Laugh When You Are Afraid

“If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane,” sings Jimmy Buffett.

“Time spent laughing is time spent with the gods,” says a Japanese proverb.


For many of us, our ability to laugh at ourselves, at life, is a balm for what ails us. Seeing the absurdity in a situation can break tension and stress. It can literally flip a moment from intense conflict to one of laughter and lightness of heart. There are so many benefits to laughter that when we lose our sense of humor we know that something is very wrong.

Therese Borchard writes about others for whom humor is a major coping skill for getting through depression and anxiety. Read the whole article.

Bringing In Family to Fight Anorexia

The girl said she would eat it only if she could have it plain, with nothing on it. The parents countered that they really wanted her to eat it with the cream cheese. Her last offer: she would eat half.


This article is about a 'new' method, the Maudsley method, to treat anorexia nervosa. As far as I can see it has three things going for it.

1) It is intuitive, a fancy way of saying it makes perfect common sense.
2) It empowers parents to help their child in a kind, healthy but firm way.
3) It addresses eating to maintain a healthy weight first, correcting for the cognitive distortions associated with it, second.

Read the entire article and see what you think.

Your Kid Wants You to Read This: 6 Tips to Survive the College Application Process

My son, a senior in high school, submitted his Common Application last month. If you have no idea what that is, then God bless you, you may skip this post.

If you are all too familiar with, not only the Common App, but also terms like, 'SAT', 'class rank', FAFSA and 'early decision', welcome to my hell.

Maybe I exaggerate. Maybe I am just a parent who only wants the best for her son. Or maybe, as my son occasionally thinks, I am an hysterical, controlling freak who doesn't know when to let go of her kid…


What I am is a normal parent of a normal college bound high school senior who sincerely wants her child to succeed in achieving his dream of going to the college of his choice. The problem is that that wish clashes stridently with the heart-ache of imagining him, my baby, leaving us next fall.

That's just life, isn't it? Ugh. Can you hear that? The cognitive dissonance is deafening.

What is a parent to do? Some suggestions:

1) Begin to acclimate yourself to this inevitable step early. Because I counsel a lot of parents, I knew my job as a parent was a temporary position. Of course I will always be his Mom, but I mean that I reared my kids to be resilient, independent, confident, capable adults. If they feel ready to leave the nest at the appropriate time, and they really are, then we've done our job well.

Luckily teenagers have a way of preparing us for the day when they are no longer living under our wing. They spend more and more time with their peers, they ask our opinion less and less and they assure us that they know what's going on, implying that we old codgers really have no idea.

2) Listen hard when your kid says: "That is you, Mom (or Dad). That's not me." Recently my son asked me to read his Common App essay. He prefaced it by saying he thought it was nearly perfect. That should have tipped me off to keep my mouth shut. Instead I red-lined the essay and got all professorial talking about theses and deeper meanings and junk.

Naturally my son got defensive and we spent a good half hour butting heads. His Dad (who thought the essay was fine) stepped in and declared a time out until the next day. After sleeping on it, I realized I was letting my anxiety (see #3) regress me to my own college application process and I had no business imposing that on him. If he made the changes I was suggesting it would be my essay, not his.

3) Acknowledge that emotions are loaded. See #2. Try to compartmentalize where the feelings are coming from and make an effort for all involved to regulate them. Yelling, calling anyone names or saying that with their record they'll be lucky to go to Loser U, is abusive. Stop it. Give yourself a time out; get some sleep.

For most of us I think it's a matter of recognizing the anxiety we as parents are feeling. We wonder what life will be like not to have our kids around next year. We worry about being able to afford supporting them in their college dream. We are afraid of a 'failure to launch' senario. This is all normal. We just need to to watch how much of these feelings leak over to how we relate to our kid.


12 Things We Can Learn From the Chilean Miners and Their Rescuers

You saw the miners as they were rescued in real time. They emerged triumphant, some bounding with happiness and energy. How could this be? If I were confined to a space the size of a Manhattan studio apartment, in 90 degree heat, high humidity, dark and no way out for two months I would no doubt come out resembling Gollum's kid sister, pale and wrinkled and coocoo for cocopuffs, if you know what I mean.

The miners and those who advised them make me proud to be human. They reminded us of something important. What they did to survive their ordeal we can all do when faced with a full on emergency. Whether it's a hurricane, an earthquake, a man-made disaster or a freak October snowstorm like one we sustained in Western New York a few years ago, we can pull through if we pull together.

What can we learn from their experience with unbelievable stress?

1) Get organized. Apparently one of the first things the 33 men trapped underground did was get organized. They immediately established rationing of the little food they had, designated locations for waste, sought water they could drink and clean with and started an exercise program. Somehow these men avoided the Lord of the Flies -type senario so popular on reality shows. Instead they cooperated and helped each other so that all would survive.

2) Get a good medical doctor and follow their advice. Granted these men had the best Chile and the world had to offer but how many times do we go against our own doctor's advice? The miners had to follow some very strict guidelines and yet they chose to defer to the experts. There are times when arguing with your physician makes sense. Emergency situations isn't one of them.

3) Even when you are starving, regulate what you eat. If the men didn't slowly and methodically increase their calories and carbohydrates once food became available, they could have gone into insulin shock, triggered heart attack and died.

4) Exercise. While the main chamber was very small, the miners had a half a mile or so of tunnels available. They took advantage of the space to walk and run.

5) Even when it's just you and the dark, grooming is important. Good grooming is fundamental to good health. One of the first things the miners requested was shampoo and soap. They managed to rig some of the water available in the mine to create a shower.


Crossing the Border from the Land of Health to the Land of Ick

DSC08370 I've lived most of my adult life dealing with illness in some form or other. Since college, I have no memory of what being "healthy" is like without worrying about, or living through, the next relapse. My experience of traversing from the country of Health to the Land of the Ick is not the same as others'. A few years ago, when a friend told me she was suddenly found to have breast cancer, I broke down and wept. Terribly embarrassed, I apologized all over the place. My friend was cool and calm, and thanked me for my response. Why would she thank me for being a cry baby?

She said people who are healthy had no idea how her reality just made a fundamental shift from being Well to Having Cancer. They were very busy trying to convince her that nothing had changed. She will beat this thing that had intruded itself and go on as usual. They didn't understand that life would never be the same no matter what the outcome. She appreciated that I did understand and I was grieving for the loss of her identity as a "healthy" person.

My wise friend (who is in remission now and counseling cancer patients at a big cancer center) was being gracious. Yes, I was crying for her, a new traveller in this strange place, but the truth is, I was crying for myself, too, who had already been there for a while.


Losing Weight By Saying YES!

"It's not what I'm saying NO to, it's what I'm saying YES to by saying NO."

I have permanently lost 17 pounds since last June when I reached a peak of 160 (I'm 5' 3"). Losing that weight could not have happened unless I had a deep cognitive and spiritual change in my attitude toward discipline.

Discipline is defined by my dictionary four ways:

  1. training to act in accordance with rules
  2. behavior in accord with rules of conduct
  3. branch of learning
  4. punishment

Three out of four of those definitions make me feel as confined as Cool Hand Luke in 'The Box', especially that last one.

Naturally I convinced myself that dieting was punishment because I couldn't lose weight without the 'discipline' not to eat over a set calorie count. Every time I tried to resist the brownie, the rebellious little kid in me fought back and the tired, punished adult gave in.

In June, I started working with Janice Taylor and she helped me see discipline in a new way. Not just 'see' it, because I had tried the 'Love Yourself Thin' approach before. It just never stuck. Janice helped me dismantle some seriously dysfunctional core beliefs about discipline that were literally weighing me down. Core beliefs like, "You are not good enough, no matter what you do to pretend otherwise." In the process of taking that core belief apart, I learned why, as I tried to do the right thing by not eating the brownie, all I was left with was a hollow, deprived feeling inside.


5 Ways to Start Your Day With Energy!

This time of year the mornings are darker and colder, at least in points North, and getting out of a cozy bed gets harder. What is a working mom to do? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. To start the day with energy, begin the day before. Give yourself a few minutes of quiet to put the day to bed and prepare for the needs of the next day. First find one or two things from the day just lived that you are happy about. Let that satisfaction nurture your spirit. Then think of the day to come. If your to-do list causes you to hyperventilate, choose three, and only three, items off the list that if you do them you will feel good about yourself. Repeat.
  2. Practice good sleep hygiene. At least 30 minutes before you want to be asleep, begin your go to bed ritual. This signals to your body it's time to relax and release the sleep hormones. For more tips on how to practice good sleep hygiene click here. You know your sleep hygiene is working when you wake up before the alarm goes off!
  3. If you need an hour to get yourself out the door in the morning, set your alarm 30 minutes earlier. That means you need to get to bed so that you have from 7 to 8 hours rest. If you need to get up at 6:00 AM count backwards eight hours and add half an hour. That means start your sleep ritual by 9:30, be in bed by 10, at the latest! The extra time in the morning doesn't give you time to lolly gag, what it does is keep you from running around in a panic, a sure energy sucker. Try it. It's an amazing feeling to leave the house in a calm state of mind.
  4. Whatever age your kids are, let them take responsibility for stuff, like grooming and dressing themselves. My kids started participating in preparing their school lunches in third grade. By middle school they were making their lunches by themselves the night before!
  5. Sit down for breakfast and you must have breakfast.

What do you do to have the best start to the day possible?

Is Your Child Having Trouble Sleeping? Try ‘The Scariest Dream Ever’!

DreamCover-small-angled Just in time for Halloween!

One of my earliest memories is waking up to find the creepy Howdy-Doody puppet dancing on the rail of my little sister's crib! I was so freaked out! That one dream kept me from sleeping soundly for ages. It still gives me the shivers.

Being little and afraid at night, alone in the dark when all the monsters come out, is an experience that most of us can remember. As parents, when our kids are going through a period of troubled sleep, too often we don't know what to do and in our desparation to get a good night's sleep ourselves, we only make it worse. We yell, plead and finally crawl into bed with our child. They may go to sleep, but we are miserable and our child has learned nothing about self-confidence.

That's why I love the new children's picture book The Scariest Dream Ever. A little boy tells the story of how he couldn't get to sleep because there is a witch in the basement! He runs to his mother expecting her to make the witch go away. Instead, she encourages him to tell the witch to do the laundry that has piled up by the washer conveniently located right there in the basement! Empowered by his mother's suggestion the boy declares, "So I did!"

The mom helps her son go from feeling helpless to becoming empowered. Several terrifying monsters are redirected to complete mundane household chores and the boy gains increasing confidence. Finally, in the security that he can deal effectively with whatever nasty thing should threaten him, the boy falls into a sweet, monster supported sleep.


The Courageous Families of Flight 3407

Pick up the Good Housekeeping October 2010 issue on newstands now.

Grocery shopping is not one of my favorite things to do until I'm waiting in the check out line. Then I relax and thumb through the magazines with catchy covers. Good Housekeeping has Jamie Lee Curtis on the cover this month. A big fan of Jamie Lee, I flipped through and found something completely unexpected.

The story is about the surviving fathers, mothers, spouses and siblings whose loved ones died in the crash of Continental Flight 3407. In the months since the plane went down they have formed a strong lobby advocating changes in laws that govern the safety standards for the small, subsidiary airlines that account for 50% of flights and carry 20% of travelers in the U.S. every day. I can't describe my admiration for these people who have taken such a horrible tragedy and turned it into a crusade that potentially benefits us all.


What Can We Do About Bullies?

I am so confused. On one hand, tons of advances have been made to raise awareness of the seriously harmful effects of bullying. Schools have active anti-bullying programs; parents have more tools to intervene effectively. On the other hand, bullies and meaness seem out of control in our society, entering the mainstream of behavior like from a firehose.

Last week students at Rutgers University posted a young man’s most private moments online resulting in his suicide, for what purpose? For their entertainment?!

And Paladino! Geez, really Carl? Is that how we want our leaders to act? Like back street bullies? I don’t care what your politics are, really I don't. I totally respect all views. Just don’t yell at me.

It’s not just about what's in the news. In my office I see up close the meaness that passes for communication between couples. I hear about stangers who scream cuss words at each other like drunken sailors over stupid perceived slights (no offense to drunken sailors). Elementary school age bullies cruelly taunting a child who is 'different'.  A neighbor raged at some children playing nearby, “Get your dog off my lawn or I’ll shoot it!”

No joke. I’m beginning to feel like we are all in a very bad 'Jersey Shore' episode. This disinhibited rage has become deadly. It has got to stop.

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