wellness

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

There is still this vast difference between our comfort levels of talking about physical health vs. mental health. If you are on a weight loss plan, you’re telling everyone because a) you are proud of this lifestyle change, b) to help hold you accountable, or c) a combination of both. People are posting and talking about the latest cookbooks, workout venues, and weight loss regimens and yet we talk very little about how we are supporting our mental health.

So, how are you supporting your mental health? Do you get outside regularly? Do you have a group of friends that you talk to face-to-face about what’s bothering you? Do you have a counselor? Do you get enough sleep? Do you allow yourself to feel all your emotions and not label any of them as “bad?”

There’s the fascinating documentary called “Like” by IndieFlix which talks about the effects of social media. There are many poignant points that resonated with me as a child and teen counselor but one of the most important is this idea of selective posting and how it doesn’t replicate reality. Teens and adults look at social media posts and often think “that person has it all together” or “i’m the only one who _______” which can lead to further isolation. I hope you realize that people are selective in what they post and that their posts show only a snippet of who they really are.

Along the lines of social media is this idea that we, as a society, are connecting less face-to-face. So what’s the big deal? We can Face Time with our friends and family across the country and world? And yes while it’s great to see my mom’s face instead of just hearing her voice, it still doesn’t replicate the nonverbal communication that would be present in-person. I could notice if she’s fidgeting with her hands or even more important if she’s upset I could put my arm around her or give her a hug. How often do you have the opportunity to connect with someone face-to-face and feel heard? Do you have one friend, two friends, a partner, a neighbor who would sit with you and be present? I often think the urge to use social media is because we don’t know how to sit in stillness anymore with uncomfortable feelings so when we are felling sad, lonely, frustrated we mute those feelings and reach for the phone instead.

If you are looking for a counselor and don’t know where to look here are some ideas. Goodtherapy.org and Psychology Today are usually good places to start. You can narrow your focus to counselors by a zip code, speciality, insurance, etc. From there spend some time reading their bios to see if their approach would be a good fit and even better if they offer a free in-person intake. I do this as a counselor. I feel that if counseling is really going to work then both myself and my client need to feel comfortable. I invite new clients in for a 30 minute free intake so they can meet me face-to-face and learn more about my personality and approach. I would encourage you to find a counselor in your area who would do the same.

And finally, I keep coming back to that Brene Brown video on Empathy vs. Sympathy. Often if someone shares something troubling there aren’t words that will fix it and it’s not about “fixing” but rather about being seen. So next time a friend/partner/family member shares something vulnerable with you consider saying something like “I just don’t really know what to say right now but I’m so glad you told me” or “That sounds hard and I’m here if you need someone to talk to.”

What we can learn from Children's Books

Some of you may not know this but I’m self-publishing my first children’s book this spring which celebrates different types of families. The world of children’s book authors, illustrators, and readers is a special one and I spent most of January checking out some great books. Below are some of my favorite children’s books that have special messages for all of us.

Moon by Alison Oliver- Moon is the story of a young girl who forgets what it’s like to be wild and free. She has a strict schedule of school, homework, music lessons, and tutoring. Her schedule resembles many students I work with. In this beautifully illustrated book, Moon meets Wolf who shows her how to be playful and spontaneous. This story reminds us all the simple pleasure of play and the amazing sense of freedom that can come from being present in the moment.

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson- There are many reasons to feel different. This book reminds us that it’s hard to take that first (often vulnerable) step to let others get to know us.

The Remember Balloons by Jessie Oliveros- It can be hard for children to understand what happens to family members and other loved ones who are affected by dementia. This book helps to explain what happens to memories by using balloons as a metaphor.

Isle of You by David LaRochelle- Adults, teens, and children can all relate to needing a place that helps take your mind off of school, work, and other worries. This book combines creativity and guided imagery to take you to a special place when you are feeling sad, mad, or worried.

Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall- This book celebrates being true to yourself despite what others may think or say.

Support your local independent bookstore by checking out these great reads!

Using Winter as a Time for Self-Reflection

Do you hibernate in the winter? Is your goal each cold, rainy (or snowy) day to leave school/work as soon a possible and find comfort in your sweats and blankets? While it may be true, that we retreat indoors when the weather is blustery, it doesn’t mean that there’s not ways to reconnect. Use these dark days of winter as an opportunity to self-reflect and reconnect with yourself. Not sure how to do that? Here are some ideas:

  • Organize/re-organize your bookshelf. Chances are you’ll read a book or partly read a book then shove it on the shelf. What if you find a book that you’ve never read? Or perhaps a book that is your favorite and want to read again?

  • Start a puzzle. Adults often forget the power of puzzles. Not only can they be relaxing but they also involved spatial awareness and creativity. Puzzles can also be communal. Leave your puzzle out on a table in the middle of your house and watch as other family members pass by and complete a few pieces along their way to the kitchen.

  • Try a new recipe. Perhaps you love to cook and you’ve got all of these great food blogs or chefs you follow on Instagram. Find a new recipe to try. If you are not the cook, maybe now is the time to learn a simple meal or bake a simple treat.

  • Get crafty. Whether it’s with a hot glue gun or a needle and thread, ignite your creativity and create something new. Much like cooking there’s a sense of satisfaction in having a finished product. If you’re really handy, maybe now is the time to check off the to-do list of repairs.

Why is it important for adults to take time to self-reflect, to inspire creativity, to try something new? Because it’s good for your mental health AND for those of you that are parents, it’s an excellent way to model for your children that connecting can happen without a cell phone or WIFI.

Go on and give it a try!

Setting Intentions instead of Resolutions

As 2018 comes to a close, I’ve heard people buzzing about their New Year’s Resolutions- sleep more, take more vacation days, lose weight, use social media less, etc. I’m not against making resolutions or setting goals but I’d like to reframe the way we talk about resolutions. In my mind, resolutions are lofty, abstract goals that are often hard to follow through with and leave people feeling bad about themselves. What’s fun in that?

I once had a student who came back from winter break and said, “I’ve made a resolution not to gossip anymore.” My response went something like this, “Wow, it sounds like you have a desire to be more mindful of how you talk about others. I wonder what your ‘no gossip’ resolution looks like. What’s your first step towards that resolution?” This student just sat and stared at me. I think she was hoping I’d say, “Congrats, what a great resolution.”

Why setting an intention is different? An intention encompasses many different situations and I think doesn’t leave someone feeling “less than” if their goal is not achieved. For example, let’s say your intention for 2019 is to be more present. Some days you might focus your intention to be more present at work, other days it might be with your family or yourself. You can also notice when you forget about your intention. “Man, I really zoned out at that parent meeting today. Next time I need to jot down more notes to help keep my mind from wandering.” I also like using the word “intention” because it’s flexible and adaptable and I think that’s important. No one can predict what 2019 might hold so by setting an intention you allow yourself that flexibility to accept what you cannot control.

Here’s to wishing you a healthy and happy 2019 and may your intentions for the year guide you to take care of yourself and others.

An Attitude of Gratitude

Having “an attitude of gratitude” is a theme in the Girls on the Run curriculum. I have the wonderful opportunity to serve on the Board of the local Girls on the Run chapter. There are many themes throughout the Girls on the Run curriculum that I think can be applied to adults, children, and teens but certainly an attitude of gratitude is one of them.

A few years ago, I began a Gratitude Jar that I made myself using some ribbon, a mason jar, and cut-up pieces of card stock. Each day I wrote down one thing I was grateful for. One of the best aspects of this practice is seeing the jar filled with many things; some of them were repeated but after 6 months I opened the jar and went through everything I felt grateful for. Some of the tiny cards brought up memories that I had forgotten- a sunny day in February. I encourage you to try it out as a family; your children can even help in decorating the jar. It can become a bedtime ritual or a dinner conversation.

One of the many things that I’m grateful for is my work with children and adolescents. I’m grateful for the families who seek out my help and expertise and I’m grateful for the children and adolescents who trust me and open up to me. My work as a counselor is truly rewarding and I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with so many families over the years and in the future too.

Let us express gratitude to each other in whatever way feels most authentic.

Written by Kathleen Goodman

Written by Kathleen Goodman

What is Self-Compassion?

There’s this misconception that exists lumping self-esteem and self-compassion as one in the same. Self-esteem is often labeled as how we think about ourselves (often in comparison to others) and self-compassion is different; it’s how we treat ourselves. We might feel good about ourselves but what happens when you make a mistake? Think about a lofty goal you set for yourself recently. Did you reach it? If not, what was the language you used in your head? How did you treat yourself? For example, let’s say you’re a runner and your goal was to beat your time on an upcoming race. Race day comes and you don’t beat your time; in fact, it’s slower than you’ve ever run. In that moment, the wheel of negative thoughts might be circling in your head: “I failed,” “I knew I couldn’t do it,” “I’m too old/slow/fat, etc.”

Recently I listened to this TedTalk by Kristin Neff: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvtZBUSplr4 where she talks about the three core components to self-compassion. Those components are self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. When I think about self-compassion for myself and for the adolescents I work with this idea of common humanity really stands out. Common humanity is essentially the principle of knowing you are not alone. You are not the only one with anxiety, depression, frustration, hurt, disappointment.

In stark contrast, self-criticism does two things (among others). First, self-criticism releases high levels of cortisol to make you feel stressed and second, self-criticism leads to isolation. Self-criticism makes you believe that you don’t deserve to be around others and thus does the opposite of what is most needed in that moment. Self-criticism fuels one of the most vulnerable human emotions which is shame.

So what can be done to help our children and ourselves? I think the first step is to think about self-kindness being the words you would use to talk to a close friend. If your friend didn’t beat her goal time in the race, would you say to her “I knew you couldn’t do it.” No you wouldn’t. You’d probably sense her feelings of disappointment and might say something along these lines, “It sounds like you’re feeling disappointed about your time but think about all the ways you prioritized your training runs and what an accomplishment that was.”

Particularly for adolescents who developmentally are so focused on peer relations, teaching self-kindness through the mindset of “what would you tell a friend” can have a huge impact in shifting their negative thoughts away from self-criticism and more towards self-compassion. Rachel Simmons offers some valuable insights about how teaching self-compassion can help stressed out teens in her article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/20/well/family/self-compassion-stressed-out-teens.html

Know of a teen struggling with self-criticism? I’d be happy to help!

Written by Kathleen Goodman

Written by Kathleen Goodman



Mental Health Education

Written by Kathleen Goodman

Written by Kathleen Goodman



There was quite a buzz going around about ABC’s new drama “A Million Little Things” so I decided to watch it Wednesday night. It was being applauded for raising the issue of suicide to the surface; however, in my opinion, much like “13 Reasons Why” it was dramatized for television and fell short of educating the audience on the reality of suicide.

The main character dies by suicide within the first ten minutes and the rest of the episode finds his friends and family asking “why would he do this? he had everything.” That comment- “he had everything” makes me think of some of the public response’s in the aftermath of the June suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. Depression doesn’t discriminate; a person can have fame, money, career, etc. and be depressed. Based solely upon the previews of the season, it seems like this show will have the characters “looking” for some reason that caused Jon to die by suicide which again shifts the focus to “solving a mystery” rather than elevating the severity of depression.

One of the most unhelpful aspects of the show is that the character, Jon, who died by suicide has this phrase “everything happens for a reason.” This phrase is repeated throughout the first episode. How many of you in response to a traumatic event (death, cancer diagnosis, divorce) had the phrase “everything happens for a reason” said to you? How did that you make you feel? To tie back to a previous post about empathy vs. sympathy, rarely can words help someone feel better. It’s a connection and acknowledging their pain that can help them feel better. If someone has lost a loved one, instead of saying “the sun comes out tomorrow” or “everything happens for a reason,” a better, empathetic response is “I don’t even know what to say right now but I’m here if you need to talk.”

The first episode also shows once again the shame and stigma associated with depression and suicide in the character of Rome, whom the audience sees stuffing pills in his mouth right as he gets a call about Jon’s death. As the episode goes on, Rome opens up about his suicide attempt and yet what I saw in him was shame and this idea that there’s something “wrong” with him. Instead of having Hollywood dramatize suicide in shows like this or “13 Reasons Why” let’s educate ourselves and our teens on mental health.

Did you know that suicide is the second leading cause of death for teens and young adults ages 15-24? It’s second behind car accidents. This summer, New York state became the first state to require mental health education in all of its health curricula. You can read more about that here: https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/02/health/mental-health-schools-bn/index.html You’ll also see from the article that Virginia has mandated mental health be addressed in two grades- 9th and 10th. Introducing mental health education allows children and teens to understand that having depression or anxiety doesn’t mean there’s something “wrong” with you. It also allows adolescents the opportunity to learn about warning signs and to recognize when a peer might be struggling and how to get help.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK