Changing our Mindset: “Casually Dating” Helps Us Find Ourselves

Alrighty. Whoo!! Here we go! I originally was going to save this post for later after I’ve discussed ways that I’ve learned to cope with a new job, new friendships, and other major changes that we encounter after college. But hey, dating and relationships are important, too! The way that I think and go about relationships/dating has taken a 180 degree turn after college. A HUGE turn… it’s like I’ve been going the wrong way on a one way for 23 years and finally realized that I’m going to get run over. The change was for the better, of course. 😊

Maybe some can relate to the way that I used to look at dating and relationships. Background: I had a long-term boyfriend throughout high school for about 3 ½ years. I didn’t have a relationship during my freshman year of college, but was then in a relationship for about 2 ½ years starting sophomore year of college up until my ex-boyfriend deployed to the middle east shortly after I graduated. *Unrelated Side note: a huge, appreciating THANK YOU to all of our military service members! The work and things you do for our safety and security is underrated. I am forever grateful.

Needless to say, I was very monogamous (I hate that word, but I’ve found myself using it now more and more. Anyone else do that?). My happiness was dependent on the mood and actions of the person I was in a relationship with. I eagerly rearranged my plans to see this person. I sacrificed a lot of who I was, and my wants and needs because it’s what I thought I needed to do to keep this person loving me. Yeah, UNHEALTHY.

I didn’t find the need or want to date around. I thought I found someone that I wanted to be with, move in with, spend my life with, etc. After college, I thought I wanted to settle down at age 23, get engaged and eventually get married by the time I was 26, so that I could start having kids by the time I was 28. After all, my parents got married after college, and it seemed like many of my friends were engaged. To answer your probable question, Yes. I’m overboard when it comes to planning. I’m a color-coordinated, organized freak. I love it, and I am fully aware of when it becomes irrational. This is one example. I had an entire life plan set, didn’t want to “feel behind,” and thought following it meant I would be happy, and my life would be everything I wanted.

Ha. That failed.

I’m glad it did.

I’ll be forever grateful my plan didn’t work out. I don’t mean to say that I’m glad the relationships failed. I dated really, really awesome people, and I’ll always fondly look back on our memories, adventures, highs and lows. I was happy my “life plan” failed. Why? Because I forgot how young I am. I forgot that there are so many people out there with different goals, interests, quirks, personalities, values, etc. If I would have followed through on what I originally thought was best, I wouldn’t have been able to explore this. I remember coming across a blog that read, “date as many people as you can in your twenties!” I am now realizing that this person was on to something.

At that time, “casually dating” seemed intimidating. It seemed uncomfortable, awkward, superficial, and weird. How do you meet people? Dating websites? To me, downloading one of those was a “hard no.” I was biased and thought they were only for “desperate people that couldn’t meet anyone anywhere else.” Yep, that opinion changed, was flushed down the toilet, thrown overboard, closed out… whatever you want to call it due to some perspective-changing advice from one of my good friends.

This friend was 26 and totally comfortable with casually dating people. She dated people that she met out-and-about, and also from dating websites. Her opinion on dating websites? “Why wouldn’t we use technology to our advantage? Sometimes it’s easier than fishing through others at bars or wherever to see who has similar interests, goals, and values. Instead, you see some of that right in their profile. You can also choose to go out with people that are different than you. In my opinion, that’s super nice and helpful.” Oh. My. God. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it. Of course, there are always pros and cons to meeting people in each way, but this made me want to give it a shot. Why not? 😊

What happened next? I downloaded Hinge, started chatting, and started going on first dates. I was nervous going out with the first couple people, but the majority of my dates were incredibly casual, easy-going, and went surprisingly smooth. There was one week where I went on 6! I had one on Wednesday, 2 on Friday, 2 on Saturday, and 1 on Sunday. Was this overboard? For me, absolutely. Would I ever do that again? Definitely not. However, it was a great experience. After that, I started going on dates sporadically with people that seemed interested and seemed interesting.

How did it go? I actually loved it. I think I loved it because I was putting so much energy into building new friendships, my mental health, getting to know my new job, searching out new hobbies, exercising, etc. meaning that I wasn’t putting any pressure on myself. It was a thing on the side, not a priority. Overall, I enjoyed learning about different lifestyles, careers, interests, hobbies, and random facts about that person. I dated people that were quiet, extroverted, athletic, artsy, family-oriented, career-oriented, smart, hilarious, etc. I definitely had dates where I knew that we weren’t a match, just like I had dates where I felt an immediate connection. I had dates where people didn’t seem super interested, just like I had dates where I wasn’t super interested.

At first, it was difficult for me to come to terms with the fact that I was going to get ghosted and turned down (S.H.A.M.E. trigger, for sure), but I’m learning how to deal with that. The most useful piece of advice I have received is that we need to look at relationships in terms of interests, needs, values, and personality styles. If we are turned down,it’s not because we’re not worthy, it’s because some people match our personalities, likes, and interests better than others. I feel that it’s similar to how we choose our friends. We’re not friends with everybody and we don’t have to be friends with everybody. We have friends that either match, balance, and/or complement ourselves. Thinking about it this way is definitely way more realistic than “I suck, and nobody is ever going to want to be with me.” Is this easy for me to do? Absolutely not. I’m working on it.

By casually dating, I am learning about what I enjoy in others as well as what I need in a relationship. Here are just a few examples.

  1. I went on dates with a guy for about 2 months. I really enjoyed spending time with him. He had tons of hobbies that included fishing, hunting, dirt biking, and lifting. The kicker? He completely ghosted me. That was the first time I’ve ever experienced that. How did I feel? Absolutely awful. Terrible. Shocked. Angry. Ashamed. Pissed. Bummed. Of course, this was followed with the classic hang-out-with-your-friends-and-eat-ice cream phase. This taught me that not everybody will like me as much as I like them, and I have to be accepting and prepared for that. I learned that being in a relationship with someone that has hobbies, is outgoing and social, and prioritizes fitness is important to me. This person taught me that I need clearer communication, someone that is considerate of my feelings, and honesty in future relationships.
  2. I went on a date with someone that appeared to be exactly the opposite of me. It was the most quiet, awkward date I have ever been on. Every topic of conversation ended after about 2 minutes, and I was struggling (and sweating up a storm) trying to think of another conversation starter. (Side note: I write down things to talk about on a piece of paper and put it in my purse. If things ever get awkward, I go to the bathroom, read through the list, and come back with more conversation starters. Is that creepy? Weird? Acceptable? Idk and I don’t really care, TBH.) I chugged the rest of my coffee and was quickly out of there. What I learned? I enjoy people that share similar interests, are outgoing and talkative, and are humor-oriented.
  3. I went on a date with two different people that were nice and great conversationalists, but for some reason I just wasn’t into them. I can’t even put my finger on why. It was weird, but I had to go with my gut. What did I learn? Spark and initial connection are important to me.
  4. I was recently on a few dates with someone that I thought initially “wasn’t my type” (I used to have a strong AF type. I made a list. It had like 30 check boxes. Yikes.) He was tatted up, played videogames, and was overall the complete opposite of anyone I’ve ever dated. What happened? Well, I found out that he was literally the most thoughtful person I’ve ever met. He was interested and asked me questions about my hobbies and values. He was completely honest, upfront, and clearly communicated everything that he felt was important. He was a gentleman, chivalrous, and kind. He was athletic, funny, and we were overall similar. He asked me what my goals are and how someone can make me feel appreciated. My jaw dropped to the floor each time I went on a date with him. I am interested and want to continue to learn about him. I learned that everything I listed was important to me, and some of it I didn’t even know I cared about.

Moving from a “monogamous relationship-oriented gal” to “casual dating” in my 20s was a big, scary, and challenging, but much needed change. Getting to experience different personalities, interests, careers and hobbies has been eye-opening. No matter what way I met people, and no matter how the date went, I learned something about myself, and what I need/want to be in a fulfilled, successful relationship when the time comes.

My goal for the week is to continue exploring, learning and growing.

Have a wonderful week,

Jen

Cognitive Restructuring: Self-Esteem, Self-Compassion, and Self-Worth

I’ll be completely honest (and biased). Cognitive restructuring (CR) is one of my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE thought-adjusting techniques I’ve ever been taught. I now teach a CBT-informed (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) version of this to almost every teenage and tween patient struggling with depression and/or anxiety that I work with. Why? It’s so simple, so effective, and can be applied to literally any situation that life throws at us. It is a practice of being gentle to ourselves (aka self-compassion). Let’s face it. We are SO tough on ourselves as we strive to be the smartest, have the most friends, always do the right thing, have the most fun, be good enough for others, etc. … you name it. Let’s work on taking a break from this and allow us to be, well, human.

What about CR is helpful?

  1. It helps improve our awareness of shame triggers, negative self-talk, irrational, and depressive/anxious thoughts. Awareness is the first step toward improvement, and is arguably the most important part of this therapeutic practice.
  2. It teaches us how to gently stop our irrational/negative thoughts, so that we can switch to something more realistic. For the love of God please do not skip over this next sentence. This is NOT a harsh stop like a STOP sign that we didn’t see and have to slam on the breaks, skidding to avoid a ticket by the cop that is, of course, sitting right there. It’s more like a gentle tap on the back with the kind reminder of, “hey, go ahead and switch gears, my friend.”
  3. It allows us to practice self-compassion, realistic thinking, and non-judgmental observation … extra emphasis on the REALISTIC thinking.

I learned this method from my therapist about 6 months ago, and it sounds cheesy, but it literally changed my life. It changed the way I look at situations, the way I look at others, and the way I look at myself. It’s underrated.

I’ll be honest. I am incredibly skeptical when it comes to certain therapeutic methods. I research the hell out of them, and that’s how I decide whether I’m actually going to take the time to practice it. This one passed with flying colors. Like I said, I even started teaching it to a lot of kiddos on our unit, and I’ve gotten tons of positive feedback on it. One of the perfectionistic 16-year-old girls I was working with said, “Man. I wish people could learn this at birth. This would have been nice to know before middle school and high school.” Another, more challenging, young woman told me, “Ok, this actually doesn’t seem like it requires much energy. I’ll actually be motivated enough to use it.” Hey, whatever works! Last plug…  I was asked by the teens and some coworkers to create a program that I can lead at night that teaches this because they found it to be simple and effective. I’m all in and was excited to hear those responses.

Let’s get to the HOW TO. It’s only 3 steps, and I’ll give examples along the way.

1.Awareness

This is easier said and done. It’s actually the most challenging part of cognitive restructuring, because those of us with anxiety and depression are typically comfortable with and/or used to our negative, shameful, critical, depressive and anxious thoughts. It’s important to notice the situations and thoughts that come to mind.

  • Example A: Situation- I am in class and answer a question wrong. Thoughts- “Wow. I should have never raised my hand in the first place. This is so embarrassing. Everybody probably thinks I’m an idiot. I’m not doing that again.”
  • Example B: Situation- I see two people look at me and laugh. Thoughts- “I bet they’re saying something bad about me. I should _____ so that I’ll be better at ______.  I’m so embarrassed. They’re not going to like me now.”

Here are common thought distortions that may be beneficial for us to become aware of:

Picture obtained from Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/27092035242704448/?autologin=true

2. After noticing the thought, switch gears.

Pro Tip #1: Think of a cute little puppy or kitten just gently nudging you toward the self-care path 😊. Gentle. Subtle. Healing.

3. Replace this thought with something more kind, non-judgmental, and/or realistic.

Example A: “Nobody answers questions right 100% of the time. It was courageous that I stepped out of my comfort zone and challenged myself. I am learning and doing the best I can. I give myself permission to fail sometimes, just like I give myself permission to do well.”

Example B: “I don’t actually know that I’m being talked about. I notice that I am feeling insecure. I am learning to accept myself, and this is a shame-trigger I am working through. I can stand things that I don’t like. I can only control my reaction. I do my best to be a good friend. I am loved.”

Pro Tip #2: Sometimes coming up with alternative, realistic, self-compassionate thoughts can be challenging. I’ve noticed that using phrases like, “I am learning _____,” “I am working on _____,” and “this is a normal human experience,” tend to be applicable to many self-doubting situations. A simple google of “positive affirmations for ___insert situation here_” will provide tons of examples that may be useful or help get the creative juices flowing to think of more! This can be especially valuable for those that are new to CR.

The Science Behind CR

Taking the info sesh one step further with NEUROBIOLOGY . Ugh!!! Seeing this word makes me geek TF (urban dictionary definition= the f&%^) out. Seriously, my voice gets high, my heart starts racing, and once I start talking, I can’t stop. Don’t be alarmed, I’ll try for the sake of this post.

Generally speaking, our brains are plastic, flexible, changeable. Typically, when we have anxiety or depression, our “irrational” thought pathways in our brain are incredibly strong. Our amygdala, associated with strong emotions, is usually overactive, and our prefrontal cortex (PFC), associated with planning, decision-making, and higher order thought function, is typically underactive. When we start CR, it is a conscious practice where we actively need to replace our thoughts. Over time, as our brain is “rewired” and stronger pathways to the PFC develop, this practice becomes subconscious… a habit! The “irrational thinking pattern” pathways are weakened. Kinda sweet, huh? It takes awhile for this process to take place, but in the long run it can help reduce anxiety and depression, and increase self-worth and self-compassion. By no means do I think CR is the best, never-fail, only-thing-you-need technique. It’s just another practice to add to our “self-care toolbox.” I highly recommend giving it a try 😊.

Photo extracted from Google Images: https://sharpbrains.com/blog/2014/11/24/update-should-cognitive-behavioural-therapy-not-antidepressant-drugs-be-the-first-line-treatment-for-depression/

*I will link the studies that support what I’ve mentioned when I get back to work. I am currently vacationing and don’t have access to the academic library!

My goal this week is to continue practicing self-compassion and replacing my shame-triggering and irrational thoughts with kind, realistic and gentle words. I know I won’t be perfect at it, and I know it will take time and practice. I give myself the permission to fail at times, but I know my small efforts will add up to make a big difference.

Have a wonderful week,

Jen

Coping with Tough Days at Work; “I Tried My Best” is Good Enough

Just like everyone has experienced in any field, I’ve had some pretty freakin’ shitty days even at a job that I genuinely enjoy. These are the days where we feel like we can’t do anything right, where we receive negative comments from coworkers or maybe managers, where we look at the clock every two minutes hoping it is time to leave, or where we get on the computer to search “job opportunities for ______” because we’re upset, frustrated and “just want to work anywhere else but here.” It happens. It happens in every career, in every field, at every stage and at every age. Therefore, we need to find productive ways to cope with tough days at work. First, let’s change our perspective. We can look at the fact that this is going to happen throughout our lives in two ways. 1. This is how it is and each time it happens it’s just going to suck, or 2. This is an opportunity for growth and development within ourselves. Guess which one I’m continuing to work toward? YOU KNOW. Read on.

First off, I want to mention that #1 was my original coping method for the situation. I walked into my therapy appointment after a string of three challenging days on our unit. Quick context. I work at a child/adolescent inpatient psychiatric hospital. In this particular string of days, I had been caring for three 6- to 8-year-old children that were all at the unit for increased aggression at home and at school. I was told by a couple of coworkers that I handled two escalating situations poorly, I was having a difficult time helping these kiddos manage their anger, and the minutes on the clock felt like hours. I showed up to my appointment exhausted, hurting, and ashamed. Before my therapist could even ask how my day was, I burst into uncontrollable tears. I described my work week in detail which included my thoughts that maybe I wasn’t good enough for the job. Her response? “Did you do your best?” I looked at her in disbelief responding with, “what?” She kindly looked at me and repeated her question, “With your knowledge, resources, and experience, did you do what you were able to do today?” I knew exactly where she was going with this, and I think of this question every day that isn’t ideal. It’s simple. It’s easy. And it’s f&^%$in powerful.

As I stepped back, I realized that sometimes I get so wrapped up in what I need to do to be “perfect” at my job, what I need to do to be a “perfect” coworker, and what I need to do be a “perfect” role-model for the kids that I work with. I forget that I’m human. I forget that I’m still learning. I forget that I have the right to make mistakes.

On the topic of “negative comments from coworkers/managers,” I want others to think that I am doing a great job, but the truth is that I can’t satisfy everyone. It’s not possible. It’s not going to happen. People will continue to believe that they could handle a situation, stressor, assignment, presentation, etc. better than what we did. What we can work on remembering is that other people’s feelings and takes on the situation are theirs to cope with. It’s not our problem.

What we can do is remind ourselves that there is LITERALLY only so much time in a day. There is only so much we can do with the knowledge we have, training we receive, and resources available. Therefore, if we are able to answer yes at the end of the day to the question,“did you do your best with what you had?” that is good enough.

My goal this week is to practice self-compassion by answering this question when I have a rough day at work. It is a reminder that I am growing and learning. It is also a practice of paving my own path and practicing self-confidence without the need to compare myself to how others believe that I am doing. To me, that sounds much better than “just another shitty day.”  

Have a wonderful week,

Jen

Self-Care Tip: If you do ANYTHING Today, Do This.

Click here to learn what you should do for only 4 payments of $39.95!

JK, folks. I just couldn’t resist trying to be like those ads online… okay, I thought it was funny…

Back to the topic.

I’m sure most everyone can relate to the days where we have SO. DAMN. MUCH. going on. We might have a long day at work, a huge conference or presentation that we are nervous about, exams and homework, and/or social gatherings that we “have to go to because__insert reason here___,” etc.

Here’s the thing. We all have days where we have one, two, or multiple things that…may not be ideal (to put it nicely), just like we have those days where we can’t sleep because we are so excited to see so-and-so or insert-activity-here. Life goes both ways.

The best advice I have received on how to deal with the crappy days is to practice mindfulness doing one activity that makes me jump-out-of-my-pants happy. Depending on the day, that “thing” may last for 5 minutes or it may last for a couple hours. In my experience, it is best to have a toolbox full of different activities.

Before we continue, I may have to define one word from that last paragraph…dun, dun, dunMINDFULNESS!!! The more research I’ve consumed myself in about this subject, and the more I have learned to incorporate it into my life, the more I can’t stop running my mouth about its benefits and importance, especially on the tougher, more busy days. Mindfulness, simply put, is the practice of being in the present and focusing on the activity you are participating in right here, right now. Now, please, for the love of God, do not confuse mindfulness with meditation. They overlap in some ways but are also different…kind of like comparing a house cat to a tiger. An example of being mindful could be focusing on the blog you are currently reading, music you are listening to, conversation you are having with your friend, board game you are playing, or smoke detector beeping that goes off every 30 seconds because it has a low battery. It’s literally focusing on the thing you are doing rather than thinking about past experiences or future obligations. I’m going to leave the definition of mindfulness at this for now, but this is just the beginning… stay tuned for more in-depth posts on these two precious self-care techniques.

My “toolbox” of activities that have different time commitments are 1) enjoying my coffee in the morning, 2) planning my workouts for the week, 3) going to the gym, or 4) working on my blog. Depending on what I have going on that day, I allow myself to do at least one of these activities. One of my favorite, yet simple, times of the day is sitting in my big black fuzzy chair drinking my café.  I’ll spend anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour sipping my coffee and relaxing depending on my schedule. Planning my workouts and blogging usually take longer (anywhere from 30 minutes to ~3 hours). Going to the gym can take me anywhere from 1.5-2.5 hours depending on my workout and who I see. All these activities bring me a sense of either tranquility, energy, happiness, excitement, inspiration, and/or motivation. It is 1000% possible to add at least one of these activities into even the busiest of days. It’s not a debate, it’s a fact. 5 minutes of self-care over Facebook scrolling or checking Snapchat stories can make a remarkable difference (I mean, who really cares about another comment or picture of the Midwestern snowfall…). Myself and about 100 teenagers at my job that told me it wouldn’t work, but then changed their mind after a couple days are living proof that it does.

My goal for the week is to do one thing each day that brings me pure joy, even if it is only possible for 5 minutes. It is one of the many ways that I can improve my mental health, happiness, and well-being.

Next time it’s a crazy day, STOP (in the name of love) and use a minute to take care of yourself.

Have a wonderful week,

Jen

My Self-Care Epiphany on Emotions: Distraction Works… For Awhile

Yesterday I went to my weekly therapy appointment with a checklist, prepared for exactly what I wanted to discuss (I’m an overly-organized freak… she knows this). I was concerned that I had been feeling lonely, anxious and depressed a few days last week and wanted to know 1) what was causing this, and 2) how to get myself back to the “happy/optimistic zone” during these times. I told her that my mom and cousin came into town this last weekend, and I had so much fun with them. Could this have been a trigger? Was I feeling this way because they left? (Side note: My family lives in a suburb of the twin cities, and I currently live in the Madison area—I-94 is our best friend). Could it be because I was stressed at work? Damn, social media could have been another reason… I cancelled plans last Friday to read, watch a movie, have a glass of wine, and plan my workouts and meal prep for the next week as a self-care night. As soon as I started reading, I checked Snapchat and instantly had FOMO, like I should be doing something with friends. I didn’t want to feel like a loser. I couldn’t relax after that.

I sat in front of my therapist analyzing all that I could to understand why I was feeling this way, hoping she would pick my brain to find the root of the problem. I thought she would tell me how to cope, and I would do this and feel better.

She didn’t.

She started with, “You know, in college you didn’t give yourself much time to really feel many of your negative emotions.” This was 100%-my-therapist-reads-me-like-a-book true. In college I would run myself dead. I would go to class, work out, and study until I went to bed. On the weekends I would study during the day, hurry home to go out with friends, and repeat. The only way I knew to cope with negative emotions was distraction. Unfortunately, I was good at it. Studying was a constant option/excuse. I would avoid depression, loneliness, anxiety, anger, and fear like the plague. Half the time, I probably didn’t even know I was doing it. I imagine, when encountering these uncomfortable feelings, little people in my brain throwing up papers and running around in circles. Abort! Abort! Go study! Call your mom! Workout! Visit a friend! DO LITERALLY ANYTHING. Ugh.

My therapist asked me to name a time where I allowed myself to feel how I was feeling instead of trying to change, run from, or analyze it. My memory instantly went back to the cross-country season in high school. My coach would always say, “run how you feel.” On days where I felt good, I’d run faster. On days where I felt like crap, I’d take it easy. My therapist asked me why I didn’t analyze or try to find a reason why I didn’t run fast on days I didn’t feel great. It’s funny, never once did I think, I’m running slow because “I ate like shit,” or “I’m dehydrated,” or “I’m nonathletic.” Why? Honestly, I think I just knew that my body physically feels different on different days, and I work with what I have. “What if you tried to view emotions in this way? You don’t have the constant distraction in your life, and this means you may notice things about yourself that maybe you didn’t before.” For me, “these things” were emotions I subconsciously and consciously didn’t allow myself to feel. “Some days you’ll experience positive emotions, some days you’ll experience negative emotions. It’s a part of being human, and a consequence of having the ability to experience a spectrum of feelings. You work with what you feel each day.” BOOM. I realized I am so much gentler with my physical body than I am with my mind. When it comes to emotions, I push through, analyzing and actively trying to change how I feel. It doesn’t work.

Noticing my emotions and working with what I feel each day is my mental health goal for the next week. By no means do I think distraction is an “ineffective method” of coping, I just don’t think it should be the only method. Learning more ways to work with feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety could be useful.

My positive affirmation of the week is, “Experiencing negative emotions is part of being human, and these feelings will pass. I will feel happy again.”

Have a wonderful week,

Jen