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When life gives you Lemons…..

15 May

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

This maxim has been around for a long long time and nothing wrong with that. It reminds us of the benefits of an optimistic, can do attitude in the face of adversity.

The nagging question that keeps coming to mind is –  why should we always attempt to change an unpleasant situation into something more acceptable, why shouldn’t we just stay with the discomfort?

Life is complicated and has its share of painful situations. Most of the time we are not just handed lemons but pelted at with lemons when we least expect it. Making lemonade may not even be possible.

‘Stay with It ‘is what I’ve learnt. This doesn’t mean lying there helplessly wallowing in self pity; instead it means moving along in life with the lemons by your side. This extra appendage may be heavy, cumbersome, cause you to move slower, or even force you to change course, but keep going.

Stinkers aka lemons come in varied shapes and forms. They could be work related or personal that lift up their ugly heads and punch you real hard. Undoubtedly your initial reaction is shock, anger and even panic. Calm down, Hang in there, Place a hand on your heart and breathe. Cry if you feel like but know deep down that you will survive. Talk to someone you trust

Over time, you will notice that the sourness of the lemons will wax and wane over days, weeks and months. The despair that you feel during those difficult times is not constant and yes you will learn to handle them.

There is no rush to have all the answers on how to deal with them.

Pause. Keep moving, doing the things that you need to do in everyday life. When painful reminders of your loss throws you off balance remember that these feelings are normal.

Indulge in something that relaxes you.

Am I saying that this would make the elephant in the room go away – Absolutely not. Your mind may be filled with numerous thoughts. Stay with them. I’ve found that it helps to write down your thoughts and decide to pick the best option a few days later. These are all the ‘along the way stops’ as you slowly move past the pain you feel now. The best you can do is to accommodate the discomfort you feel into your life trajectory for now, and move forward with all the grace and gratitude this fragile you can muster. Navigating through pain can no doubt dent us but it also has the scope to shape us into a stronger version of ourselves.

By and by you will roll up the strength and objectivity to assess these lemons, choose whether you want to make lemonade, flavor your cake with its rind or simply throw it in the garbage. Its entirely your prerogative. You have the insider’s track to how you feel. You are the expert on your lemons.

So with due respects to this maxim – I don’t think it applies in every situation. When life gives you a lemon – you toss it into a basket and carry it around until you decide what you want to do with it.

 

 

 

 

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When Its Time to Let Go

24 Apr

Ending your marriage is one of the most difficult decisions to make.

How do you know that its time to let go of a bond that you thought was forever?

Despite your best intentions and hopes, carrying on in a disconnected marriage can be painful.  Is divorce then the best option for you?

One can never really tell. As a therapist I have seen relationships heal, couples rebuilding their lives together and unexpected shifts happening between two people.

Beyond the obvious – that is Communication and Counselling, there are, in my opinion, two other factors you need to consider before you throw in the towel on your relationship.

Firstly, your deep down intent to revive the relationship.      In the midst of all the toxicity, if you are able to see some positivity in the relationship and willing to work at healing the relationship regardless of the challenges, only then will you be able to move from what you once defined as irreconcilable differences to a new connect laced with empathy and understanding.

‘Conflict’ doesn’t always equal to ‘end of a relationship.’ Its what you do with your conflicts that matter. Both of you need to revisit your areas of struggle, keeping in mind that your spouse also wants to be in this relationship as much as you do. Give room for imperfections and allow healing to take place.

The pain and its scars can be glaring but are you both willing to work at going beyond it? That’s what matters.

Secondly, take some time off to introspect – how much of the problems are due to the relationship and how much due to you and the phase and stage of life that you are in.

Being in a satisfying relationship requires you to take care of yourself emotionally. Do things that boost your self- esteem. Do you have a fulfilling life outside of your relationship? What are your trigger zones?

Spend some time alone to rediscover and reconnect with yourself. Figure out what exactly you are looking for in your marriage. Maybe all these years you haven’t tended to yourself. Start now. Journaling is an effective way to bring clarity to the mind.  As you write you will be sorting out your thoughts, identifying your non- negotiables [needs] and determining the areas where you can be flexible. This clarity and self awareness will help you know and understand yourself better. It will help you to express yourself and your expectations more authentically.

Self awareness can change the dynamics of your relationship which could lead to you putting in more energy and effort to revive your relationship or drift apart realising that you have reached a point of no return.

Sometimes after all the soul searching you come to the conclusion that divorce is the healthier way out. Oftentimes walking away from a marriage can be the best gift you can give yourself especially if there is addiction or abuse. But divorce isn’t easy, it brings about intense emotions like hurt, anger confusion and even guilt. Make sure you have a safe space to sort out these emotions in a safe space.

 

 

A Well Deserved Break

3 Apr

I come from a subcontinent where the customary belief is, that for any kind of personal success, top grades in school are an absolute necessity.

Top marks is just one of the criteria, there is of course the added expectation of having to participate and succeed in sports, music, debates, all of which go to measuring up in the admission game to the popular colleges.

As a result, the final year in school whizzes by, with tuitions, classes, homework assignments, studying for tests and so on. If you are good at sports ..which translates to – playing a sport for the school /state, then you would then be one of the lucky ones who could include play in your weekly routine, else, at this point life beyond text books doesn’t really exist.

For so many students the day begins early with extra coaching classes even before school hours.

A well thought out menu is put in place to cater to carrying additional eats beyond the usual lunch and recess snacks.

The day then steadily plows on with regular classes, homework submissions, lab work, and a scramble to complete the tuition assignments.

Classes are never done even after 7 hours of school done – Post school hours, students have yet another parallel study center to attend.

These study centers demand rigorous work, charge steep fees, have periodic evaluations, teach you easy methods to remember formulae, and instill just one mantra – Push beyond your limits; Nothing but stellar performance will be rewarded.

Back home after more than 10 hours of poring over various subjects, one would think this young person would be entitled to just laze around …but there’s homework submissions to complete and if that’s not there, then parental reminders about not wasting precious time force children to get back to the books they have barely put away.

Not only parents- uncles, aunts, neighbors, family friends all have just one piece of advice- ‘Your parents are doing so much for you …so all you need to do is study well and not let them down.’

For most students …..this is a year of constant stress. There are times of respite when one set of exams are done or when a submission is turned in, but then again that comfort is promptly overshadowed by thoughts of the next test or homework.

Their busy schedule reminds you of factory workers trying to wrap bar after bar of soap as it speeds down the conveyor belt

Is it then any wonder that so many of our teens today go through the best years of their life with increased anxiety, eating disorders, self harm or being sleep deprived?

Finally, when the exams are all done and joy is throbbing through their veins, some of the immediate exclamations made by these hollering youngsters include –

“It feels like a great grey load has been lifted off my shoulders”,

“I feel like I am finally off a treadmill”

“It’s a terrific feeling to finally feel free”

One young man actually went on to say – “I now need a nap year – A year to recover”

As I watch them, I can’t help but wonder if this board exam paranoia is something that’s so woven into our system that it is a predetermined path our youngsters need to take.

Right now, none of these thoughts matter to these delirious highschoolers. Their immediate focus is on the new 3 R’s – Recover, Recharge and Reset.

To our youth ide like to say – Go ahead release that playful child that has been lying dormant for over a year. Sleep till late morning, invite your friends over and binge watch all your favourite films, Swim, dance or whatever else you feel like. The current empty space in your lives use it to learn more about yourself. The only statutory warning being – Not a thought about the results!

‘Soaking Up the Good’ – Getting Rid of our Negativity Bias

24 Feb

Our penchant for focusing on the negative stuff happening in our lives is a hand me down from our cave-dwelling ancestors.

Back then, being alert and focusing on the dangers in the environment helped them survive, but today, favouring the imprinting of negative information in our brains for long periods of time, end up muffling all the positive experiences we’ve had.

Imagine, you’ve spent the day out with your family, watched a film, shopped, and ended the day with a dinner laced with laughter and bickering. Going home, your son reminds you of something he needs for school the next day – and then, you argue, and your spouse joins in and he picks on you and chooses that very moment to highlight your flaws; You get home exhausted and in a bad mood. For days you aren’t able to get over all the negative comments made on that day. You peg that day as a negative experience although only a small part of the day was turbulent. The rest of the positive experiences you had on that day takes a back seat.

This is what psychologists refer to as a ‘negativity bias’ – Our in built tendency to give more attention to the negatives rather than the positives – in ourselves, in others and in our daily experiences.

Which means, the bad stuff stick faster and lingers longer in the brain, than the happy stuff.

That’s why when I am shown pictures of me having a great time with my friends, I am quick to spot all the flaws – my hair not curling the right way or the tip of my nose looking so bulbous or me looking shorter than the rest of my friends and so forth. The good times are pushed to the back and I end up letting my thoughts focus on how unflattering my photographs are.

The very same negativity bias that served our ancestors well, is now a hindrance to our wellbeing and productivity, as all it does now, is keep our brain obsessed with the adverse experiences of life.

That’s why they say that it takes more than three compliments to make up for one criticism!

Who says you need to accept this bias? You can counterbalance this disproportionate focus towards negativity by-

  • Being Mindful of the daily happenings in your life. How do you observe the world around you? Are you one of them who pays more attention to the negative happenings in your life?
  • Making a conscious effort to value and appreciate all the positive things happening in your life. Savor them and allow them to soak into your memory and feel good about them.
  • Recognizing when negative thoughts like juggernauts begin to take over your brain. At that time break the pattern of negativity by doing something that keeps you from feeding these thoughts- go for a walk, listen to music or call a friend.
  • Talking to that inner voice which points out all your shortcomings. Be calm, gently change his perception and point out to him the bigger picture where both positive and negative experiences coexist. Be kind to yourself.
  • Practicing gratitude. Life has innumerable challenges but there is a multitude of blessings beneath the surface, which is taken for granted. Train your mind to look for them and shine your spotlight on them. It is an antidote to focusing on the negatives.

The good news is that our brains innate neuroplasticity make it possible to retrain it to spot the good things in life. We construct our reality. A large part of how we feel depend on where we choose to put our attention.

With conscious awareness and practice we can find many opportunities to weave in the sunny moments of our lives, into the fabric of our brain, thus overriding its natural tilt towards negativity.

 

 

Understanding and Raising a Child with a Difficult Temperament.

6 Feb

Right from birth, children display a distinct style of responding to the environment They have their own style of approaching the world — also known as their temperament.

Temperament is not something the child chooses and there are no right or wrong temperaments but understanding these traits is essential so that you learn to respond effectively to his/her unique personality.

As you watch your child interact with his surroundings you will discover his/her preferred style of relating to the happenings around him.

Does he/she have an easy going nature and adapt well to new situations and people, or is he/she overwhelmed by new routines? Does he/she have a cheerful demeanour, or is he/she moody and irritable most of the time? Is he/she extra sensitive to sensory stimulation? Does he/she fret and fume often? Are his/her emotional reactions intense? Does he/she take a while to warm up and adapt to changes in the environment? Is he/she timid or curious?

When parents are not attuned to the needs and ‘wiring’ of the child, then both — the parent and the child experience distress. Since the pattern of interaction between them is mutually reinforcing, exchanges between them will then produce a rise in the already existing difficult behaviour. For the child, that builds resentment and anger, while for the parent, its frustration and helplessness.

Accepting the difficult temperament of a child does not mean that you step back from helping him/her modify his/her behaviour. Instead it means that you use empathetic and caring ways to alleviate the distress they cause to themselves and others.

When there is congruence between the child’s temperament, and the expectations of parents and others in that environment, chances are that the child will do better in cognitive, academic and social adjustments than his counterparts who don’t have the same environmental fit.

To achieve this congruence, you need to reassess all your ideas and beliefs on parenting.

Parenting books and well meaning friends may offer advice on the ‘right’ way to bring up a child, but the only way that works, is to create your own guidelines based on your childs temperament.

The important thing is to be accepting and responsive to his individuality.

Parenting a difficult child can be exhausting. These children are far more sensitive to the quality of parenting than children with an easy demeanour.

No amount of yelling or punishing or giving empty threats or shutting down will help in dealing with the behaviour of a difficult child.

Calm, responsive and sensitive parenting coupled with generous amount of patience and persistence can help guide these children into behaviour patterns that increase their self esteem, self confidence and adaptability.

A few markers going forward in achieving this calm

· Understand and accept how your child usually behaves in most situations. Also be aware of how you respond in those situations. Its the way we talk to our children that becomes their inner voice.

· Consider how your actions impact the outcome of the interaction you have with your child.

· Without criticism, encourage them to take baby steps toward the preferred behaviour while praising them for the effort they have made. For e.g. Tim being shy refuses to come out to greet the guests. His parents unapologetically explain to the guests that Tim needs a little more time to start a conversation. They also reassure Tim saying that there are people do hesitate to meet new people, and tells Tim that when he feels like he could say ‘hello’ to the guests and get back to his room. This makes Tim feel at ease as his parents have understood him. By giving Tim the suggestion to just say a ‘hello’, his parents have allowed him to feel the success of having overcome his shyness in a small way.

· At times you need to tweak the environment so that your child experiences success. This requires you to reflect on the behaviour that is bothersome and rearrange things such that it minimizes the opportunities for challenging behaviour.

· Creating a reward system helps in managing behaviour. Set small, clear achievable goals which when achieved are followed by praise and rewards, e.g. Its great to see that you completed your homework before you set out to play. Being specific in praise will spur them to continue doing more of the same behaviour

· On a regular basis, spend a little time with each child individually, doing an activity that’s enjoyable to him/her. Make this time frequent and predictable, so children anticipate it. This allows a closer bond to be forged between the child and parent which make kids want to co-operate and emulate the qualities of the parent.

· Teach them how to communicate. Sometimes children behave in a certain fashion in order to tell us something or achieve a goal. Look for what it is they are trying to tell us. Help them become aware of their feelings and build an emotional vocabulary so that they do not use negative behaviour to communicate.

· Be Mindful of your triggers. Be aware of what drives you crazy and and have some strategies in your parenting tool box that help you tackle those situations without reacting emotionally.

Change is a process and does not happen immediately. Some behaviours take time to change. It can be frustrating, but harsh confrontational interactions need to be replaced with a balance of encouragement and control so that the child gradually learns to be more adapting, more cheerful, and more calm.

It’s a misconception that parenting is something you automatically know the moment you become a parent. Parenting is a lot of learning. Its okay to ask for help. If you find yourself getting sapped and drained out raising your children, then its time to meet a counsellor to better equip yourself with strategies to ensure that parenting remains a rewarding experience.

Managing Anxiety During the Examination Season

20 Jan

Come February and students begin to shine their spotlight on the forthcoming examinations.

They’ve had an eventful year making memories, having fun and now with the exams not too far away fear and anxiety slowly begin to creep in.

Anxiety before an exam can range from being a little nervous to exhausting feelings of worry and fear which can get all pervasive and negatively impact learning, daily functioning and the quality of life.

It’s not just the students, parents are also saturated with stress and anxiety as the days get closer to the exams.

So, what we have then, is an anxious household; Parents who should be facilitators are themselves worked up, creating a strained atmosphere at home and perpetuating the cycle of stress.

How can we avoid this high-strung atmosphere and make sure that our child performs to the best of his abilities? Let’s first understand –

What causes this anxiety in students?

· Fear of letting down parents or teachers

· High expectations from his /her own performance

· Worried about not getting into a college of his/her choice

· Using grades as a reflection of self-worth

· Lack of preparation or not having understood the subject well

· Pressure of limited time

· Previous poor performance.

These and so many other fears cloud the minds of students and prevent them from thinking logically.

How does this anxiety show up?

Different students manifest different issues in varying intensities as a result of this examination fear; But they can all be classified into 3 categories:

· Physical Symptoms — Headaches, nausea, diarrhoea, pounding heart, feeling light headed, aches and pains

· Emotional and Cognitive Symptoms — Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, anger, Fear of forgetting all that was learnt, sadness, Negative self-talk, feeling of being unprepared even though he/she has revised his course work thoroughly,

· Behavioural Symptoms — Restlessness, difficulty in concentrating, putting off studying until the last minute, spending way too much time online, Sleep too much or too little, Irritability

How can we help them deal with their fears?

Even the best of students can get overwhelmed by examinations. Parents need to watch out for signs of stress and help the child do his/her best without working themselves up into a frenzy.

· Provide a quiet and airy place to study.

· Monitor his/her sleep pattern. At least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep is necessary to consolidate all the matter that is learned the previous day.

· Arrange for nutritious meals and healthy snacks to be available. Small meals at regular intervals are better that large meals which make the child feel lethargic and sleepy.

· Encourage regular breaks between studying,

· Have meals together as a family, during which time no academics is discussed. Neutral topics and light-hearted banter should be the theme of these family meals.

· Have realistic expectations from your child and don’t place unnecessary pressure to get a certain grade; Instead assist them in identifying their strengths and interests thus reinforcing their self-esteem and self-confidence.

· Be mindful of the content of your talk at home. Is it all about marks and admissions? Are you providing providing praise and positive feedback that’s not based only on academic achievement?

· Encourage them to exercise or play every day. Exercise produces endorphins which reduces stress and helps them concentrate better.

· Teach them Deep breathing and visualization techniques that they can use when they are anxious.

· Support them and not police them.

· Be available for your child if he/she needs you to assist him/her in creating a study time table or revising a particular subject.

· Allow them to decide when they want to study. You may think the morning is the best time to study but he /she may prefer studying at night.

· Emphasise on consistent hard work and pull the focus off their results.

· Do not compare them to their siblings or cousins or neighbours’ children. Each child has his or her unique combination of strengths. Comparisons only demotivate them.

· Talk to them. Ask open ended questions about their fears. Listen to them. Do not belittle their fears nor amplify them.

· Remind them that it’s only natural to feel nervous before an exam. The key is to put this nervousness to positive use. Encourage them to tolerate and manage their anxiety in a healthy manner. Think aloud and ask them for suggestions about what they could do when these negative feelings or fears creep in. The goal isn’t to get rid of anxiety completely, but to learn to manage it.

· Do not Post Mortem all the earlier examinations. The past is over. Focus on what lies ahead.

· Scolding, Threatening or bargaining with your child will not get them to be inclined towards studying, instead goad them to think about their goal and how their exams are related to them.

· Don’t speak only about your own glories. Share with them about the times you also felt scared, how you managed your anxieties etc.

· List out his/her small and big triumphs of the past that will help build self-confidence.

· Engage in acts of thoughtfulness like making your child’s favourite meal, giving him/her a bear hug or ruffling his/her hair. Combine a little playfulness along with lots of love to keep the atmosphere calm and supportive.

Parents also need to manage their personal stress. You can be a part of the problem or a part of the solution. Even the most well-meaning parents can get so worked up and thus increase the child’s anxiety. At such times you need to engage in self soothing activities like going for a walk or any other activity that help you maintain perspective.

Kids need to feel that they are competent learners. So, encourage and support them. When students begin to feel that their self-worth is measured by how they fare in an exam — that’s pressure.

It’s important to remind oneself that academic achievement is only one part of a child’s life. The sensible thing a parent can do to support their child, is to accept the child’s potential and find possibilities within that purview.

Anxiety is something which in the right amounts can be beneficial but if it gets blown out of proportion it can be destructive. Reach out for help if you feel you or your child feel yourself getting too overwhelmed.

As they say — ‘If you see a wave coming, grab a surfboard.’

5 Jan

The first few days of the new year are usually filled with hope, and a childlike enthusiasm at the amazing possibilities the days ahead have to offer.

My mind also travels to the year gone by, the resolutions I made sitting at this very same table, the gung-ho spirit I had when I made them, and how some of them got left behind in my diary while few others made it to the finish post.

On reflection, I have come to recognise that the only force that helps me move out of my comfort zone and act on my vision is, Believing in Myself.

If January is all excitement and optimism, March comes in with its doubts and questions. ‘Are these too ambitious a goal? Will I be able to implement them? Should I even try? or What’s the point, I don’t think I can sustain.’

Self doubt starts getting in my way and the goblins in my head rummage through my mind looking for reasons why I should abandon my project. No matter how achievable or not my goals are its this lack of belief in myself that’s a limiting factor.

Trying to push through these voices of self doubt can be exhausting and sometimes I am so tempted to give in; Afterall, wallowing in self-pity is at times kinda soothing. At the same time the feeling of exhilaration whenever I’ve managed to dodge these persuasive voices and move towards my intentions is so heady, that for most times, its that feeling that gives me the courage to charge past these inner self doubters.

That’s what my new year resolution is all about.

Ideas, Intelligence, Intentions, Visions most of us have aplenty.

But, what we also have a good deal of, is our uncertainties, doubts and fears. Getting around these fears and doubts will be a large part of my agenda this year.

Here I’m sharing with you a few ways I’ve managed to get past my self doubts [Atleast sometimes] Its still ‘work in progress’.

Among the numerous thoughts we have in a day, these unhelpful fears and thoughts can be isolated, as they are nagging, persistent and copious. Fighting them is of no help. Instead I gently address them one by one. After all these monsters are also trying to protect us from any foolhardy endeavours.   Addressing their concerns take the fangs off them and infact it makes me better prepared to achieve my goals.

Challenging my irrational thoughts, and if needed even chiding my noisy brain with words like- ‘Stop it. I’m not listening to you.’ allows me to bravely forge ahead in the direction of my dreams.

Someone once told me that everyone, even very confident people struggle with self doubt. It feels good to know I’m not the only one with these uncomfortable thoughts. Am guessing any change carries with it its share of confusions and fears.  John Steinbeck doubted his quality of writing, Michelangelo didn’t think he was a painter, George Washington feared he would not live up to his people’s expectation, and yet all of them went on to do exemplary work in their field. So methinks we need not shrink or wilt away under self doubt.

Progress on the road towards eliminating my self doubts has never been linear; There have been days where I’ve tucked my tail between my legs and stayed put, and then, there have also been days when I’ve derailed my inner gremlins and forged ahead to ‘Go make that something happen.’

If you, like me are dedicated to creating an amazing year, then go ahead and share your ideas and thoughts on getting past all the internal mulling that keeps us stuck in a loop.

Self doubt is ones personal inferno; But its not invincible. There are slow but sure ways to convince that inner voice that you want to work on those big audacious designs you’ve envisioned for yourself.