I Want to Be Happier… Now What?

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Image credit: Daniel Posthuma on unsplash.com.

Last post, I talked about how becoming happier starts with a decision to choose happiness. Maybe it sounds lame and you’re thinking, who wouldn’t choose to be happy? But there are a lot of reasons we choose to be miserable instead… denying responsibility, side-stepping the discomfort of change, avoiding the anxiety of the unknown, being unwilling to make the sacrifices that might be required, etc. etc. etc.

Ok, but what if we do choose to be happy… what’s next?

Well, I wish I could give a formula, but it isn’t quite that simple. I know, I’d love a formula too! I like things very cut-and-dry. But living life isn’t like following a recipe. It’s more like creating a unique work of art, and that’s just what your life is: a work of art.

That being said, I do have some suggestions that might be helpful. Honestly, I could (and likely will at some point) do entire posts on each of these topics, but it would be overwhelming to try and cover it all here. So this 5-point list is a starting point and my best attempt at creating a “formula” for happiness.

#1. Practice Gratitude
It is easy to focus on the negative, on what is not going right and what we don’t have. It takes intentional effort to look for and focus on the positives. But doing so reminds us of all the good we take for granted and leads to more positive emotions. I agree with Melody Beattie: “Gratitude turns what we have into enough.”

#2. Create Soul Moments
Think about moments when you have felt peace or joy. Maybe it is being outside and soaking in nature, or reading a good book with a warm cup of coffee in hand. Perhaps it’s making connections with others through deep conversation, or cooking a delicious meal, or family game night and lots of laughter with your kids. Is it creating beauty through painting or planting beautiful flowers? Whether it’s playing tennis or playing Bunko (don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone), make a list of what makes you feel happy and do more of that.

#3. Release Expectations
Consider if your expectations of yourself, others, and perhaps even life, are realistic. Do you expect a toxic mother to treat you with respect and kindness? Do you expect your spouse to read your mind, or life to be fair, or you to be perfect all the time? Lowering your expectations is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it’s appropriate and incredibly freeing. Unrealistic expectations are a set-up for failure and hangover frustration, shame, or discontentment always follow.

#4. Live Your Values
What are your passions in life? For some, it’s family or friends. It might be spirituality. It could be humor, kindness, learning, service or wealth. Likely, you have a few top values and then secondary ones beneath those. But does your life reflect those values? If your highest value is family, but you’re working excessive hours, you’re not living within your values. Those long hours might be fine if your top value is wealth, but when our lives are incongruent with what is actually most important to us, we will usually feel frustrated and unhappy. Sometimes that’s unavoidable because there are bills to paid or other factors out of our control, but as much as you can take steps to bring your values and your life in parallel, the more fulfilled you will be.

#5. Take Care of Yourself
This is so common sense, but it’s completely not common. We are terrible at taking care of ourselves! Evaluate each of these areas in your own life and determine which ones need some improvement:

  • Are you getting enough rest and sleep? For most people that means at least 7-9 hours of sleep a night as well as time for relaxation.
  • Do you move your body? It doesn’t have to be 45 minutes at the gym; a 10-minute walk outside counts (and gives the extra benefit of a vitamin D boost from the sunshine!).
  • Are you eating a balanced diet and not over- or under-eating? It is impossible to feel good if we aren’t nourishing ourselves or if we are abusing our bodies with food.
  • Do you address any medical conditions with the proper care and medication? Do you even go to the doctor regularly to know if you have any medical conditions needing treatment? And yes, that includes treating mental health issues too!

Can you think of other ideas that cultivate happiness? Let me know what’s been helpful for you!

Much love,
Cherie Signature

About Cherie Miller @ Dare 2 Hope
Cherie Miller, MS, LPC opened Dare 2 Hope Counseling to help clients all over the country get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Her specialty is eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, orthorexia and other unhealthy eating patterns. Contact her here.

The First Step to Being Happy

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Photo Credit: Psychology Today

Some of us just never really seem to find or hang on to happiness for long. And yet there are some people who are happy even when life is really hard. During our lifetime, we will, without question, experience heartbreak or undeserved tragedies. No one is immune; suffering is an unavoidable part of the human condition. So how do some some people manage to stay relatively happy or more quickly recapture their happiness after devestation?

Those types of people take responsibility for their own happiness, and that starts with choosing to be happy.  It is always a choice to be made—and not just once, but daily, maybe minute by minute—even as we are bombarded with reasons not to be happy.

It can be tempting to abdicate our happiness responsibility by blaming our circumstances or others, and sometimes, it would even be perfectly understandable given what’s going on in our lives. But that leaves us helpless. Helplessness is scary because it means we will be stuck and miserable until something or someone else changes. When we realize we can take control of our happiness and are brave enough to own that process, joy becomes possible again, whether or not other things change. Taking responsibility means we are powerful instead of powerless. It’s not easy at all, but it is life-changing.

Ask yourself what keeps you from choosing to be happy. Does taking personal responsiblity for your feelings seem too hard? Does it feel like letting people who have hurt you off the hook? Make a list of all the ways that believing you have no control over your happiness prevents you from having the life you want. Now, make a list of the ways your life would be different if you could cultivate more happiness for yourself instead of waiting for it to happen to you.

After creating each list, consider making a commitment to start choosing happiness and learning how to live that out. Go ahead, it’s okay to chase joy! If you’re a reader like me, a fun book on the topic is The Happiness Dare by Jennifer Dukes Lee.

P.S. Depression can be a biological condition, not just an emotional one, needing medical treatment such as medication so please don’t think I’m saying depression can be cured by thinking happy thoughts! Sadness and depression are not only unavoidable at times, I don’t even think we should try to always avoid them. Though painful (I know from personal experience), they can serve a purpose by adding meaning and depth to our lives. They can grow us and teach us important lessons, like how to reach out for connection or to slow down and take care of ourselves. The point is just DON’T STAY STUCK there longer than you need to!

Be well,
Cherie Signature

DPP_0015bCherie Miller, MS, LPC opened Dare 2 Hope Counseling to help clients all over the country get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Her specialty is eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, orthorexia and other unhealthy eating patterns. Contact her here.

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What Are You Losing?

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Often, after having an eating disorder for a while, it becomes part of your identity. The problem is that eating disorders are jealous things—they don’t like to share you with anyone or anything else. Your disorder doesn’t want to just be a part of your identity, it wants to be your whole identity. Before you know it, you’re wondering what happened to all the other parts of you…or maybe you’re noticing those parts slowly slip away and it scares you.

I hope it does. Because you are not your eating disorder. There’s much more to you and so many more—better—things that make you special.

I was chatting with a girl the other day who was feeling a lot of anxiety after eating an entire meal for the first time in a long time, and she said she felt like she’d betrayed her eating disorder. I reminded her that she is not her eating disorder, but she said it feels like they are the same. I asked if she is also a dancer (her passion in life!) and she said yes. But the sad truth is, she can’t dance right now because she isn’t healthy enough. Her eating disorder is consuming that part of her. She is also a mother and wife who desperately loves her family, but she’s away from them so much because of all the treatment she’s been in for years… Another part of her lost to an eating disorder that promises so much, but in reality gives so little when you really weigh the costs.

What if she looked at recovery differently…not as betraying the eating disorder or the eating disordered part of herself, but instead, saw it as nurturing the dancer, the mother, and the wife parts of her? Those parts need to be well fed, emotionally and physically, to thrive.

What about you? What parts of yourself are being sacrificed to your eating disorder and which are most important—which are you most willing to fight for?

much love,

Cherie_signature

 

DPP_0015bCherie Miller, MS, LPC opened Dare 2 Hope Counseling to help clients all over the country get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Her specialty is eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, orthorexia and other unhealthy eating patterns. Contact her here.

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Recovery Takes Time

Recovery is Hard // Dare 2 Hope Blog

When I’m reading a really good book, I can’t wait to get to the ending. Sometimes I have to stop myself from peeking.  I enjoy the whole book, but the end of the story is the satisfying part because whatever struggle and suffering the characters endured, things are finally resolved and they are going to be happy ever-after. (Insert wistful sigh here…)

Recovering from an eating disorder is like that. Recovery—the end of the story—is the awesome part. Recovery-in-process is a bit less glamorous, and we might want to hit the Fast Forward button.

Or maybe the Stop button…and give up entirely.

The thing about healing and recovering is that it’s not a linear path. It’s more like a spiral at times, marked by setbacks, doubt, confusion and of course, pain. And it’s usually slower progress than we want it to be. We want the mountain-top experience, but we only get there by climbing the mountain and that’s not a quick trip. Accustomed to an instant-everything society, we want fast fixes. This is especially true for perfectionists like me who think that we should do everything perfectly—including healing. “I should not still be struggling with this!” is our mantra. Sure, other people might take awhile to work through their issues, but we shouldn’t.

The truth is, deep change takes time. Just like it takes time for a serious physical wound to heal properly. You can get it stitched and do everything right to speed up the healing, and you can cuss and kick yourself for not being able to make your skin close back up faster, but none of that will make it happen overnight. Careful wound care is required, but time is also a necessary ingredient.

Our soul care is no different. You did not develop an eating disorder over a few weeks, so why would you be able to recover from one so quickly? Stop beating yourself up for how long it’s taking you to heal.

And whatever you do, DON’T GIVE UP.

Remember that you may not be where you want to be, but you’re not where you were. Progress, not perfection, dear one.

Take some time to acknowledge how important some of the steps you’ve taken recently to recover, heal, or grow are, and how much courage and strength they took. Celebrate that by journaling or talking with someone supportive.

much love,
Cherie_signature

 

 

DPP_0015bCherie Miller, MS, LPC opened Dare 2 Hope Counseling to help clients all over the country get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Her specialty is eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, orthorexia and other unhealthy eating patterns. Contact her here.

 

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3 Reasons Not to Deal With Your Issues

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Like me, I’m sure you’ve known people who have blatant issues, yet are completely unwilling to work on them. Sometimes, it’s just annoying to be forced to put up with someone’s “stuff” when they won’t deal with it. A few co-workers I’ve had the (dis)pleasure of knowing come to mind! In more serious circumstances, it might be someone we’re close to and really care about. Maybe it’s an alcoholic spouse or a controlling mother. In such cases, not only can it be painful to watch that person perpetuate their own misery, it is also more likely to impact us negatively, sometimes making us miserable, too. How close we are emotionally or how much influence that person has on our lives is directly related to how hard it is keep their issues from spilling over onto us.

But let’s get a bit more personal for a minute. Do you have issues that you don’t want to address? Perhaps you have a temper or a habit of overeating. Maybe your perfectionism makes you impossible to please. Or your insecurities sabotage your success in love and work. Whatever it is, why do you refuse to change, despite how it negatively effects you? Simply because, in many ways, it actually makes sense not to deal with our issues. Let me explain why this is true.

  • Healing is hard. Just like drug withdrawals are a necessary part of getting clean, healing usually involves a painful period where we are working through all that goes along with the issue. That can mean processing traumatic memories, learning to sit in uncomfortable emotions, having to own our mistakes and the consequences of those mistakes, and so on. The good news is that like drug withdrawals, it does get easier, but the only way through it is, well, just that—through it.
  • Growth requires sacrifice. Whether we recognize it consciously or not, our issues serve us somehow. Maybe your anger lets you feel powerful and helps you control others, or maybe food helps you cope with stress and loneliness. Dealing with things means we have to give up some attitudes or behaviors that in some ways do benefit us. The catch is that they hurt us in other ways (e.g., anger damages relationships and overeating leads to weight gain). Realize that you can get what you need in ways that are more constructive.
  • Change is scary. Anytime we are venturing into unknown territory, there is some fear. Oddly enough, we can be pretty comfortable in our discomfort because it’s familiar, and familiarity is a powerful force.

Honestly, I wish I could have written an article called, “3 Quick and Easy Ways to Deal with Your Issues,” instead of this one, but that wouldn’t have been realistic. I see it in the amazing clients I work with every day that growth is not quick or easy. I also know that personally because I worked hard to recover from an eating disorder, and healing was anything but either of those. It cost me deeply, and it was a choice I had to make every day for a long time… still do some days. But it was and always will be worth it.

So I leave you with this: Would it be worth it for you?

Be well,
Cherie_signature
DPP_0015bCherie Miller, MA is owner of Dare 2 Hope Coaching and a virtual Health and Wellness Life Coach who helps clients all over the country improve their lives. Her specialty is helping people get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Contact her here.

7 Strategies for Surviving the Holidays

Surviving the Holidays - Dare 2 Hope Counseling

The holidays can be a wonderful time for many people, but for some, it can be a time of immense stress, anxiety, and even depression. Since Christmas is just a couple of days away, I wanted to offer some strategies for dealing with these emotional challenges, and also specific ideas for those struggling with an eating disorder.

Strategy #1: Put Things in Perspective and Prioritize
Sometimes, we simply take on too much. We want to be able to do it all and so we set ourselves up to be stressed and anxious. Decide what’s really important for you to do. Is it hosting a party? Decorating? Cooking for the family dinner? Making homemade gifts? Once you know what is most important to you, balance that with that you can realistically afford—both in terms of time and money!

Strategy #2: Take Time-Outs
It’s tempting to just go-go-go! all season long. Getting overwhelmed and tired makes us vulnerable to feeling stressed and sad, so take some time to slow down. Find some time to do things just for yourself that rejuvenate you like reading a good book, watching a favorite holiday movie, or whatever brings a few moments of peace to your spirit. You don’t have to say “yes” to everyone and everything (see #5).

Strategy #3: Get Support
Reach out to people you trust who can support you when you need it. A listening ear and encouraging word from someone who cares can make a big difference, so don’t hold whatever you’re struggling with inside. And if there are specific ways other people can help, let them! Relationships are built on reciprocity and while many of us are always happy to help others, we find it difficult to accept kindnesses in return. But rejecting people in that way isn’t good for you or those relationships.

Strategy #4: Grieve If You Need To
Unfortunately, the holidays can bring up a lot of emotional pain for some. Perhaps they are reminder of childhood trauma or they make the loss of someone special even more difficult. Whatever it might be, take some time to grieve the pain. By acknowledging and honoring it, it often feels less overwhelming.

Strategy #5: Put Up Boundaries
The holidays bring up many expectations from others, especially family. There can be a lot of demands for your time and attention, and sometimes, it’s just not healthy. Maybe because it’s simply impossible to please everyone since it’s not possible to be in two places at once (e.g. both you and your spouse’s mamas want to see the grandkids on Christmas morning) or maybe it’s because you simply don’t want to do something you’re being pressured to do. If your family is a dysfunctional mess and spending time with them is detrimental to your or your family’s well-being, it’s perfectly okay to put up boundaries and do your own thing. You really can say “no” to people, even family…just decide ahead of time you’re not going to board whatever Guilt Trip Express pulls up when you decline because you know it’s probably coming!

Strategy #6: Express Gratitude
Take just a few minutes to write down what you are grateful for in your life. It’s amazing how focusing on the good in our lives can help us feel happier. I had a professor in college that would always say, “The key to happiness is an attitude of gratitude”…and I think he was right.

Strategy #7: Get Outside Yourself
There’s nothing as uplifting as getting outside yourself. Try donating some time or money to a cause that you feel good about. Some ideas could be taking meals to shut-ins, adopting a Christmas Angel child in need of gifts, making and handing out blankets to the homeless…the options are endless because there’s a world of need out there and we each have gifts to offer! I promise, you can’t help but feel good after doing good.

Additional Strategies for Those With Eating Disorders:

  • Follow a structured eating plan
  • Find out the menu in advance
  • Determine where and when you will be eating
  • Identify a support person to help
  • Avoid “fat talk”, diet talk or food conversations that could be upsetting
  • Be assertive with people who pressure you to eat more/less
  • Get right back to structure if you engage in any eating disorder behaviors
  • Communicate feelings to support person
  • Have an “exit strategy” planned if things become too overwhelming
  • Suggest and develop family traditions that do not involve food (caroling, games, and activities)
  • Plan a variety of foods to help prevent bingeing on “Forbidden Foods” (from Best Practices for Eating Disorder Recovery During the Holidays)

I hope you have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Much love,
Cherie_signature

Maybe It’s Time to Break Up

Mirror Fasting - Dare 2 Hope Blog

Last week we talked about the importance of paying attention to and guarding against things that work against eating disorder recovery (or recovery from anything for that matter!). Today I want to talk specifically about our time in front of the mirror.

Ah, the mirror. So many have a love-hate relationship with it. We often dislike what we see, but we can’t seem to go without it either. Many people with eating disorders and body image issues spend a lot of time body checking in the mirror. There is nothing about standing in front of a mirror for long periods of time or multiple times a day and inspecting your appearance that is helpful. If you spend a significant amount of energy focusing on the things about your body that you wish you could change, you will inevitably feel bad about yourself.

One of the sad things about that is that no one is perfect, and each one of us could find flaws to obsess over. I read an article a while back in which Jillian  Michaels admitted that she has cellulite on her rear, and there’s nothing she can do to change that. Considering that 100% of the human population is physically imperfect, how sad is it that we can become convinced that our individual flaws mean we’re not beautiful? And even worse… our self-perception is often spoiled by flaws that aren’t even there.

See, that’s the problem with mirrors. They are not accurate reflections because it’s all about how our eye, and ultimately our brain, perceive an image. And that is highly subjective. Ever met someone that you thought was plain looking but after you got to like them, found them attractive? Or on the flip side, met someone attractive and then after discovering an atrocious personality, didn’t find them so physically appealing anymore? Our perceptions—even the ones that seem trustworthy, like our eyesight—can be very skewed based on our emotions and attitudes.

Body checking in the mirror is about more than just seeing if you look okay. You’re wondering on a deeper level if you’re okay. But a mirror can’t tell you that. If it can’t give you an accurate reflection of your physical self, it certainly can’t give you a reflection of your inner self worth.

So I’m throwing out a challenge to stop believing what the mirror tells you. Commit to reducing the time you spend body checking, and no matter how strong the urge to, definitely don’t stand there and pick apart your appearance. Decide there are more important things that you’d rather spend your time and energy on. How about doing something fun instead? What about doing something kind for someone else who needs it?

And here’s an even bigger challenge…consider getting rid of your body checking mirror altogether. You don’t necessarily need to fast from all mirrors, but I’m guessing you might have a full-length one that you use for body checking and not just doing your makeup and hair. It sounds impossible, I know. I did it when I was in recovery, and I thought I wouldn’t make it. My anxiety was sky-high at first because I’d become addicted to the mirror. But after a week or two, I adjusted…and actually felt freer than I’d felt in a long time. I also realized how much more time I had because I wasn’t wasting it searching for answers that a piece of glass could never really give me anyway.

Go for it! Break up with your body checking mirror, even for just a month, and see what a difference it makes in how you feel! I know you can do it.

much love,

Cherie_signature

We Are What We…

You Are What You Think - Part 2 - Dare 2 Hope Blog

We’ve all heard the expression, you are what you eat. I think something else is much more defining for us…and we’re actually a product of what we think.  Earl Nightingale said, “We become what we think about most,” and the Bible teaches us to “Keep vigilant watch over your heart because that’s where life starts” (Proverbs 4:23 MSG). This is an overlooked truth for people with eating disorders that can make a big difference in achieving and maintaining recovery. If you continue to obsess over things that reinforce eating disorder thoughts and behaviors, then you’re climbing a very steep uphill battle!

That means raising your awareness about what you think about and putting up some boundaries against things that aren’t constructive. Fashion and fitness magazines are one of the biggest offenders. I have a background in marketing and using Photoshop, so I thought understanding that the images were airbrushed made me immune to their power…but I eventually had to be honest and admit they affected me negatively. I still compared, still wished, still felt not-good-enough after looking at them. Pinterest fitness pins can be another serious problem. So can all the pins of ridiculously good-looking foods. And honestly, Facebook can be pretty triggering too.

If you’re serious about recovering, it’s time to take stock of the things you surround yourself with that are undermining all the hard work you’re doing to get healthy and get rid of them. It’s hard at first, but after awhile, you’ll be so amazed at how much freer you feel! Wouldn’t it be so much better to read a book or talk with a friend or do something else pleasant that makes you feel happy and peaceful inside?

But there’s one more thing…these messages don’t just come from the outside. They also come from within, and those need to be guarded against as well. Standing in front of the mirror for long periods of time and picking apart your body fills your mind and heart with destructive thoughts that feed the eating disorder. Next week, I want to talk more about that, and to give you a challenge. Until then…start noticing all the obsessing you might be doing that is completely counterproductive.

What are the worst offenders for you that work against your recovery? Could you possibly quit them cold turkey or start weaning off of them?

Much love,

Cherie_signature

Feelings – Fact or Fiction?

Feelings are like waves...

Emotions—particularly intense ones like depression, anxiety, and anger—can be so powerful that our judgment is sometimes clouded by them if we’re not careful. We can even find ourselves in a habit of being ruled by them, which is not fun for us or the people around us.

It’s an easy trap to fall into because feelings feel so real. I mean, when we look in the mirror and see certain flaws, we feel ugly, so we believe we must be. When our boyfriend doesn’t call, it feels like he doesn’t care, so we assume he doesn’t. While it’s hard to believe something other than what our emotions are screaming at us from the inside, we need to remember that feelings aren’t facts. Everyone has flaws and they don’t mean we aren’t beautiful. Our boyfriend didn’t call because his cell phone died, and he hasn’t gotten home to charge it yet. Assumptions and generalizations will get us in all kinds of trouble if we don’t watch out for how they play with our emotions!

And yet, feelings aren’t fiction either. We can struggle just as much and stay just as stuck when we tell ourselves that our feelings aren’t valid as we do when we believe they are the end-all-be-all. Peace finally starts to come when we stop struggling against our feelings from either angle and just accept them for what they are—feelings! In their own right, they are neither fact nor fiction, good or bad.

Instead, view feelings as red flags that something needs to be paid attention to. Learning to recognize and analyze these signals in a healthy way is whole other topic, but at least being able to remind yourself that feelings are okay but they aren’t facts is a place to start.

What do think is the hardest thing about dealing with feelings?

much love,

Cherie_signature