Archive for Wellness

I recently visited the forests of southern Illinois, and enjoyed the beautiful sights, peaceful sounds, and fresh air of the Shawnee Forest.  It was nice to see some old familiar favorite places, and to explore and discover a couple new spots.

Taking walks in nature with my family are some of my favorite memories from when I was little, and I’ve been traipsing through the woods ever since.  When I was living in southern Illinois, the forest was 15 minutes away.  But now that I live near Chicago, it has become a special treat.

My trip reminded me once again of how good it feels to be out in nature.  Taking a walk is the perfect combination of relaxing and invigorating.  Watching a sunset over a lake is peaceful and soothing.  Taking photos is creatively stimulating and gratifying.  Time together with loved ones, sharing the experience and making memories, is emotionally intimate and meaningful.  Add to that perfect fall weather, and walla!  Just beautiful.

How rarely we get to experience this when living in a large metropolitan area!  It really makes me appreciate the people who have made it a point to set aside some metropolitan land for small parks and green areas. If you‘re one of those people, thank you.

People tend to underestimate the benefits of nature.

When predicting how time in nature will impact us, we expect less of a benefit than we actually get, according to a 2011 Carleton University study.  The study found that people…

felt more positive emotions after the natural walk than they did after the tunnel walk, but… underestimated the positive benefits of a natural walk and overestimated the positive benefits of the tunnel walk. The students in the natural walk condition also reported feeling more connected to nature, an association that was mediated by their more positive emotions.  (read entire article)

Benefits of spending time in nature

There are many benefits of spending time in nature.  A Scientific American article states,

Psychological research has shown that natural experiences help to reduce stress, improve mood, and promote an overall increase in physical and psychological well-being. There is even evidence that hospital patients with a view of nature recover faster than do hospital patients without such a view. This line of research provides clear evidence that people are drawn to nature with good reason. It has restorative properties.

This article goes on to discuss four studies at the University of Rochester which showed that exposure to nature can make people more caring, and more intrinsically motivated.

In short, we become less self-focused and more other-focused. Our value priorities shift from personal gain, to a broader focus on community and connection with others.

There are also cognitive (mental) benefits.  For example, exposure to nature can help you focus.  One way to think of this is as the type of focusing that you can do when you are in a more peaceful environment… clearing your mind, focusing on your senses, being mindful in the moment (while in nature). This experience is soothing, relaxing and grounding.

Furthermore, studies at the University of Illinois linked green views from one’s window with better ability to focus and concentrate, and better memory.  Also, research at the University of Michigan showed that attention improved after an hour in nature.  (see this article for more details)

It’s no wonder that organizations are offering therapeutic wilderness programs.  Here is one organization that offers a well-cited list of reasons why nature is therapeutic.

It’s not too late!

For those of us here in the Chicago area, we are already feeling the chill of autumn.  People are making physical preparations for winter, and are bracing themselves emotionally for what is being predicted as a very snowy season this year.

I would suggest that, as part of your emotional preparation, you make it a point to spend as much time as you can outdoors, while it’s still comfortable.  Even if there’s a slight chill, throw on that hat and sweater and go for a walk in a nearby park or forest area.  Or take another trip or two to one of the larger nature reserves within a few hours drive, like Starved Rock, Turkey Run, or Brown County.  I’m relatively new to this area, so I’m sure you may know of others that you would enjoy, that might be even closer… perhaps in northern Illinois or Michigan.

Remember that a couple of recommendations for mood are to get a half hour of sun each day and to exercise.  Add the therapeutic benefits of nature to this, and you’ve got a great three-in-one plan!

Anda Jines MS LCPC offers mental health counseling services in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, in Tinley Park, IL (60477); near Orland Park, Oak Forest, Orland Hills, Palos Heights, Mokena, and Frankfort. Click here for more about Anda Jines MS LCPC.


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– By guest columnist, Ryan Rivera

There is no denying how powerful a role that anxiety can play in your life. Anxiety itself can be consuming. It can affect your mind, body, emotions and even spirit. It has the potential to put you in a negative mood that affects every aspect of your life. Anxiety:

  • Prevents you from taking risks.
  • Stops you from enjoying neutral events.
  • Makes it difficult to find happiness in your day.
  • Causes short and long term physical health issues.
  • Reduces your ability to cope with life events.

When you suffer from anxiety, your quality of life suffers. That is why it is important to fight the issues that create anxiety. Sometimes these are major life changes, such as ending a serious relationship or finding a new, better job. Yet other times the changes you need to make in your life are much smaller, and may be things that you never realized were creating anxiety at all.

How We Affect Our Own Anxiety

In life, you’ll find that you have a lot of different habits. While many of these habits may seem harmless, often times they only serve to fuel your anxiety and cause it to get progressively worse over time. Below are several examples of habits that may seem harmless but are actually causing your anxiety to get worse.

  • Staying Indoors

Have you ever felt a little sad and anxious, and decided that the best thing for you to do is spend some time alone? According to research, that is one of the worst things you can do for your anxiety. Being outdoors and spending time with others keeps you active, focuses your mind on productive tasks, and helps to stimulate pleasant feelings.

  • Coffee

Coffee may have some health benefits, but caffeine itself is a fuel for anxiety. It is not that coffee is causing the anxiety itself. Rather, it is increasing the effects of the physical symptoms, which cause you to experience your anxiety in a worse way, which increases your overall anxiety. Coffee may not be that bad for you, but when you have anxiety it can make it harder to recover. Cutting out coffee from your daily diet is an important first step in dealing with severe anxiety.

  • Shopping

Many people self-medicate their anxiety by buying something expensive that they believe will bring them happiness. Going shopping for clothes or electronics is a good way to dull any negative emotions, but shopping as a solution to anxiety will only make you temporarily happy. Once the joy of buying something new wears off, you will be exactly in the same place you were, and several hundred dollars poorer.

  • Music that Matches Your Mood

It’s well known that music can influence your mood. What is less well known, however, is that listening to music that matches your negative mood can actually cause your mood to be worse. Several studies have shown that listening to sad music because you’re sad will make you feel worse, not better. You should listen to music that represents the mood you wish to have, not the mood that you want to avoid.

  • Complaining

It’s important to talk about your problems, but it’s not a good idea to merely complain about your problems. If you do nothing more than complain, it only leads to feelings of regret and negativity. Your goal is to reduce your anxiety rather than fuel it, so rather than just complaining about what bothers you, talk about what bothers you while looking towards new ways to change it.

  • Skipping Meals

Breakfast is not just the most important meal of the day. It is also a tool to help you improve your anxiety. By skipping breakfast you are making your body work harder, which increases your anxiety and promotes greater physical symptoms. It is for this reason that crash diets, skipping meals, fad diets and anything that prevents you from getting a complete meal should be avoided. Making sure to eat every meal of every day (nutritionally balanced, of course) is important if you hope to fight anxiety symptoms.

  • Working in the Bedroom

Sleep is an important tool for combatting anxiety. Yet going to sleep at night is one of the most common times for men and women to experience severe anxiety. One of the primary reasons for this is that the bedroom is supposed to be a place that is only associated with sleep. Yet many people watch TV, do work, pay bills or play on their phones in their room and/or on their bed. All of these things create energy and stress, and those start to become associated with being in your room. Your room should be your sanctuary, nothing more, and anything that causes you stress should take place elsewhere in the house.

  • Internet and Social Media

These days many people practically live their lives online. Yet the Internet and computer do nothing to cure your stress or anxiety. Although they may be a slight distraction, they are not a substitute for activity and in person social experiences. Your computer also causes you to focus your eyes on light while remaining immobile – two things that keep your mind too activated, and can lead to anxiety later on in the night.

  • Letting The House Get Dirty

Dirt, clutter and allergens may seem fairly harmless, but the more disrepair and filth that builds up around you, the more you will find yourself unable to appreciate your home and its décor. A dirty house creates anxiety, and your own worries about how other people see your home can only serve to fuel it further.

Making the Little Changes

Anxiety is not only caused by serious life problems. Sometimes anxiety can be fueled by something as simple as a missed breakfast, or listening to music that puts you in a fouler mood. While an important aspect of reducing anxiety comes from making some major life changes, other times you may simply need to change some of your habits.

In addition to the above list, spend some time reflecting on your daily life and see if there is anything that contributes to your anxiety. You’ll find that you likely have many habits that seem harmless, but in the end make your anxiety worse.

About the Author: Ryan Rivera is an ex-anxiety sufferer and has more information about anxiety, symptoms and treatment at

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Using Reminders to Help You Get Organized

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Here’s my last installment in my series on getting organized.  Previously I posted about:

Today, I’d like to add some tips about how you can use reminders to help you get organized.

High Tech Reminders

These days many people are using new technologies.  There are lots of electronic gadgets that you can use for reminders.

  1. Your smart phone, pad or computer include programs for calendars, to do lists, and organizers for contact information.  They can increase productivity, reduce stress, and help organize projects (like looking for a job).  I know that many people have phones that can do these things, but they simply don’t use these features.  I encourage you to try out the features on your phone, if you’re not doing so already.  As for a review of the latest gadgets, I’ll leave that to people who are more tech savvy, but suffice it to say that there are many options here that you could investigate.
  2. Digital recorders like the one on your phone can be used instead of note pads.

Paper Reminders

Many people still like the larger format and tangibility of the old fashioned paper options.  But many of these options can also be accomplished in digital versions.

  1. Use an appointment book or calendar to keep track of appointments, meetings, sports events and practices, birthdays, doctor’s appointments, social events, etc..  This can be a schedule book, a wall calendar, or a pocket calendar.
  2. Write a daily to-do list of what needs to be accomplished that day, and keep it with you at all times.  Also write a long-term to-do list of what you would like to do eventually, and check it every once in a while for items you can add to you daily to-do list.
  3. Leave note pads in strategic places to make it easier to jot down notes and reminders (by the phone, in the car, in your jacket pocket, in your purse, beside a bed).  Write things down instead of making mental notes, and make it a daily habit to add any notes you wrote into your calendar.  It may help to always put the notes you write in the same place (like in your wallet, or on a bulletin board).
  4. Put visible reminder signs on your door (to remind you to think about whether you have everything you need before leaving), or by your desk (to remind you to check your schedule), or in the kitchen (to remind you to do certain chores) etc.
  5. Use checklists or charts to plan your chores.  These can help you rotate your tasks so that you get to everything on a regular basis, and can help you divide up tasks evenly between members of your household.


Other Types of Reminders

  1. Set alarms to remind you of important events, or set timers to set limits so you know when to stop an activity.
  2. Keep your cell-phone handy, so that if you forget an event, the people waiting for you can contact you easily, and you might still be able to make it.
  3. Use a wristwatch (old fashioned as it may be!) to keep up with the time.  You can also set your watch’s timer or alarm.
  4. Ask the people in your life to remind you of things.  Your spouse, other family members, a friend, or an administrative assistant can be helpful in this.  Some people hire a personal coach that checks in with them regularly about their goals and progress.
  5. Having a routine makes it less likely that you will forget to do daily, weekly, and monthly tasks.  A routine can serve as a reminder.  Plan ahead and develop a consistent pattern.  This applies to morning and bedtime routines, routines when you leave the house or come home, routines related to paperwork, finances, cleaning, and any other regular activities.  It’s important that you make up your own sequences, so they fit you. (But don’t foget to allow some flexibility to adjust to whatever may be a little different each day).


Tips to Make Your Reminders More Effective

  1. Break up large tasks into smaller steps to make them more manageable, and write down deadlines for these smaller tasks on your calendar.  If you miss a deadline, write down or enter another one for the same task.
  2. Separate the concrete from the gravel.  Appointments and events which cannot be changed, the concrete, should be entered in your planner first (work, classes).  Once the concrete is set, you can pour in the flexible things that have to be done, the gravel (errands, phone calls).
  3. Prioritize when writing to-do lists and deadlines.  Consider both how important something is, and how urgent it is.  For example, you can rate each item as A (high priority), B (medium priority) and C (low priority).  As are both urgent and important.  Bs are either urgent or important, and Cs are neither urgent nor important.
  4. Another way to prioritize is to number the items on your list, in the order that you want to do them.  Make sure the urgent things get done on time, and that the important things are scheduled at a time when you can do your best work.
  5. When overbooked, learn to say no to low priority demands.
  6. Keep your calendars and to-do lists in an easily accesible or place (e.g.: in your smart phone, in your bag), so you can check them often, especially before committing to new activities or appointments.

I hope that all these posts about getting organized came in handy for you, and that you found a few new tips to use.

Anda Jines MS LCPC offers mental health counseling services in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, in Tinley Park, IL (60477); near Orland Park, Oak Forest, Orland Hills, Palos Heights, Mokena, and Frankfort. Click here for more about Anda Jines MS LCPC.

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Motivating Yourself to Stay Organized

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Here’s my third article in the series on getting organized.  The first was on organizing your stuff, and the second was on organizing your paperwork.  This article focuses on twelve ideas for motivating yourself to stay organized.

1. Set realistic goals and deadlines, and avoid perfectionism!

Your goals can be challenging, but they should also be achievable.  Recognize that you can’t do everything perfectly, and that doing your best or getting started on something is better than not doing anything at all because you’re overwhelmed.  Also, consider that you don’t have to do your best at everything, some things are good enough when they’re just good enough.  And not everything has to be done immediately!  Prioritize as best you can, divide your goals into small steps, and work your way through them one at a time.  Use deadlines for each small step to help motivate yourself.  This usually works better than having one big deadline at the end of the year.  If it helps, call them lifelines instead of deadlines.  If you miss a deadline, then make another one, this time with a higher priority, or problem solve about what went wrong, and adjust your plan as necessary.

2. Make your goals clear.

Instead of saying that you want to get your house organized, say that you want to (for example) get in the habit of hanging up clothes and putting away clean laundry.  The more specific you are, the more likely you are to do it.  Also, be specific about the circumstances in which you want to do specific tasks.  Think of it in terms of “if… then.”  For example, “If it’s Wednesday, and if I haven’t exercised yet that week, and if I don’t have to work late… then I will exercise before dinner.”  Setting up such formulas for yourself can help prevent you from talking yourself out of doing what you need to do.

3. Tackle one small thing at a time.

Decide what it is that most makes you feel disorganized, out of sorts, or unfocused.  Consider what would make the biggest difference, for example: the permanent pile of newspapers by the sofa or the crammed kitchen table?  Think about what you could organize in time chunks that are manageable for you.  If you only have the motivation for 15 minutes, then what can you get done in 15 minutes?  Letting the small successes encourage you can lead to larger successes.

4. Know when you work best.

Working on things during your peak times can make hard tasks easier.  If you are at your best in the morning, tackle the more challenging jobs then.  If you’re more productive and focused in the afternoon or evening, then schedule accordingly.

5. Make your tasks as interesting as possible.

Doing some tasks with other people can make them more fun.  You can also use music to set a fun or energizing atmosphere while working on something, or you can make a game of it, like when challenging yourself by racing against time, or adding humor to the experience.  Use bright colors to catch your attention, especially when organizing paperwork, or for kids’ storage.  Also, remember that organizing is part of decorating.  The storage furniture that you choose can add an interesting and unique style to your home or office.

6. Do what you’re good at as well as things that are challenging.

Share tasks at home and at work by trying to match each person up with the tasks that they’re best at, and dividing up unpleasant or challenging tasks evenly.  For example, have each house-member write down chores and responsibilities that they: 1) like to do, 2) don’t mind doing, 3) would rather not do, or 3) really don’t like.  Then negotiate a fair division, considering each person’s abilities, likes and dislikes, other contributions (like whether they work outside the home), and any other relevant factors.  Also, alternate doing something that you enjoy with tasks that you have to do.  That way, the things you enjoy are a break and a reward.  Also, find ways around your weaknesses so that you have more time to focus on your strengths.  For example, if you don’t like to cook, then get cupcakes from the grocery store for the potluck, rather than convincing yourself that you have to make them from scratch.

7. Reward yourself.

When you meet a goal or deadline, give yourself an appropriate reward for the effort.  You may want to make a list of your favorite activities, foods, TV shows, trinkets, and places to go, and then treat yourself to a reward after accomplishing something.

8. Take time to relax.

Schedule breaks into each day and week to rest, play, move around, and re-energize.  Pace yourself so you don’t get exhausted.

9. Be flexible.

Acknowledge and anticipate that some of your projects, deadlines, and obligations will not turn out how you planned.  Don’t beat yourself up over this, but adjust accordingly and learn from your mistakes.  When you realize you didn’t live up to your expectations, think about similar future situations and how you can approach them more effectively.  Life demands flexibility.

10. Humor and willingness.

Have a sense of humor about your disorganization or forgetfulness.  If you can be a little relaxed about it and laugh about your tendency to be messy, others will forgive you more easily and you will feel less defensive, making communication easier.  Also, the guilt that many people feel, in an attempt to motivate themselves, often backfires and paralyzes them.  So don’t take it too seriously, but allow some lightheartedness to make the task lighter.

11. Accept the ongoing process.

Because being organized is a process, there will never be a time when all the work is completely done.  Life changes, people change, and the way you organize will continue to evolve.  Notice and celebrate when you find a better way to organize something, instead of focusing only on what remains undone.  Learn to accept organizing as an ongoing and creative part of life, and perhaps even to enjoy it.

12. Remember that organization is a skill that can be learned.

The good news is that there are many tips and techniques that you can try out, to see which work best for you.  The bad news is that, as with any skill, it takes time and effort to learn to be organized.  But the more you do it, the easier it gets and the more it becomes automatic.  So don’t give up, even if you’ve slipped up for a while.  Just pick an area, and try again.  Each time will be a little easier and you’ll get better at it with practice.

Anda Jines MS LCPC offers mental health counseling services in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, in Tinley Park, IL (60477); near Orland Park, Oak Forest, Orland Hills, Palos Heights, Mokena, and Frankfort. Click here for more about Anda Jines MS LCPC.

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Organizing Your Stuff

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The environment you live in makes a huge difference in how you feel.  If your space feels chaotic and dirty, you might not feel as comfortable or calm as you wish.  If you’re often frustrated because you can’t find something, that’s added stress in your life.  So, here are some tips for taking control of your stuff.

1. Start Big, and then get more detailed if necessary.

Begin by deciding what goes in which room.  Put kitchen stuff in the kitchen, bathroom stuff in the bathroom, kids’ stuff in their room, etc.  Then categorize the things in each room.  For example, separate food from dishes, clothes from toys, and papers from trinkets.  Think about whether you want to move any of the areas from one room to another (like when combining all the family’s coats and shoes in one place instead of having them be separate).  Then arrange each area so that things are compact, accessible, and pleasing to the eye.  Do these before getting sucked into the tiny details of a drawer, cabinet, or filing system.

2. Use closet, desk and drawer organizers, storage boxes, dressers, shelves, hooks, containers…

Use anything that helps you to keep personal belongings organized and compact.  Label things clearly and make it a daily or weekly habit to put things in their designated spot.  When necessary, adjust your organizational system to make it work more smoothly (for example, making things you use often more easily accessible, and putting things you rarely use towards the back).

3. Create a desk-work space.

Do you find yourself going to five different places in your house to get a pen, paper, stamps, bill, and checkbook?  It helps to have one place set up especially for paper-work.  Also, having your papers in one place, keeps them from cluttering up the rest of your house.  Make sure your paper-work space is well lit, has room for storage (shelves, trays, drawers, file cabinets), and has the tools you need (pens, stapler, paper, trash can, etc.).  Also, having a phone or computer right there may help.  You don’t need a whole room for this, just a corner will do.  Set up your space to minimize distractions.  Use headphones, soft music, or white noise (like a fan) to shield other noise.  However, if music is a distraction, then avoid it.  Also, angle your table or desk away from anything distracting (TV, busy doorways, windows, people).  This will help you stay focused on your desk-work until you’re done with what you needed to do.

4. Miscellaneous stuff can be a challenge to organize.

Here are some ideas.  Hang a key rack with labeled hooks right by the door.  Purses and fannie-packs can be hung on similar (if larger) hooks, next to your coats and umbrellas.  Place a shelf or table near your door for items like sunglasses or other items you want to remember to take with you when you leave the house.  As for small items like rubber bands, puzzle pieces, toy parts, batteries, etc… designate a drawer or a box to be your miscellaneous place.

5. Get rid of excess stuff.

Ask yourself: “Is it useful?”  This means that you use it regularly rather than “well, someday it might come in handy.”  Also ask yourself, “is it beautiful?” and, “do I love it?” If you said yes to any of these questions then keep it, but if not, then what is the purpose of keeping it? Sometimes, even if it is useful, you might have too many of the same item, in which case you could get rid of a few.

6. Take it one step at a time.

If getting organized is a big change for you, be patient with yourself and develop one habit at a time (or focus on one area of the house at a time).  For example, decide what would make the biggest difference to you.  Washing the dishes?  Hanging your keys by the door?  Keeping the table cleared off?  Pick one task and work on it for a month.  Hopefully, by the end of the month, you will have made this a habit.  If not, then you might have to problem-solve about what went wrong.  Each month add another task while continuing the previous ones.  You may want to start with common areas, like the kitchen or living room.

7. Use routines to help you stay organized.

Doing chores more regularly and frequently makes them more manageable.  Do the tasks that need continuous attention (cleaning, organizing mail, doing dishes, picking up, writing down expenses, paying bills) regularly and in small increments.  Schedule them into your daily or weekly routines, so that you can prevent overwhelming pile-ups.

8. Use reminders to get yourself to clean regularly.

Stay tuned for an upcoming post about using reminders to help you get organized.

9. Stay motivated.

You can also use rewards to motivate yourself, but you just may find that having a clean, comfortable home, and less tension with your house-mates, is a reward in itself.  If you need motivation help, stay tuned for an upcoming post on motivating yourself to stay organized.

Anda Jines MS LCPC offers mental health counseling services in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, in Tinley Park, IL (60477); near Orland Park, Oak Forest, Orland Hills, Palos Heights, Mokena, and Frankfort. Click here for more about Anda Jines MS LCPC.

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Video: They Did It Anyway

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Un-Pursued Dreams

I sometimes hear about dreams that people had, that they didn’t pursue because they were told that “you can’t do that for a living.”  It may be starting a business, it may be music, or it may be sports broadcasting.  Please note that these are all things that people do actually do.  It is true that some fields are more competitive than others, but why not try your hand at it and see how well you can do?

The Nay-Sayer’s Good Intentions

The people (often parents) who say “you can’t do that” usually have good intentions.  They don’t want their child to fail.  They’re concerned about their child taking risks and ending up disappointed or in debt.  To this I say that life is full of risks, and as hard as it is to achieve a dream, the last thing an ambitious person needs is for someone to hold them back.  What they really need is guidance in how to face the challenges that their dream entails… support in getting the information they need to start them on their way, and encouragement along a challenging road.

Allowing Your Child Their Own Vision

Perhaps the nay-sayer has a different vision for their child’s future, and doesn’t understand their child’s passion for a specific dream.  To this I say that each person’s life is their own, and that expecting your child to fulfill your dreams or follow your plan is overly controlling.  One important job for parents is to help the child discover their own direction in life, their own talents, their own dreams, and how to pursue them.


This video is a great example of two self-educated artist brothers who pursued their dream despite the messages they heard that “you can’t do that for a living.”  I don’t know where they heard these messages, and it may not have been from their parents.  But their story is nonetheless a great example of pursuing your dreams and interests.  I wish them continued joy in their art work, and hope that their story inspires you to pursue your ambitions and interests as far as you can take them, whether it is as a hobby or as a vocation.

If you are receiving my posts by e-mail, and have trouble viewing any videos, please click on the title of the post in order to view it on my website.

Anda Jines MS LCPC offers mental health counseling services in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, in Tinley Park, IL (60477); near Orland Park, Oak Forest, Orland Hills, Palos Heights, Mokena, and Frankfort. Click here for more about Anda Jines MS LCPC.

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5 Excellent Ideas for Reducing Distractions

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Marc Lesser offers five excellent and insightful ideas for reducing distractions.  They might not be what you would expect.

Here are five practices that can be useful tools in reducing distraction or frenetic activity and cultivating focus and concentration. They are surprisingly easy to implement and, almost before you know it, can become positive addictions.

1: Appreciate Impermanence

I saw a cartoon in a recent New Yorker magazine in which two people were finishing their dinners at a Chinese restaurant and had just opened their fortune cookies. One fortune read, “You are going to die.”

If you let this fact sink in — that life is short, and we all die — it can actually act as a powerful motivating force to help maintain focus and priorities. Everything changes and is impermanent, so are we fully present and making the most of this fleeting moment? Are we fully aware of what we are doing? Appreciating impermanence clarifies priorities,

Read more:

Anda Jines MS LCPC offers mental health counseling services in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, in Tinley Park, IL (60477); near Orland Park, Oak Forest, Orland Hills, Palos Heights, Mokena, and Frankfort. Click here for more about Anda Jines MS LCPC.

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The Psychology of Pleasure by Nathaniel Branden – video

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I have been thinking a lot lately about happiness versus depression.  These two videos about the psychology of pleasure present some interesting food for thought, and help to clarify some of the dynamics that I often encounter in my work and in my life.  Very interesting.

Video 1:

(If you cannot see the video above, you can click this link to see it on YouTube.)

Video 2:

(If you cannot see the video above, you can click this link to see it on YouTube.)

Anda Jines MS LCPC offers mental health counseling services in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, in Tinley Park, IL (60477); near Orland Park, Oak Forest, Orland Hills, Palos Heights, Mokena, and Frankfort. Click here for more about Anda Jines MS LCPC.

Categories : Mental Health
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Reflections on my Trip to Latvia

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I recently returned from spending a few weeks in Latvia, the country where I was born.  I went with my mom, and it was a beautiful trip.  I used to spend my summers in Latvia until I was 7 years old, and I had only been there once before as an adult, so this was a very special trip.

One of the things I love about travel is that it fosters perspective, appreciation and understanding.  So I wanted to write a little about the insights and reminders this trip offered me.  Also, as a counselor, I naturally see things from a psychological perspective, so I will make note when what I’m discussing relates to useful psychological principles or to my work as a counselor.

Culture and Beauty

Architectural Detail in Riga

I wanted to see Latvia more clearly than ever before.  I wanted to have my eyes and ears, and heart open to a deeper understanding of my place of origin.  I was especially interested in getting to know my birth-city, Riga, the capital of Latvia.  And I also longed to refresh my sweet childhood memories of Latvia’s pine forests and seashore.

I couldn’t have done this near as well without assistance from my mom and her friend Valda, with whom we spent many days and who kindly drove us to places outside Riga.  My mom grew up in Riga, and was able to tell me about the meaning, history, legends and traditions that related to what we saw.  We explored the historic district, the parks and monuments, and museums.  We attended performances at theaters, the opera and ballet.  We paused to look at the art nouveau architecture and cathedrals… and we traveled outside of Riga, to castle ruins, forests, villages, historic sites and (my favorite) the seashore.  I took so many pictures, I still haven’t sorted through them all!

Creating Positive and Meaningful Experiences

River Scape

As a counselor, these activities remind me of the importance of creating positive and meaningful experiences for oneself.  Such things don’t just happen automatically.  You have to seek them out.

For example, in Chicago, near where I live, there are countless opportunities to learn about history, see performances and culture, and go to museums.  And being on a budget is no excuse for opting out.  If you plan ahead, there are free activities in the city, and free days at museums.  It’s just a matter of deciding what you’re interested in, and making it a point to seek that out.  It is especially important for people struggling with depression to engage in such life-enriching activities.  We in Chicagoland are lucky that we don’t have to travel far for the perks of city life.

Also in rural areas there are positive and meaningful things to do, historic places to visit, natural beauty to enjoy, and ways to be involved in the community or in the arts.  But you’ve got to make it happen.  It usually requires a deliberate decision.

The Sun and the Song

Speaking of being positive… On my trip, I was reminded that Latvians uphold the sun as their cultural symbol (since ancient times), and that they assert the identity of their nation through song.  What wonderfully bright and positive symbols they have!  Very uplifting.  This is a great example of affirmation, not just on an individual level, but on a national level.

Here’s a lovely example of Latvian folk music about the sun (with beautiful photos to boot.)

Latvia’s annual song festival is an expression of one small nation’s uncrushable perseverance, endurance and optimism.  The beauty of the human spirit has prevailed there against all odds.

Occupation, Oppression and Trauma

Historic Fortification Wall in Riga

Against all odds?  This brings me to the ever-present undercurrent in almost any news event you hear about while in Latvia, in almost any political debate, and in the lives of almost anyone you meet.  The occupation.  Actually, there have been many occupations in Latvia over the last 800 years… by Germans, Swedes, Poles… but most recently and most significantly, by the Russians.

As a therapist I sometimes work with posttraumatic stress disorder, so I’m familiar with the impact trauma can have on individuals and families.  But this is trauma on a much larger scale.  The whole country (and more) was traumatized, and the scars are still there.

The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia

I learned about mass killings, mass deportations, horrifically cruel mistreatment and torture, tyrannical rule, and cultural oppression.  The thing that struck me while at the Museum of Occupation, was hearing a couple people around me whispering about their own families’ stories.  One even pointed to a photograph in the display, saying that was her father.  The stories were horrible.

Former KGB Headquarters in Riga

Many Americans don’t know much about the conditions in countries that were occupied by the Soviets after WWII.  Latvia was behind the iron curtain, inaccessible to Western journalists.  I have much appreciation for the resistance and the revolutionaries, many of whom suffered greatly and lost their lives, in an effort to regain Latvia’s freedom from tyrannical communist rule.

Many thousands were deported by railroad.

Understanding Oppression

As a counselor, I feel that Latvia’s oppression helps me to understand a little more about what oppressed people anywhere must suffer.  Luckily, I was too young to understand the political situation while living in Communist Poland and Latvia.  Also, I know that each situation is unique.  But I think I can say that I understand the gravity of oppression more than I would have if my family had not experienced it.  Therefore, I am more mindful of the oppression suffered, for example, by minority groups and the indigenous people of America.  This sometimes proves relevant in my work.

Personal Accounts

The Museum of Occupation included many personal accounts of how things were during WWII and the occupation.  I also heard stories about my mom’s family, and the bags they kept packed and ready by the back door, in case the Soviets suddenly came to deport them, as they did to meet their quotas, often randomly.  I also heard some stories from my mom’s friends, and saw artistic representations of oppression.

Rather than trying to convey the full weight of what I learned, I will let this poem sum it up for you.  This is a poem, on display at the Museum of Occupation, that conveys the thoughts of a Latvian coming back from Siberian exile, still during the years of the occupation.

My feet no longer know how to walk free.
How many years have yet to pass
for signs of shame to be erased from soul and face?
How many years have yet to pass
until the fear will disappear
in breezes through the fields of rye
and in the tristar light of native night?
How to approach you, Latvia, who’s still in chains?
As yet my heart does not suspect its fall
into the thistles and the nettle fields
around my father’s farm.
Free from banishment, my heart is rejoicing –
Not yet suspecting coming harm.

(translated from the Latvian by Valters Nollendorfs)

But the story did not end there.

Freedom Monument

In 1991, Latvia finally regained its independence, and the Freedom Monument in the center of Riga stands once again in a free country.

The country showed its resilience through enormous economic growth for almost two decades after regaining its sovereignty.  It joined the European Union.  And then it suffered in the economic collapse of 2008, along with much of the rest of the world.

The current economic pressures are immense.  One fifth of the country’s population has left Latvia in the last couple years, to seek jobs elsewhere.  I wondered whether I would see extreme poverty in Riga on my trip, but somehow the city endures, beautiful and full of life.  It is as vibrant with its many shops, galleries and cafes as my neighbor, Chicago.  However, I knew that Riga’s poverty was just under the surface (as it is in many cities today).

Self Reliance and Direct Living

One of my mom’s friends, and her family, who live on very limited income, impressed me with their resourcefulness.  Not only do they eat almost entirely the yields of their own garden, and the meat their nephew hunts, but they had built their own beautiful house out in the country… by hand!  Amazing.

I believe many of us have lost such skills (or even such ambitions) through the luxury of being able to pay others to grow our food and build our houses for us.  I, for one, am far removed from such direct living.  This has its advantages, because it gives me plenty of time to focus on my work, and it gives me leisure time.  But there is certainly something I admire about self-reliance and living in direct contact with the earth, the seasons, and nature.

Direct Living and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs


If you think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you might think that a family such as the one I just described is stuck at the fundamental level of providing for their biological needs.  However, it appeared to me that knowing where their food would come from freed them up to attend to their higher order needs.  Working together in this way enriched their relationships with each other, added to their self-esteem and self-confidence, was a continual learning experience and a way to actively engage in life, still allowed time to socialize, read or play music, and allowed more money toward travel and cultural experiences (rather than just food).  Gardening also provides them the aesthetic of nature and good food.  So all the needs on Maslow’s hierarchy are addressed in this way.

Country Scene

Just imagine sitting on the steps of the home you built after a productive day of gardening… sipping your own blend of tea, looking over your garden and the country landscape beyond.  Perhaps someday I can have a similar scene in my life.

I believe that this sort of direct living (despite the financial stress that sometimes makes it necessary), is very much in line with Maslow’s concept of self-actualization.  Self-actualization is the motivation and effort toward realizing one’s potentials.  I talk about the importance of moving toward your personal potential on my homepage.  Not only is this a source of purpose and meaning in life, but a great source of joy and satisfaction.

Self-actualization includes what Maslow called “peak experiences… peak experiences are sudden feelings of intense happiness and well-being, possibly the awareness of an ‘ultimate truth’ and the unity of all things… the experience fills the individual with wonder and awe… he  feels at one with the world, and is pleased with it… They are moments when you feel more at one with yourself and the world, more integrated.  You feel happy, even ecstatic, interconnected and in harmony.”

You may want to ask yourself, “What in my life has triggered such feelings?”  Or, what could?  I encourage you to pursue the image that comes to mind.

City-gardens in the US

Along the theme of how gardening can enrich one’s life, I have heard of some economically devastated cities in the US, which are starting city-gardens for people to grow their own vegetables and fruit.  I think this is a wonderful idea.  Not only would it enrich the nutrition of the people who participate in it, but it would be a way for families to spend time together, it would make the cities more beautiful, it would be a learning experience in self-reliance, and it would bring participants a sense of self-esteem and achievement.

The Value of Loving-Kindness

“A Gift” Architectural Detail

Coming back to my trip to Latvia… taking such a trip with my mom also reminded me of the value of loving-kindness.  I can’t remember where I read this, but I recently read that the love between family members is not there automatically, as a guaranteed by-product of being related; but rather, it is the outcome of the quality of the experiences that they have shared.  This immediately made sense to me.

If you have had primarily negative experiences with certain family members, then you would be less likely to feel love, despite years spent together.  If, on the other hand, you feel cared for, encouraged, appreciated, supported, respected, important, and loved; and have replied in kind, then you would be more likely to feel love for the family members with whom you share these feelings and experiences.

In other words, love is something that needs to be nurtured, actively cultivated, and communicated through interactions.  And both people in any relationship play a role (except young children or individuals who are too disabled to be mindful of others or to love deliberately).  Here again (as with creating positive experiences) we see the power of intention and deliberate action.

Gottman’s Fondness and Admiration

I agree with Dr. John Gottman that this culture of fondness and admiration is mostly cultivated in the little moments of life… through paying attention to each other, staying connected about what’s going on in each other’s lives, being interested and curious, and also through being mindful and supportive in little day-to-day ways.  Even when living hundreds of miles apart, like me and my mom, this is possible through regular contact by phone, e-mail, Skype, mail, and occasional visits.  (By the way, if you have family or friends who live far away, and you still haven’t tried Skype, why not click this link and give it a try?  It’s not hard, the basic software is free, and even if you don’t have a camera, you could connect for free by voice and possibly see the other person if they have a camera.)

If fondness is not present, then taking a vacation together might not be especially enjoyable (though you could use the time to work through whatever is keeping you apart).  But if fondness is present, then taking a vacation can be a wonderful way to add even more meaningful, positive, and loving memories to the relationship.  I realize that Gottman primarily talks about these dynamics in the context of marital therapy, but I believe the same dynamics apply to other relationships as well.

Thank you, mom.

With mom at Jurmala seashore

I want to thank my mom for inviting me on this beautiful trip to the country we both came from.  I also want to thank her for her loving heart, for always trying to do what is best for her kids, for continually reaching out to me (even through the difficult times), for her patience and forgiveness, and for the fun times we’ve shared.  I love you!

Encouragement for Strained Relationships

I hope that this part of my story can serve as encouragement to those who are currently working through difficulties in their relationships.  Relationships aren’t always easy, but if you both honestly keep working at it, you could uncover a precious gem that lights up your life.

Perspective on my Roots

Our old neighborhood

Taking this trip with my mom gave me the opportunity not only to connect with my past, but also with her past.  Seeing the neighborhood where she grew up, the schools she went to, the parks where she played as a kid, meeting some of her friends, and talking about my ancestors; all gave me more perspective on our lives, an understanding of the forces that shaped her life (and thus mine), and an ability to relate on a deeper level.

I believe it is important and meaningful to try to understand the forces that shape our own lives, the lives of our loved ones, or the lives of others whom we want to understand.  Thus, it is also important and meaningful to pass along your stories (and your family’s stories) to younger generations, along with the wisdom that was acquired along the way.

For me, this was especially helpful because it also provided me a sense of continuity… much needed in a life of repeatedly moving; from one country to another, one state to another, and one city to another.

Fun, Pastries and the Seashore

Historic District in Riga

One very important 😉 thing I got some perspective on is the quality of pastries and cakes.  What a joy to sample the great variety of delicacies in Riga!  It is one of life’s mysteries why Americans, in our world of plenty, would chose to limit ourselves to such a small variety of sweet concoctions.  The combinations of subtle and intense flavors, the unique textures, the natural ingredients, the variations on classical themes, and our appreciation of the not-always-overly-sweet kept me and my mom busy popping into one café or bakery after another.  This, of course, was in addition to the old-fashioned Latvian cuisine we sought out every day, and the amazingly abundant farmers’ markets, with fresh food not just from Latvia, but from all over the

Farmers’ Market

world.  By the way, I wasn’t too worried about the calories since we walked many miles each day, and since I’m back to my normal routines now that I’m home.

We had fun checking out tourist shops, amber jewelry stores, book stores, antique stores, and the wonderful scenery in Riga’s historic district.  We enjoyed spending time with my mom’s friends, and I had lots of fun taking pictures everywhere we went.

Some of mom’s friends

And true to my memories, I enjoyed taking a nice long walk at the seashore.  It was too cold to swim in October, but there’s something special about the sea.  It is the place I remember best from my childhood, and it is one of the simple pleasures in my life to look out over a vast expanse of water, and at the clouds above.  It brought back memories of playing in the sand as a kid, and reminded me of funny stories from long ago.  The image of the tall pine trees and cute cottages at Latvia’s beaches will always be one that makes me smile.

Coming Home

After a couple weeks in Latvia, I was ready to come home to Tinley Park, IL.  If I had stayed any longer I would have shifted into simple living mode (rather than tourist mode)… something I was looking forward to doing back home.

Getting back into my usual routines, reconnecting with my husband, feeling productive at work, and reflecting on my experiences in Latvia has been a joy.  Here is my place in the world now, and it is a comfortable and satisfying one.  Latvia is a part of my past that I was glad to see again.  It puts my present in perspective, and it helps me appreciate what I have, while also clarifying some dreams that I have for my future (a garden perhaps?).

Why Did I Share This?

I decided to share this experience with my readers because it was meaningful to me, because it helps my readers to get to know me a little better, and because it illustrates how psychology applies and relates to real life situations.

I hope that through this article, as through all my other posts, I might encourage you to reflect on your own life, and to think about your relationships, about psychology, and about ways to enrich your life and seek your own potentials and dreams.

I will leave you with one of my favorite photos from the seashore:

Categories : Mental Health
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Causes of Sleepiness and Fatigue and How to Fight Them — Slideshow

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Great slide show on fatigue from WebMD:

Fatigue Cause No. 1: Not Enough SleepIt may seem obvious but you could be getting too little sleep. That can negatively affect your concentration and health. Adults should get seven to eight hours every night. Fix: Make sleep a priority and keep a regular schedule. Ban laptops, cell phones, and PDAs from your bedroom.

via Causes of Sleepiness and Fatigue and How to Fight Them — Slideshow.

Anda Jines MS LCPC offers mental health counseling services in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, in Tinley Park, IL (60477); near Orland Park, Oak Forest, Orland Hills, Palos Heights, Mokena, and Frankfort. Click here for more about Anda Jines MS LCPC.

Categories : Stress and Anxiety
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