New Year’s Day – the time of year people declare intentions to make big changes in their lives. We all know the common ones: lose weight, get in shape, spend less money, eat better. While these are good goals, these are not the things I think most of us really need.
What do we all really need?
Healthy connections with other people.
We are made to have relationships with others. We are not meant to live alone, with no real friendships in our lives. People come into my office not because they need to lose weight or exercise more, but because they are struggling to connect. This can look different for everyone. Maybe you have been abused – sexually, physically or emotionally – and you don’t even know you buffer yourself from other people. Or, if you do know it, you have no idea what to do about it. You just know you are lonely, depressed, anxious and possibly feel unloved. Perhaps you are married, yet feel so alone in your marriage. You and your spouse can’t seem to stop fighting. You’re losing hope that things can improve. Maybe it’s your anxiety that keeps you cut off from others. You fear getting hurt, so you just never leave the house. It’s not working though, because you’re still sad, lonely, and have no joy.
You don’t have to live this way! I know that it feels hopeless sometimes, but I promise, there is hope. Keep reading to learn more about the New Year’s resolutions that I think we all need to improve our relationships.
1. BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF
See that elephant in the room? Name it! If your spouse is emotionally abusing you, don’t ignore it anymore. If you are having panic attacks, acknowledge you have a problem. Don’t rationalize your pain away. If you are sad, angry, scared – you need to ask yourself why. Our emotions are like arrows that show us what is really going on in our lives. You can’t control all of life circumstances, but you absolutely can control how you respond.
2. LEARN TO MANAGE YOUR EMOTIONS
Now that you’re acknowledging those emotions, you need to be able to manage them. It’s totally understandable to be angry, sad, annoyed, overwhelmed – any emotion is just part of being human. It’s not okay to scream at people, punch people, or even just give others the silent treatment. You need to practice asking yourself, “Why do I feel this way?” Then you need to be able to choose a helpful response, one that will actually help solve your problem, not make it worse. Coping with your emotions may sound simple, but truly it’s not. Like anything else it takes practice. The better you get at it, the more positive impact it will have on all of your relationships.
3. SLOW DOWN YOUR SCHEDULE
We are all way too busy these days. We show off our full calendar like a badge of honor, as if being busy gives us value. That’s a lie. Most of us are so exhausted running from activity to activity, we don’t have time or energy to really know other people. Actually, we don’t really have time to know ourselves. When is the last time you heard silence? When is last time you put your phone down and just looked at the sky, trees, or even your kids’ faces? In order to connect with people, you need space in your schedule. If you’re running around crazy every day, you need to make a change.
4. FIND TIME FOR FUN
I ask my clients often, “What have you done for fun lately?” Most people answer me with, “Um…nothing really.” Making time for activities we enjoy revitalizes us, helps us reduce stress, and quite simply, allows us to enjoy life. When we are less stressed, we are less irritable, and connect with others better. See where we are going here? Now, pick something fun and do it WITH someone you like. The benefits grow exponentially – you are having fun and growing connections at the same time – all of which will help you with depression, anxiety, and yes, even trauma recovery.
Our society tends to grossly underestimate the value of a good night’s sleep. Prioritize sleeping well. If you struggle to sleep, please seek help. A constant lack of sleep will make anxiety, depression and general stress increase. Without regular sleep, you will likely be irritable, easily angered, which will negatively affect your relationships, resulting in less connection. So, try to go to bed around the same time every night. Put your phone down, in fact turn off all screens, about an hour before you want to be asleep. Cut back on caffeine and alcohol, both are known to mess up your sleep. Exercise regularly. Physical activity will help you manage stress as well as improve your sleep, all of which will improve your relationships. (Yes, I know I just slipped in the cliché resolution of exercise more. I told you it was a good goal!)
While eating more vegetables and sticking to a budget are great goals, those aren’t the things most of us actually need in our lives. We need healthy relationships with other people. We need to feel safe connection with our spouse, our children, our friends. We need to manage our emotions well when our co-workers are annoying us, or that person cuts us off in traffic. We need to stop distracting ourselves with activities and invest time in things, in people, that really matter.
If you want help making changes in your life to improve your relationships, Lime Tree Counseling can help. As a professional counselor, I work with my clients to identify goals to help them improve their relationships. I help my trauma clients recognize the lies stuck in their heads that are keeping them from allowing other people to truly know them. I provide couples counseling to help clients learn to speak each other’s language, heal past hurts in the relationship, and experience a deeper connection. Please contact me today to set up an initial appointment or to ask any questions.