Monday, May 28, 2012

Hit The Mental Gym. Why Our Minds Need Daily Exercise To Maintain Good Mental Health.

      Most of us are well aware of what it means to be physically healthy and what we need to do to achieve optimal health. A balanced diet of fruits and vegetables, maintaining a healthy weight, not drinking alcohol to excess, not smoking, and daily exercise all contribute to our well-being. Exercise in particular has shown to significantly improve one's health. Not only does it keep us fit, it also helps to ward off cardiac illness and cardiovascular disease and improves our brain's capacity to retain, process, and integrate new information. But what about the idea of what it means to be "emotionally healthy".  And when necessary, what we need to do in order to improve our emotional health?  There may seem to be an obvious answer to this question, but emotional health is in fact a multi-faceted concept and maintaining it takes daily effort, just like maintaining our bodies. 
     Good mental health is composed of having high self-esteem, the ability to modulate and express both positive and negative emotions in an effective way, accurately assess reality (especially when emotions run high), having compassion both for ourselves and others, and maintaining a healthy balance between work and play. Good emotional health also entails keeping our brains physically fit. Just as our bodies change with age so do our minds. We may become more forgetful and may not be "on top" of things the way we used to be. It is important to be aware of these issues so that you can keep your mind happy and healthy.
     The first step in achieving good emotional health is deciding what aspects need to be addressed and worked on. Begin by getting an overall baseline of your emotional health by keeping track of your feelings for a minimum of two weeks. Be cognizant of when you feel anger, anxiety, and/or depression and the circumstances in which these feelings tend to occur. It is also important to be aware of the times you feel happy, satisfied, and accomplished and the situations in which good emotions are felt. The next step is to discover patterns between your feelings and specific circumstances and/or specific thoughts. For example, one mental exercise to help strengthen your self-esteem is to make a list of your actual accomplishments and emotional strengths, such as being a devoted mother, an accomplished professional, and/or being a compassionate and assertive individual. Set aside time every day to read and remind yourself of your strengths and accomplishments. Just as daily exercise needs to be done regularly in order to get results the same rule holds true for our emotional health.
     Despite old habits and attitudes being difficult to change, it is not impossible when we consistently work on replacing them with healthy and new ones. Our brain develops new ways of thinking when we regularly train it just as our muscles develop and strengthen when we consistently train them. Sometimes our own efforts to improve our emotional health are not effective and when this happens seeking professional help is often indicated. It can be difficult to improve our emotional health and for some it can take years to come to realize who you are and what parts of your emotional well being need attention. But you can begin by following these four tips:

-Take care of yourself physically by eating well, getting regular exercise, and enough sleep.
-Get a baseline of your emotional health and determine what aspects need a "work out". Develop your own emotional "work out".
-Make time to enjoy yourself. Reward yourself for a job well done. Remember your achievements. 
-Get support. Sometimes improving your emotional health means seeking professional help.

Do you have aspects of your emotional health that need a work-out? What is your emotional exercise? I would like to hear from you. 

This article was written by Paula Durlofsky, Ph.D. a practicing psychologist in Bryn Mawr, PA. Please email comments or questions to drpauladurlofsky@gmail.com. To learn more about me and my practice please visit my web site at www.drpauladurlofsky.com. 



Wednesday, May 23, 2012

No Man Is An Island- Why Asking For Help Can Make You A Happier Person.

     Asking for help is more difficult for some of us than it is for others. Being able to acknowledge that we need help and actually asking for help has been shown to make people happier. Asking for help improves our relationships. When we share our burdens, struggles, and problems we create intimacy and intimacy leads to more satisfying relationships. When we ask for help we communicate to others that while we may not have all the answers, we are willing to seek them out and find solutions to our problems, all of which creates an atmosphere of empowerment. It connects us to other people by making us realize that we are not alone in our struggles. Ultimately, we grow emotionally when we obtain the ability to ask for help. 
     So, why would anyone choose to not ask for help if it can make them happier? One of the biggest obstacles people face is the fear of appearing and being vulnerable. When we are vulnerable we expose ourselves to the possibility of being attacked or harmed either physically or emotionally, in this case the latter. We all try to avoid being harmed at all costs and thankfully most times our perceptions regarding this fear are unfounded. This can be a difficult belief to let go of, especially when our past experiences support it. Others fear their requests will fall on deaf ears and believe no one will help them out in the first place. Not asking reduces their potential for disappointment. Some people do not want to appear as though they are not self-sufficient and/or in control of the situation and this concern inhibits them from reaching out to get the help they need. Despite our reluctance to reach out to others for help it is important to improve our "asking for help" skills. Especially since we are happier when we get the help we need.   

Below are 5 tips to help you get the help you need:

1. Start out with a simple request-if you are concerned about being disappointed by others, begin by asking for help with smaller problems. This will give you practice with asking for help without making you feel vulnerable.

2. Have a realistic expectation of the kind of help you are looking for. People can offer their help but they may not be able to solve your entire problem. 

3. Express what it is you need help with in a clear and concise way.

4. Let others know you are there to help them as well.

5. Give a big "Thank You" to those who have helped you.

 What stops you from asking for help? I would like to hear from you! Please comment below or send me an email at drpauladurlofsky@gmail.com.

This article was written by Paula Durlofsky, Ph.D., a practicing psychologist in Bryn Mawr, PA. To learn more about me and my practice visit my web site at www.drpauladurlofsky.com.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Got Guilt? The Difference Between Healthy and Unhealthy Guilt.

     We all have had our share of feeling guilty about something we did, we said, or a decision we made. Guilt is a complicated emotion that has two sides: healthy and unhealthy. In general, guilt is an emotional warning sign that most of us develop early on in normal childhood development. Its purpose is to make us aware of when we have done something wrong. When we act on our feelings of guilt in a healthy and positive way, we get to examine our behavior and grow emotionally by learning from our mistakes and doing the best we can to not repeat the same behavior in the future. In healthy guilt, we give ourselves an emotional pass by "letting go" of our guilty feelings and by reminding ourselves that we are all human beings and all of us make mistakes every once in a while.
     Healthy guilt helps us to achieve our goals. We feel guilty when we are not attending to our responsibilities or when we "put off" finishing that important work or home project we intended to already have completed. Healthy guilt also helps us to maintain important relationships. We feel guilty when we hurt our friends or loved ones so we try our best to be mindful of the consequences of our actions and behaviors. On a larger scale, guilt helps us to function as a civilized society, it's our moral and ethical compass. Without it our society would most likely be chaotic and dangerous. Simply put, guilt keeps our least desirable
impluses "in check".
     Unhealthy guilt is experienced as a nagging and exaggerated sense of guilt that is out of proportion to the situation we feel guilty about in the first place. When we experience unhealthy guilt we end up feeling pretty bad about ourselves and it contributes to depression and low self-esteem. Worst of all, it inhibits us from learning from our mistakes and chips away at our self confidence. Unhealthy guilt stems from an unexpressed and unresolved emotion and /or conflict. It blocks us from maturing emotionally because it prevents us from learning from our mistakes and from moving forward. For example, when unhealthy guilt is directed towards ourselves we become gluttons for self punishment and are left to stew in our negative thoughts and emotions making it impossible to "let go" of our bad feelings and move forward.  
     When a situation arises that makes us feel guilty it is important to first figure out if our guilty feelings are healthy or unhealthy. For example, if you feel guilty after telling a white lie in order to back out of a previously arranged plan, feeling guilty is healthy. Your guilt is specific and has a rational purpose. Wanting to be a good friend, feeling bad about possibly disappointing the person you canceled plans with, and feeling bad about lying in the first place are all reasonable reasons to feel guilt. The good news is, healthy guilt is not too difficult to remedy. For instance, it's easy enough the apologize to the person you offended by telling that white lie in the first place and then telling the truth, the real reason for having to cancel. You can learn from this experience by making the decision to not tell white lies in the future and to learn that honesty is usually your best choice. Best of all, you will not feel guilty! 
      The result of unhealthy guilt, on the other hand, is to make us feel badly about our decisions and behaviors for no real legitimate reason. For instance, in the example above if the person decided to tell the truth about having to cancel plans with his or her friend and felt tremendous guilt regarding this, then his or her guilt does not serve any real purpose since an actual mistake or harmful action did not take place. Instead their unhealthy guilt just results in the person feeling bad about him or herself. Unhealthy guilt is much more complicated to remedy and requires the person to examine and understand why a simple behavior, that most people would not feel guilty about, produces such guilt for him or her.  
     No one is perfect and no one leads a guilt free life. Striving for perfection- that is never making a mistake- is a recipe for failure since it is unachievable. It is important to focus on the guilt that causes our friends and loved one's harm. Be skeptical the next time you feel guilty-is it trying to teach you something rational and helpful about your behavior, or is it just an emotional, irrational response to a situation? Remember, we all make mistakes and there is value in our mistakes. When we make a mistake, acknowledge our mistake, and feel a healthy dose of guilt regarding our mistake, we achieve the capacity to learn, to grow, and to move forward.
      What are your thoughts about guilt? Do you often find yourself feeling guilty? Do you feel guilty because of emotional and irrational reasons?  I would love to hear from you regarding this topic! Please comment below or email me at drpauladurlofsky@gmail.com.

This article is written by Paula Durlofsky, Ph.D.  I am a practicing psychologist in Bryn Mawr, PA. Please visit my web site at www.drpauladurlofsky.com. to learn more about me and my practice.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Good News About Having " The Blues"

      Yes, you read the title of this article correctly. There actually is some good news in having the blues. I realize this statement may sound contradictory since feeling sad is not the most pleasant emotion to experience. For many it can be quite painful, especially when sadness becomes much more than the normal "blues" and develops into clinical depression. And there is no good news to be found in having clinical depression.  Individuals experiencing a significant degree of sadness, trouble meeting their daily responsibilities, and have feelings of powerless and hopelessness should seek professional help. However, normal and transient periods of feeling blue, down in the dumps, or just plain sad can actually have a positive effect on one's life. It gives us time for reflection and can be the catalyst for making small or big life changes.  
     When we feel sad or blue we usually are less perky and have less energy. We feel disinterested in our regular social activities, may retreat from our loved ones and friends for a temporary period of time, and usually our thoughts turn inward. In a nutshell, during these normal periods of "the blues" we slow down physically and tend to focus on our inner mental life. Our culture is consumed with pop psychology books, television shows, and social media giving us advice about how not to be sad and what to do as soon as we begin to feel sad. It takes only a split second to find thousands of internet sites devoted to telling us how to be happy or happier than we already feel.  Many of these sites post daily quotes of inspiration with hopes of turning a frown into a smile and we have been conditioned to "treat" our sadness as soon as the first "symptom" appears. We do not recognize the benefits of "working through" our emotions and instead seek out quick fix cures.  
      This attitude is unfortunate because quick fixes oftentimes miss their target. That is, a quick fix rarely resolves the real issue that was causing your "blues" in the first place. Getting to underlying issues and/or problems that are underneath your sadness or the blues requires reflection and reflection requires time and patience, all of which is the opposite of a quick fix. Working through difficult times and allowing yourself to feel painful emotions can actually lead to positive life changes. It is through suffering that we come to realize what it is that is truly impacting our lives negatively. Expecting to always be happy and feeling compelled to shelve or avoid our emotions of sadness or the "blues" has the potential to stunt our ability to recognize the necessary changes we need to make in order to experience a fuller and more satisfying life. Essentially, having the blues, feeling down in the dumps, or just plain sad gives us time "off" from our hectic lives and time "on" for reflection and re-evaluation. You may even find out that by working through what made you sad in the first place is what leads to your happiness in your future!

This article was written by Paula Durlofsky, Ph.D. I am a practicing psychologist in Bryn Mawr, PA. Email any questions or comments to drpauladurlofsky@gmail.com. You can visit my web page at
www.drpauladurlofsky.com to learn more about me and my practice.