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Tuesday
Oct072014

Positive Coping Skills for Dealing with Negative Emotions

Hi Everyone,

This week’s conversation deals with a topic that’s been in the collective consciousness lately, an offshoot prompted by the sorrowful news of Robin Williams’ suicide last August. Which in and of itself is an example of something positive resulting from something tragic...but I’m getting a little ahead of myself here.

I’ve found that this subject of sadness, negative thoughts, depressive emotions particularly resonates with perfectionists and overachievers, which describes pretty much most of you, plus many (if not most!) of the people you associate with. (We do tend to hang with our own kind....) 

Which is why I’m happy to introduce you to Andrea Kuszewski, a behavior therapist and research scientist who I like to call a “convention challenger.” Together, we talked about the benefit of negative emotions. It’s not as oxymoronic as it sounds once you hear some of the ways we can learn to reframe our negative thoughts and emotions in order to feel better. It’s like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for the 21st Century. You’re going to want to watch this video more than once to really internalize the ideas, but here are just three “brain-reframing” strategies Andrea discusses:

  • Talk to yourself. (Seriously!) Make it a little meditative session, as often as you need: Lie on the floor and say out loud all the negative things you’re hearing in your head (what Andrea calls, “the inner A-hole”). When you actually hear these “loser lines” spoken, they begin to sound ridiculous. Then follow up with saying your accomplishments and your strengths out loud. Slowly, this helps put things in a whole different perspective.
  • Face your worst-case scenario with some fantasy. Andrea calls this “catastrophic thinking.” You know how you can obsess about something that could have a negative outcome (like, last week’s job interview or a promotion you put in for)—and how if it doesn’t go your way, your whole life will be ruined? Hold that thought and come up with two fantasy scenarios as a result of the worst happening (say, finding an even better job in an exciting city or starting your own business). Play out the scenarios, even think up more things you’ve always wanted to do. Suddenly, you realize good things can follow failures, that a negative outcome is not the end of the world.
  • Come up with a list of your greatest hits. Create a folder, journal, or file filled with references to your past unexpected triumphs, remind yourself how you successfully resolved situations that hadn’t gone according to plan before. This is guaranteed to build resilience!

For more information on Andrea, go to her website: AndreaKuszewski.com.


Let me know what you think of the ideas in the video—as well as your own coping strategies. Post a comment here and let’s get a whole dialogue going, or email me at Stella@woopaah.com. 

With love,

Stella

Thursday
Sep252014

What to Say If Someone Isn’t Listening

 

We’ve all been there:  In conversation with someone who has just checked out. It feels awful. You know the person is not listening. It makes you feel as though what you’re saying isn’t important…or worse, interesting. What do you do?

Last week, a client brought this up—that her boss just glazes over when she’s delivering her status updates, even though her boss requested the updates. She wanted some ideas for how to handle the situation. And since this is a pretty common issue (professionally and otherwise!), I decided to make it this week’s topic. Here is my five-step guide for what to say during those awkward moments at work. (Personal conversations can possibly follow a similar script….If you try it, please write back and tell me how it went!)


1. Request a pause.

  • "Do you mind if I pause for a second and check in with you?"

If you both agreed to be in this meeting, then you both should be present, body and mind. Let’s face it, it’s so easy (and tempting!) to get distracted by emails, texts, Tweets, whatev…but it’s a time waster for both of you if only one person is engaged. So, by pausing, you’re doing you both a favor. Besides, the other person may not even realize they've drifted.


2. Share your observation.

  • “I’m sensing that I may be losing your attention.”

 This is a transparent and authentic gesture, as long as you keep your tone light and inquiring as opposed to stern and accusatory. It’s possible the other person is listening…and that staring off into space is how she processes information. You’re simply making sure that “everybody’s” present.

 

3. Reiterate the conversation’s objective—and the other person’s role in achieving it.

  • “So just to clarify, I’m here to get your approval on Project Y’s last stage. Do you think that’s something we can accomplish in this meeting?”  

What’s the one thing you’re hoping to achieve from this conversation? Stay laser-focused on that. It’s easy to take personally one’s apparent lack of attention when you’re talking…but just don’t. Instead, concentrate on how to best accomplish your objective and don’t get caught up on principle.

 

4. Offer a few options to re-engage your listener...for example:

  • “What would be most useful to cover in this conversation? For example, I can skip through the status updates and jump right into our Q4 plans." Or

  • “Would it be better to reschedule or talk later?” Or

  • “What if we do this meeting while taking a walk outside? A little fresh air for 10 minutes.”  

 

Everyone has different styles of communication. Some people love chitchat before getting to the point; others want to dive right in; and there are others who process their thinking out loud. If you don’t know the style of this particular person, experiment a bit till you do. Understanding how to communicate effectively with your listener is the key to successful conversations with this person going forward.

 

5. Communicate your appreciation and have some honorable closure.

  • “Thanks for your time and attention - this was really productive. And by the way, I’m always open to feedback on how to best deliver XYZ - so feel free to let me know how to make these types of meetings more effective for you .”
Hope this helps! I know some of you may cringe at the idea of actually addressing this awkward moment head on. Well, I’m not saying it’s the most comfortable thing to do - but it can be incredibly beneficial for you both.

 

When you’ve had a chance to put this into play, please let me know how it goes. Also, if you have any topics you’d like me to address, send them on!

 

Love,

Stella

Wednesday
Sep102014

How to Stop Burnout Before It Stops You  

 

Hi Guys,

You know how Sunday nights carry a kind of dread, no matter how many years you’ve been out of school? Well, the beginning of September feels like the annual equivalent to me. Summer vacation is already a distant memory (even if we just got back!).

This is why I set out to talk with burnout-studies expert Paula Davis-Laack for this week’s conversation. Consider this a preemptive exercise.

Paula is a friend and fellow graduate from UPenn's Positive Psychology masters program. She has coached thousands of professionals, even military personnel, in reducing stress and building resiliency skills and has written about combating burnout for tons of publications, including her blogs on The Huffington Post and Psychology Today.  

 Paula was a burnout victim herself, having spent seven years as a commercial real estate attorney before changing careers to help other “achieve-aholics” develop strategies for work/life balance. Nothing like getting the skills from someone who’s really been there, done that! 

So how do you know if you’re really burned out or “just” stressed? “Burnout is a chronic disconnect from one or more aspects of your life that once gave you joy and energy,” explains Paula. With the operative word being chronic. And unlike stress, burnout is not remedied by taking a weekend off to recharge. Burnout digs in its heels and moves in.

Its most common symptoms: Exhaustion with a capital “E”; trouble getting out of bed; toxic levels of irritability, cynicism, a perceived decline in personal productivity—all the way to depression, anxiety and physical illness. 

Bottom line: If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed and overextended for some time, self intervention is in order now. Paula goes into greater depth about all of this in our conversation, but here are a few of her suggestions for putting the brakes on burnout:

 

  • Tell someone…everyone! Everyone relevant, that is. Confiding in a close colleague will most likely point out that you’re not alone, which can go a long way toward helping you understand burnout isn’t your fault. Talk to your spouse, clue in good friends. You might be surprised by their offers to take on some tasks in your personal life, thereby lightening your load and freeing up some time.

 

  •  Schedule a meeting with your boss. Come armed with suggestions for reassigning some of your responsibilities and/or pushing deadlines. A solutions-driven agenda will help avoid making you look (and feel) like you’re whining. Plus, there’s a better chance you’ll walk away with results that can be immediately implemented. 

 

  • Ask for help! If some in your inner circles haven’t offered assistance, it could just be that they’re not mind readers. Be specific with your requests and needs. Delegate. ("Honey, would you take over making dinners for a while," etc.) It takes a village...

 

  • Look for the good stuff. Undermine the negative emotions with some positivity. Notice three good things that happened during the day and write them down. Make it a regular habit and don’t be surprised if you start sleeping better. (Paula will explain.) 

 

As always, I’d love to hear your stories—the good, the bad and the fugly. Have you recovered from burnout? If so, what helped you? Share in the comments, or email me at Stella@woopaah.com.

 

Love,

Stella

Thursday
Aug142014

Thank you, Robin Williams + The Science of Laughter

 

I’m saddened by the passing of Robin Williams. And I have to admit, I’m a bit surprised by how much. 

Usually when it’s someone I don’t actually know, I can empathize, but I rarely feel super affected. But this feels totally different for me...and I’m guessing for many of you, too. 

The reason I believe we’re experiencing such a collective loss is best captured by the late comedian and entertainer Victor Borge: “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” 

So, laughter literally brings us closer! And Robin’s amazing ability to make us laugh, together with his warmth and openness, made him feel totally accessible to us.

As a tribute to Robin Williams and his unique and generous comedic genius, I thought I’d share some interesting facts about the art and science of laughter (it’s crazier than you think!): 

1. Forget love, laughter is the oldest universal language.
It crosses genders, nationalities and yes, species. Researchers have found that chimps, gorillas, rats, even dolphins have a form of laughter (aka, “positive vocalization”) and are also ticklish. No joke! 

• Laughter is inherently instinctive, as anyone who has ever tickled a baby knows.
• In its earliest origins, laughter signaled playful intent. Still does. In fact, studies show that children at play typically laugh 300 to 400 times a day, whereas adults are more like 10 to 15 times a day. Seriously, what does that tell you?

2. Laughter is infectious. Pass it on.
Though we’ve all laughed when we’re by ourselves, we’re 30 times more likely to laugh in social situations. And laughter is a total bonding experience: Check out this amazing video of Robin and Koko the Gorilla. Talk about monkeying around....

• We’re way more likely to laugh watching a movie with a friend than when alone.
• Laughter has a way of deflecting fear, anger, shyness and embarrassment in public, as anyone who has ever introduced someone by the wrong name, congratulated a women on being pregnant when she wasn’t and a zillion other unmentionable mortifying behaviors.
• Interestingly, we tend to laugh more honestly when talking with others than when hearing a joke...even a funny one. Laughter doesn’t interrupt conversations so much as punctuate them. 

3. Laughter is like a secret-weapon aphrodisiac. 
At the very least, it makes us look more attractive. 

In a private study WOOPAAH conducted with a national dating site, we found that photos of people laughing got way more hits (over 400% more) than those photos with a smile or a provocative pose. Update those dating profiles, people!

• Studies show that women laugh more with men they’re attracted to, and men are more attracted to women who find them funny. 
• On a purely intuitive level, smiling and laughter help put others around you at ease. 

4. Laughter really IS the best medicine. Hollar! (Or rather, hahaha!)
Dr. Hunter Adams—not so coincidentally portrayed by Robin Williams in the film “Patch Adams”—showed that laughter could dramatically improve the quality of life for hospital patients...especially kids. 

• It can lower blood pressure, ease stress by stimulating our endorphins and actually be good for the circulatory system.
• According to the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, people diagnosed with chronic diseases who had a sense of humor had a 31% better survival rate.

5. Laughter is a natural at reducing pain.
Norman Cousins, who wrote Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient: Reflections on Healing way back in 1979, found that 10 solid minutes of good belly laughing could relieve pain for up to two hours. Couldn’t hurt to try....

• It could be the next wonder drug. In a study of orthopedic-surgery patients, James Rotton, Ph.D., a professor at Florida International University, found that those who watched a marathon of comedy videos requested fewer pain meds and tranquilizers than those who watched only dramas. 
• As a natural mood elevator, laughter can help us reframe negative events, help lighten the darkness.

Again, thank you, Robin, you comedic luminary, for illuminating our lives with such brilliance. 

With love,

Stella

 

Thursday
Jul242014

Is Fear Stopping You in Your Tracks? Here's How to Move Through it.


One day, about a month ago, my husband and I set out on to explore a new park and go for a gentle hike.  I was about five months pregnant (yes! I’m pregnant :), so we chose an easy trail. We bought ice cream and proceeded on the paved road, delighted by our new discovery and the beautiful vistas in front of us.  Slowly the paved road turned into a dirt road, then into a kind of jagged path, littered with loose rocks and exposed tree roots, then the path got so skinny, we weren’t sure we were even still on it. The path seemed to disappear under my feet and turn into a series of substantial hills to ascend and descend. I began to feel flush and overcome with fear. 

Inside my head I was all like, “Shit! Why am I doing this? This is so stupid...what if I fall? My imagination imagined the worst. And it didn’t help that I could also hear my mom’s voice, “Are you sure you should be going for a hike?” 

It’s easy to get excited about an adventure in the beginning and then… regret it. Ever been there?

Looking ahead and seeing how far we had to go, I began to freeze up: How am I going to make it?

Fortunately, I did make it. And what helped me move through my fear on this hike, I realized, were strategies that work for surviving most journeys (literally and figuratively): 
  • 1) No pain, no gain. Fear isn’t always a sign of danger; sometimes, it’s an indication of a new growth spurt. In my online class, I talk about The Hero’s Journey and how the roads that lead us to our greatest growth don’t always feel so great in the process. Especially when the journey or endeavor is new to us. Ask yourself, are you being led or stopped by fear? 
 
  • 2) “One step at a time” is not just a corny expression. As soon as I’d scope out how much farther we had to go, I’d start freaking out. But when I focused just on taking the one step in front of me, I could manage that. Of course, having a sense of the Big Picture is always a good thing…as long as you can also see the immediate steps you need to take to get there. 
 
  • 3) Don’t go it alone. The buddy system isn’t just about staying safe. Studies suggest that challenges seem less daunting when we’re facing them with a friend or supportive colleague. Thank goodness I was with my hubby, Ilya! He walked ahead of me and would offer his hand whenever he sensed I was about to freak out. 
 
  • 4) Don’t just stand there, do something! Have you noticed, life doesn’t let us stay stuck for long. An uncomfortable situation just gets worse until we take some kind of action to deal with it. So, refusing to budge is rarely a good option. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take a break, catch your breath, even rest for a bit. Just as long as you start moving again…before too long. 
 
  • 5) Ain’t no shame in admitting you’re scared. When the going got tough, I got silent. At first. But as soon as I shared my fears with my husband, I instantly felt a little better. In fact, research shows that acknowledging our negative feelings out loud can help them dissipate faster. And in my case, “loud” was the operative word…. 

Need some support navigating a current journey or adventure? Click here.

With love,
Stella