When You Love Your Opposite

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Most couples who come to see me don’t come in already having figured out how to relate to one another. Most people come to see me because they trigger each other and are unsure of how to navigate to a healthier place.

Working with couples has taught me that there are often two kinds of people in stressed relationships: outwardly emotional people and inwardly emotional people. Those who are outwardly emotional can be seen as intimidating or sensitive. The inward emotional folks are the shutdown, aloof bunch. Outward folks may have fears of abandonment and self-worth issues. Inward people may fear being smothered and struggle with vulnerability. Both people typically struggle with emotion regulation, trust, and healthy boundaries. Both people struggle with insecure attachment styles.

We call those outward folks’ attachment style Ambivalent or Preoccupied, aka “the jungle.” For inward folks, we call their attachment style Dismissive or Avoidant, aka “the desert.” In Wired for Love, Stan Tatkin explains these types as waves (outward/preoccupied) and islands (inward/avoidant). His book is great for a deeper dive into the topic.

When a preoccupied and an avoidant person come together, it can be a bit tricky. The preoccupied person may be too needy, reach out too often, and feel easily rejected or abandoned. Fearing being smothered, the avoidant person may pull back at the first sign of these behaviors to protect themselves, be dismissive of the other person’s feelings, or accuse them of being too sensitive. In turn, the preoccupied person reaches out harder. Then the avoidant retreats further. It’s a bit of a cycle. Too often people try to be heard/seen by getting louder or to show overwhelm with closing down. This cycle leaves both people feeling frustrated and confused.

Fun fact: when a preoccupied person gets overwhelmed their heart rate skyrockets. Inversely, an avoidant person’s heart rate plummets. Makes sense, right?

Lightbulb! Don’t have those attachment styles get together! … if only it were that easy. Preoccupied people are interested in avoidant people because it perpetuates their anxious beliefs about relationships and vice versa. Even when we try not to, we inevitably end up with someone who fills our unconscious expectations. Here’s a great video to illustrate:

“We may describe someone as not sexy or boring when in truth we mean, unlikely to make me suffer in the way I need to suffer in order to feel that love is real.”

Our attachment styles come from how we were parented. To add some fun to the mix, attachment styles can also vary from relationship to relationship and change over time. The good news in this is that attachment styles can be healed.

Once we know our attachment style and the style of our partner, we can work together to heal. The avoidant person works to notice when they get overwhelmed and chooses to lean into the relationship instead of pull away. The preoccupied person works to notice when they get overwhelmed and chooses to lean on themselves first instead of believing their needs can only be met by the other person.

As the video shows, we try to listen to our knee-jerk reaction to learn what is being triggered within us, and then work to respond as our adult self instead of reacting as our younger self. This takes time, patience, and commitment.

Ready to find your attachment style?

Reach out for help if you need it.

Take care out there,

D

Mothering Is My Mindfulness

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It was something I hadn’t planned but immediately realized the need for: Meditation and Mindfulness during Pregnancy. Somehow I knew that it would benefit not only me and my family but also this little human I had decided to grow. So I set up my area in my bedroom, woke up 5 minutes early, and meditated every day of my pregnancy.

What I didn’t realize, is that it was also what would pull me out of Postpartum Anxiety. We go to the doctor’s office and fill out questionnaire after questionnaire to check on our potential for Postpartum Depression, but we’re never asked about our anxiety.

See, anxiety is a healthy, normal thing. Right now in our culture, we are constantly trying to rid ourselves and others of anxiety. Imagine for a moment, though, life without anxiety. Sure, we’d be peaceful. Yeah, we might stress less. But what about those life or harm threatening moments that anxiety saves us from? What about the places anxiety helps us perform better? … Like in mothering?

That’s right. Anxiety helps you be a better mother. Anxiety encourages you to check on your baby, want them near, listen intently to their stories and cries, keep a watchful eye over their playing to keep them safe and to worry over how they’re developing, feeling, and thinking. Anxiety is useful.

Think of anxiety as a person in your car. They’re keeping an extra eye out, helping you navigate and stay safe in treacherous situations. They serve a purpose, so long as you keep them as a passenger and don’t hand over the wheel. Mindfulness can help make that easier.

Meditation and mindfulness is not just for single 20-somethings out on a personal quest. Nor is it just for monks, nuns, or people without kids who have time for that sort of thing. Mindfulness and meditation is for everyone, including moms. Heck, especially moms.

You can read more about mindfulness here.

Meditation is the formal practice of sitting down and becoming fully present. Mindfulness is the awareness you bring to your daily life between formal meditations. You know those moments when you feel a little (or a lot) overwhelmed by the changes, expectations, and daily life workload and your kiddo won’t stop eating the dog food? Yeah. Mindfulness is for those moments so that you can pause making lunches, packing diaper bags, and worrying over being late and kneel down. It allows you the space to check in on what’s really important in those tough moments so you can respond in a way that encourages cooperation and relationship. It keeps us from scolding toddlers who are being toddlers, pleading with babies to just be okay for a minute in their lounger, or power struggling with our school kiddos about whether they should wear jackets.

When you get overwhelmed, pause. Take in a deep breath, breathe it out slower than you took it in. Ask yourself a couple of things:

  1. What is the most important thing? (hint: it’s almost always your relationship with your kiddo)
  2. What do you and/or they need right now? (go realistic- a deep breath? a hug? a 30-second dance/wiggle party?)
  3. What are your options? And which is the most skillful one? (you always have options: you can scream at them, ignore them, power struggle, melt into a puddle of tears, or come to their level, acknowledge their experience, set limits around misbehavior, and steer them in another direction)

I’ve saved the best part for last.

Here’s my favorite part about mindfulness and mothering: it allows me to enjoy it. Not survive it, not simply get through the day. Mindfulness is what makes me love being a mom. It makes me one of those delusionally happy moms we don’t really believe mean it when they say that it’s the best part of each day.

If I’m caught up in thoughts about my house, work, or relationship issues and I have my daughter nearby, I can close my eyes, kiss the top of her head, and breathe in the oatmeal/calendula scent of her conditioner. Suddenly, whatever was happening before that moment is gone. At that moment, I’m home. If I’m worried about her at night, I can sneak into her room, sit by her bed, and listen to her quiet snoring. If I’ve been stressed and disconnected all day, I can use the warmth of the bathwater and the sound of her laughter to melt away stress. I can use snuggle up in the chair story-time to re-connect.

Mothering is my mindfulness.

Could it be yours?

 

Did you know I run The Mom Circle, now at The Family Village? Check out the info on my Services page.

Take care out there,

D

Unlocking Your Heart

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You’ve made it! It’s our final week in our moving through depression series. So far we’ve discussed the importance of:

This last week is an important one. Perhaps one of the most debilitating parts of depression is the incessant “why?”

What’s the point? is one of the most painful questions we can ask ourselves, primarily because it insinuates that there isn’t one. What comes next is what I call the darkness. This is where suicidal thoughts run rampant and we tuck further and further into our despair. Don’t forget, there is help.

First, let’s talk about how to find your passion. It doesn’t have to be a hard process. In fact, it should be a fun, heart opening, exciting process. What is passion? Passion is defined as a “strong and barely controllable emotion.” Whoo. Yes. Passion is like fire, it ignites and takes over your senses. When you find passion you can lose your sense of time, entering into a flow state. Flow is that experience where your mind becomes hyper focused (especially on your senses), time disappears, and you feel an immense sense of calm and happiness.

Talk about a depression fighter!

Here are some ideas for finding your passion:

  • What is something that excites you? (duh – but a good place to start!)
  • What do you spend your time researching and reading about (books, magazines, online, social media, hashtags you follow, etc)? See any themes?
  • What do you find yourself inexplicably and repeatedly drawn to? Art? Music? Dance? Helping others? Outdoors? Competition? Animals? Parenting? Event Planning? Travel? Crafts? DIY?
  • Look at your local library or in your neighborhood for opportunities to take classes, join clubs, or meet up with others to try new activities (and maybe see if one of them sparks!).

There are a lot of people out there who will tell you how to cognitively find your passion by thinking through the steps and blah blah blah. I’m not one of those people.

Passion is not of the mind, but of the heart. There is little your mind can do in this process, and most often it actually stands in the way. “Yeah, I like ______, but there’s no way I could/have time/resources/money to do it.” Mind = not helpful. My hope is you go around, heart open, and see what breathes fresh air into it. Then, do more of that.

If you’re deep in the thick of it, you might have to do things you cognitively know you like, without the deep sense of peace and happiness. For most clients, I’ve seen this last anywhere from 2-8 months. Keep in mind, you have to keep doing these things (and all the steps of moving through depression). Over the course of those months, you’ll slowly begin to pull out of the mud (it isn’t that at six months you wake up and suddenly enjoy everything!).

Once you know your passion, you have to value it. Simply knowing your passion without valuing it is like walking up to the right door and not having the key to unlock it. We value our passions by carving out time for them, nurturing them, and enjoying them without judgement of how often or how well we do them. We engage in our passions for the simple pleasure of doing them, knowing that they are as important as any chore or job that is to be done.

Often in passion we end up finding purpose. Our purpose is in broader terms than our passion. Our purpose may be to bring the world beauty, joy, knowledge, or to reduce suffering. Purpose, like passion, is not something you can find by thinking about it. It can be felt in times when you’re quiet inside, sometimes because the world outside you is quiet, others because it is chaos. If you glimpse your passion or purpose for even a second, appreciate that. Try not to let yourself get frustrated it was only a moment. It’s a moment more than you had, and the more you work to open up to yourself and your heart, the more those moments will come. And the longer they’ll last.

 

The path through depression is a difficult one. It is one that takes time, repetition, and perseverance. I typically tell people to anticipate two years before they’re able to make a new behavior feel natural (that’s about how long it takes to prune one behavior pathway and build a new, solid one in your brain). If you’ve only been struggling with depression a few weeks or months, it most likely won’t take that long. But if you’ve been in the darkness for longer than you can clearly remember, it might. It’s normal, difficult, and absolutely possible.

I believe in you.

And if you need a little help, reach out.

Until next time,

D

 

Create A Mind Of Giving

 

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The importance of giving to others cannot be readily overlooked. We learn the value of contributing from our families when we’re little. Even if your family didn’t place a large importance on it, you can commit yourself to it now.

So why do it?

When we give our time, money, or thought to another we are generating good things in our own minds, hearts, and lives, in addition to benefiting them. Think of it this way, if you look around the world and judge those you see, you end up having a mind of judging. In turn, then, you feel judged by others (because we all assume others think the way we do). If this is true for a mind of anger, judgement, or greed, then couldn’t it be true for giving and caring?

How nice would it be to look around and assume everyone around you wants to contribute, participate, and care for themselves and everyone they come in contact with?

It’s a whole new world.

Volunteering connects us to our community and fights off loneliness. It nourishes the spirit, relaxes the mind, and focuses our energy into productive efforts instead of the ruminating darkness of depression. I often hear from clients who have undertaken a volunteer job statements like:

I don’t know what it is. When I’m volunteering, I just feel so much better. I can focus on their problems and forget about mine for a while. It warms my heart to help a kid or elderly person in need. It’s for them, but it helps me too.

In times when money can feel like such a struggle for so many of us, it is even more important to give your time to something that you appreciate or believe in. The more we value our time, the more valuable it is when we give it to others.

How can you get started? Consider some of the following questions:

  1. How much time do I have to devote each week, month, or year?
  2. How long of a commitment am I willing to do? None? Six months? Two years?
  3. What are some things that I’m passionate about or interested in?

Once you have the answers to the above questions, it’s time to set out. But where to start? You can begin by thinking of what you’re interested in. Local government? Check out your city or town for a board you can sit on. Animals? Reach out to rescues or humane societies. Want to devote the next few years? Maybe it’s time to look into something like Doctors Without Borders or the Peace Corps. Not sure? Try one of the following websites for ideas and connections:

Whether you devote a few hours once or twice per year, or every day for the next several years, giving back to your community and world is a practice that depression can’t beat.

We’ve almost reached the end of our Moving Through Depression Journey. How have you been doing thus far?

See you next week,

D

 

p.s. thanks for the forgiveness on this post being late this week!

Stepping Up Your Sleep Game

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We’re back for week six! How have you been doing? Let’s recap. So far we’ve reviewed the following steps in moving through depression:

  1. Exercise
  2. Meditate
  3. Own Your Sh*t (yep- I said it!)
  4. Eat Right
  5. Unplug

Take a moment and reflect upon which you’ve been rocking, and the ones that could use a little oomph. There’s no shame when you’re trying something new. If you’ve been struggling, no time like the present to recommit!

Sleep is one of the most important parts of being a human. We need sleep in order to think, grow, learn… basically in order to human. There’s a lot of great information on the National Sleep Foundation‘s website.

We all know sleep is good for us. So why is sleep so difficult for so many people? It’s estimated about 35-40% of Americans struggle with sleep issues. That’s nearly half of us.

Let’s talk about Poor Sleep and how to overcome it in order to further our journey through (and eventually out!) of depression.

Poor sleep is any one (or combination) of the following: difficulty falling asleep, nighttime wakings, non-restorative sleep, or short sleep times. For the sake of our depression conversation, we’ll also include over-sleeping. Surely, physical conditions can make sleep more difficult. And, the worse a mood is and the more stressed you are, the worse your physical conditions. It can be a cycle.

Not getting proper sleep is detrimental to your well being. When you are sleep deprived, your risk of cardiovascular disease increases due to a process of increase inflammation, increase sympathetic nervous system, cortisol, and disrupt your vagus nerve (which controls the connection between your brain and major organs, as well as whether you’re anxious or calm).

It’s important to understand your circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm, aka your sleep/wake cycle, is like an app running in the background of your brain. It is responsible for understanding time and functions in 24 hour cycles to help you be alert when you need to and sleep when you need to. Part of it is naturally occurring, but part of it is triggered by the environment. For example, when it is dark your brain is triggered to feel sleepy. The average person feels the sleepiest times between 2-4 am and 1-3 pm (hence, the after lunch lag). If you’re all caught up on sleep, you won’t notice the swings as much.

Since some of your circadian rhythm is environmentally triggered, you have some room to make improvements. Here are some tips to trick your body into getting the sleep it needs. You might notice they are similar to the steps you’ve already taken!

  1. Avoid naps, if possible, for now. If you have an afternoon slump, drink a big thing of water and take a walk.
  2. Reduce caffeine and keep it before noon so it has time to get out of your system. Careful of too much dark chocolate at night!
  3. Exercise during the day so your body spends the energy it needs to sleep well. Stretching before bed can be helpful for restless limb issues.
  4. Unplug at least an hour before bed. Melatonin production begins when it gets dark, and the light of electronics can disrupt this. As it gets closer to bedtime, allow the lights to dim some.
  5. Create a consistent waking and sleeping routine. 
    • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Shoot for falling asleep within the same 60 minutes each night. Staying up and sleeping in late can disrupt your cycle.
    • Consistent bedtime routines are key. Do the same relaxing things in the same order each night. Color, read, journal, or take a bath or shower. You know you’re consistent when your dogs know it’s bedtime before you say anything, because they know what it means, for example, that you’re filling your water glass.
  6. Body scans are particularly helpful for falling asleep, as are progressive muscle relaxation meditations. You can also listen to sleep stories (bedtime stories for adults) on apps like Calm.
  7. Sleep in a room that is dark, quiet (noise makers are helpful for blocking out environmental sleep disrupters), and cool.
    • Pro Tip: if your room is messy, it might help your sleep to clean it first!
  8. Do not sleep with electronic devices on or where they can flash and wake you. If you need sound to fall asleep, try sleep stories, podcasts, or audiobooks. Something that doesn’t disrupt your brain’s ability to produce melatonin and put you to sleep.

As an adult, you should get between 7-9 hours of sleep. The younger you are (under 18) the more sleep you need, up to 18+ hours a day as a newborn. Everyone is individual, but if you are functioning on 6 or fewer hours of sleep at night, you’re not functioning. That little sleep triggers stress hormones in your body and makes everything else more difficult, including recovering from depression. If you’re sleeping more than 10 hours each night, you may need to look at whether you’re getting enough exercise, nutrition, etc. See if you can wake up an hour earlier and get your body going with a shower, walk, or meditation.

If you sleep little and try to get more, you might find that you feel groggy in the morning. That’s because of sleep debt. The sleep you don’t get accumulates. Think of your sleep like a checking account. In order to spend energy, you need to deposit energy. If you don’t deposit sleep, you get bounced checks and overdraft fees. Keep up the more sleep for a few weeks and then see how you feel before you give it up.

I get a lot of feedback from people that struggle to shut their minds down at bedtime. Yes. You are not alone. Even I struggle with this sometimes. Try the tips above, specifically unplugging an hour before bedtime, getting daily exercise, and trying a meditation to help you fall asleep. If you find yourself stuck between not quiet awake and not quite asleep as you ruminate, get up. Go get a glass of water, hit the restroom, sit on the floor and stretch. Try not to turn on any lights if you can help it.

  • Pro Tip: Visualizations can help calm the thoughts. I envision my mind as a white board. I spray it down, then wipe all the thoughts away. Sometimes I have to spray my white board several times and really clean in the cracks. I’ve had other people envision chalk boards (my mind goes right to nails on a- I can’t even type it!), paintings, turning off a mental TV, turning the page of a book, etc. Come up with some visualization to help you clean up your mind.

Ultimately, your brain needs to be at optimal functioning in order to recover. It needs meditation, nutrition and water, checks and balances, quiet time, and sleep. It also needs social interaction, which we’ll talk about next week.

You can do this. Recovery from depression is possible. You have the beginning basics to care for your body. It’s time to do it. Especially when you don’t want to or can’t find the energy. Even if you turn the TV off for an extra 20 minutes, color for 5, or meditate for 2.

Whatever steps you take are steps. Your commitment and gentle effort can get you to a life that works for you. If you need extra help, reach out.

Take care,

D

Balance Darkness with Light

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Can you believe it? You’re halfway there! We’re starting this week having spent the last month working on our diet, exercise, meditation ritual, and sh*it owning process on our path to moving through depression. What’s next in store for you? You betcha. It’s time to unplug.

I’ll admit, this is a little bizarre timing with the whole Facebook scandal thing. Or perhaps it’ll just be that little bit extra motivation. Let’s talk about, though, why you don’t need a scandal to unplug.

My guess is that you’ve heard that use of electronics can increase your risks of depression and anxiety. It’s even more dangerous for teenagers and young adults.

There’s no shortage of people out there asking us to unplug more often. There’s also plenty of cartoons depicting just what it does to us. Like this from the NY Times about how phone use is impairing intimate relationships:

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You can take a handy quiz they have set up to check how your relationship with your phone is. Believe you me, the irony of you reading about less electronic use on my blog is not lost on me.

I could spend a lot of time explaining to you the ways in which overuse of electronics is harmful to you. And you probably know most of them already. Here’s a personal example.

I recently decided to give the whole Instagram thing a try. I know, I’m behind. Let’s blame it on me being old. But let me share with you what I’ve found.

It’s starts off innocent enough. You just want to connect with people and share fun stories. Then likes come through, follows, comments. So you check out their pages, like some things, maybe search through hashtags. Suddenly you’ve lost a half an hour, maybe more, to doing nothing but scrolling through endless pictures. But posting is fun, especially since it gets your creative juices flowing with both photography and writing. Soon life becomes little moments wanting their pictures taken. Then more likes, comments, follows. More searches. More time lost. So you try not to use the app, but find yourself still picking up your phone more than you need to. Or thinking of the next time you’ll have a few minutes to peek through, promising yourself you won’t spend more than five minutes…

After a week of using Instagram, I noticed several things. For starters, my sleep sucked. I had a difficult time falling asleep every night that I checked it. My attention waned, as my ability to stay present in the moment was snatched away by wondering. My work suffered, as little moments that could have been spent well were wasted away. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I couldn’t keep it up. I remember the struggle when Myspace came out. Then Facebook. It sucks you in.

Oh man, and streaming services? Forget it.

Excessive electronic use, whether through phones, computers, TV, tablet, or what-have-you, is hurting your mental health. Recent research has also shown that social media is especially damaging and increases the risk of suicide in teens who use it more than 5 hours per day. Think about what it does to our kids’ brains to spend all day every day on tablets at school. It’s how we teach them now. Here are some other ways electronic use is disruptive:

  • Incomplete and often unrealistic expectations. Many people post more about the things that make it appear as though they have a great life, family, body, etc.
  • Avoidance of feelings. It can be terrifying to open up and let feelings have space, and infinitely easier to quiet them with a quick distraction.
  • Internet is the perfect marketing scheme. It only shows you what it thinks you want to see. So if you’re depressed, you’re probably going to get more suggestions on the topic or relate to others online who are also in a dark place. Like parents get a lot of parenting links in their ads and “sponsored posts.” Or if you click on political support things for this person, you’re going to see more positive things about them and more negative about their competition.
    • You can’t get out of depression by feeding it more depression. You need to balance your exposure to the darkness with things that bring you light.
  • It eats time. Time that you might feel you don’t have in order to eat right, exercise, meditate, spend time with friends, keep up a clean house, etc. If you have time to check your social media, play games, or scroll through something, binge watch something, then you have time to take care of yourself.
  • Dangers of anonymity. Cyber bullying is real, and it’s not just for teens. Just read any lengthy comment feed.
  • Getting overstimulated. It’s important that the brain has both excited times and relaxed times. Electronics are like little strobe lights. You need downtime too.

I hear a lot of “good” reasons for people to be on electronics.

For example, it’s how I keep in touch with people! It doesn’t have to be. Did you know that your brain does not experience the interactions via snapchat, instagram, facebook, etc as social interaction? Face to face, real social interaction and emotional intimacy is vital to your ability to thrive.

Oh, it helps me relax or blow off steam! Actually, it helps distract you. Which is not the same thing as coping. Distraction can be a useful skill, but it cannot be your only skill.

Remember last week’s assignment of letting go of excuses.

So why don’t we stop? It’s called addiction. Addiction, simplified, is compulsive use despite harmful consequences. The way I describe addiction is simple: it starts with using something to avoid having to feel, be alone with ourselves (or our thoughts), or like reasons. It’s an escape. Of course, in some cases it becomes its own beast.

Does that sound like something you might do? Like perhaps taking a “break” from one electronic device by using another?

I get it. Electronic, and especially phone, overuse is pervasive. I dare say it’s the most common form of addiction, and it’s not just in our country.

What are we to do?

Well, let’s be honest. Computers, including those mobile and miniature ones we keep in our pockets, aren’t going anywhere for now. When it comes to helping our mental health, it’s important that we’re using them responsibly. Here’s a place to start.

Danielle’s 10 Do’s and Don’ts:

  1. Pay attention for how much time you’re on your phone, including using various applications. A tech way of doing this is through apps like Moment.
  2. Don’t spend your time with others on your devices unless absolutely necessary. Hint: it’s hardly ever necessary.
    • Here’s a fun game: Phone Stack. Whoever picks up their phone first pays the bill.
  3. Do look for opportunities to enjoy life around you. If you’re waiting for something, engage people around you in conversation. If you’re outside, take a deep breath.
    • You can also do the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise. 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you feel, 2 things you smell, and 1 thing you taste. You can switch the senses up to match where you are.
  4. If you use an app too much, delete the app and access it through your internet browser. Or turn off notifications. Or limit yourself to a certain number of minutes on that app each day. Or make it so you have to enter your password each time you want to use it.
  5. Stop electronic use at least an hour before bedtime. Do something neurologically soothing in order to help transition yourself into sleep.
    • Examples of activities: Stretching, shower/bath, reading, journaling, coloring, meditating, etc.
  6. Carve out time for quiet reflection. This can be praying, meditating, a bath, or a walk outside. Make time to not only be with yourself, but allow space for your feelings. If need be, turn on music instead of TV.
  7. Make commitments and stick to them. Like no phones at dinner or only checking a social media app once per day.
  8. Read real books. Like the ones you check out from the library, where you physically turn each page to read it. They even smell good.
  9. If you must distract, do it with quality, light promoting content. Like The School of Life, Happify, or Calm.
  10. Pay attention to what you’re pumping into your psyche. Is it positive? Violent? Dramatic? Loving? Competitive? Twisted? What do different shows and media do to your psyche? Ever watch tattoo shows and want a new tattoo? Or cooking shows and get on a cooking kick? Hint: Media affects you.

You can do this. Less time in virtual, more time in reality. Your mood, relationships, brain chemistry, social life, and spirit will thank you.

What’s one way you can find balance today?

See you next week for our talk about sleep? You’ll already be a step ahead if you quit with the bedtime electronics.

Take care out there,

D