WORKING THROUGH THE MONDAY BLUES

We can’t all be lucky enough to love what we do and, more likely than not, Monday morning has you pining for the upcoming weekend, in desperate need of coffee, and dreading going back to work. What can you do to make it better? Maybe I can help!

A wise attorney once told me that, for success, you just have to remember the 6 P’s: Perfect Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance. I always remembered that and have used it, time and again, to help me with a myriad of events – including starting a new week.

For example, what are you going to eat? Often, our days and weeks are so busy and we’re just running around, end up grabbing fast food on the way from point A to point B, and end up spending money we don’t have on food we don’t need to be eating. Also, that cheeseburger, fries and a Coke might temporarily put a spring in your step, but is most likely going to make you sleepy and bog you down later.

I try to plan out what I’m going to eat for the week and get it all prepared on Sundays. Don’t get me wrong, folks, I’m certainly no Martha Stewart! But if you work it into your routine, it’s not such a big deal and your wallet, stomach, and spirit will thank you for it! Almost anything you can make at home is going to be healthier then what you get in a restaurant. Plan your meals thoughtfully, keeping in mind what ingredients you’ll need. Try to reduce the amount of groceries you buy finding recipes that require the same ingredients. Cooking 3-4 items in advance will not only save you time and money, but will also provide a healthier alternative!

If you need help with this, try eMeals.com. For just a few dollars a month, you can get help planning meals and making grocery lists.

Remember to get enough sleep! The “normal” amount of sleep varies from person to person, but 6-8 hours is “average”. Going to bed at the same time each night and waking up at the same time each morning (YES, even on weekends!) help to train your body and your brain to get the sleep you need. Being well-rested will help tremendously with beginning your work week.

Try to get in some exercise before work – either that morning or the day before – for an added boost. Try taking a slow-paced walk around the neighborhood, or do extra housework if you don’t have a gym membership or exercise equipment at home. For those of you have Netflix, there is now a fitness section where you can find various workouts, such as Pilates or Yoga. Spend 30 minutes trying one of these activities and note the difference it makes!

Finally, be aware of what you bring into your environment. If you’re a news junkie, you might want to take a break the day before and the morning you go back to work. Listen to a comedy podcast instead. I recommend The Smartest Man in the World Comedy Podcast with Greg Proops. If you don’t mind a little profanity and vulgarity from time to time and just want a laugh, there’s 2 years worth of podcasts you could listen to, each a couple hours long. Also, be mindful about the music you’re listening to! When I’m feeling down, or just want a boost, I play a Motown mix I created on Spotify. If I’m feeling particularly stressed, I’ll play a Classical mix, to reduce tension. You could also try meditation techniques to quiet racing thoughts, or progressive muscle relaxation techniques to ease physical and mental tension.

For those of you who keep up with these blogs, I’m sure you’ll notice that I’ve simply found new/other ways to incorporate Dr. Dave’s Eat Right/Think Right/Sleep Right/Exercise model. I’m not trying to be tricky, lol, but being consistent in these practices can reduce depression and anxiety and, just all around, get you feeling better, well rested, rejuvenated, and ready to take on the new week. Hope this helps and hope you make it a good one! Happy New Year from all of us at BHC Assessment and Consulting!

Tis the Season…

…to be jolly! But it’s also the season to be completely stressed out and overwhelmed and privy to depression and anxiety. Putting up decorations, buying presents, accepting invitations, declining invitations, getting out cards, shopping, shopping, shopping…It’s important to make sure you take care of yourself during the holiday season and take time to stop along the way and smell the eggnog.

What do I recommend? Dr. Dave always recommends the Eat Right/Sleep Right/Think Right/Exercise model, which is particularly important during times of high stress. It’s pretty self-explanatory, but here are some tips to get you back on track.
Eating right is difficult, especially if you have a crazy busy schedule. Consider keeping healthy snacks on hand, such as apples and peanut butter, carrots and dressing or hummus, granola bars, peanuts, or small Tupperware containers of fruits or salads. Try to curb the carbs in the later evening hours and avoid eating dinner 3-4 hours before bedtime.

In order to maintain proper sleep hygiene, consider going to bed and waking up each night/day at the same time, even on the weekends! This technique essentially trains your body and your mind to do so and, before long, you might not even need your alarm clock. Watch your caffeine intake, eating, watching tv, and computer time before bedtime – those are all stimulants.

For the think right aspect of the model, make yourself aware of your negative thoughts, then rate the rationality of it on a scale of 1-10, then counter it with 3 positive thoughts. Our realities consist of what we notice and that on which we focus: Be careful what you choose to bring into your environment. If you’re feeling down and out, reduce the news and increase the comedy. Give The Cure a rest and try out some Motown or other more upbeat music.

Also, you can try our Mental Health Boot Camp, designed for folks who don’t necessarily need intensive therapy, but are just looking to recharge their lives in one respect or another. It’s an 8 week self-study treatment designed to help people better define their life goals and develop an action plan to achieve those goals. It involves daily wiring exercises that will re-awaken the passion for life and increase self-awareness. For more information, visit our website!

If exercise is a challenge for you, try signing up on meetup.com and join some fun groups, such as kickball, volleyball, pilates, yoga, or walking groups. Try taking your dog for a walk, or just walk around the neighborhood. Remember that movement is exercise: You can park in the furthest spot from the store, take the stairs instead of the elevator, and/or increase the housecleaning.

Most importantly, remember to take time to ENJOY the special times with your family, friends, and loved ones. Be thankful for what you have and try to focus on what’s RIGHT in your life. And Happy Holidays!

The Powers of Positive Thinking

I know a lot of you think of this topic as a two day old pizza with extra ham and cheese, but I am here to tell you all that IT WORKS. And that it makes a difference. Before I started graduate school, I was a hard-core Negative Nancy. Back then, I would have told you I was “merely realistic”. No. I was downright cynical, complained all the time and, most likely, got on my friends’ last ever-loving nerves.

Once in school, a teacher “made” us watch “The Secret”. I vaguely knew about this as it had been popular once upon a time and was probably on Oprah’s book list – yada yada yada. I thought the whole thing was such rubbish that I found myself, in sheer boredom, practicing the philosophies of the Laws of Attraction, just so I could go back to my class and snidely report on its’ failings.

Boy, was I wrong!

This is how it works, these “Laws of Attraction”: This has NOTHING to do with religion, folks. It’s about asking the universe for what you want and, in turn, getting it.

Sound crazy? I can assure you, it’s not.

Let me put it to you like this: Everything you see is what you’re noticing. Everything you’re attracting to your life is what you’re accepting as your expectations of it. Everyone in your life is who you choose to be a part of it.

If all you ever do is look around and pine over the closed doors in your life, you’ll miss out on all the ones that are open. If you are in constant anticipation of that overdue bill or overdrawn credit card statement that’s coming in the mail today, you’ll miss out on the invitation to your best friend’s baby shower or that notification about the super cheap health insurance that you need. If all of your friends and family members are energy-sucking vampires and you focus all of your time on trying to “fix” them, you’ll completely neglect that awesome person that was trying to make small talk with you in line at the coffee shop.

THINK about it. All of our lives, we’ve been TRAINED to think negatively. Whether it’s guilt, the constant self-doubt given to us by our parents, the nagging partner who tells us we’ll never do better… You have to, first, be aware of those negative thoughts. Then you have to punch them in the throat, so to speak. It takes THREE positive thoughts to counter ONE negative. Think I’m wrong?

Have you ever gone to lunch/dinner/drinks with a friend who, for a full two hours, PRAISED you for how you handled that situation with your partner, told you how fabulous your new haircut looks, and how your personality is such a stellar fit for that job for which you just applied? “By the way,” this person says, nonchalantly, “have you noticed your face is kind of flushed? I worry you might have high blood pressure?” And then back to another hour of how awesome you are.

What is the one thing you remember about that conversation? (I don’t need you to answer, you KNOW the answer. And you know it, because it’s happened to you!)
Here’s how to put a STOP to the shenanigans:

1. Start by taking the time, every day, when you look in the mirror (brushing your teeth, combing your hair, washing your face, singing into your hairbrush, etc.) and MAKE YOURSELF AWARE of the negative things you are telling yourself.
2. Get pissed off at those negative thoughts! If your boyfriend/girlfriend/BFF/Mom were to say it to you, wouldn’t you be pissed? Have the same reaction when you say it to yourself!
3. Counter it with 3 positive thoughts: “I am a good person”, “I’m good at what I do”, “I treat others with respect”, “I have good hair”. This is for YOU to figure out! YOU know better than me how awesome you are!
4. Ask yourself: Is this something I would say to my daughter/best friend/partner/BANK TELLER?!?! If the answer is no, don’t you DARE say it to yourself!
5. ASK for what you want. Worst case scenario is that you get “no” for an answer. Last I heard, no one has ever died from being told “no”.
6. Use visualization. If you want that promotion, picture yourself being in that position. As you sit in that chair in that office, what 5 things do you see, hear, smell, touch, taste? VISUALIZE it. BECOME it. GO GET it!

I know I make it sound simple and it’s not, at first. And there are days when I still have to struggle with it. But let me tell you this, IT IS WORTH THE STRUGGLE. If you were trying to be a body builder and came to me for help and we sat around playing video games and watching reruns of The Golden Girls, are we going to accomplish that goal? NO. If you came to me to learn how to play guitar, but I never had one handy or taught you the chords, would you learn? NO. (By the way, don’t come to me if you want to be a body builder or learn to play guitar…I’m not equipped to teach you either, lol.)

But if you want to “train your brain” to get rid of that stinking thinking and bring some simplicity, peace, comfort, contentment, and enlightenment to your life, look no further. If you’re lucky enough to live in the Orlando area, give us a call and set up an appointment. If you don’t live in the Orlando area but have access to the internet, set up a Skype appointment. If you can’t be bothered with any of that, look into Mental Health Boot Camp – an 8 week intensive course life coaching program designed by Dr. Dave to empower and educate people to live their best lives.
Questions? Comments? No problem! Contact the lovely Sherrie at 407-963-5664 or visit us at http://drdavidbakerhargrove.com/index.php. We look forward to hearing from you!

FREE Tip of the Month!

Feeling Pissed Off? Frustrated? Overwhelmed? Try a 5-4-3-2-1!

Like I said, I’ll give this one to you free of charge. It’s a neat little trick that I have personally used to battle road rage (yes, even therapists get angry sometimes!) or even just when I’m nervous, like in a doctor’s office or job interview. It’s a technique designed to use both sides of our brains, therefore shifting our focus from that which is making us angry, frustrated, etc., onto something else. By the end of the practice, if you have REALLY concentrated on it, then you should feel relaxed and renewed.

Let me tell you a story about how this works: I once worked with a family, mainly a 12-year-old boy that we can call “Billy”. Billy had a great sense of humor and a LOT of rage. When he was raging, he would tear up Kleenex boxes, throw things, or sometimes even punch holes in the walls. He had been through therapy so many times that he was almost more therapy savvy than myself and he would often say to me, jokingly: “Ann, would you like to know how I FEEL about that?” and then laugh.

So this one day, he was in the midst of a rage. His mother and sister looked on in frustration as he paced around the room and began kicking and throwing things. I said: “Billy, let’s play a game! I’ll bet you can’t win at it”, which, of course, intrigued him, as he was a highly intelligent lad as well. He agreed and we began. I instructed him to name 5 things in the room he could see. He looked at me like I was crazy. “OK,” he laughed. “TV, curtains, couch, rug, dog”. “Great”, I said. “Now name me 5 things you can hear”. This is where it starts getting difficult. “The TV, the dog licking its butt…” Again, laughter. Then he began to struggle and that’s where his mom, sister and I began to help him out. He immediately and proudly continued. “Oh, and my sister tapping her nails on the table, mom clearing her throat and you clicking your tongue!” “Very good, Billy!” I beamed. “Now name me 5 things you can feel, physically.”

He had to think about this one, too. “The carpet under my feet…The shirt on my back…My glasses on my face…” He had to think harder and get more creative. He reached out and touched the coffee table and named that, then reached over to touch the TV and then named that. He became annoyed when I asked him then to name FOUR things he could see, not repeating any from before. “See? I told you you probably wouldn’t be able to win at this game”, I teased (It’s OK, we had that kind of rapport). This spurred him on in full force. So he continued to name FOUR things he could see, FOUR things he could hear, and FOUR things he could feel, without naming the same things as before. When he finished with that, we went down to 3, then 2, then finally to 1.

By the end of this exercise, he was laying on the floor, calmly and peacefully, like a little angel. So I said to him, jokingly, “So Billy, how do you feel about that?” And he grinned because he knew I had “got” him, laughed, and said “Calm”. Well then. I guess I DO know my stuff sometimes.

So just a run down: Name 5 things you see, 5 things you hear, 5 things you feel physically. When you’re done with that, go down to 4, without repeating. Then 3, then 2, then 1. Nine times out of 10, IF you really focus, you will feel calmer and more at peace. And we could ALL use some of that!

Getting The Love You Want

Three things I want you to know:  1) Your relationship does not have to suck, 2) You actually do deserve the relationship you have always wanted, and 3) You actually can have the relationship you have always wanted.  Don’t believe me?  Say that whole first sentence aloud 3 times…does it seem a little more real now?  Don’t worry; keep saying it and it will.

Think about it logically. Why do you continue to tell yourself that you can’t have a good relationship?  Why do you continue to tell yourself that it only happens for other people?  Why should you be left out? Your mind might be coming up with a litany of reasons, but they are all really just negative self-evaluations based upon opinion rather than fact.

One thing I have learned in my 15 years of clinical practice is, if you are not in a relationship, there is a reason for it and you are the reason.  Somewhere, somehow, in the deep, dark recesses of your mind you are pushing potential, or current, mates away.  You know it’s true. If you are in a relationship that is not the relationship you want, there is also a reason for it, and yes, you are most likely the reason for that too.

If you are in a relationship that is not working well, you can transform your relationship by following these steps:

  • Make a commitment to never yell or call your partner names. Ever.
  • Make a commitment to make no disparaging or negative comments about your partner to friends, family, or in public.
  • Don’t tell your partner “how he or she is” or what is wrong with him/her
  • Stop talking and listen
  • Monitor how much time you spend during any given day focusing on what is wrong with your partner and/or relationship.  If it is more than a few seconds a day, it is too much.  Instead focus on what you like about your relationship/partner.  People live up to our expectations of them.  If you focus on what is right about your partner/relationship, you are liable to get more of it.

If you are not in a relationship and want to be in one, transform your life by following these steps:

  • Monitor your thinking about yourself, dating, your potential dating pool, etc.  If your thoughts are consumed with negativity and fear, it is the reason why you are single.  Make a commitment to think positively about dating and your possibilities.  Stop programming your mind by repeating phrases like “All men are pigs.”, or “All the good ones are taken.”
  • Stop looking at dating as a chore.  If you can’t get excited about it, at least try to see it as a means to an end…like college.
  • I used to tell my clients, “Mr. Right will never come knocking on your door, so get off the couch”, until a client of mine, who spent an a lot of time home alone, got involved with the guy who came to fix his cable.  True story.  They are still together, as far as I know.  So, now I say, “Never give up.  Anything is possible.”

Don’t believe me that any of this will actually work?  Have you tried it?  Go ahead and give it a try and come back to me and let me know how it worked.  It’s ok, I’ll wait. 🙂

Embrace Life’s Problems, rather than resisting them

Life is about problems. Period. Get used to it. Every day, whether you realize it or not, you spend most of your day confronting, and hopefully, solving problems. Most of us get tired of problem-solving. The whole activity often leaves us feeling overwhelmed and incapable, prompting us to unleash our inner 7-year-old and engage in avoidant behaviors, like procrastination, overeating, over-drinking, over spending, drugs, etc.

The problem is not the amount of problems we have, whether or not we have the talent, skills, and abilities to solve those problems, or the fact that we have problems at all. The problem is we want things to be different. We dream of a problem-free life, where every day exists to indulge our pleasures and fantasies, and we never have to worry about anything again.

Ain’t gonna happen. Ever. We would be much better served to accept that fact that every day there will be problems and challenges to face and that life is really just one big educational experience in which the main goal is to continually work on becoming a better problem-solver and life manager.

To help people get more used to this reality, I’ve developed an exercise that provides people with a road map for problem solving. I call it the “WAC” (pronounced “whack”) format. When faced with a problem, you only have three options at solving the problem: Walk away from the situation completely, Accept the situation for what it is, or Change the situation so that the problem is solved to your satisfaction. Hence W-A-C, or WAC.

This is the underlying guide for every single problem you can possibly face. It is not as hard to employ as it seems. The issue most people face, and what really makes most of life’s problems seem overwhelming and impossible is that we typically prefer to employ a fourth option, which is to complain about the problem, wish things would automatically be different without any effort on our parts, and/or someone else would come along and fix it for us.

We can go through our entire lives deluding ourselves into thinking that someday, maybe someday; this fourth “option” will actually prove to be the saving grace that makes our lives problem free. Some people go to unbelievable lengths, and spend an unbelievable amount on energy in the hopes of making it true. It just won’t work and always ends up in avoidant behaviors, feeling stressed out, overwhelmed, and having mental health symptoms like depression, anxiety, worry, stress, fear, etc.

You do have the talent, skills, and abilities to handle any problem that comes your way. Even you if don’t immediately know the solution, I can guarantee that someone around you does. You don’t have to know all the answers. You just have to be willing to face the problem head on.

Don’t resist life’s problems, embrace them. Honestly, to do anything else is just plan whack.

Benchmarking 1.2

In 1991, ten years prior to my working at ground zero, I was also in New York City. It was my first time being there, and while I was excited about going, it really wasn’t my decision to do go. My boyfriend at the time had begged me to take him to New York. He wanted to go back to visit, because he used to live there. The entire time of our relationship prior to that, he always talked about New York City. How much fun he had living there. How much he missed it. My most prominent memory of that trip was how miserable and depressed I was. I quickly found out that he had decided to look up all his old boyfriends during our visit, while he persuaded a platonic friend to show me around town. His friend’s name was David too, and he was a nice enough to show me around, but I was so completely miserable. I was totally in love with my boyfriend, but this trip was yet another example of me feeling utterly used and unloved in this relationship. While sightseeing, David and I went to the Metropolitan Museum and wandered around when I found this amazing room. It was a round room with a dais in the middle of it. Completely covering the walls was a 360 degree mural of the gardens of Versailles. The perspective from the dais is standing at the top of the cement stairs that go down to the main gardens and reflecting pool, with the palace behind you. It is a replica of your real view if you were actually standing there. It is a remarkable and beautiful painting. For some reason I could not figure out, I was completely enthralled with this room and sat down on the dais, looking all around. I was thinking about my life. What a piece of crap it had become. Here I was, in New York City for the first time. It should be one of the most exciting days ever, but I could only think about this horrible relationship I was in where we fought all the time where it often became physical. Now he was off doing who knows what, with who knows who, and I’m hanging out with some guy I just met yesterday all on a trip for two being completely financed by me. Now I need to point out, that I was 26 years old, I typically ran five miles every day, so I was thin and gorgeous, and because I was in the military, I was making pretty good money for someone with only a high school education. But that’s the point. I had everything to live for, but because I couldn’t see any positives inside me, I was ready to spend the rest of my life in a horrible relationship with someone who didn’t respect and/or appreciate me.

I got better.

Fast forward 10 years later, 2001. I am in NYC working at Ground Zero. I went up to the MET one day and immediately looked for that room. It’s almost if I wanted to share with it how much my life had changed since that dark day in 1991. I stood on the dais and took a deep breath in. As I exhaled, I became really excited as I connected that just six months earlier, in March, my husband and I took our first trip to Paris and I actually stood in this very spot that the dais represents: at the top of the cement stairs going down to the main gardens and reflecting pool.

Some times when we are in the middle of miserable, it seems most certain that things will never change and there is no way out. I was certainly convinced of that in 1991. I’m glad it didn’t stay that way, but I also can say that it wouldn’t have happened without me taking some sort of action for my own life. Misery, depression, loneliness, hurt, fear, and anxiety are all feelings that tend to freeze both our minds and bodies, and fool us into thinking that to do nothing is the safest way to avoid more of the same. THAT IS A LIE! When I finally ended that relationship, I was convinced I was making the biggest mistake of my life. No one else would ever want me, so the devil I know is better than the devil I don’t. This is also a lie. The urge to stay put, take no action, do nothing in the hopes of not disturbing the tiger that is your dark mood is the worst possible mistake you can make for yourself. You don’t have to have all the answers, you just need to act.

It is now 10 years after 2001, 20 years after that dark day in 1991, and my wonderful husband of 17 years and I are going to NYC this month for Pride. I hope we will go to the MET. I want to show him off to the room.

Benchmarking 1.0

Welcome To my Blog!

I wanted to start this blog to discuss ideas regarding mental health in general, information about seeking treatment, the different areas I specialize in, and my philosophy about life in general.

With the military operation against Osama Bin Laden that took place this month, my thoughts have been automatically been drawn back to the September 11th Terrorist Attacks, but even more so, about how my life has changed in the last 10 years.

I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty regular guy just trying to make it in the world, with no special talents or skills, but when I think back over the last 10 years, I’ve been very lucky to have had some incredible experiences and opportunities.  On September 11th, 2001, I was actually working on a grant review for the Department of Health and Human Services in D.C.  Much like in NYC, Tuesday, September 11th was an extraordinarily beautiful morning, not a cloud in the sky.  It looked to be like any other day working for the Office of Program Review, reading, reading, and more reading through grant applications.  After the attacks happened, the cell phone networks were overloaded and shut down and no one here in Orlando, or my family in Houston, could get a hold of me to see if I was ok.  Actually, I was on the complete other side of town from the Pentagon and in no danger.  Ironically, that week we were reviewing grant applications for programs treating children with traumatic stress.

Once I got home, I figured that story would be my only tie to the terrorist attacks.  It just so happened I had recently completed the certification to become a mental health responder for disasters for the American Red Cross, because my boss at the Mental Health Association thought it would be a good idea for all of the counselors to be crisis response certified.  Of course, it resulted in my being asked to go to New York City.  My boss wanted me to go, and I did.  I spent 3 weeks at WTC Ground Zero in October and November of 2001 working with the NYPD, FDNY, and construction workers at “The Pile”, which is what they called the work area in and around the collapsed buildings.

I think I could write a book about that experience alone, but it is not my particular point of this blog.  That period of time is a benchmark for me.  When I think back over those last 10 years, I can see so many changes. I was just finishing my Ph.D., I was still so unschooled in a lot of ways about the practice of therapy (although I thought I was pretty smart, lol), and I figured I would always be working at the Mental Health Association, because there didn’t seem to be any reason to leave.

Since then, I have worked in a residential treatment facility, served as the mental health team supervisor of an HIV/AIDS medical clinic, conducted in-home assessments for the State’s child welfare system, served as board president for the local GLBT chamber of commerce, served as board president for what is now the biggest GLBT Pride event in Florida, and built a very healthy private practice, of which I am immensely proud, all the while getting to meet some of the most interesting and inspiring people:  my clients.  I have really been all over the place professionally, trying to figure out what I’m going to do when I grow up.  Some days that gets me down. On those days when I don’t feel like I’m at my best, I try to remember what I’ve accomplished, instead of focusing on the problems.  That’s what I call benchmarking.

I remember benchmarking as being one of the first therapeutic techniques I learned that I really responded to, and began teaching my clients.  We typically spend too much thinking about what has gone, is going, and will go wrong, but not enough time thinking about what valuable things we’ve learned from those experiences and what has actually gone right.  Some days it is harder than others, but I think you have to look at it as skill development.  It is the rare person that can learn to ride a bike of the first try.  Things get better with practice.  The more you practicing indentifying and benchmarking the successes or positive moments in your life, the better you get at it.   Which reminds me of a story… (to be concluded in the next post, Benchmarking 1.2)