Tag Archive for emotional health

Your Popsicle-Toed, Cover-Stealing Spouse & Sleep

I love my wife… but when we go to bed, she has the coldest feet, real “popsicle toes.” She steals the covers too… and makes snoring sounds from time to time.  Of course, to be fair, she accuses me of “twitching” and moving too much all through the night. (I try to deny it, but my brother told me the same thing in high school. And, come to think of it, my grandmother told me she could hear me “kicking around” in my sleep as well. And my college roommate…well, I guess it’s hard to deny the truth with so many witnesses. Anyway….) So, when my wife went on an overnight trip with her sister, I envisioned a blissful night of sleep—no cold feet, no stolen covers, no alarming sounds. But it didn’t work out that way; it never does. In fact, it seems I sleep worse when my wife is not home to share the bed with me, not better…always worse. Talking with my wife, she has the same experience. What’s the deal? Well, I finally found an explanation.

A study analyzing the data of 1,007 working age adults confirms my experience…and more. This study found that people who share a bed with their spouse reported less severe insomnia, less fatigue, and more time asleep than those who report never sharing a bed with their spouse.  In addition, they fell asleep faster and had less risk of sleep apnea. In other words, people sleep better sharing a bed with their spouse than they do alone.

But wait, there’s more. Sleeping with one’s spouse was also associated with lower depression, less anxiety, and less stress as well as greater satisfaction with life and relationships.

As I read the study review, I thought, “Maybe it’s just sleeping with a family member.” As if they read my mind, the researchers compared sleeping with a spouse to sleeping with a child.  Those who slept with their children most nights reported greater insomnia, exhibited a greater risk of sleep apnea, and had less control over their sleep (that last one is a “no kidding” one, right? Who has any control over their sleep with a child in the house, let alone in the bed?).

And, sleeping alone (the blissful moment of rest I had awaited) was actually associated with higher depression scores, lower social support and lower life and relationship satisfaction. Apparently, sleeping without my spouse in the bed is not what I had it cracked up to be.

Overall, this study suggests that sleeping with your spouse—cold toes, twitching, cover stealing, and all—results in greater emotional health and greater life satisfaction. All kidding aside, this fits with my life experience. There is comfort and peace in sleeping next to the one you love and to whom you’ve committed to sharing life.  It helps us connect and puts our “life rhythms in sync.” In the long run, I’m grateful for those popsicle toes and cover-stealing roll-overs. They let me know that the one I love is lying next to me and sharing life with me.  I’ll sleep better knowing she’s next to me, even as I pull the covers back over me in the night.

Help, My Child is a Perfectionist

In December, 2021, the US Surgeon General issued an “advisory on the youth mental health crisis” that was “further exposed by COVID-19 Pandemic.” Even before the pandemic, our youth struggled with depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide. In fact, this report noted that “high school students reporting persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased by 40%” during the decade prior to the pandemic. During that same period of time, high school students “seriously considering attempting suicide” increased by 36% and those who actually created a plan for suicide increased by 44%. And the pandemic only made the issue worse.

Many factors contribute to these statistics. In fact, our children have multiple stressors to deal with—pressures regarding performance, college and future career demands, parental expectations, self-expectations, comparisons…the list goes on. It is no wonder that in the midst of all this, our children and teens often develop a perfectionistic attitude; and that perfectionistic attitude can fuel depression and anxiety. What contributes to a child becoming a perfectionist? Here are a couple of contributors.

  1. Academic pressures. Grades, athletics, and extracurricular involvement become factors with which children and teens compare themselves with one another. Children and teens compete and strive to “be the best.”  They may feel pressure to obtain good grades in “AP” classes to get into the best college possible, to become the top athlete to gain a college scholarship, or to become the premier musician or artist or actor in their school to gain a scholarship. If not put in proper perspective, each of these stresses can contribute to an attitude of perfectionism that contributes to depression and anxiety.
  2. Social pressures. Social media escalates social comparisons. The number of “likes” and “followers” becomes a quantitative measure of popularity. Edited photos to “improve” appearance, pictures of only happy days, and photos of friends having fun “without me” all promote perfectionism and fuel comparisons that impact our children’s and teen’s self-esteem…which leads to a third contributor to perfectionism.
  3. Low self-esteem. Children may think that becoming the best athlete, the best student, or the most popular peer will make them feel better about themselves. Unfortunately, this strategy backfires. No one can become the best of everything. Even the “best athlete” has competitors. And all the comparisons made to “become number one” only serves to further shatter self-esteem.
  4. Parental influences. A parent who wants their child to become the best they can be (and we all want that) can inadvertently contribute to their child’s perfectionism. In fact, a meta-analysis of 21 studies that included data from 7,000 college students found that parental expectations and criticisms increased students’ self-criticism and perfectionism. A second meta-analysis of studies completed between 1989 and 2021 and included data from 23,975 college students. This meta-analysis suggests that “parental expectations, criticism and their combined parental pressure increased” an “average of 40%” over those years. Parents have higher expectations and voice more criticism in reaction to the increased pressure on children in academic and social settings in general. These increased expectations and criticisms contribute to perfectionism. (See Rising Parental Expectations Linked to Perfectionism in College Students.)

If the pressures of society filter through the family to the child, what can a parent do to help their child and teen not become a perfectionist?

  1. Resolve your own perfectionism and fears. Our children and teens learn first and foremost from how we live our lives. If you struggle with perfectionism, address it. You’ll be happier and your children will be happier. You can begin by considering the tips below for yourself as well as your children.
  2. Set realistic expectations. There is more than one type of perfectionism. Self-critical perfectionism is what we often think of when we think of perfectionism. In self-critical perfectionism a person sets up high personal standards and criticizes themselves if they believe they fall short of that standard, experience a failure, or encounter an obstacle that temporarily sets them back. In personal standards perfection, on the other hand, a person sets high goals for themselves but does not become self-critical when they fall short. They strive to become the best they can be knowing that their growth is a process, a journey, not an end goal or destination. They maintain realistic expectations of growth. Developing personal standards perfection rather than self-critical perfection demands self-awareness and self-honesty. We must be honest about our abilities, strengths, desires, and goals. And doing this takes a measure of self-compassion.
  3. Practice self-compassion. Realize that everyone experiences temporary “failures” and setbacks. Those “failures” and setbacks are opportunities to learn and grow. Everyone is in the process of growing and none of us has achieved perfection. As a result, people who practice self-compassion treat themselves with kindness, encouragement, and support. They speak words of comfort to themselves rather than words of criticism, words of encouragement rather than words that reprimand, words of kindness rather than words that berate. Self-compassion will lead to greater success. Our children will learn to practice self-compassion when we practice self-compassion and when we offer them words of kindness, encouragement, and support when they feel discouraged or overwhelmed.
  4. Practice gratitude. Rather than falling prey to comparisons, practice gratitude for how you have grown, strengths and abilities you possess, and personal integrity that live. Acknowledge the positive aspects of yourself.
  5. Humbly celebrate the success of others. Really, there is very little that proves more humbling than celebrating another person’s success in an area where you also want to succeed. Find a way to “be happy” for another person’s success, to rejoice with them.

These five practices can help you limit your child’s perfectionism and nurture a healthy life of growth for your child.

You, Your Family, & the World’s Analysis of Worth

It is easy to get caught up in the world’s analysis. The world bases its analytic scrutiny of personal worth and value on comparisons. And it teaches us and our children to do the same. Unfortunately, this never works out well. On one hand, we may compare ourselves with those who have more than we do—more wealth, more opportunity, more personal strengths in particular area, more resources. As a result, we feel bad, not good enough, inadequate, and unworthy.

On the other hand, we might compare ourselves to those who made different choices than we did and then beat ourselves up with the stones of “if only I had….” Of course, we might compare ourselves with those who “have it worse than us.” As so many say, “there are always those who have it worse than us.” But that comparison runs the risk of making us arrogant and even entitled.

The analysis of comparison just isn’t the best way to go. But what is the alternative? Gratitude. Specifically, self-gratitude. How can you practice self-gratitude?

Start by viewing yourself with eyes of kindness, understanding, and support. Instead of beating yourself up for choices you wish you hadn’t made, give thanks for what you have learned and how you have grown. Recognize any good that came to you through the choice you made…and give thanks.

Continue to view yourself through eyes of kindness and humble understanding and identify your strengths and abilities. Recognize your talents, your skills, your abilities… and give thanks.

Think about your resilience and your dedication. The times you have overcome obstacles and carried on in spite of difficulties. Reflect on your determination, your spark…and give thanks.

Take time to acknowledge your kindness to others, your acts of compassion toward others… and give thanks.

Take one more moment to consider areas of your life in which you experience contentment. Maybe you want a new car, but you are content, for the moment, with the car you have. Perhaps you want to become a more skilled musician but, for the moment, you are content to practice and enjoy what you know. Contentment does not hinder progress and improvement. It merely sets the stage for enjoying your current ability or status; and that enjoyment opens the door for even better improvement and growth. Consider those areas of contentment in our life…and give thanks.

Set aside comparisons and take up the practice of gratitude instead:

  • Gratitude for areas of personal growth.
  • Gratitude for strengths, character, and abilities
  • Gratitude for areas of contentment.

And teach your family to do the same.

Husbands, Reduce Your Wife’s Stress for a Better Life

Let’s face it, guys. Most of us want our wives to feel less stressed. And, chances are, we’d do almost anything to help alleviate our wives’ stress. It makes for a calmer home. After all, “happy wife, happy life,” right?

You can imagine, then, how pleased I was to discover this simple, enjoyable way to reduce my wife’s stress. Researchers from Ruhr University, Bochum, Germany confirmed the efficacy of this stress reducing activity in a study involving 76 people in romantic relationships. All the participants engaged in a stress-inducing test by keeping one hand in a bath of ice water for 3-minutes while maintaining “eye contact with a camera.”   Half the couples were instructed to embrace one another before the ice water hand soaking. The other half did not embrace one another.

Lo and behold, women who embraced their romantic partner prior to the “stress-inducing experience” had a lower biological stress response than those couples who did not embrace. They had a lower cortisol stress response. Ironically, this did not happen for the men, only for women.

I thought perhaps this was a fluke. So I looked around a little more and found another study that involved women anticipating a “small electric shock.” (I know, who volunteers to receive a “small electric shock”?) Anyway, this study found similar results. When a women held the hand of her husband, she perceived less stress while anticipating the shock than one who held the hand of a stranger. And the happier the marriage, the more stress relief the women felt while holding their husband’s hands. The more love, the happier the marriage, the less stress…a good reason to build a strong, loving marriage. There you have it—less of a biological stress response and less perceived stress. If you want a wife with less stress, a happier wife contributing to a happier family life, give her a hug. Even better give her multiple hugs a day. Hold her hand. Show her physical affection often. It’s simple. It’s enjoyable. And it will lead to a more stress-free wife. What a wonderful expression of love and a wonderful gift to give your wife.

Offended by Family: Forgiveness or Revenge?

If you have a family (and unless you were hatched from some alien species, you do), then you have encountered the need and the opportunity to forgive. Forgiveness is hard. You may have even thought, “Why should I forgive him? He never changes. He never apologizes. Why should I forgive him?” Let me offer an answer by way of a study published in 2022.

In this study, 546 participants wrote about a time in which they had been wronged by another person. Then, they wrote a letter to the person who wronged them. Some were instructed to write a letter forgiving the person and others to get revenge. The letters were not sent, only written.

After writing about the scenario of hurt and a letter of forgiveness or revenge, the participants rated themselves on traits such as warmth & morality—traits measuring their personal sense of humanity. The results revealed some important reasons to forgive.

Those who had written letters of forgiveness rated themselves with a higher level of perceived humanity than those who wrote letters of revenge. In other words, forgiving contributed to a person feeling more human. It made them feel better about themselves as human beings. Those who wrote letters of forgiveness also reported less “inclination toward self-harm” than those who wrote letters of revenge.  

In another experiment, college students either imagined one of two scenarios: a coworker insulting their presentation or a coworker having a positive interaction with them. Those who imagined being insulted experienced a decrease in their feelings of “self-humanity.” They felt “dehumanized.” However, if they imagined forgiving their coworker, their level of self-humanity returned to normal.  If they imagined taking revenge, their perceived level of humanity remained low; they continued to feel dehumanized. Forgiveness led to an increased recognition of one’s own humanity. Interesting, isn’t it? Forgiveness seems to make us feel more human, more humane. So, why should you forgive that family member who hurt you? For one thing, doing so will make you feel more human. It will make you feel better about yourself as a person. That’s great…but it’s only the beginning. Forgiving also presents an opportunity for the other person to grow. It opens the door to restoring the relationship. It reveals the character of God. So, even though it can prove difficult to do at times, forgive. A healthy sense of self and a healthy marriage (with a more satisfying sex life, by the way) awaits you when you do.

How Does Your Family Feel About Emotions?

I’m a behavioral health therapist. You know, a “how-do-you-feel-about-that” kind of guy. But truth be told, I’m not one who exhibits deep displays of emotion. I feel them, but I don’t express them loudly.

I’m also the father of two daughters. If you happen to have daughters, you know how emotive they can be during their growing years. At times I was simply overwhelmed by their display of excitement, hurt, joy, or sadness. So, I had a couple of choices. How would I respond to their emotions? How would I model treating emotions in my family?

I could teach my daughters that emotions are too much to manage. They aren’t safe to express. I could encourage them through my actions and words to push their emotions down, muffle them, deny them, keep them bottled up. “Stop crying. You have nothing to cry about.” In other words, I could encourage them to repress their emotions. But simply repressing emotions has a way of transforming into hiding emotions under overworking, drinking too much, obsessive scrolling, simply disappearing from the lives of others, or…any number of other negative behaviors. That’s no good.

Or I could teach them that emotional expression is simply “bad.”  In my own sense of being overwhelmed, I could yell at them for being “too loud,” “too much trouble,” or “out-of-control.” I could aggressively shut them down with critical name-calling or threats of harsh punishment. But then they’ll just internalize those harsh criticisms about themselves and others. They’ll follow the example of holding emotions in until they bubble over in aggressive words and actions of their own. No. that is not what I want my daughters to learn.

Or, perhaps the best choice, I could teach my children that emotions are welcome. They present us with information we need to take care of ourselves, even the sad and angry emotions. So, I could make sure that emotions are welcome in our home. I could accept them, all of them. I could listen to them deeply to understand their message…and so teach my children to listen deeply as well. I could hold their emotions in a welcoming, accepting environment. In the process, my daughters will learn that they are loved and accepted, even when sad or angry or overwhelmingly excited. That acceptance and love, combined with their parents’ attentive ear, builds the internal resources they need to manage those emotions independently. That sounds like a great place to start.

The choice is made…a “no-brainer” really. I’m going to allow emotions, welcoming and accepting each one. And, in the holding of their emotions in a welcoming, accepting environment, my children will learn to express their emotions in a safe way. No. I won’t be perfect. Nobody is. But making this choice provides the best goal, an ideal that’s worth striving for. Will you make the same choice for your children and your family?

“Refurbish” the Empty Nest

It happens. Parents invest time and energy into their children’s lives for years. They set aside their own comfort, and even postpone some personal goals, to invest in their children’s goals and dreams. Then it happens. Our children fly the coop. They grow up, spread their wings, and fly off to live their own lives…just like we raised them to do. Still, their leaving is bittersweet. The “empty nest” can be…well, empty. Some parents experience a heavy sadness or a loss of purpose when their children leave home. Research reveals that the empty nest can even lead to depression or anxiety for some parents. (See Empty Nest Syndrome for more information.) That’s the bad news…but I have some good news, too.

A series of three studies revealed a wonderful way to beat the empty nest. It’s really pretty simple too. Get involved in a class or an activity group. Not just any class or activity group though. Get involved in a class focused on crafting, singing, or creative writing. In this study, each of these three types of classes increased participants’ self-confidence, enhanced their willingness to take on new challenges, and gave them a greater sense of control over their own lives. Even more, the classes “broadened their network of friends” and gave them a greater sense of belonging. And the more a person felt like they were part of the group, the “more their health and well-being improved.”

There’s more. If you want to create new relationships and a sense of belonging quickly, start with the singing class or group. Those in a singing group connected to others in the group most quickly, followed by those in the creative writing group and, lastly, those in the craft group. Still, they all lead to a greater sense of belonging and new relationships.

So, if you’re feeling lonely, sad, or just a little empty sitting at home after your children have flown the coop, join a singing, writing, or crafting class. You’ll have a great time, meet new friends, and fill the nest with new and interesting activities and friends.

Secretly Exercise Your Child’s Patience This Summer

Do you wish your child had more patience? If you’re like me, you probably wish you had more patience too. We could all use a little more patience. Here’s the good news. You can increase your patience and help your child increase their patience at the same time… all while you’re having fun! It won’t even seem like you’re practicing those patience muscles. But you will. And did I say? It’s fun! Here are 6 activities that can help you and your child increase your patience this summer.

  • Plant a garden. It takes time for a seed to germinate, sprout, grow, blossom, produce fruit, and ripen. Nurturing and watching it go through this process promotes patience. So, plant a vegetable garden, flower garden, or herb garden. Plant a tree. Plant it and watch it grow.
  • Bake together. Baking also takes time and patience. You have to gather the ingredients, mix the ingredients, prepare the pan, bake your cake (bread, pie, or pastry), let it cool, and, best of all, eat it.  Depending on what you bake, you may have to add time for the dough to rise as well. All this provides practice in patience with a reward of a very delicious treat.
  • Play games. Many games promote patience. In board games or card games we practice patience while waiting our turn. Chess involves waiting even longer while your opponent considers options. Games like “Simon Says” promotes patience as well as listening. So play a game and practice those patience muscles.
  • Build a model. I don’t hear about children building models as much as I used to. But, you can imagine the patience needed to sort the pieces and carefully follow the instructions to put them together properly before painting the assembled model. When you’re done, show it off.
  • Complete a puzzle. My wife and children loved doing puzzles. (I didn’t have the patience, lol.)  Puzzles promote patience as you sort the pieces before looking for just the right piece to fill the empty space. You also get to enjoy spending time together as you complete it. Perhaps the one who shows the most patience can fit the final piece into place. 
  • Paint by numbers. You can get a simple paint by number or a more complex paint by number. Both will promote patience as you carefully follow the instructions, using the correct color to match the number and then waiting for one color to dry before using colors that border it. After patiently completing the project, however, you have a beautiful picture to display.

I love ideas that help promote patience in such simple, natural, and fun ways. They allow our children (and us) to learn without even knowing it. And, I have to say it again—it’s fun. So, practice patience and have fun at the same time this summer.

This Vacation Will Improve Your Family’s Mental Health (& You Don’t Even Have to Leave Home)

A team of researchers at the University of Bath published a study in May of 2022 that revealed a way to improve mental health and well-being in just one week. It’s not a cure-all, but it can make a difference. The study included 154 participants between the ages of 18- and 72-years-old. Researchers randomly assigned them to one of two groups. One group was asked to stop using all social media for one week. The other group continued “scrolling through” social media as usual. I don’t know about you, but “scrolling as usual” for me often occurs mindlessly. I go to Facebook or Instagram to check something simple and find myself scrolling for more time than I want. In fact, the average time spent on social media in the United States is about 2 hours and 6 minutes (See Average Time Spent Daily on Social Media (Latest 2022 Data) – BroadbandSearch for more statistics on social media use.)  That means that taking time off social media frees up an average of 2 hours every day. Imagine what you can do with 2 extra hours a day.  But that was not the objective of this study. Check out the results this study discovered.

Questionnaires completed before and after the week of the study showed that those who had taken a time off of social media showed a “significant improvement in well-being, depression, and anxiety.”  In addition, those who took a week off social media self-reported improved mood and less anxiety. Read that again. Those who took a week off of social media exhibited an overall improvement in well-being and a decrease in depression and anxiety.

Social media usage has increased dramatically over the last decade. In fact, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that we spend more time using social media than we do socializing, eating and drinking, or doing housework. (See Time Spent Daily on Social Media (Latest 2022 Data) – BroadbandSearch for more.) Not using social media for a week opens up time for you and your family to engage in many other things that might bring you greater joy and health. For instance, you might enjoy activities ranging from visiting the zoo or aviary to going to an amusement park to taking a raft down the river to having a picnic to enjoying a free concert to spending time with your family to… the list goes on.

So here is a challenge. Sit down with your family (maybe over dinner or a trip to the ice cream parlor) and discuss the findings of this study. As a family, pick a week to take a “social media vacation.” You might combine it with your family vacation; or you might choose a different week. Whichever you choose, be sure everyone agrees to take a week off social media. Plan some activities—fun activities, family activities, individual activities—to do during that week. Put the week and the activities on the schedule. Then do it…and enjoy it. After it’s all said and done, reconvene (another trip to the ice cream parlor perhaps) and discuss your experience. Who knows? You might end up deciding to take a one-week-social-media-vacation twice a year or once a quarter.

A Surprising Factor in Your Child’s Academic Success

Prosocial skills—”the propensity to act kindly or generously toward peers and other people.”  Kindness and generosity. Don’t we all want our children to become kind, generous adults? In fact, we want them to practice kindness and generosity even as children. And for good reasons. Children who demonstrate more prosocial behaviors develop fewer emotional and behavioral problems than their less prosocial peers, especially in poorer neighborhoods and schools. Kindness and generosity “protect against risk of emotional problems in low socioeconomic neighborhoods.” But here is a surprise. A recent study suggests that a child’s kindness and generosity (their prosocial behavior) may actually improve their academic success.

For this study, researchers followed 1,175 children from 4-years-old through 7-years-old in Bradford, England. In general, the results suggested that children’s prosocial behavior positively impacts their early learning goals, phonic skills, and academic test performance. Significantly, prosocial behavior impacted each of these areas over and above the neighborhood and family socioeconomic status. However, there was another, rather interesting finding.

  • If a child came from a poorer neighborhood and exhibited less prosocial behavior, they also had lower levels of academic achievement. But this was not true in wealthier neighborhoods. In fact, in wealthier neighborhoods, children who exhibited less prosocial behavior still exhibited high levels of academic success.
  • Children who exhibited higher levels of prosocial behavior, however, did not differ in levels of academic success, whether they came from poorer neighborhoods or wealthier neighborhoods. This suggests that kindness and generosity (prosocial behaviors) may protect against the impact of living in neighborhoods with limited resources or educational resources and opportunities.

What does this have to do with families? The family is a training ground for kindness and generosity, for teaching prosocial skills. Your family can become a training ground for promoting prosocial skills in your children. Here are

  1. Parents can model kindness and generosity. Make kindness a hallmark of your family. Intentionally show kindness to your spouse and children. Offer to help your spouse and children, even without being asked. Also, let your children witness your kindness and generosity toward others. Speak kindly of others. Act kindly toward others. Help others. Model kindness and generosity. At least one study even suggests that a father’s prosocial behavior, specifically, increases their children’s prosocial behavior.
  2. Model kindness toward your children. Be responsive and empathetic toward your children. Children are much more likely to treat other people in ways that their parents of treated them.
  3. Provide opportunities for practicing kindness and generosity. Let your children be involved in activities of kindness as varied as setting the table for a family meal, helping to buy presents for friends or family, making cookies for a shut-in, or writing thank-you cards for gifts received…to name a few. The days are chock-full of opportunities to practice kindness and generosity. Coach your children in taking advantage of those opportunities.
  4. Notice and acknowledge when your children engage in acts of kindness. “Thank you for being helpful.” “That was kind of you to share.” Noticing and acknowledging kind behaviors in your children will increase the likelihood they will engage in more of it. After all, attention is one of the greatest parenting discipline tools we have.
  5. Take note of opportunities to talk about kindness. Acknowledge acts of kindness you see in others. Point out acts of kindness and generosity in the news. (Here is a great example from Good News Network about the exceptional kindness of a 13-year-old.) Utilize stories and movies to discuss examples of kindness in the story. You can also discuss missed opportunities for showing kindness and how a kindness might have changed the storyline. These provide excellent opportunities to teach about kindness and keep kindness in the “forefront of their mind.” 

Practicing these 5 ideas for promoting kindness in your children will not only encourage them to practice kindness, but they will also buffer your children against “emotional problems” and promote better academic success. Kinder children, fewer emotional difficulties, and greater academic success…sounds like a great outcome to me.

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