you can. It never helps to dramatize a situation, but all the facts are very useful. Once you feel informed, you should open a discussion with your teenager about the dangers. One way to do it is by simply asking them if they know what Juuling is. I tried this myself and discovered that my 16-year-old daughter tried it once last year. She claims that she hasn’t done it since, and because I simply asked her the question and did not judge her reaction, it enabled us to have a mature conversation about it.

Here are 3 tips for starting the dialogue:

  1. Learn as much as you can, read different perspectives and educate yourself on the dangers, as well as the ways in which kids are acquiring it. It helps to understand why something appeals to teenagers before you attempt to judge it.
  2. Open the conversation, don’t close it. Be curious. While the risks may be obvious to you, it is important to allow your child to know they can participate in the discussion. A good rule of thumb: Ask, “Why?” before asking, “Why not?”
  3. Discuss the risks and the long-term health issues. Walk through your concerns. You don’t have to share everything you’ve learned, but you can use what you have learned to shed light on the dangers they might not be aware of. Oftentimes, teenagers want to try something because they are curious about how it works — talking about how it works can assuage the mystery.

At the end of the day, you can’t control what choices they make. What you do have control over is how you respond when they need help. Be the person they can come to, no matter what. Let them know you are there to help them, and the concern around vaping is in their best interest (not in YOUR best interest, but theirs).

People always ask, “When is the best time to discuss this?” and our answer is always: Today is not too soon. As a parent, sometimes you just need to force the issue and have the discussion. You never know where it will lead.

I hope that reading this has inspired you to think critically about whether you could benefit from a therapist. I suggest reaching out and at least exploring the options that are available to you. Reaching out doesn’t always mean that you will find a psychologist the same day, but at least you are taking a step towards a happier, more fulfilling life for you or your loved one.

If you would like me to connect you with one of our expert therapists or dietitians, please contact me. I look forward to hearing from you!

What Keeps Us Happy And Healthy? The Real Key To Happiness

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Happy woman on the sunset in nature in summer with open hands

Happy woman on the sunset in nature in summer with open hands

What makes you happy? How is it that some people are happy while others are not? Is happiness related to wealth? Genetics? Environment? Culture? What do you think? Do you ever stop and ask yourself, “Am I happy?”

This is a question that I find myself thinking about from time to time, and I know I’m not alone. Not only in my line of work, but also among my circle of family and friends, I find that “happiness” is a topic of much consideration. We all know people who are unhappy and we’ve all felt unhappy at one time or another. But what I’m constantly asking is what makes someone happy. Is there a recipe for happiness that others can follow? Clearly there is a range of emotions/different levels of happiness, but from my experience and research it is evident that those who are happy possess a few common traits. It’s these traits that I really want to explore.

I’ve put a great deal of thought into this topic, and one of my biggest dreams — which has now become more of a goal and hopefully a plan that I can execute next summer — is to travel around the world and ask as many people as possible the essential question: What makes you happy? I want to travel to all different parts of the world and record two minute conversations with the random strangers I meet and then share these stories with everyone. It’s fascinating to me how different cultures and lifestyles and socioeconomic statuses can be, and yet, the desire for happiness is seemingly universal.

A recent survey asked millennials about their major life goals. The results? 80% said they want to be rich and 50% said they want to be famous. This got me thinking about the Harvard study that began in 1938 and followed 724 men for over 75 years. Today, 60 of the participants are still alive and are in their 90s. (Of course, the world was much different back then and unfortunately the study did not include women. However, women who were associated with the original participants were eventually asked to be a part of it.)

The study is still going on and now the researchers are studying 2,000 children of these men. At the beginning of the study, the teenagers were tested. Some of the participants were Harvard students and others were kids from Boston’s poorest neighborhoods. The results of the study are fascinating, but the overwhelming conclusion indicates that the participants’ life happiness was not based on their wealth or fame or working harder. The research strongly shows that it was relationships that kept them happy and healthy.

The three big takeaways about relationships?

  1. Social connections are really good for us, and loneliness kills. The experience of loneliness is toxic. People who are more socially connected to their environment and families are happier.
  2. It is not just the number of your relationships, but rather, the quality of the relationships that counts. Living in conflict without much affection turned out to be very bad for health. The people who were most satisfied in their relationship in their 50s were healthiest later in life.
  3. Good relationship don’t just protect the body, they also protect the brain. The memory of those in good relationships was much better than those who did not have healthy relationships.

Dr. Robert Waldinger, one of the directors of the study, did a TED Talk on the subject that I think is worth checking out. I actually got tears in my eyes listening to it, and I started reflecting on how in life, we stress about getting our education, and working as much as we can, and pushing our children to do well in school and excel in as many fields as possible, but we don’t always invest in fostering healthy, strong relationships with other people. Sure, most of us do invest in our relationships with either our spouse or our children or other family members or friends to some degree, but when you see the scientific evidence backing up the positive effects of doing so, does it make you rethink how you prioritize these investments?

How about you pause for a moment and think about your relationships. How strong are they? Do you invest as much time as you wish in those relationships? When I think about people who are important in my life, I know for sure that I am not investing as much time as I would like in fostering those relationships. Clearly, we can’t foster and have strong relationships with everyone we interact with, but I find that if you think about the five relationships that are most important to you, then you will be able to designate more time putting those people and those connections at the top of your priority list.

What if while reading this you realize that you don’t have meaningful healthy relationships and you identify feeling lonely most of the time? That’s ok — because you aren’t alone in that feeling. My takeaway is that it is never too late to form relationships and find strong connections with other people, but you have to be willing to put in the work. Instead of making excuses for why you aren’t closer with your family or why certain friendships have become strained, identify the people in your life who you want to build a stronger connection with and make concrete steps toward fostering those relationships.

I am here to help you learn how to form relationships in your life and how to strengthen those relationships that you want to invest in. Here’s a quick guide, but I’d love to discuss these tips further if this is an area you feel you are struggling with.

Tip 1: Make The Time To Meet With Friends, Family and New People

How many times in the past few months have you had opportunities to go out with friends or family and you gave some sort of excuse to get out of it? “I have to work, I’m finishing a project, I’m too tired, I’m too fat, I’m too poor…” and the list is probably much longer, but you get my point. I am also guilty of doing this and often feel that my to-do list is too long to meet up with people and that it will exhaust me further or stretch me too thin. The truth is, though, when I go out and meet people I love and spend quality time with friends and family, I am much happier. And that happiness gives me a different kind of energy. If you think of your relationships as a key component of your life — in the same way you think about work and the rest of your to-do list — that you need to put time and effort into, you’ll see how quickly you reap the benefits.

Tip 2: Understand Patterns in Your Relationships

This one might be a bit tricky to figure out on your own and you might need to consult with someone you love or a professional. A private clinical psychologist or therapist can help you better understand your relationship patterns if you would like to learn about them and change them for the better. If you have a history of sabotaging relationships, then I encourage you to take the time to reflect on why that might be. Understanding your previous relationships is an integral part of forming healthier future connections. Some patterns that are disruptive include:

  • Reacting to things in anger instead of being open minded
  • Being closed to new experiences and not welcoming new ideas
  • Lack of honesty
  • Lack of respect and overstepping boundaries
  • Not showing physical affection
  • Lack of empathy and consideration to the other person and their needs
  • Being controlling or manipulative

There are other patterns that could be preventing you from getting closer to people you love and care for, but if you don’t take the first step toward understanding what these patterns are, you might continue to find yourself lonely or in meaningless relationships.

Tip 3: Practice Acceptance and Appreciation

This is easier said than done, but as someone who has been in a relationship with my husband for over 20 years and has had ample experiences with challenging relationships, I can attest to the fact that acceptance and appreciation are extremely important. For example, my mother who is one of the most kind human beings I know, is also skeptical and can even come across as negative. For years I was angry about the way she responded to things and at one point I even made a conscious decision to stop being so open with her. As I was growing up, I felt she always put my career aspirations down and had strong opinions about how I lived my life. What I eventually realized was that I had to accept that my mom’s responses are her opinions and that I don’t have to perceive them all in such a negative light. Once I did that I was able to let the anger go, which allowed space for acceptance and even appreciation for who she is. That acceptance allowed me to understand that my mom’s responses come from a place of love and can be perceived as caring or protective, rather than negative or unsupportive. When you accept certain things about the person you care for, appreciate what is good about them and focus on why you love them, it will help you be grateful for who they are instead of focusing on what you don’t like about them and wish to change.

Tip 4: Focus on the Positive

Active senior couple on a walk in a beautiful autumn nature.

This can be challenging at times, but when you focus on what is positive in your relationships and why you fell in love or cared for someone in the first place, then you are more likely to enjoy your relationship and be happier. It’s so easy to focus on the hard parts of a relationship or what you don’t like in a person. This is only human! But when you focus too much on another person’s flaws, it can blind you to all of the wonderful qualities that make them a source of comfort in your life.

Tip 5: Be Supportive

With life being so hectic, at times we forget to make sure that we are supportive of those we love. My best friend in Israel lost her dad four months ago and had a baby on her own two month agos. She was always there for me when I needed her and supported and encouraged me even in my hardest days. As I was writing these words, I remembered that I hadn’t spoken with her for two weeks and I felt terrible for not being as supportive as I want to be. In fact, I had to take a few minutes break from writing this so I could call her and see how she is doing. I have to admit, I was calling to be a comfort to her, but speaking with her brought me a great deal of comfort and happiness as well. Sometimes, when you feel lonely, one of the easiest things you can do is offer to be there for someone else. It’s easy to get consumed with focusing on ourselves, especially when we are feeling down or are in a funk, but the power of reaching out to someone is so strong and therapeutic it can help pull you — and the other person — into a better, more positive place.

Tip 6: Allow Yourself to be Vulnerable

For some people, this is a given and they naturally allow themselves to be vulnerable and open with their opinions and feelings, and for others, it is extremely challenging. What does being emotionally vulnerable mean to you? Do you allow yourself to be open and honest with those you love and care about? How about with random people? Let’s take, for example, the first minute when you meet someone and they ask how you are doing. What do you tell them? You might actually feel great, and if that is true, then there is no problem with answering honestly. Clearly, though, there are some days that you feel sad, anxious or worried about something. If that’s the case, why do you think you don’t actually share that you are not doing well? What is behind hiding your true feelings? Is it insecurity? Shame? Do you think about what the other person might think if you reveal how you truly feel? How would it be for you to share your true and honest feelings? Brene Brown, author of “Daring Greatly: How the courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead” and a researcher of vulnerability for many years, states that the problem with distracting ourselves from shame, is that we also protect and distract the good emotions. She states the following, “Vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.”

What would it feel like for you to allow yourself to be vulnerable? If you knew that this could help you be happier, despite the fact that it is challenging, would you be willing to give it a try? This doesn’t mean you need to tell every stranger you meet or every random encounter about your most personal thoughts and feelings. I do think a good place to start, though, is really listening to the question the next time someone you care about asks you, “How are you?” Before simply saying, “fine,” pause, think and respond from an authentic place. Even if it’s someone you are close to and trust, this can be difficult. For a lot of people, maintaining a strong front is easier, but instead of worrying about burdening another person, think about the positive effects it can have on you. The key to vulnerability is honesty and openness.

Tip 7: Be Empathetic and Compassionate.

Empathy is one of the most — if not the most — important part of a healthy relationship. Empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. The idea is for you to place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling. This doesn’t mean constantly telling people, “I know how you feel.” Instead, it involves being selfless and putting someone else’s feeling top of mind in order to really relate to them on a deeper, more meaningful level. Empathy involves sharing emotions and when you are able to do this, you strengthen a bond. Similarly, compassion is concern for the well-being of another person. It involves being sympathetic and also willing to go out of your way to help another person and alleviate their pain or their feelings of sadness or loneliness.

A Psychologist’s Guide To ADHD Organization: Part 2

A Psychologist’s Guide To ADHD Organization: Part 2

If you missed last week’s post, be sure to read the first part of this article by clicking here.

ADHD Organizational Skills From Psychologist Ann Marie

Organization is key for all families, but can be particularly challenging for families with ADHD children. They may have every intention of bringing their homework to school or keeping track of their backpack, but problems with focus can make even small organization tasks difficult. Here are some small ways families can improve organization:

Folders

Pick brightly-colored folders to identify outgoing homework and incoming assignments. It may help to keep a special folder in the child’s backpack so that they simply put the homework into it immediately after completion (rather than putting it in a folder and then remembering to put the folder in their backpack).

Homework Station

Create a homework station at home that your child does their work at each day in a location that is away from distractions such as the TV or younger siblings. Set a rule that the area is free of clutter and contains only the items needed to finish homework tasks. This may change per assignment, but return the homework station to its original condition each night so the area is clear for the next day.

Communication

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Parents should keep in close contact with teachers and notify them of the organizational tools that are used at home, such as color-coded folders. While it’s imperative to communicate closely with teachers in subjects a child struggles in, it’s also important to speak frequently to teachers in coursework where the child excels. This not only allows the child to have pride that their caregiver notices their successes, but those particular teachers may have innovative ways of helping the child attend successfully to the schoolwork or organize themselves!

Inventory List

Sports and other activities can present organizational chaos when children have to remember uniforms, equipment, and other items. Consider creating an inventory list that the child can check when putting items into their bag. A laminated sheet can be used, so that the child can check off each item with a dry erase marker as they put it in their bag (younger children can look at picture cues rather than words). For older children who have smartphones, the list can be made on an app such as Keep.

Alarms

External alarms can help with time management for ADHD children. An egg timer can be used for younger children to remind them when it’s time to clean up, or to remind them to check their work. For teens, alarms can be helpful in reminding them of due dates, changes in daily routine, sports events, etc.

Apps

Consider using apps or systems for older children that are all connected. For example, Google profiles can significantly increase organization and task completion as the different features can be combined and tracked in conjunction with google alarms and reminders. Tasks can be added to a google calendar that has a link to a document (e.g. book report) right on the calendar reminder. The Google documents or calendar can be opened on a computer, a phone, or a tablet so that no matter where the child is they can complete their work or check their reminders (even if they forgot their phone at home). The task can be shared with the caregiver’s own Google calendar as well.

Phone Usage

Smartphones can be a lifesaver for teens with ADHD, and can help them stay more connected with their parents. However, they can also create more distraction due to endless apps, texts, notifications from social media, links within links when researching topics, and fun distractions such as silly videos or memes. Limit phone use during homework time and ensure that children are not looking at any screens at least one hour before bedtime, as the light coming from the screens can affect the body’s ability to recognize sleep cues.

Scheduling

Be strategic about organizing the child’s schedule so that they have time to de-stress, and also are not too stimulated before bedtime. Build in time for fun! ADHD children may need to complete homework in small chunks of time, and may need to take frequent breaks. Sometimes physical activity can be helpful during these breaks to expend energy, allowing the child to return to sitting calmly for a few more minutes while completing a homework task. Parents should be careful to balance this time for each child, as some need to have a quick dance party while others may become overly silly and active with even the smallest activity (those children may benefit more from stretching or doing a quick yoga pose rather than jumping jacks). Letting your child dissolve into giggles is ok once in a while, though, because everyone needs some spontaneous fun. It just might not be on the night that a book report and science project are both due!

Success

Celebrate your child’s successes, and celebrate them often! Children with ADHD are used to constant redirection from adults. They may begin to feel that they are only noticed for the things they struggle with. Building your child’s self-esteem and noticing the ways in which they have improved or been creative can go a long way in preventing depressive symptoms, which are fairly common in children with an ADHD diagnosis due to struggles with attending to social interactions and having to work harder to maintain academic performance.

boy holding fidget spinner

Unstructured Time

Allowing children with ADHD some time that is unstructured, unmedicated, and unpressured can be liberating. Some children need structure and benefit from medication at all times, so talk to your child’s providers to see if this is a reasonable option for your child. If your providers agree, many families choose to have unstructured time on the weekends or during school breaks. It can provide time for the child to be themselves, which can build self-esteem, and can also highlight for them the ways in which their brain cues them differently in different settings or structures (self-awareness is necessary when students go to college and no longer have a parent creating the structure). It also allows caregivers to notice the unique type of creativity that their child with ADHD possesses, a gift that has allowed for some innovative solutions in science, amazing artwork, and unique inventions throughout history!

Thanks, Ann Marie!

So, there you have it: some super useful tips that you can start incorporating into your daily routines now. We hope they’re as useful for you as they were for us!

We don’t know about you, but a lot of these organization tips are helpful to those of us without ADHD children, as well. Setting up structures that will help our child (and us!) stay on task is something that certainly takes work, but always seems to pay off in the end, as long as we stick with it. (That’s always the hard part, isn’t it?!)

Do you have any tips for organization with kids who have ADHD? What works for you? Let us know in the comments!

A Psychologist’s Guide To ADHD Organization: Part 1

A Psychologist’s Guide To ADHD Organization Part 1

Hello, everyone! Whether you’re cooped up inside during the cold winter months or trying to get outside on those warm summer days, it always seems difficult to stay on top of everything. How do you organize?

We’ve been getting a lot of questions lately from parents about ADHD organization tips. . We asked one of our psychologist providers, Dr. Ann Marie, to give us some pointers. Ann Marie works with families whose kids have ADHD, and, through years of experience with many parents and their children, she has quite a bit of insight into how to get you on track. Read on for simple, specific tasks that you can start implementing now to change your daily routine.

A Bit About Ann Marie…

Dr. Ann Marie is a New York State Licensed Psychologist who has built her career around helping children, teens, young adults and families thrive. She has collaborated with and worked in multiple settings, including residential centers, outpatient clinics, schools, law enforcement, hospitals, nanny agencies, and foster care. She specializes in working with clients who have experienced stressors such as being bullied, intense work pressures, major life changes, loss of a loved one, separation from family members, family conflict, sexual assault, and relationship violence.

Utilizing client-centered and cognitive-behavioral techniques, she works with her clients to facilitate healing. She has helped children and young adults gain coping strategies to overcome depression and anxiety. Trained in Structural Family Therapy, Ann Marie has assisted families in improving communication and enjoying their time together. She has also guided families with support for the caregiver-child match and the nanny-parent relationship.

Ann Marie holds her Master’s from the Minnesota School of Professional Psychology. She provides training to student therapists and is a guest speaker for many groups in and out of the wellness industry.

ADHD Organization Tips From Psychologist Ann Marie

Whether school is in full swing or you’re gearing up for another year, parents of children who have an ADHD diagnosis may find themselves stretched thin and with worn patience during many times throughout the year. The first half of the year brings substantial change and newness in daily routines and classroom expectations. The second half of the school year brings harder classroom work, longer homework assignments, and higher expectations from teachers that students will be at their best, as they should be used to the school routine. It always seems to feel like a demanding time for any student, but for children with ADHD who often have difficulty with organization, focus, and social interactions, this can be a particularly difficult. Parents may feel exhausted, but worry that they don’t have the tools to help their child succeed. What can be done?

Caregivers should first go back to basics. Ensuring their children are eating healthy and balanced meals, getting enough sleep, and releasing physical energy every day can go a long way in fostering success in any child, but especially in children with ADHD. If children are prescribed medication that seemed to work during another transition time but is not as effective now, parents should check in with their child’s physician to see if adjustment is warranted due to a growth spurt or greater demands on the child’s concentration. For children who have sleep problems, medication may need to be adjusted in terms of timing or type so that sleep comes more readily.

Once the basics are taken care of, there are several areas caregivers can focus on to make routines more successful and pleasant for the whole family. Focusing on improving organization and planning may go far. Including the child in some of these tips can help to instill some pride and ownership, which may lead to more cooperation and success!

Mother and daughter reading together at home.

Part 2 of this article, which can be found by clicking here, lays out the specific steps to help turn your family’s home into a productive ADHD Organization workspace!

Just a reminder about venturing into new endeavors in your daily life: It’s important to note that it’s often better to make drastic changes one step at a time, and not try to jump into trying to include tons of new tasks all at once. Focus on one brand new idea (and only that brand new idea!), and gradually build up into a rhythm that works for you and your family. You’re more apt to stick to something if you really give each step a good try, and if you truly work on learning how to incorporate that one new thing into your body and mind. We recommend one new task per week. Life is already crazy enough — don’t be too hard on yourself!

Interested in learning more about working with a family psychologist? You might be looking for a children’s psychologist, marriage psychologist, couple’s psychologist, or someone to work with the whole family. If you would like some recommendations on the best family psychologist in your area, please reach out to us! We can connect you with any of the health and wellness services you need, which includes top notch therapy! We’re happy to help. If you would like me to connect you with one of our expert therapists or dietitians, please contact me. I look forward to hearing from you!

Read Part 2 of this article for specific skills that you can start implementing in your house.

Do you have any tips? What works for you with ADHD organization in your family? Let us know in the comments!

Good luck organizing, wellness warriors!

What Makes You Happy? And How Can You Do More Of It?

I woke up this morning and reflected on a meeting I had last night with John (name has been changed), a very smart, successful businessman and father of two young children who found out last year he had a tumor and that he might only have a week to live. To make a long story short, further testing revealed that the tumor was treatable, and with chemo, he would most likely make a full recovery. The moment John found out the new prognosis, he felt like he had a new lease on life and vowed to live different from that point forward. He promised to no longer procrastinate on doing the things that he loves or has always wanted to do and to focus more on the people and activities that bring him joy.

 

Upon completion of six months of chemotherapy, John realized that getting the horrific news was the best thing that could have happened to him. On the work front, he changed things in his company and started only doing business with clients he actually wanted to work with. He also invested more time with his family and friends and started focusing on causes that are close to his heart.

 

As I was reflecting on John’s story it got me thinking about how it took a life-threatening diagnosis for him to decide to make a change and dedicate more of his life to the people and things that truly make him happy. Do we all need to get bad news before we do what makes us happy? What if we stop everything we are doing right in this moment and think about what happiness really is?

 

Clearly, I’m not the first one to ask this question — this is an age-old story. But the more I thought about what this means in my own life, the more I wanted to share my conclusions with others and inspire them to think about feasible changes that could start right now. All too often we put off happiness because we wait for external forces. How often do you think, “If only I had more money, I could travel more and vacation more with my family.” Or, “I never have time to relax. I would be a happier person if I just had more time in the day to spend focusing on me.” The truth is, we all probably know people with more money or who seem like they have more time or who get to go the places we always dream about. But are those people actually happier?

 

Seeking happiness starts from within, and the best thing to do is to come up with a clear understanding of what actually brings joy to our lives. So, a great first step is to meditate on what truly makes you happy internally. I encourage you to close your eyes for a few moments and try this guided mediation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDAIO74O27s

 

Then, create a list of things that make you happy or a list of goals that you want to achieve. For some it helps to think of this as a bucket list — what would you do if you only had a short amount of time to live? I took a break from writing to meditate and create my own list, and here’s what I came up with:

 

  1. Spend more quality time with family and friends
  2. Get my Book published and help inspire and empower others with my story and coaching Method called KARMA
  3. Invest in my health and wellness (work out more/do Yoga/eat healthier)
  4. Help people on a larger scale (more talks/presentations)
  5. Work with people, groups, causes on the prevention of mental illness and promotion of wellness
  6. Travel to India and Thailand and other countries and learn as much as I can about other cultures
  7. Empower at risk youth with skills and tools that can help them become more successful in our society

 

I think I could probably spend hours coming up with more to add to this list, but I figure this is a good start. What did you come up with? I’d love for you to share what’s on your happiness list in the comments section here on the blog or on Facebook.

 

Then the question becomes, how can we make this list actionable? I suggest reviewing your list and focusing in on one thing that you currently do, but not as often as you like. What would it take for you to do more of that tomorrow? The next week?

 

What if we set a reminder on our phone to remind us to do one thing each day that makes us happy. It can be a very small thing like getting your nails done because you know that will relax you or reading a book with your child (without thinking about your long to-do list or looking at your phone every few minutes…). The point in actually doing what makes you happy is to FULLY be present while doing it. If achieving your happiness goals seems impossible, break a larger goal into smaller, more manageable ones first! Feel free to share your goals and consult with a professional if you need some guidance and support.

 

I will end with one of my favorite quotes:

“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” — Abraham Lincoln

If you would like me to connect you with one of our expert therapists, contact us today.

What Are You Thankful For — Even After Thanksgiving Is Over

There are many reasons to love Thanksgiving, even for a foreigner like myself who never celebrated this holiday prior to arriving in the US. Spending time with loved ones and remembering why you are thankful is a wonderful thing with very positive emotional and physical implications. This past weekend, seeing everyone sharing in person and on social media how grateful they are for the people in their lives put me in a good mood and got me to thinking. While I think it’s an incredible thing that happens once a year, I started to wonder how we can take the spirit of Thanksgiving and carry it with us throughout the year.

 

The act of taking just a brief movement and pausing to think about what we are grateful for doesn’t take long, but it’s so helpful in shaping how we approach our days and interact with the people around us. I decided I would start by writing down five things I am most grateful for:

 

  1. My loving, supportive family
  2. My health
  3. My friends
  4. My education
  5. Financial stability

Unfortunately, we get wrapped up with the busyness of  life and we go through our days as if we are on auto pilot. We don’t always pause to think about what is truly important to us. It’s also easy to get bogged down by the things we don’t have or the problems we are experiencing in our relationships. So let’s stop and ask ourselves, “Why are we here today? What is really important in our lives?” I am just as guilty as most of you for not taking the time to really stop and be grateful, so I thought that maybe if we all made an effort to make gratitude a priority the week after Thanksgiving, we could start a habit that would stick around for longer than just a day or a weekend.

 

There is much evidence to support the theory that it takes 21 days for an action to become ingrained in us and actually transform into a habit (you can read more about the power of the 21 day transformation here). So I’m challenging you to write down something you are grateful for every day for the next three weeks. Feel free to share. I want this project to #inspiregratitude.

 

Obviously, my list of gratitude is longer than just five, but I think beginning with an overall top five list is a good place to start. Go ahead and pause for a few moments and write down your list. Your items can be general or specific — the important thing is not to judge your own list or compare it to others.

 

Family is number one on my list. However, after writing it down I started thinking more about it. I thought about the fact that despite having three miscarriages I have three healthy, beautiful girls, but I don’t always make it a point to let my girls know how thankful I am to have them in my life. So, prior to writing this blog I went to each of them and looked at them with love and admiration and told them how much I love them and how thankful I am that they are my girls. (My oldest one who is 13 of course had to say, “Ok mom I know. Don’t get all emotional.” But my 10-year-old and 8-year-old responded that they love me too.)

 

Sometimes we expect others to just assume that we are thankful even for things that are seemingly unimportant. Saying thank you and expressing gratitude can be a very rewarding experience for both sides. So after writing down what you are grateful for I encourage you to find one person to share that sentiment with. Creating a culture of gratitude can start with you, and it can start today.

 

I hope you all have a wonderful week. I’m thankful to each and every one of you who reads my blogs and the entire community we have created at LW Wellness.

A Note To Those Recovering From An Eating Disorder

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As a therapist, I help many people overcome challenges in their lives. There’s a common misconception among many clients I’ve treated that mental health professionals all come from a strong foundation and haven’t dealt with the thoughts and feelings they are experiencing. The truth is, though, I became a therapist because of the struggles I went through and because I know firsthand how difficult it can be to navigate life when you are dealing with challenges that seem outside your control.

One of the biggest challenges I ever faced was recovering from a severe eating disorder that plagued most of my adolescence. Overcoming my demons and eventually learning healthy coping mechanisms made me the person, the mom and the therapist I am today, but it wasn’t an easy process. I used to struggle with sharing my recovery story because it involves remembering such a dark period in my life, but then I realized opening up about my story of hitting rock bottom could help others going through something similar or simply inspire others to work through their past, which inevitably includes dark moments.

My “rock bottom” moment happened when I was working as a nanny in San Francisco and was living with my sister. I had a nervous breakdown after binging and purging for over five years. I was 21 years old, single, poor and depressed after deciding to leave my abusive and controlling boyfriend. I was working as a nanny and a tutor so that I could pay for my education.

That week I had worked for about 50 hours, in addition to being a part-time student at Golden Gate University where I studied international business. I came home on a Friday evening after I stopped at a local grocery store to stock up on food that I was going to binge on as soon as I got home. My sister was at work and I had the opportunity to eat as much as I could. I thought about the number of times that I binged and purged that day and when I counted I scared myself. It had been 15 times… my record was 30 times a day but while serving in the army I was able to reduce the binging and purging to three times a day so I was hopeful.

When I got home I knew that something was wrong but I couldn’t identify what it was. My thoughts were racing and all I could focus on was eating as much as I could and then purging. I couldn’t wait for the moment when I felt the sign of relief — which for me was lying on the bathroom floor like a drug addict and enjoying feeling high after purging everything I had eaten. All the excess noise in my head would clear for about half an hour. This relief came with a ridiculous delusion that I was somehow lighter and more powerful afterward.

I don’t want to bore you with all the details of that evening, but that night after lying on the bathroom floor for about an hour, I knew that something wasn’t right. I tried to get myself up and I wasn’t able to. My heart was racing fast and I felt like the ground was pulling me down and gravity was winning. Was this how I was going to end my life? That thought had crossed my mind many times before, but this time it felt real. I was 21 years old. I felt stupid, ugly and fat, and at that moment, I knew I had to pull myself together and write something so that I could share it with other girls who felt like me.

This moment from 21 years ago feels like it was just yesterday. I am 42 now, married to the man who I met at age 21 and I have three girls. But that moment will forever be ingrained in my mind. Somehow I pulled myself up that night and I started writing what I wanted to be my memoir. No name. Just words on a page.

I ended up writing over 100 pages that night of what I thought would be my story that would be published after I died. The beginning of my imaginary book was, “As I am writing these pages, I am dying from this horrible disease that has taken over my life for the past seven years…”

Many words followed, disclosing personal information about my family and life and horrible things that happened to me in my childhood that I had never shared with anyone. When my sister got home that night, she confronted me.

Everyone around me knew that something was terribly wrong with me. While they knew I had broken up with my boyfriend and it was a very messy breakup, no one could have imagined I was as sick as I was with bulimia and depression. I had hidden it very well.

Looking back at that time is painful, but it’s also eye-opening. This was simply the beginning of a very long process to recovery. Looking back now, I obviously see so many problems with my thoughts and behavior, but I think one of the biggest ways people can help themselves when they are nearing rock bottom is by sharing with someone you can trust. I lived with my sister and we were very close. Had I opened up to her sooner I think the recovery process would have started much sooner.

The point of me writing this note is to express to those on a similar journey that you are not alone. Everyone has a different “breaking point” so to speak, but what really helped begin to pull me out of that dark place was writing. It was the first time I was acknowledging my demons, which is the first step in any recovery efforts.

I encourage you if you are reading this and it sparks something inside you — maybe you are on a similar journey or know someone who is — to reach out and share your questions and comments.

If you would like me to connect you with one of our eating disorder specialist or dietitians, contact us or book an appointment with me. I look forward to hearing from you!

How To Tap Into Your Mommy Intuition And Why It’s So Important

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Happy Mother’s Day!

In honor of this special holiday honoring moms, I wanted to blog about something that is often uniquely associated with mothers: intuition.

As moms, we often talk about intuition and wonder what specifically that means. We know intuition is something that’s important for us to be in touch with, but when it comes to dealing with that in actuality it seems to be a very challenging task.

How can we become more aware of our intuition? How can we teach our children that when they feel something they shouldn’t ignore it?

I have a great example. I was standing in the elevator with my 7-year-old daughter. On the sixth floor, an older man walked on and my daughter looked at the guy, made a strange face and whispered to me, “He is strange…”

My first response was to scold her for being disrespectful and tell her that she needs to be nice to everyone, but then I looked at her kind, innocent face and I realized…. She felt something that wasn’t right about this strange man. Weather it was right wasn’t the point. The point is that when your child or anyone you know for that matter tells you about how he or she feels about someone else it is important to be aware of those feelings and to take them into consideration.

Especially when it comes to our children, we want to teach them to be aware of their feelings because intuition can help get them out of dangerous situations. Children are often better than adults at listening to their intuition. They tend to make decisions off how they feel and don’t worry as much about how they will be perceived.

Intuition is the ability to understand something immediately without the need for conscious reasoning. Mother’s intuition has actually been well-documented by research. It makes sense. You are the expert when it comes to your child so your “gut feelings” are going to be more accurate than someone who has only known your child for a brief time. Children, in particular, often aren’t good at expressing how they are feeling, but as a mom, you learn to read their cues. You know their faces, their moods, and their body language. Therefore, you can probably sense when your child isn’t feeling well before he or she is even showing physical symptoms of being sick.

It’s productive for mothers, and really all people, to learn to become more connected to their intuition. Of course, we have to be careful to not let fear guide our actions. There are several things you can do to become more connected with your intuition – and a big one is meditation. Taking time to sit still, breathe, and be in the moment allows all the clutter to leave our minds. The more present and focused you are, the more you will be able to listen to your heart so to speak.

Another suggestion is to pay attention to your dreams. This doesn’t mean you need to analyze every dream you have, but if you are having recurrent nightmares about something there’s a good change your subconscious is uneasy about something. Also, pay attention to your body. What is it telling you? Like my daughter in the elevator, if someone or something makes you feel uneasy you should be responsive to that feeling and take the time to identify why you are feeling that way. Most adults have learned to shut down a lot of their anxiety because they believe it’s a hindrance to their daily life. It’s important to remember that we shouldn’t ignore our feelings because they can be helpful.

For more ways to tap into your intuition, check out this list.

Sinking Into Sadness — How To Let Yourself Feel Sad So You Can Pull Yourself Out

Last week, I went to a funeral for a woman I had known for a very long time and who meant so much to so many people. About 500 people attended the service for this beloved woman, including countless friends, her kids, and her grandkids.

During the funeral, I found myself crying out of sadness for her loved ones, and for myself since I knew her and her family. After the funeral, I got caught up in a very sad state and I couldn’t get myself out of it. I was finding it hard to focus on anything else, so I asked myself what it was that was keeping me from pulling myself out of this engulfing sadness.

I’ve experienced loss and been sad many times before and somehow always managed to get myself to a happier place, but this time felt different. I tried to figure out why this time was different – why the sadness felt deeper. So, I did what I tell my clients to do: I allowed myself to just ask a question without judging myself and without feeling sorry for myself. And I realized two things.

For one thing, this was different because it hit so close to home. The woman was a mom of someone who I knew and it made me think about my mom and what would happen to me if I had lost her. Of course, this is something that had crossed my mind previously, but this time somehow felt different. Second, I realized the fact that my mom lived so far away filled me with guilt. I’ve lived far away from my mom for the past 20 years and this funeral brought up questions, such as how would my relationship be different with my mom if I could live in Israel? What kind of relationship would my mom have with my kids if I lived closer to her? And, the hardest question to ask was, How would I feel if my mom was gone?

As the weekend approached, these feelings of sadness had gotten worse and worse. I went out and surrounded myself with friends and loved ones, but I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about my family in Israel and how much I have missed them. And the more I thought about it, the lonelier I felt. Tears kept coming down and I couldn’t stop myself.

I tried focusing on my breathing, I tried listening to meditation affirmations, I tried self talk, and even against every bone in my body, I dragged myself to the gym. Basically, I tried everything that I’ve been teaching my clients to do when they feel sad, but nothing worked.

I then realized that what I hadn’t practiced on myself but I preach to my clients and friends and love ones was that just like anything, I needed to allow myself to be sad for a little longer this time – and that was OK.

Sadness and grief are strong emotions and they are a part of life. Sometimes, feeling sad is inevitable and sometimes the only way to get back to a happy place is to let yourself feel that sadness for a bit.

The normal things we do to bring ourselves joy don’t always work when we are experiencing a loss or new feelings of loneliness, but as long as you maintain perspective and practice healthy coping mechanisms the sadness won’t win out in the long run.

Here are three things you can do when you find yourself sad and don’t know what to do about it.

  1.  Allow yourself to just be without judging yourself. Don’t beat yourself up about being sad. There is no “rule” for how long it’s OK to feel sad about something. Don’t judge your own emotions – they are real.
  2.  Think about what you love to do but can never find the time for. Go do it!
  3.   Spend time with people who are important to you. While it’s not always possible to get to the people you want to see most, you should try to always find people you like to be around who make you happy. Let those people be your comfort while you are feeling sad. As for me, I am leaving for Israel today. I need to be around those people who mean the world to me!

What can you do today to make yourself happy?

3 Easy Things You Can Do To Be Present This Week

Cup on a wooden table set against the backdrop of hills covered in fog

I woke up this morning in a quiet house somewhere in the Poconos, and it was silent. My husband took the girls skiing and while I wanted to have quality time with my family, I needed to spend quality time with myself – by myself.

At first I felt guilty for not going and was about to judge myself for being “selfish” and wanting quality time with myself. And then I paused…

I took a deep breath and decided to be kind (to myself) instead.

I made coffee and stepped outside in disbelief. Is it sunny outside and warm? After all, it is still February in the Northeast. It’s kind of crazy, but I’m definitely not complaining.

Looking out into nature, I saw trees, grass, and space – all things that we rarely take the time to appreciate. I was able to listen to the sound of the wind and smell the fresh air and appreciate a few moments of quiet, or may I say few moments of sanity.

I took my cup of coffee and I walked barefoot into the grass. I felt the cool, moist feeling from the grass and thought to myself, “When was the last time I allowed myself to just walk into nature without thinking about all the things that I have to do?”

And then I wondered why it is so challenging to find those moments during the week when kids are around and work is very demanding.

We all find ourselves busy with kids, work, household chores, and many, many other things that are important, but what we forget is that those few moments where we allow ourselves to just lie back, relax, and appreciate whatever it is there is to appreciate right in front of us are so rewarding. Why can’t we take more deep breaths and instead of thinking about the future, focus on the present moment?

I’d like to propose this goal for everyone this week: Enjoy the present moment.

Here are three things that you can do to enjoy the present moment…

  1. Listen to affirmations on a regular basis. I highly recommend “Soul of Healing Affirmations” by Deepak Chopra (you can order on iTunes – best $10 you will ever spend!!). In one of my favorite affirmations by Deepak Chopra, he talks about the idea of presence and what it means to be in the present moment. He starts the affirmation with the following: “Today I will find my soul here and now. This information is about the present moment. Make this your promise for today, and when you find that you have wandered from the present moment, ask to be brought back….”
  2. Slow down. Whatever you are doing, make an effort to do it in a slower way. Take your time and work on thinking and doing one thing at a time. Are you reading to your kids? Just read to your kids. Don’t think about the emails or texts you have not answered. Are you having a conversation with a friend? Just talk to that friend, don’t worry about the dishes that aren’t being done or the laundry you have waiting for you.
  3. Observe the feelings in your mind and body without labeling and judging them. For me, I often notice that these feeling are located in my upper chest. I find myself not breathing properly – to the point where I’m almost having shortness of breath. I found that if instead of avoiding the feelings and trying to get rid of them/push them away, I just welcome them without allowing my brain to spin out of control, they will often go subside.

So, what is that one thing that you can do today to help yourself be in the present moment? Well, you have already accomplished one thing by reading this!

So what is the second thing you can do?

#Happy everything

#mindfulness

#LWWellnessNetwork