Apr 25

8 Ways to Keep Negativity from Ruining Your Day

Does negativity sometimes ruin your day? Complaints, anger, discontent, and intolerance for differences of opinion are overwhelming. This negativity is omnipresent. It’s on the news, on social media, and in our communities, neighborhoods, and homes. Often, people don’t treat each other with genuine kindness; this can be intentional or, more frequently, unintentional, the unintended consequence of being surrounded by negativity. All of this is overwhelming and exhausting. There’s a lot that is out of our control, but there is a lot that is within our control. Below, you’ll find eight ways to keep negativity from ruining your day.

Negativity is ever present, but we don't have to let it hurt us. It's possible to shift our perspective, take action, and keep negativity from ruining the day
How to Stop Negativity and Improve Your Day

When I was a new high school teacher, just out of college, I had a colleague who was one of the most positive people I had ever met. Yes, he had ups and downs, good days and bad, but his external world didn’t shake his inner, core happiness. He shared one of his life approaches with me: whenever he had a negative encounter with a student or a parent, he purposefully chose two students to whom to express his appreciation, and he’d follow that with a positive phone call to their parents. In this way, he was choosing a path in which negativity wouldn’t ruin his day.

I’ve taken this approach in my own life, and it’s one of the ways I remain genuinely positive and happy despite problems and challenges—and despite all of the overwhelming negativity in the world. There two important components to this. One is perspective. How we conceptualize our world forms our foundation. For the above-mentioned teacher, focusing solely on difficult students would eventually begin to cloud his perception of “teenagers” today. By choosing to place his focus on the positive, he kept negativity from ruining not just his day but his outlook on life, career, and people.

The other component is action. Action reinforces our perspective, and it gives us control over our own life. Because action is vital in keeping negativity from ruining your day, I offer eight ideas for doing just that.

8 Simple Actions to Keep Negativity from Ruining Your Day
  1. Lend a hand. Offer someone a ride. Hold a door. Offer to help a parent in the store when their toddler is wailing.
  2. Have a conversation with a cashier. Or anyone else for that matter. Rather than just waiting for your groceries to be scanned so you can pay and leave, have a genuine conversation. Start with a compliment or a show of appreciation (are they efficient, careful with your eggs, etc.).
  3. Leave a note. Make a habit of placing positive messages on windshields or in mailboxes. Compliment someone’s beautiful yard or leave an inspirational quote.
  4. Mail a card. Writing, by hand, short notes and mailing them to people you know brightens your day and theirs. Again, show appreciation, gratitude, compliment them, and/or write an inspirational message.
  5. Grow flowers. And care for them, too. If you have a patch of yard you can turn into a little garden, that’s great. Playing in the dirt, nurturing flowers and other life, is a wonderful way to release the day’s negativity. If you don’t have a yard for this, flowerpots work well, too.
  6. Volunteer. Do something you love to make your world a little better staves off negativity because it gives you a sense of control over your corner of the world.
  7. Appreciate yourself, too. Negativity can make us hard on ourselves. Make sure you notice the good in yourself the way you are noticing the good in others. Leave yourself notes, either on Post-Its around your home or contained in a journal. Appreciate yourself, and have gratitude for who you are.
  8. Dance. Create a positive, inspirational playlist and dance like no one’s watching. It’s exercise that will regulate your stress hormones and improve mood in a playful way. It’s a chance to take the world, and yourself, less seriously.

You can’t always control the negativity around you, but you can control what you do about it for your own happiness. Connect with others and yourself in order to keep negativity from ruining your day. Make great moments in your day, every day.


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Apr 11

Hope in a Hospital


Hospitals offer the hope of healing, of better days ahead. This is true for all hospitals, including psychiatric hospitals (sometimes called behavioral health hospitals). Admittedly, though, “hope” isn’t a word that often comes to mind when someone is admitted, be it willfully or against his/her will, to a behavioral health hospital. Yet such hospitals exist for positive reasons. Believe it or not, psychiatric hospitals can be safe havens for people in crisis.

Of course, few people, even those who admit themselves willingly, actually want to be in a behavioral health hospital. Needing to be hospitalized can exacerbate existing feelings of fear, anxiety, stress, and depression. Being in such an environment can be confusing for people with serious mental illness. For some people, needing psychiatric hospitalization can increase feelings of embarrassment or shame and decrease self-confidence and self-efficacy (that experience of believing in one’s ability to be successful in life).  At the other end of the spectrum, a hospital stay (or more than one stay) can feel empowering and healing, decreasing feelings of fear, anxiety, stress, and depression.

I intentionally sought help from a behavioral health hospital after wrestling with a traumatic brain injury. My brain wasn’t functioning the way I knew it could; I wasn’t the person I knew I really was. I know professionally that people are resilient and that the brain has tremendous power to heal and/or adapt in order to thrive. Humans are meant to support each other, to give and receive help. Mental health hospitals are terrific healing spaces, places where people receive care from trained and compassionate professionals.

While not all behavioral health hospitals are the same, most modern hospitals share the common mission of being a safe haven for people in crisis. Hospitals do many positive things for people; by “hospital,” I mean not the building, not the entity, not the institution, but the people that are there to help and support patients on their journey to wellbeing. From my own experience, from hearing from people in support groups I’ve helped facilitate, and from mental health professionals, I can confidently say that doctors, nurses, behavioral health technicians, psychologists, therapists, and all staff, offer, among other things,

  • compassion
  • stability
  • safety
  • understanding
  • guidance
  • healing activities
  • information
  • mental health and wellness skills
  • a listening ear

According to psychiatric nurse O’Donis Person, the nursing profession in general and mental health nursing in particular, is about helping other people achieve a higher state of wellness. Psychiatric hospitals (most of them, anyway) aren’t about control or locking people away or punishing them. Thanks to nurses like O’Donis and other professionals like him, there is hope in psychiatric hospitals: hope in healing, hope in moving forward. And not just hope, but very real possibility.

I invite you to listen to this month’s Wellbeing & Words radio show (broadcast over the airwaves on at least 10 stations but also archived online). O’Donis shares his thoughts and experiences as a mental health nurse. As part of our conversation, I talk a bit of my own experience as a patient in a behavioral health hospital. Find the show here (you might need to scroll down the page to find this show), and enjoy this short preview of the episode Hope in a Hospital. 


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Apr 4

Five Ways to Spring Clean Your Brain


Spring is here! Spring is about freshness and renewal. It’s about new life and life lived anew. The ritual of spring cleaning is an important one. The idea of spring cleaning conjures images of freshening up a house, but there’s more to this ritualistic refreshing than just our living spaces. To enhance our mental health and wellbeing, we need to spring clean our brain.

Before diving into the task, it’s important to note what spring cleaning is not. Deep cleaning is reviving our living space both external (our home) and internal (our brain); it’s not, however, completely throwing away everything we own or torching the house to start over completely. Spring cleaning of home and brain is sprucing and freshening and making things airy and enjoyable.

How to Spring Clean Your Brain

To wash and cleanse involves two primary activities. One is removing those thoughts and emotions that are stagnant and murky. The other is adding thoughts, emotions, perspectives, attitudes, and actions that “disinfect” and invigorate.

The following actions for spring cleaning your brain involve a combination of removal and addition to effectively increase mental health and wellbeing:

Sweep out your cobwebs and brush away the dust and crumbs. What old, habitual thoughts keep running through your mind? Is your brain stuck in negative thought patterns? What about the way your brain responds emotionally to what’s happening around you? Identify these patterns, and then sweep them out of your brain by replacing them with more effective thoughts, emotions, and responses.

Let in fresh air. Open your windows to let in fresh thoughts and perspectives. Get outside into the sunshine. Sunlight is essential to mental health, as is movement and deep breathing. Take a walk in the spring air, and spend time sitting quietly in mindful contemplation while breathing slowly and deeply. Your brain will love this cleansing treatment.

Be nosy about the process. Smell is a powerful sense, stimulating memories, affecting mood, stimulating energy or inducing relaxation. Smell has a direct effect on the brain, so using it in your spring cleaning rituals makes sense (or scents, if you will). Essential oils can be used in many ways to enhance wellbeing. The wide field of aromatherapy puts essential oils into specific practice. Experiment with oil burners, diffusers, lotions, sprays, and more. Pick oils that will be good for your brain and unique needs.

Clear the fog. Nutrition is crucial for proper brain functioning. In the winter, we often turn to comfort foods that are high in deliciousness but pretty low in nutritiousness (since I spring-cleaned my brain, it’s been free to do things like fabricate words). When we don’t consume proper nutrients, we can develop a sense of brain fog—sluggishness, thinking that feels slower, memory problems, etc. A spring cleaning ritual that involves eating healthy foods, taking vitamin and mineral supplements (with a doctor’s approval), and drinking plenty of water while avoiding heavily processed foods and beverages will boost your wellbeing.

Spruce up your surroundings. Spring cleaning for your brain involves adding things that enhance your life. Consider what it is you want in your brain. What adds to your brain and makes it a wonderful part of you? Identify and pursue passions. Add hobbies. Strengthen relationships. Create and do things that make you feel alive.

Embrace April, and enjoy the act of spring cleaning your brain. Taking action to increase your mental health and wellbeing is in itself the ultimate act of spring sprucing. Happy cleansing!

Oh. One more important thing. Taking mental health breaks is a necessary part of spring cleaning. Perhaps kick back with a mental-health themed novel or a self-help book.



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Mar 28

Positives about People Living with Mental Illness

The terms “mental illness” and “positive” aren’t always paired. Some might argue that together they’re an oxymoron, blatantly contradicting each other in striking opposition. I say that not only are they not an oxymoron, they can be combined very well. Indeed, there are a great many positives about mental illness.

No One Wants to Live with Mental Illness

Mental illness is an incredibly broad term that encompasses disorders of the brain. No matter the mental illness (there are over 20 categories of mental illness and three clusters of personality disorders, each category and cluster containing multiple specific disorders), they all share a common characteristic. Mental illness and personality disorders impact someone’s thoughts, emotions, and/or actions and get in the way of his/her quality of life. Psychiatric disorders can get in the way of relationships, employment, and more.

Adding insult to injury, negative stereotypes often cloud understanding of what mental illness truly is like. People speak of stigma, a type of prejudice that is one more barrier that people with mental illness often face. Stigma makes people feel judged for who they are.

Mental illness, however, most certainly is not who someone is. People aren’t their illness, which means that while mental illness can have negative effects on lives, the people themselves have many positive characteristics, traits, and strengths.

Mental illness is difficult to live with. It isn’t who someone is at his/her core, though, nor does it have to destroy one’s life and the living of it. Separating ourselves from the symptoms and effects and very legitimate challenges can allow us to shift our thinking to let in some positives that are equally legitimate.

Here are just six positives about mental illness, things mental illness doesn’t take away, we can learn from novels and their characters (inspired by my own personal and professional experiences).

6 Positives about People with Mental Illness

1. We can enjoy the simple things in life, individual moments of pleasure and happiness.

2. We can grow and evolve and learn to live well no matter our symptoms.


3. Mental illness doesn’t overpower love. People living with mental illness can love and be loved in return.

4. Even though it can be hard to do, people living with mental illness draw on their strengths to help others.

5. People experiencing mental illness have hopes and dreams and goals. This is stronger than any illness.

6. No matter what illness or challenge someone faces, he/she can still invite fun and playfulness into his/her life.

People really are so much more than their illness, and they have so many positive traits, strengths, and characteristics to offer themselves and others. As Oliver tells Penelope in Leave of Absence,
 “It’s okay to feel frustrated for having to deal with this illness, but don’t hate yourself because of it. This illness is only a tiny part of you.”
     “Other people don’t see it that way.”
     “Like who?”
     “Like friends we used to have. Like Rod and Paula.”
     “You know what? Then maybe it’s time for some new friends. Does William agree with Rod and Paula?” She shook her head but said nothing. Oliver pressed on. “And what about me, Penelope? I didn’t know you before. You had schizophrenia when I met you, and I wasn’t repulsed. Quite the opposite, actually. I like you a lot. I find you unique and delightful and honestly quite helpful.”

When we focus on what is right rather than what is wrong, on our strengths rather than our weaknesses, we begin to create a quality life and live it fully.

Mar 21

What is Hope? 10 Definitions of Hope

Hope. It’s something that is an integral part of mental health and wellbeing. We know it’s important, and we hear the word used frequently. But what, exactly, is hope?

Part of knowing what hope is involves knowing what it is not. Hope isn’t fluff. It’s not empty. Hope isn’t false or shallow or misguided, and it’s not a desperate, last-ditch effort to hold on to what is escaping us.

More than a mere belief, hope is a conviction. It’s the knowledge that we can and will overcome challenges, heal, and thrive. Hope is that, and it’s so much more.

Hope is…
  1. realistic optimism
  2. living with challenges and obstacles and illness and taking action anyway
  3. doing something you enjoy because somewhere deep inside you know you deserve it
  4. feeling fear and working to overcome it
  5. being unable to leave the house but still making plans for the future
  6. reaching out for help
  7. daydreaming
  8. finding one way to be okay when you have 20 reasons why you’re not
  9. taking medication and/or going to therapy because you’re determined to thrive
  10. and…


Twenty-Four Shadows of Hope

In Twenty-Four Shadowsa novel about a man living with dissociative identity disorder, Isaac Bittman’s world is falling apart. He is overwhelmed and often doesn’t even know if he can, or should, keep going. But he loves his wife, and he loves his son. Even though he doesn’t know if he can move forward, he knows that he wants to; therefore, he gets treatment and help. That is hope. Hope is doing something despite uncertainty of the outcome.

The following glimpse into the story shows a despairing Isaac who, after a switch to an alternate identity and back, is terrified that he’s unworthy of his family’s love and support.

Reese steered Isaac to their bathroom, the place where the two of them had doctored Dominic’s boo-boos the day after his birthday party. Now, as lovingly as she had tended to Dominic, Reese helped Isaac. She helped him remove his sweat-soaked clothes and the wet dressings that wound around parts of his body and made him look half mummified. She opened the bag given to him when he left the hospital and extracted what she needed to re-dress all of his cuts and gashes. Isaac watched her intently. If she would have made eye contact with him, he would have looked away in shame. Because she looked only at what she was doing, he was able to watch her. He was grateful that she didn’t look at him, but he was also crushed to pieces by the thought that she probably could no longer stand to look at his face.

When she finished, she took his hand in hers and led him into their bedroom to help him into dry clothes. Throughout the process, neither spoke, and by the time he was dressed in fresh sweats and t-shirt, he was so worried that she hated him that he came dangerously close to throwing up all over his clean clothes. He started to slump out of the room, but she stepped in front of him, blocking his path. Because he still couldn’t bear to look her in the eye, he turned his head to look at the artwork on the wall. It was a modern print made up of concentric circles that Dominic thought looked like a target. It still had little marks on it from a few months ago when Dominic had decided to use it as an actual target for these sticky wall-walker gummy things he bought with his tickets at Chuck E. Cheese’s. Reese put her hand under his chin and turned his head away from the artwork so that now he was looking at something far more beautiful than any piece of art. She transcended art; he was lower than garbage. He was so sure that she found him hateful and disgusting that he was thoroughly surprised when she kissed him in a way that told him in no uncertain terms that she did not, in fact, plan to throw him away. He wondered, briefly, if together they could be trash art. He sure as hell hoped so.

Hope is feeling scared and unworthy but, when someone kisses you, you kiss them back anyway. Hope is feeling like trash but wanting to create trash art.

Hope is you, your hopes and dreams, and everything you do “anyway.”

Learn where to purchase Twenty-Four Shadows and other books. 

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Mar 14

Self-Confidence : Finding Yourself, Keeping Yourself

Self-confidence is a major component of our mental health and wellbeing. Self-confidence involves valuing yourself (as in self-esteem), and it involves believing you have the ability to do things (as in self-efficacy). Self-confidence also is about feeling deeply satisfied with who you are as a human being, with all of your strengths and weaknesses, triumphs and struggles. Self-confidence is knowing that you’re not perfect and being okay with it. When you have self-confidence, you know that life isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. You feel good about your ability to create a quality life in which you are strong enough to hang on for the ride.

Self-confidence would be an empowering thing to have in large quantities. It’s not, however, something that comes naturally to most of us. We’re quick to see our flaws but reluctant to see our strengths. We tend to have a bad habit of comparing ourselves to others and feeling like we don’t measure up. We see what others choose to project to the world and compare it to the stuff we keep hidden away. As a result, we have a difficult time feeling, or sustaining, a sense of self-confidence and our overall sense of mental health and wellbeing takes repeated hits.

Gaining Self-Confidence: Finding Yourself and Keeping Yourself

It’s possible to increase your self-confidence and maintain it so it lifts you up rather than pulls you down. Believing in yourself involves knowing who you are, the complete “you.” It also involves doing things to keep the real you at the forefront of your thoughts and emotions rather than letting it slip away. Finding yourself and keeping yourself are two important components of self-confidence, mental health, and wellbeing.

These come a program for teens I’ve developed that accompanies the novel Losing ElizabethIn fact, the name of the program is Find Yourself. Keep YourselfKnowing who we are, believing in our abilities to survive tough times as well as to achieve our goals, is what self-confidence is all about.

The book and program for teens focuses on toxic vs. healthy relationships. Self-confidence is important in remaining strong (but not rigid) in relationships, but it applies in all aspects of our lives. To find yourself, ask yourself some important questions:

  • What do I enjoy right now — what are my passions?
  • What are my hopes and dreams?
  • What is important to me?
  • What type of person do I want to be?
  • What are my strengths?

These are important components of who you are, and being able to answer them is integral to building self-confidence.

Once you’ve begun the process of finding yourself, it’s important to maintain that and build on it. It is this keeping yourself that solidifies self-confidence. Some things to explore:

  • Where can I turn my values, those things that are important to me, into actions?
  • How can I use my strengths to help myself live a quality life and to help others achieve mental health and wellbeing, too?
  • What small steps can I start taking now to achieve my hopes and dreams?
  • How can I add things that I enjoy to my life?
  • How can I manifest the person I want to be?

Self-confidence is so important to mental health and wellbeing because it is who we are, and beyond that, it is what we do in our daily lives to shape who we are. When we believe we have the ability to shape our lives, we begin to do it. This belief coupled with action is self-confidence. It creates more action and then a stronger belief in who we are. Explore the above questions as you continue your journey to mental health, wellbeing, and confidence.


In this video, I read a short excerpt from Losing Elizabeth. High school junior Elizabeth had once found herself and had self-confidence. A toxic relationship, though, is chipping away at who she thinks she is. Here, her self-confidence is nearly gone. Will she be able to find herself again?


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Mar 7

A Balanced Approach to Balance, Mental Health, and Wellbeing

Creating balance in life is one of the most important components of mental health and wellbeing. The idea of balance for mental health is that, instead of being pulled in multiple directions, sometimes tipping one way and sometimes tipping other ways, we stay centered in one spot, calmly doing life tasks. The idea of living a balanced life is valid and legitimate. Balance brings harmony around us and within us. However, the mere fact that we need to strive for balanced implies that we’re rather imbalanced. And because we’re imbalanced (and likely stressed and otherwise challenged), achieving balance can be difficult.

Multiple tools exist to help us create balance in our lives. Among them:

  • eliminating unnecessary tasks on our to-do lists
  • exercising
  • making time for a personal life, family, friends
  • cultivating a daily meditation practice
  • practicing self-care
  • getting enough quality sleep

This is only an abbreviated list, but it includes the most prominent advice for achieving balance, mental health, and wellbeing. Each and every one of the above items is a proven way to lower stress. However, there is an inherent problem here. Each one is excellent but incomplete; for true balance, we need all (or at least several) of these approaches. This becomes one more thing to balance: we have to fit wellness techniques into our already challenging lives in order to be balanced. This can trip up even the most graceful among us (I am not one of the graceful among us).

Creating Balance in Your Life

I propose a different approach to balance and to mental health and wellbeing. This approach is balance itself.



This approach to balance begins at the core—your core—and revolves around it. With this method of achieving balance, you define what a quality life means to you, what makes your life worth living, and then you live your life intentionally to achieve it. Intentional living involves

  • Work. More than paid employment, work refers to the things you do to make your life run. It also involves the ways you contribute to your world.
  • Quality time with others. Who is in your life that you like to spend time with? How do you spend that time?
  • Self-care. How are you nurturing yourself (mind, body, and spirit)?
  • Enjoyment. En-JOY is an action verb. What are you doing to create joy and happiness in your life?
  • Meaning. What brings meaning to your life? This is the “why” behind what makes your life worth living.
True Balance

Life is unpredictable. The best way to handle it is to accept this and roll with it. Picture balance as a ball. If a ball is over-inflated, rigid, and doesn’t roll, it will pop when it meets an obstacle. If we are rigid and can’t roll with life, we run the risk of popping, too.

True balance comes from doing what you need to do in each moment to live your quality life. Sometimes work will need to dominate, but we can balance that by rotating to one of the other areas. This model for balance is fluid, round, and it rotates on its axis, which happens to be your life worth living. Balance doesn’t mean straining to keep every circle the same size every minute of your life. Balance means having a vision of your quality life and taking action in all of these areas (but not all at once) to achieve it.

What is your vision of a quality life? Achieve it, and with it mental health and wellbeing, with balance.


Sign up for my free monthly newsletter, Wellbeing & Words. Each issue is packed with useful tips for enhancing mental health and wellbeing, reading-related tidbits, and updates about my own mental health writing and activities. (I never share e-mail addresses with anyone.) 

Feb 28

People are Possible: Passions, Purpose, Actions!

People are possible. We all carry within us vast possibilities: hopes, dreams, visions, passions, and much more. We want to live our lives well, to create a quality life that is worth living despite the difficulties that pop up within us and around us. Doing so isn’t always easy; however, we can be mentally healthy and thrive because we are possible. Truly, all people are possible.

Struggle is a part of the human experience, but it doesn’t have to be our only experience. We might experience relationship difficulties, problems at work or in our home life, unemployment, sickness, injury, mental illness and a myriad of other challenges. Yet we are possible anyway. We can make our lives great, full of mental health and wellbeing despite problems.

The Possibilities Within

An empowering fact: We are possible because of who we are. Consider these tips for harnessing the power of possibility within you.

  • Perspective matters.  The perspective we take and the thoughts we choose to accept or let go have a profound impact on our mental health and wellbeing. Do you get stuck to problems, letting them interfere with your wellbeing, for example, or do you separate yourself from the problems? When you can see any problem as something separate from yourself, you free yourself to draw on your strengths to keep moving forward to the life you value.
  • Passions and purpose. What is important to you in life? What do you enjoy doing? When you think of your quality life that is very much worth living, what comes to mind? When you are clear about what you want (rather than what you don’t want), it is possible for you to work toward it.
  • Actions. You don’t have to be a passive participant in your life, letting things happen to you while you react and deal with consequences. When you approach things with the proper perspective and know your passions and purpose, you are ready to take action to create the life you want. You are possible because you have the capability of taking small steps every day to live your passions and purpose, despite obstacles–because it’s possible for you to maneuver around the obstacles.
People are Possible on the Wellbeing & Words Radio Show

Discover how people are possible and how you are capable of creating mental health and the life you want with Josh Rivedal and I'm Possible.


Josh Rivedal, founder of the i’M Possible! Project, is an expert on what makes people possible. Josh hosts workshops and seminars, speaks publicly in numerous venues, writes and performs music and plays, and writes books, all to empower people, prevent suicide, and enhance mental health and wellbeing. His most recent book, The i’M Possible Project: Changing Minds, Breaking Stigma, Achieving the Impossible will be available later in 2017. Josh knows that people are possible, and he graciously agreed to be a guest on the Wellbeing & Words radio show in March, 2017.

If you miss it live on various radio stations during the month of March, that’s okay! Tune into our discussion about making people possible online, at podfireradio.com or tanyajpeterson.com.  [Links available after March 5.] Hear Josh read from his new book and enjoy positive, realistic messages about how people are absolutely possible.

Check out this sneak preview:

Sign up for my free monthly newsletter, Wellbeing & Words. Each issue is packed with useful tips for enhancing mental health and wellbeing, reading-related tidbits, and updates about my own mental health writing and activities. (I never share e-mail addresses with anyone.) 

Feb 21

Psychological Flexibility: Making Us Pliable So We Don’t Break

Psychological Flexibility? You’ve likely heard of flexibility, and chances are when you think of the term you think of the body – as in, when you do forward bends, can you touch your toes, your knees, or your thighs? (I’m working toward the goal of consistently reaching my knees.) Flexibility most definitely involves our physical selves, but it’s more than that. It’s psychological, too. Psychological flexibility involves our entire being, and it directly impacts the life we live and our sense of wellbeing.

Psychological flexibility comes to us largely from the field of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT — said like the word). ACT is researched-based approach to mental health that puts people in charge of their lives and provides tools that people can use to create their own version of a quality life, a life worth living. Like physical flexibility, psychological flexibility improves how we feel, how we move, and how we live our lives.

Benefits of physical flexibility are widely known, and we can use them to increase our understanding of psychological flexibility.


When we have psychological flexibility, our mental health and wellbeing improve dramatically. Psychological flexibility doesn’t erase our problems and challenges. Whether they’re the symptoms and effects of mental illness, difficulties in relationships, life stressors such as more tasks ahead of us than there is times, and much, much more, problems are part of our lives. When we struggle with them, fighting against them, we make them stronger. They hold us tighter and tighter, and our ability to move and live fully becomes increasingly restricted. Psychological flexibility allows us to stop struggling and start moving freely.

“When we can be flexible about how we feel, think, and behave, we can adapt to all situations, even the most challenging. Instead of fusing and then fighting with the painful realities of our lives, we can take action to make our lives meaningful and purposeful, no matter what else is going on.” —Break Free, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 Steps

When we have psychological flexibility, we’re not rigid. We’re not stuck in patterns of struggle. To be flexible is to be pliable. According Merriam-Webster, when we’re pliable, we’re “supple enough to bend freely or repeatedly without breaking.” That is the essence of mental health and wellbeing.

Psychological flexibility is a great concept, one that’s easy enough to get on board with. Easy concept, yes. But is it easy to attain? Up next week is a look at becoming more psychologically flexible so you can bend freely without breaking.



C. (n.d.). The importance and purpose of flexibility. http://www.humankinetics.com/excerpts/excerpts/the-importance-and-purpose-of-flexibility/

Peterson, T.J. (2016). Break free: Acceptance and commitment therapy in 3 steps. Berkeley, CA: Althea Press.

Publications, Harvard Health (n.d.). Benefits of flexibility exercises. http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/benefits-of-flexibility-exercises

Therien, S. (2015, June 02). What are the benefits of good flexibility? http://www.livestrong.com/article/332519-what-are-the-benefits-of-good-flexibility/

What is psychological flexibility? (2013, May 10). https://workingwithact.com/what-is-act/what-is-psychological-flexibility/

Sign up for my free monthly newsletter, Wellbeing & Words. Each issue is packed with useful tips for enhancing mental health and wellbeing, reading-related tidbits, and updates about my own mental health writing and activities. (I never share e-mail addresses with anyone.) 

Feb 14

6 Signs of Toxic Behavior for Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

Teen dating violence happens. This can be hard to believe. We don’t want to think of our teenagers as being victims of relationship abuse, nor do we want to believe our teenagers are behaving in harmful ways toward their girlfriends and boyfriends. We’d also like to think that our adolescents, who are nearing adulthood, wouldn’t put up with someone hurting them. But it happens, and it can happen to any teen. That’s why Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month is essential. Knowing the signs of toxic relationships can help teens distance themselves from them, and it can help parents, teachers, and other adults help teens navigate the world of relationships.

It's Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Learn these 6 signs of a toxic relationship.(Note: Sometimes, these relationships and behaviors are referred to as toxic. Toxic describes something harmful and poisonous. I think that’s fitting here, plus it broadens the concept of abuse, which can conjure images primarily of physical violence.)

Teen dating violence is more common than we’d like to think. This can be surprising; after all, the hallways of our middle- and high schools aren’t filled with bruised and bandaged students. Abuse isn’t always visible. Teen dating violence—abuse—happens on many levels and to the entire person. It can involve physical abuse, yes, and sexual abuse; it also involves verbal abuse and emotional abuse. While there are always subtle signs that someone is being abused, abuse isn’t always obvious.

When I was a high school teacher and counselor, I saw too many teenagers, boys and girls alike, become trapped in toxic relationships. LoveIsRespect.org reports that

  • One in three teens is subjected to physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner
  • 80 percent of girls who are victims of physical abuse in their dating relationship continue to date the abusive partner

Those are staggering statistics. Why would so many teens become trapped in toxic relationships? Wouldn’t the signs be obvious, and wouldn’t they get out of a relationship where they were controlled and abused? If the signs were immediately obvious, the answer would likely be yes, they would preserve themselves by walking away. Unfortunately, coupled with the fact that teens are inexperienced and often unsure when it comes to romantic relationships, the signs of toxic behavior are subtle, especially in the beginning.

Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month exists to make teens and adults alike aware of toxic relationships so they avoid becoming trapped and put a stop to abuse that’s happening to them.
For Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, here are six early warning signs of toxic behavior. Examples are from the book Losing Elizabeth.

6 Early Warning Signs of Toxic Behavior
  1. Choosing things for the other person, without consulting him/her. (In their first interaction, Brad ordered Cokes for Elizabeth and himself without asking her what she wanted.)
  2. Comments that border on sarcastic, but just innocent enough to slide by. (“Were you planning on coming to tell me that you made the varsity team, or do I have to read about it in the school paper?”)
  3. Compliments with a hint of an insult (“Wow! You look great. Are you sure you’re the same Elizabeth Carter I saw just two hours ago?”)
  4. Disinterest in the other person’s friends, family; acting polite when necessary but uncompromising (Brad brushes off Meg; Brad is nice to Elizabeth’s mom when he picks up Elizabeth but firmly refuses to go inside for snacks she had made)
  5. Wants to be with the other person, without others (At school, Brad insists that he and Elizabeth eat together and with no one else, ever.)
  6. Quick-tempered, going from calm to angry in an instant (Brad is enraged when someone accidentally bumps his and Elizabeth’s table at a crowded hang-out, spilling soda.)

These signs (especially 1-5) are subtle and tricky. We don’t want to read into everything people say and do, because that’s not healthy for us. The key is to be aware of the nature of toxic behavior and look for repeated patterns. Letting so many subtle things slide can lead to a trap.

Helping people see the warning signs of toxic behavior is an important purpose of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. The more teens know, the more they can empower themselves to resist toxic people and relationships.

For information on Losing Elizabeth and the accompanying curriculum for schools, community groups, and parent groups, see Losing Elizabeth: Groups, Classes, & Programs.

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