All posts by Debbie Mandel

About Debbie Mandel

I'm an author, stress management specialist, and my latest book is "Addicted to Stress: A Woman's 7 Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life" (Wiley, Sept. 2008). Also, I host a weekly radio show and run an educational site where you can learn more about building immunity to feeling bad: www.turnonyourinnerlight.com

Should a Marriage License Have an Expiration Date?

Screen shot 2013-12-09 at 11.34.54 PMI was working out early morning in my local Life Fitness Club next to six guys (45-62 years-old) who were lifting weights before playing their regular competitive game of racquet ball. They forgot that I was in the room as I quietly did abdominal crunches and planks on the floor. Consequently, I overheard a conversation which made me sit up (forgive the pun) and pay attention as one of the guys, a cardiologist, said, “A marriage license should be valid for ten year-increments with the option of renewal just like a driver’s license.  And you know what will happen? The divorce rate will plummet.”

Another member of the posse, a dermatologist, was asked for his opinion and he confessed that he did not have one as he never spoke about relationship matters because his words might get back to his wife. Another guy, a venture capitalist, asserted if a marriage license could expire, then nobody would stay married. The local wedding caterer asked what the economic formula would be if the marriage was not renewed and what would happen to the children?

To their surprise I interrupted, “I think marriages will be better than ever! Around the 8th or 9th year married people will try harder, even campaign to hold on to their spouse for another ten years. The romance would rev up.” The proponent of the idea did not agree with me. He seemed eager to walk away from his 25 year relationship – if he could.

The parallels between getting a marriage and driver’s license:

  • You need an eye “I” exam- a certain level of good vision to see signs and changes down the road. Do you really see your spouse, the person in front of you, even though you finish their sentences and interrupt?
  • You must bring proof of identity. Do you know who you really are and where you are going? What do you do to support your authentic self?
  • Are you always in the driver’s seat, a passenger, or a bit of both?
  • You need your social security number; in other words, are you secure socially to go it alone or do you want your sidekick?

Couples can either grow together or apart; some of us go through the motions of living together, stuck in a marriage with a spouse who has become a stranger. Others experience life with a loving team mate, feeling happier and healthier. If you knew your marriage license was up for renewal, what would you do differently? What would you want the license to do?

‘Tis the Season for 3 Types of Gift-Giving

Screen shot 2013-12-09 at 6.38.17 AMGift-giving is a complex human story which can either be inspired by the expectation of reciprocity or pure unselfishness.  Various religions deem giving as holy, a liberating act taking you out of the self and into the larger context of humanity.  And if you feel lonely and stressed, counselors and therapists will advise you to volunteer in order to meet people and get involved.

Basically, there are three styles of gift-giving.

To

  • Someone you know
  • Someone you don’t know
  • Someone you don’t like

Giving to someone you know sets the stage to reinforce a happy relationship. You think about the gift from the recipient’s point of view, and place a value on the relationship. This type of present involves planning, imagination and effort.  You are rewarding another person. Consequently, you are enhancing your own reputation, romancing someone, banking a favor or attracting an ally. Often there are invisible strings attached.

Giving to someone or a group you don’t know makes you an anonymous giver. The act is not about receiving acknowledgement for the thoughtfulness of your gift. The gift is an act of compassion, a spark of genuine concern to help others and put back some goodness in the world. This is the social glue which brings people together for common values.

Giving to someone you don’t like involves loving your enemy – an enormous potential for spiritual expansion. Of course, you could take the low road and make a metaphorical statement about your relationship like giving a set of knives to suggest that you have been stabbed in the back. Another option is to give a gift which highlights a salient weakness like giving a diet book to an overweight person. However, to create harmony out of discord by forgiving this person you don’t like can help you shore up your own weakness. Does the object of your anger/jealousy mirror something about yourself that you don’t like? Do you have a fear or insecurity which you are projecting? Have you honestly assessed your own shortcomings?  When you forgive, you achieve equanimity – you get even.

Aim to accomplish all three diverse styles to satisfy the different parts of your personality. Take an inventory of which personality trait dominates. Don’t forget to give yourself a gift.

What type of gift giving will you be doing this year? Share your tips in the comments below! 

Thanksgiving Is The Optimum Time To De-Stress

StressMany mental health experts write that Thanksgiving can be a stressful holiday.  However, I am happy to be the bearer of good tidings: Thanksgiving provides a terrific opportunity to manage stress and in fact, set the tone for the rest of the season: A reasonable happiness with realistic expectations. This is a holiday where simplifying, getting back to basics, is the theme.

Did you know that it is an urban myth perpetuated by the media that there is more family conflict during the holidays? In fact, increased family gatherings and community support during the holidays create greater cohesion and bolster the spirit. Consider that most of us are on our best behavior during family gatherings!

And if you are living a life of quiet desperation, you don’t have to accomplish the impossible which is to forget your loss and your grief in order to be happy. On the contrary the more you try to forget, the more your brain focuses on what you are trying to forget. Instead you have to complete your loss and grief by looking at it and taking charge of what you see.  On Thanksgiving, when you are supposed to feel grateful, go the opposite route and shine the light on what’s missing. This could mean forgiveness, integration of positive values, shedding the toxic parts and having your say to the person or disease – alive or dead. Turn the loss into triumph by strengthening your spirit and making yourself kinder and more compassionate. For example, if you have lost the love of your life become the love of your life.

The Thanksgiving Menu for Stress Management:

  • Taking a break from our problems and sadness to experience a fresh perspective that “earth is crammed with heaven” (Elizabeth Barrett Browning)
  • Writing a gratitude list is a powerful stress management strategy. And here you have an entire holiday celebrating gratitude, reminding us to re-appreciate all the things we used to appreciate.
  • A chance to reconnect with others, forgiving those we have argued with or excluded from our circle with no explanation necessary, after all, it’s in the spirit of the holiday
  • A quality meal based on protein and relaxing tryptophan – a turkey – promoting natural drowsy relaxation, a signal to slow down
  • A tasting menu which delights the senses and blesses and honors food instead of making food the enemy
  • A meal which is participatory, a team effort of pitching in and sharing a signature dish – delegating as opposed to depleting
  • Exercising outdoors like a brisk walk after eating, or a family football game to balance the fullness of the meal and reset natural rhythms
  • Volunteering to serve others or donating to those who are less fortunate or  on the flip side gratefully receiving help and donations, so that others can feel blessed when giving
  • To recall the dearly departed  with stories, quotes and memories, bringing them back to life
  • And if you can’t celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday due to work or complex family dynamics, there is always Sunday to make your own version!
photo by: Alan Cleaver

The Extraordinary Value of the Ordinary to Manage Extreme Stress

Screen shot 2013-11-06 at 11.30.18 PMDuring times of extraordinary stress we tend to feel that we have little or no control. At this point it would be wise to go the opposite route to get back in control: Reestablish the ordinary routine. Going through the familiar motions is comforting and helps us stabilize and return to center. And if we are merely experiencing ordinary stress, that ordinary routine will serve as a preventative for spiraling down into the throes of anxiety and grief. It is always easier to prevent than to treat.

The problem is that we have developed a profound distaste for the ordinary which includes never-ending housework, mundane chores, secure job and dependable spouse. We want to be larger than life, a celebrity. However, what we don’t realize is that the consistency and predictability of the ordinary provides the most direct route to happiness, security and love- the anchor to our flights of fancy. Small steps can lead to giant gains.

How to embrace the ordinary in your life:

* Reject perfectionism and its associated stress which actually impede reasonable accomplishment. Release the procrastination trigger of “not being good enough,” for it will simply not get done.  Instead, do your best and move on to the next project.

* Don’t beat your head against a wall of frustration. Accept how things are like being stuck in traffic, or people saying the things that they say and move your ladder of success to another wall.

* Use a mundane chore like doing laundry as a physical opportunity to serve as a metaphor for cleaning out your toxic thoughts and removing sad stains from your consciousness. Daily structure restores normalcy and stress hormones need to be moved out of the body and mind.

* Go shopping. Consumerism has gotten a bad rap, especially the love/hate relationship we have regarding materialism. Instead, feel grateful for your material purchases and enjoy them.  And every time you go to the supermarket, re-appreciate all the various foods available to you like the vast array of summer fruits and vegetables in winter.

* Get back to basic human needs with a healthy Mediterranean meal plan and daily exercise. There is no magic pill or diet regarding sustained weight loss and fitness.

Try to be kind and moderate in your speech and behavior.  Simple expressions of kindness are powerful transformers.

* Look around you for visual images of optimism and hope. Read books and watch movies which are uplifting; instead of disparaging them as overly sentimental and unreal. Reality needs the imagination to make it more tolerable. Fiction helps us learn how to solve real problems: What would the hero do?

* Maintain your natural rhythm with a daily technology-free zone. Take a walk outdoors or sit on a park bench to inhale and absorb the details of life.

Celebrate Halloween to De-Stress From Your Scary Reality

fearstairsIt’s a scary world out there. For example, it’s the first year anniversary of the Nor-Easter Hurricane Sandy. Let’s count some of our collective fears: Terrorism, illness and mortality, alien invaders, zombies, vampires, ghosts, science and technology horrors, and any adult or child with a gun who has an ax to grind. Appearing counter-intuitive, Halloween can help you face your true individual fear by wearing a disguise, a mask and costume. Essentially, you can wear your biggest fear inside-out, revealing it to the world without any shame attached in order to help you confront and so, reduce its powerful hold.

In the imagination fear conjures up frightening catastrophic situations. Did you know that when imagining a terrible tragedy from which you believe you will never recover, you will be surprised how much better you can actually face it in reality and truly recover?  Adversity can make you stronger and more resilient. Turn stress into strength.

Here are 10 costumes and how they can help you to transcend your fears. When you dress up for Halloween, you tap into your sense of humor and fun which will reframe what you dread through role playing. Go ahead and get it out of your system.

* If you are afraid that you are merely surviving at work or just going through the motions in your activities of daily living, wear a zombie costume.
* Afraid of people dominating you or draining your energy? Dress up as a vampire.
* If you are worried about global terrorism, dress up as a scary political figure.
* If you believe that you are unattractive and do not like your body, dress up as Frankenstein.
* If you feel inhibited, wear a sexy outfit or dress up like a character in Fifty Shades.
* Afraid of people deceiving you and pretending to be your friends, dress up like a Stephen King clown.
* Feeling like you have lost your inner child, wear a baby costume.
* If you feel powerless, wear a law enforcement outfit.
* Scared of doctors or surgeons?  Wear a white coat with a stethoscope.
* Are you afraid of your dark side, wear a Breaking Bad costume.

And keep in mind all those Halloween goodies like candy bars and candy corn which herald the winter weight gain holiday season – how scary is this candy fest which fuels the sugar lust! Face the sweet treats and indulge a little! All you have to do is limit your allotment and exercise away the excess calories. Try dressing up in exercise clothes.

The 5 Benefits of Telling Lies

Screen shot 2013-10-21 at 12.04.09 AMIf you have been taught to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, you might want to reevaluate this truism. A good lie has many fundamental benefits which include promoting well-being, compassion, good humor, and happiness. Remember how you enjoyed those fairy tales which were part of your bed time ritual?

Throughout the ages fiction has revealed what it means to be human by simulating challenges, how to relate to others and listen to their stories, as well as teach us to better tolerate the human condition. Everyone makes up stories about the facts. What kind of story do you create: A tragedy, comedy or romance?

Lies with benefits:

  • The role of the imagination is to transform mundane reality: Work, household chores, paying bills, homework and exams, aches and pains, arguments with loved ones, and daily stressors. For example, reading a novel or watching a movie, a work of fiction whose story describes how the hero overcomes adversity, can inspire you to become a better person – in other words, show you the way. A painting can transform trash into treasure.
  • Stress-management strategies urge you to reframe negatives into positives by creating a kinder story out of the facts in order to release all that anger and disappointment. For example, the waiter who appears to be hostile to your requests and is ruining your digestion can be reframed into this story: A hardworking person who is struggling with the responsibility of supporting a wife, children and an elderly mother and so, is a bit irritable. You can cut this person some slack, can’t you, even give him a compliment validating his busyness? You might end up with a free desert (as I have)!
  • When you are upset with someone steeped in an argument, telling this person that you believe she is coming from a good place, a kind place, will usually soften the tension and inspire her to live up to your lofty description. She can take the higher road you because you pointed out the way.
  • Acting as if usually leads to personal transformation. If you play the part long enough, you will become what you aspire to be. If you rehearse it in your imagination, you will succeed in reality. Remember when you were a child how you played in the land of make believe? Pretending was a good dress rehearsal for dealing with the problems which grown-ups face: The monsters who need to be conquered.
  • Your lies contain your truths because they are your lies, your stories. Personal lies reveal a narrative about you:  Your wishes and your buried “treasure.”  Get to know your lies and identify the pattern.

6 House Cleaning Tips to Reduce Stress

springcleaningFor most people stress and mess are unremitting realities in daily life. In fact, the various stressors and disarrays share a common denominator – clutter – both the physical and mental kind.  Why not then kill two birds with one stone? As long as you have to clean your place, why not use it as a targeted method for coping with stress?

Cleaning carries emotional benefits: Catharsis, clarity, control and change. These good feelings lead directly to self-improvement and empowerment. For example, when you clean out your space, you can distinguish between what inspires you and what no longer serves you.  Getting rid of what you no longer need, makes room for positivism and invites good things into your home, including friends, as you are no longer embarrassed by the mess.

Here are 6 cleaning tasks and their emotional/intellectual/spiritual rewards:

* Washing the dishes helps you to wash away the grief. Circular motions correspond to the circle of life.
* Vacuuming gets rid of the dust and the cobwebs, the regrets which cling and keep you stuck, as you inhale stale air and allergens. Vacuuming helps you to move forward and breathe a purer air, a more authentic version of yourself.
* Cleaning the windows lets in the light when you feel sad, unable to step outside. Afterwards, you can sit or stand by the window, relax and watch others. Moreover, when you open a window, you get ready to step outside and join the good energy – first you rehearse it in your mind and then you do it.
* Cleaning the bathroom helps you to get the crap out of your life or neutralize what pisses you off.  You need to move toxins out of your body and your mind.
* Mopping the floor keeps you in the moment, an opportunity not to think about your worries; otherwise, if you are not fully present to what you are doing, you can slip and slide and fall back into an old issue.
* Overall, housecleaning is great exercise to be envied by gym goers. And exercise efficiently alleviates anxiety and moves stress hormones out of the body.

The next time you clean your space, create a specific intention, a stress-reducing mental component corresponding to the physical act. For example, when you are clearing out spoiled fruit in your refrigerator to make room for fresh, new fruit consider if there might be some spoiled, toxic relationship you need to throw away? Or when you are dusting, polishing your furniture to a brilliant shine, consider what might be holding you back from shining?

The Past Is Always Present, So Make It Work For You

Letting Go - Creative Commons by gnuckxMany self-help teachers will urge you to live in the moment:  “The past is over and done with. The present is a present.”  Of course, it is great to fully experience the present and not dilute it with invasive thoughts of the past or even future worries – the way animals live moment to moment; however, humans are far more complex. And when someone tells you not to think about something or do something, that’s all you think about. Ask any unsuccessful dieter!

Let your past work for you

Memories are powerful teachers, lessons of the past making you wiser. Also, they can be comforting like a favorite old story to be retold or an old movie to be seen again. Ultimately, when you reflect on the past, you might finally unlock a pattern which has undermined your true potential and change what no longer works.  A great byproduct is that you can recall the former self you have lost touch with throughout the years to be what you aspire to be.

7 Steps to understand where you’ve been to get where you want to go

* Find a place to withdraw from all the nervous energy and demands around you and create the time to breathe and reflect.

* Take stock of your hidden dreams. Recall the people from the past who inspired and fueled you to be the best that you can be. Process what they said and hear their voices again. What did they say that you were good at doing? Find it.

* If you feel stressed and anxious, take a closer look at the roots of your daily unhappiness. What old words of criticism from parents, educators or friends still upset you? Do you use these same words in your own negative self-talk: “Fat,” “Stupid,”  “Ugly,” “Never amount to anything?” It’s time to silence your inner critic and speak to yourself with compassion and respect.

* Identify the life pattern which is holding you back. Introspect on your past emotional programming – things you feel you ought to do. What will you do differently today to accomplish for yourself? Make sure you know why you want to achieve your new goals.

* Forgive yourself today for past failures. Create a ritual of forgiveness which is meaningful to you like reciting a prayer, or flushing away a piece of paper with your failure written on it. When you forgive yourself, you will be emotionally available to forgive others. What tends to bother people most is not that someone hurt them, but that they allowed themselves to be hurt.

* Do you idealize the past to escape your present – the good old days, or the one that got away? Try tuning into your daily reality and investing it with the same energetic imagination.

* Get into a state of flow and become one with whatever you are doing – where past and present merge into a single unit of time. For example, a golf swing or a dance you have practiced many times where you go from past rehearsal to present accomplishment automatically and effortlessly.

Note: Those of you who have suffered past trauma should consult a psychiatrist about revisiting the past – as some memories need a medical guide or should remain undisturbed.
 

Originally posted in 2011 

6 Strategies to Develop More Self-Control

Screen Shot 2013-09-16 at 1.19.45 PMIt’s harder than ever to exert self-control, as gratification is just a click away. Moreover, in a world of selfies, Twitter, and Facebook the spotlight is on you. Becoming a celebrity online, you want to live like one. Entitlement gets in the way of reigning in impulses for simple pleasures like: Eating, drinking, shopping and skipping work. Then after the excess, the many shades of conscience set in. Packing on the pounds or being steeped in debt is no fun even for celebrities.

Self-control means understanding the difference between reacting and responding. However, how do you get more self-control when confronted with habitual temptation-gratification during moments of stress?

Ask yourself the basic question: What emotion is the trigger for this self-indulgence? Am I angry, dissatisfied, sad, or resentful? Once you are aware of the emotion behind the lack of self-control, you can address it at the root level to change dissatisfaction into satisfaction. Don’t swallow your feelings or they will swallow you up. Communicate your hurt or stressor – first to yourself by naming and delineating it and then when appropriate to others.

Here are 6 strategies to stabilize your impulses:

1. Keep your eye on the big prize – what will you get from all this self-control? Think about the long range goal: Is it losing weight because you want to be healthier? Is it doing better in school to get a good job? Is it getting out of debt and improving your credit rating to buy a home?

2. See the positive side of your impulse-gratification and strengthen the good – it’s always easier to build on a strength. For example, if you are overeating, you might be hungry for love and acceptance or yearning for spirituality to try to reduce the stress of loneliness. Brainstorm ways to reduce stress and start volunteering to help others in a cause you believe in. You will see yourself benevolently reflected in the eyes of the people you help.

3. Get educated regarding your strategy. If it is weight loss, then read about nutrition and portion control. You might get an “Aha” moment regarding your eating habits.

4. Get structured, so you don’t let your mind romp around aimlessly until it lands on an impulse. Schedule your day.

5. Don’t suppress the impulse. Confront the temptation and remind yourself that the discomfort of not acting on it will pass. Each time you do not act on impulse gratification, the discomfort time will shorten.

6. Exercise! Exercising self-control is effectively reinforced with physical activity. Exercise makes you feel empowered, self-confident and happy. Exercise releases healthy endorphins which will lift you up and move you past your impulse.

5 Ways to Transform Regret into Healing

Love Shines Through The Darkness free creative commonsRegret is like clutter. It can mess up your mind with tiny cumulative details creating cobwebs in the brain which darken your thoughts. Similar to managing physical clutter, periodically you take inventory of regrets to let go of what weighs you down, obscures your space and makes you feel stuck. Moreover, as soon as you throw out the first element of clutter, you feel better. This immediate gratification spurs you to continue.

However, don’t regret that you feel regret. Your regrets serve a vital purpose: They bear witness to your personal evolution, how you have grown from your past mistakes. You are now a better person with more experience to overcome and succeed. Note that every stressor which you conquer makes you stronger. The goal is to go stronger, longer.

5 typical patterns of regret which can power up your personality:

1. You regret breaking up or losing touch with a previous love because of bad timing or an error in judgment. The good thing about love – whether lost or won – is that you can always hold it in your heart. And your heart is big enough to love many people, expanding your spirit with their best attributes. You are sure to encounter another love with whom you will inevitably connect. Your regret will make you ready!

2. You regret not telling a loved one who has passed away how much you loved him or her. You feel guilty not having done enough for this person, particularly a parent. Challenge these irrational thoughts. Your regret is actually grief. No one teaches people how to lose, only to amass and possess. Consequently, loss is hard. Give yourself permission to grieve without a time limit. When I feel regret about my parents’ death, I dedicate a good thought, recall a funny conversation or anecdote from my parents to recall their memory in a positive frame.

3. You regret a career road not taken. Perhaps, you did not pursue a higher education, or make a bold career change. Most people put too much emphasis on being extraordinary and often have unreasonable expectations about success. If it is feasible to pursue a passion or longing, do so now. My friend Delia left a career in computer science and took out student loans to become an ER physician. If you cannot take a new career path at this point in time, reinvent and revitalize your job to see it in a larger context. For example, my friend Antonio loves his job as a postal clerk because he gets to greet and say something nice to the people tired of waiting on line. He feels like a spiritual transformer.

4. You regret not having your say. You feel that you should have said “___.” Most likely you were trying to please others. What a relief to remove your mask, and speak your natural truth! Unleash your natural energy to get back in balance between doing for others and yourself.

5. You regret cheating someone. Often people who cheat, lie, or fool someone feel happy that they got away with it. However, when your cheating causes hurt, then you will most likely feel regret. Confessing and making amends are the ultimate spiritual cleanse. The next best thing is learning from your mistake and changing for the better.  Undoubtedly, you will be vigilant about acting with integrity and will find a way to give back to your community.

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