Archive for the ‘life stresses and patience’ Category

For all of us Perfection Addicts…

March 23, 2011

Have you ever been told any of these phrases?

  • “As long as you do your best, that’s all that matters!”
  • “Give 110%!”
  • “Give it your all!”

It’s funny, when I read each of these out loud, they are clearly telling me to just WORK HARD and DO MY BEST.  But somehow, throughout my life I have interpreted these and other encouraging phrases to mean that I must perform perfectly—at ALL times!

Even as a young girl, I quickly learned that I got a lot more attention for being “perfect” at all of the activities I did—whether it was the Times Tables Races in my 3rd grade math class, my piano performances, soccer practice, or even my friendships—being as friendly and sweet as I possibly could to everyone.  It is really wonderful to be a high achiever and to strive for excellence in everything we do.  However, at times in my life I have taken this to an extreme and driven myself to be perfect, not settling for anything less.  This causes a lot of anxiety!

I know I am not alone!  Perfectionism can be very overwhelming, taking excellence to a different, more stressful level than that of high achievers.  Those of us who may have struggled with perfectionism at times in our lives may have experienced:

  • Persistent anxiety, maybe even panic attacks
  • Guilt, never feeling good enough
  • Relationship problems—needless to say, we CAN’T be perfect in relationships, so when we try we always come up short and end up either frustrated with ourselves or resentful of the other person
  • Eating disorders, criticalness towards  your appearance
  • Depression, feeling down about yourself
  • Procrastination—it’s difficult to start projects, because it’s so overwhelming knowing that you “must do them perfectly”
  • Many other related problems

If you think you might be dealing with a form of perfectionism, here is a fun, easy, 15-question survey you can fill out that will help you better understand yourself:

The first step is that we recognize anxiety and perfectionism in ourselves.  When we realize this is not a healthy response to life’s challenges, then we can decide to do something differently!

The second step is to choose one small goal.  Here are some example goals I’ve made before:

  • Give myself 30 minutes each evening just to myself … Go walking or read a relaxing book.
  • Choose an amount of time to spend on a certain project, and then STOP.  For example, “I’ll work on vacuuming for 40 minutes, and that’s it.”  You can always return to it later.
  • Tell yourself positive, affirming statements, like “you’re such a hard worker,” “you care so much about doing your best”, “you’ve done really well at ___ project”, “it’s okay to take time for yourself”
  • LISTEN TO YOURSELF.  We all know when our perfectionism kicks in, and all of a sudden we’re very anxious and overwhelmed, worried about what people think of us, not content with our performance.  STOP and let yourself breathe for just a few minutes.  Then face what’s ahead!

Finding Your Center

April 16, 2010

“The most important part of this exercise is to make sure that your core is tight and strengthened. This technique will assist you in keeping your body balanced as you complete this plank exercise.” This is a familiar message that one of my past physical trainers would frequently tell me. The plank exercise consists of holding your body flat to the ground as you rest the pressure of your body on your forearms and tippy toes. Take a look at the following picture:

The trick to this exercise is to divert your attention from your extremities to your core, because keeping your core tight will assist you in balancing your body. For me, focusing on keeping my core tight can be very difficult due to the pressure that is exerted on my tippy toes and forearms—I have fallen often. However, it is very encouraging to learn that after continuous effort your core muscles get stronger, and it is easier to hold your body up for prolonged periods of time.
Interestingly, I think that the plank exercise is very similar to the exercises that we experience in life—especially when it comes to dealing with stress and leading a balanced life—a couple of constant challenges for a graduate student, or rather for us all regardless of a particular work/student status. Oftentimes, it is extremely easy to focus on those pressure points/stressful issues, and I have come to realize that we all have a natural tendency to focus on areas that may seem to demand our most immediate attention to stay afloat in the midst of many pressures. But once again, what I have found to be extremely encouraging is that focusing on strengthening my center helps me to remain joyful and at ease. For me, strengthening my core consists of strengthening my spiritual life and relationships with family and friends. For you, it could be a plethora of different things that help keep you grounded in life. Interestingly, there was a documentary on individuals who were 100 or older, and they shared many important nuggets of wisdom. A common thread of information that they all provided was that they led easygoing lives and avoided getting overly stressed about life occurrences. Also, researchers have found that doing simple things such as finding a quiet space for 15 minutes a day can help to reduce stress levels. So what would you consider to be your core/center? And what are some exercises that you could use to strengthen the aspects that are central to your life? After continuous effort, you may find that you will have a rock solid core that helps you stay afloat in the midst of anything. So, whenever you may feel unbalanced, it may be a good idea to ask yourself if your core is strengthened. All in all, I say cheers to a strengthened core, a balanced life, and meaningful living!
Cassandra Kirkland

How’d She Turn Out So Well: Success Despite Hardships

September 29, 2009

Have you ever wondered how a person achieves success despite growing up in rough conditions?  This idea has completely astounded me for about 8 years now.  You run across someone who may have been abused, not had a mother, had a bad home life, had addiction in their family, dropped out of high school or even had a child at a very young age…and yet despite those stressful things – they have overcome them and achieved a very successful life.  Now, some people define success differently, but I say success is getting to where you want to be in life.  It doesn’t have to mean you’re filthy rich – maybe it  means you’ve gotten an education, raised a great family or gotten that cool job you always wanted.  More than just success, it seems like these people are even comfortable with sharing their hard times with others.  The point is that somehow, despite bad circumstances and stressors in their childhood and adolescence, they made good choices that brought them where they are.

Some research tells us that intelligence, attractiveness, personality and personal qualities can lead to success and better outcomes despite a rough upbringing.  Other research suggests that it’s your environment, your parents, grandparents and other role models that provide the outlet for successful development in light of difficult stressors.  Even further, and perhaps the most interesting research tells us that our relationships – both friendships and love relationships can help us cope with our hardships.  Best friendships and long term supportive partnerships provide the comfort and outlet for sharing that has been shown to help people become more adjusted despite their past or current circumstances.

So what do you say it is?  Is it inner strength?  Relationships? Intelligence?  What gets people to the point that they can overcome rough life circumstances?

I’ll leave you with a great example…but before I tell her name – I’ll describe her upbringing so you can make your own premature judgment of what she became:  This girl was born in small town Mississippi…with a weird name.  She was sexually molested as a child, her parents divorced before she was 6, she lived with her grandmother for 5 years, lived with  her mom only for 2 and later moved in with her very overbearing Dad.  She did drugs as a teenager and gave birth to a baby prematurely.

I know…you’re thinking – dang…this girl must be screwed up?  Who is she…did she live?  Or, if she did live…she’s still on drugs.  People, I’m talking about the only Billionaire woman in America – Oprah Winfrey?!

So how did she do it….how do “they” do it…how do you do it?  I’ll contest that Oprah’s key relationships – both with her best friend Gayle King…and her life partnership with Stedman have helped her to get to where she is.  Don’t get me wrong – those aren’t the only things that got her to where she is…certainly hard work, determination and personality helped, but those relationships most likely supported her in being able to see past the adversity to what she could become.

Charlsey Mahle

Graduate Research Assistant

Alabama Community Healthy Marriage Initiative

Your Bank Account

April 9, 2009

What is in your bank account? And when I say bank account, I am referring to the emotional bank account of your relationship. Researchers from the marriage laboratory at the University of Washington suggest that the concept of an emotional bank account incorporates the idea of turning-toward or turning-away from your partner when he or she elicits your attention. Turning-toward your partner could be as simple as giving a nod when he/she comments about weather or it could include providing your undivided attention when he or she is in need of your emotional support. When you turn-toward your partner, you add to your emotional bank account by increasing the levels of emotional commitment and intimacy. However, when you continuously turn-away from your partner by ignoring his/her bids for attention, you deplete your emotional bank account.

It is so funny how even our relationships operate on economic terms. I thought about the sheer joy that stems from being truly heard and understood by my significant other. But what is even more humbling and empowering is understanding that I have an important role to play in bolstering the emotional bank account of our relationship. In being a busy graduate student, it is easy to get inundated with all of the demands that school provides. And when you are busy or overwhelmed it is so easy to overlook your partner’s bids for emotional support. Sometimes bids can be very subtle—usually a very slight alteration in one’s normal speaking voice that exudes vulnerability and support seeking. I have come to realize that there is truly an art form involved in quieting the noise of your own social/work pressures in order to hear the more vulnerable bids for emotional support from your partner. But the level of intimacy that results from this art form is totally worth the effort. And surprisingly enough, you also feel comforted and supported by simply turning-toward your partner and providing the invaluable assets of an open heart and a listening ear.

For more information about the concept of an emotional bank account and building a sound marital house, you can refer to the chapter written by Ryan, Carrere, and Gottman in the book entitled Marriage in America by Martin King Whyte.

Cassandra Kirkland, M.S.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

February 16, 2009

Last week I went to pick my daughter up from her afterschool program and as usual, I was in a hurry to get home. All I could think about was how much I needed to get done and how I wished I hadn’t let things pile up and how I wanted to go to bed at a decent hour. Once my daughter was in the car, she told me that for the third time that week she hadn’t earned her behavior tickets because she had been talking to her friends. This would cause her to miss the good behavior party at school and according to her, she didn’t really care. Needless to say, hearing that didn’t improve my mood. As if things couldn’t get any worse, as I was ready to pull off from the school, I found that I was parked behind a school bus that was sitting there with its lights flashing, indicating that I could not go around. So I am ready to get home, I am not too happy about my daughter’s nonchalant attitude regarding her behavior, and I am stuck behind a school bus! After about 10 minutes of waiting, I just couldn’t stand it anymore and wondered out loud, “Why is this bus taking so long?!” My child’s response will forever be imbedded in my mind. With the tiniest voice she said, “Its Mikayla’s bus and she’s a wheelchair person and maybe it’s just taking them a long time to strap her in.” A sense of shame and guilt immediately came over me and I was literally brought to tears. Here I was focusing on myself and all that was going on in my world, not stopping to think that someone else was having a difficult time, possibly due to circumstances beyond their control. And to top it all off, I realized that a 9 year old had more patience and compassion than I did.

How often do we become so consumed by what is going on in our own little worlds that we don’t stop to think about what someone else might be going through? How often do we fail to realize that even those closest to us are just as busy as we are, yet they don’t take their frustration out on the rest of the world? In order to be a better spouse, parent, friend, significant other, etc., you have to first learn to be patient. Being patient with someone shows respect for them which goes a long way in relationships. Having patience helps you to be more relaxed around the people you care about, enabling you to have more positive interactions. After my experience last week, I have made a conscious effort at trying to be more patient and not so consumed by every little thing that comes my way. It has been a struggle but I keep reminding myself not to sweat the small stuff…and it’s all small stuff. So if you find yourself becoming overwhelmed and impatience begins to rear its ugly little head, remember: expect the unexpected, focus on what is most important, and if you can’t do anything about what is causing you to be impatient, let it go!

Eugenia Parrett

Doctoral Student

Alabama Community Healthy Marriage Initiative