Self-Care for the Holidays

Ah, it's that time of year again.  You may have started your holiday planning and shopping, RSVPing to various events, and/or getting ready to host.  For most of us, the holidays are a mix of excitement, gift giving and receiving, and spending time with the ones we love.

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On the flip side, it may also involve running harried, stretching ourselves too thin, dealing with competing demands, and family drama.  Relationships may become (more) strained.  Whereas some level of increased stress is to be expected, the holidays can also bring out additional difficult feelings, such as grief and loneliness.

The need for self-care and boundaries is higher than ever at this time of year, although ironically we likely have less time to do so.  Here are some things to consider:

  • Be kind and gentle with yourself.  When multiple demands compete for our energy and attention, it becomes increasingly difficult to stay in the present and enjoy the moment.  
  • Identify now how you want to take care of yourself.  For some, this means scheduling time with a dear friend.  For others, it could be unwinding with hot tea or cocoa at night and sticking to an exercise routine.
  • Notice when you become reactive.  When you notice having a shorter fuse, for example, take a long and gentle moment to reflect on what is really causing it.  What may initially feel like annoyance with slow moving lines or traffic, might really be about pressure to keep up, or feeling taken advantage of, or having familiar buttons pushed by a family member.
  • Holiday stress may get acted out in relationships.  This may create a wish to withdraw from others or engage in various escape fantasies.  Be careful not to entirely give in - spending meaningful quality time with others usually leaves us feeling better. 
  • Be aware how you respond to interpersonal conflict.  Do you pursue or withdraw?  These patterns may get exacerbated with holiday stress.  Just being aware can help you modify your responses to others.
  • Be a clear communicator.  Let others know what you're willing and able to contribute, and also communicate what you are not able to do.  Read this post about assertiveness skills.
  • If you are spending the holidays alone, plan quality time for yourself as well as some time to be around others.  Joining a community that has meaning to you, religious or secular, is good for mental health.  Volunteering and giving back during the holidays can be immensely rewarding.  Shifting focus from inward to outward can help put difficult feelings in perspective.  Plan your participation early as volunteer opportunities on holidays fill up quickly.
  • Take note of what you are grateful for.  It helps put things in perspective.

Happy holidays to you and yours!

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Simple Ways to Boost Your Mood and Confidence

Positivity and confidence are important building blocks in life.  Often they are the prerequisite for other positive changes.  They keep us moving forward (instead of looking backwards) and connected to others.  Here are some simple ways to build mood and confidence boosters into your everyday life:

  • Evaluate your choices:  Take inventory about what is currently going on in your life:  in your relationships, workspace and environment.  Determine the aspects of your life that you can change positively, then focus on them.  Also acknowledge the things that you cannot change, and move on. Make sure to only invest energy in the things that are worth your while.  It may help to write them down.
  • Eliminate negativity:  If there are people and situations that leave you drained and grumpy on a regular basis, re-evaluate their place in your schedule and your life.  For example - a friendship should leave you energized, rather than drained, most of the time.
  • Stop blaming yourself:  When something doesn't go as expected, don't dwell on it.  Rather than beating yourself up about human mistakes, take a deep breath, regroup, and figure out your next steps.
  • Make time for exercise:  This helps burn off stress hormones and leaves you feeling relaxed and refreshed.  Exercise is also known to counteract mild to moderate depression and improves confidence.
  • Get social support:  Make time for dates with friends.  This helps reduce stress, improves health, and gives you something to look forward to.
  • Learn something new:  Novelty is good for the brain and the soul.  Pick up a new hobby, craft, skill, or language.  You will improve your confidence and may meet new people that share your passion.
  • Reward yourself:  Break down your goals into small, manageable benchmarks.  When you reach a benchmark, reward yourself with something healthy.  For example, after you finish cleaning a room, make time for a healthy snack or a phone call to a friend.
  • Nurture your mind:  Surround yourself with positive music, entertainment, and art.  Avoid movies or TV shows that leave you feeling stressed, anxious, and negative.
Make self-care a priority in your life.  If this is consistently hard for you, you may wish to consult with a licensed mental health professional for support.  

Job Burnout - Are You At Risk?

"Without work, all life goes rotten, 

But when work is soulless, life stifles and dies." - Albert Camus

Feeling stressed at work and unfulfilled by one's job is a familiar topic to most people.  But there is a difference between having a difficult set of days or weeks and actual job burnout.  Burnout is not an all or nothing phenomenon.  Fluctuations in motivation and enthusiasm are normal.  Job burnout occurs when enthusiasm and motivation have completely dried up while your job skills and knowledge remain intact - a very frustrating feeling.  Those hardest hit by job burnout are people in the helping and medical professions, those who make high stakes or life and death decisions, and those whose work is very detail oriented.

Burnout is a cumulative process and it is important to be in in tune with early warning signals:

- Loss of interest in work

- Emotional fatigue

- Increased moodiness and irritability in both personal and professional situations

- Increasing frustration with everyday responsibilities at work

- Inability to re-charge your internal batteries while not working

- Interpersonal problems marked by decreased tolerance and patience

- Social withdrawal - becoming aloof and inaccessible

- Indifference towards people and dehumanization of those you work with (eg, thinking of clients as objects not people)

- Health problems as a result of chronic tension or stress

- Substance abuse as a way to cope with difficult feelings

- Declining performance at work

- Being emotionally or physically absent from work

- Ceasing to find meaning in your work

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Most people suffering from burnout share an experience of powerlessness, hopelessness, and helplessness.  They lose a sense of being able to control their work and self-confidence takes a major dwindling hit.  

Re-establishing a sense of empowerment and confidence is key to addressing job burnout.

  Before deciding whether or not to quit a job, it is important that you get yourself to a replenished and rational place first.

Here are some tips to help you reclaim a sense of personal control:

-Learn better ways to manage stress.  Healthy coping is key to replenish those dead batteries and get you to a place where you can clearly assess and evaluate what to do next about your job situation.

-Seek social support.  Even though the first instinct during burnout may be to withdraw from others, it is important to counteract this instinct.  Build a solid network made up of friends, family, and coworkers.

-Increase your knowledge base.  By continuing to build your marketable job skills set, you increase your personal and professional sense of empowerment.

- Manage negative thoughts.  See my previous blog entry on Talking Back to Your Internal Chatterbox to learn how to manage types of thinking that can take control of your emotions.

- Develop detached concern.  This means learning to let go of attachment to how things could or ought to be - a skill that becomes immeasurable especially when you are working with serious or impossible situations.

- If all else fails, consider changing jobs

.  However, it is paramount that you analyze the source of your job dissatisfaction first and explore what is needed to improve the situation.

Talking to a mental health professional who specializes in job burnout can be a powerful tool to regain a sense of control.  It can help to have a neutral person to process the above topic with.  I am a Houston psychologist and enjoy working with job burnout concerns. 

Stay Sane During The Holidays

Ah, they are sneaking up on us - signs of imminent holidays.  Decorations are popping up both indoors and outdoors, there is faint hint of a jingle in the air, commercials are calling out, media programming reflects that 'tis the season, and stores are starting to buzz.  The holidays can fill us with excitement, anticipation, joy, and...stress.  There are parties to attend and/or throw, family get-togethers to get through, gifts to buy (if you're giving), homes and spaces to decorate, and work deadlines to meet.

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For almost anyone, the holidays are accompanied by mixed feelings.  The season calls for celebration, companionship, and (for many) spiritual reflection.  Yet we also often find ourselves confronted by hastiness, feelings of running out of time, financial challenges, and navigating the minefield of family relationships and related politics.

How can we stay grounded in the next few weeks?  Here are some things to consider:

1.  Set healthy boundaries with yourself and others.  This means knowing when to say no.  It also means not letting yourself get pulled into toxic relationship dynamics, often rekindled at family get-togethers.  Pick and fight your own battles, and let others do the same.  Know when to step out and give yourself time to catch your breath.

2.  Practice self-care.  This means staying in tune with your stress level and practicing active stress-management.  Pay attention to your body - the holidays often pack on the pounds, so set your food goals early on.  This could mean limiting your intake of sweets (just one cookie for me, thanks) and avoiding going back for seconds.  Make time to exercise. Make time to relax with a cup of tea.

3.  Connect meaningfully.  Think about the relationships in your life which leave you filling energized instead of depleted.  In the holiday rush, we may lack time to make that phone call or have coffee with a friend.  Be mindful of your time to allow for meaningful conversations and connections.  Holidays can be a time of sadness and loneliness.  Seek support when needed.

4.  Take time to reflect.  Make sure to allow space for spirituality or meaning, whatever this means to you personally, during this season.

Happy Holidays!

If you are having trouble navigating the many stressors of the holiday season, support is essential.  Sometimes, talking to mental health professional can help. 

Finding Yourself High and Dry? Navigating Stress During a Financial Crisis

The financial crisis is back on everybody’s mind as we have been watching the news.  Money worry is familiar to most of us.  And it doesn’t help to see this issue illuminated from all angles on our news networks.  No matter what your employment status or how far away you are from retirement.




People deal with financial stress in different ways.  Some take the “head in the sand” (aka ostrich) approach by avoiding thinking or talking about the topic.  This can often backfire – the more we suppress certain thoughts, the more likely they are to pop back up in sneaky ways in our minds (research backs this up).  This approach can also leave us in the dark when we may need to make important decisions. 

Other people become obsessed with the topic and find themselves glued to the TV screen, analyzing each minute detail.  This too can be unhealthy, as it takes away important mental resources from our daily lives and may not help us solve the problem. 

In this, as with many other issues, balance is key when we try to cope.   Here are some things to keep in mind:

Be News Savvy.  While it’s important to stay in the know, don’t get caught up in the media hype prophesizing doom and gloom.  Try to limit your news intake to a certain amount of time per day - for example 15-20 minutes from a trusted news source.  Avoid these news first thing in the morning or right before bedtime.

Take Inventory.  It is important to assess what in life we are in control of, as opposed to what we are not.  All too often we grip onto and waste our energy on things that will run their course.  If you are immediately affected and/or have lost your job, create a written outline on how you and your family can manage expenses and finances differently and more efficiently.  Reaching out to credit counseling services and financial planners can help alleviate anxiety.  Talk to your bank, utility companies, and credit card companies about payment options.  Research options for continuing education to make yourself more marketable.

Notice How You Deal With Stress.  Stress can be sneaky – before we know it, we can turn to food, inactivity, smoking, alcohol, or other substances to somehow manage it.   We may withdraw from family and friends and lose sight of what’s important.

Identify Healthy Choices.  Take a walk with a loved one, try a new recipe at home, call a friend.  Be proactive while taking care of yourself.  Reach out for support.  Make sure to eat right and make some room for exercise and socializing – again, things you can control. 

Be Patient.  Uncertain times leave us with more questions than answers.  It takes courage and tenacity to weather these types of storms.  Having question marks in our lives can help us reflect on what’s important.  And this can leave us richer in the long run.

If you continue to be overwhelmed by the stress, it can be useful to seek professional support.  A career counselor can help you create a concrete vision and goals if you are in a job transition.  A psychologist can help you address the emotions and meanings behind your worries and teach new skills to manage stress.  I am a Houston psychologist – to learn more about my services, visit DrGortner.com.