Are You Robbing Yourself of Joy?

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“Comparison is the thief of joy.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

We all compare ourselves at times.

Quite often, actually. When we are at the grocery store, we price match. Take something common, like cheese, for instance. If we want cheddar cheese, we will compare the cost across different brands but in the same size bag and the same kind of cheese. Because the factors are the same, it is a fair comparison.

Another way we use comparisons, that is not even remotely fair, is comparing ourselves to others. We see our friends jogging in fancy yoga pants, or cooking in a pristine white, designer kitchen on Instagram, or driving into the neighborhood in a new SUV…and we compare our ordinary work out clothes, our outdated kitchen, or our older car to what they have. Although our circumstances, needs, goals, and desires are completely different, we compare straight across–often to our own disadvantage!

Comparisons are almost always unfair. We typically compare the worst we know of ourselves to the best we presume about others.  We overlook our gifts, talents, successes, contributions, and what makes us unique in this world. We waste precious time and energy comparing ourselves to others. Instead of focusing on other more meaningful or productive things, we spend it on the negative cycle of comparisons. And the sad truth is that there is no end to the possible number of comparisons we can make each day; there will always be something—or someone—else to focus on! Comparisons often result in resentment (both towards others, as well as ourselves). In short, comparisons deprive us of joy.

So how can we stop comparing?

Comparison puts focus on the wrong person. We can only control one life—our own. Here are five tips to limit comparison in our lives:

  1. Recognize the harm of comparisons. Reading this post is a great first step! When we take stock of how comparisons make us feel, we will surely recognize when comparisons are not motivating us. Being aware of this leads us to action…
  2. Nod to victories and strengths. If we are going to focus on the highlight reel of others’ strengths, talents, skills, accomplishments, etc, we need to do the same for ourselves. We need to be aware of our own strengths and unique gifts or perspectives. We all have them. Sometimes it is hard to see the good we offer the world, but it is there! (If this step is difficult, do this activity or ask someone you know well for help.)
  3. Accept uniqueness. There is no one else like you or me on the face of the earth. Embrace it! We are different from each other for a reason. Once we can accept that, it suddenly becomes clear and okay that we are not just like our seemingly perfect neighbor or friend. Let’s embrace our uniqueness and put our skill sets, talents, and gifts to good use!
  4. Appreciate more. I have posted about gratitude several times because I believe in its power to heal, to inspire, to motivate, and to change. By practicing gratitude more, we will see the goodness already present in our own lives instead of what seems to be missing.
  5. Compare fairly. If we must compare, compare to no one but ourselves. Now THAT is the only fair comparison we can make as humans–comparing where we were to where we are. Let’s work hard to take care of ourselves physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. Let’s commit to growing a little bit each day and then let’s celebrate the little advancements we are making without comparing ourselves to others!

If we find ourselves getting sucked into someone’s curated Instagram feed, admiring their Lulu yoga pants or remodeled kitchen, let’s put the phone down and instead direct our thoughts/efforts towards something truly worthwhile. Recognize the negative feelings associated with comparisons, and replace it with something positive, inspiring, or empowering. Let’s embrace our unique strengths, and capitalize on them! Whether we are a loyal friend/family member, a successful businessman/woman, a fantastic gardener, or an efficient knitter, let’s be proud and know that we are one of a kind!

Comparisons are hard. And sometimes debilitating. And prevalent! Social media has created an accessible way for us to compare others’ highlight reels to our non-Instagram-worthy life. If you need help implementing these steps into your life to cut out comparisons–or just be in control of them–then please contact me or schedule a session now. My door is always open and I would enjoy helping you in this process. Do not let comparison rob you of the joy you deserve!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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The Truth Behind the Increase in Teen Suicide

Smart Phones & Teen Suicide - Cluff Counseling - Denton TherapistBetween 2010 and 2015, the number of U.S. teens who suffered from depression increased 33 percent in large national surveys, and the number of 13- to 18-year-olds who committed suicide leapt up 31 percent. The cause of these increased numbers is scary and unfortunately all too familiar!

Ninety-two percent of young adults ages 18-29 own a smartphone. We use our phones to remind us of Grandpa’s birthday, to help us find the nearest ATM, to write down our grocery lists, to send emails, and to waste countless hours on social media. In short, we use our phones for everything. I recently broke my phone (to the point where the screen was black and the entire device wouldn’t function), and it was amazing to me how useless and naked I felt without my smart device. The bottom line: We are too dependent on our phones.

As adults, our brains are fully formed;  we have jobs, kids, responsibilities, and life to focus on. Admittedly, we simply cannot spend all day everyday aimlessly scrolling through Pinterest or Instagram. But teens? Well. Their brains are still forming. Their self-identity and self-esteem is still very much pliable. Their ability to manage time and make choices is still developing. Yet, we give them a smartphone–with limitless ways to waste time–and expect them to be unaffected?

Research has found that teens’ brains are heavily affected by the drug-like symptoms that come with smartphones. In fact, some children and teens are being damaged–sometimes beyond repair. Studies have found a striking correlation between rates of depression and suicide among teens and the dreaded smartphone.  According to the Pew Research Center, smartphone ownership crossed the 50 percent threshold in late 2012 and 73 percent by 2015…which is exactly when the spike in teen suicide occurred. This increase in depression, suicide attempts, and suicide was found among teens from every background, every race, and every ethnicity in every region of the country. The common thread? Access to a smartphone during formative years.

It’s not just about having a smartphone, but about how the smartphone is used. Researchers have found that teens who spend five or more hours a day online were 71 percent more likely, than those who spend less than an hour a day, to have at least one suicide risk factor (such as depression, thinking about suicide, making a suicide plan or attempting suicide). Overall, suicide risk factors rose significantly after two or more hours a day of time online.

But why?

Let’s look at what is lost when teens are plugged in. For starters, much less time is spent interacting with friends in person. Interacting with people face to face is one of the simplest ways humans find happiness. In a blog post from last May, I wrote about a Japanese concept called amae, which is the deep and innate need we all have to belong. We yearn for it, we need it, and without that feeling of truly belonging, our moods start to suffer and depression often follows. Next, being fixated on a screen causes and promotes further isolation, which is one of the major risk factors for depression and suicide. Then there is the likelihood of distraction, which leads to worsened performance in school, less sleep, and overall health. This is all happening before we even touch on the emotional drawbacks which include but are not limited to the deafening yells of comparison, the destruction of self-esteem and self-confidence, and the anxiety that will surely accompany the constant noise of a social media-filled world.

Some may say that depression and suicide are heavily influenced by genetic predisposition, family environments, bullying and trauma, and that the above statistics were caused due to those factors. Yes, it is true that some teens would experience mental health problems no matter what era they lived in. But that many? Some vulnerable teens who would otherwise not have had mental health issues may have slipped into depression due to too much screen time, not enough face-to-face social interaction, inadequate sleep or a combination of all three.

If you are wondering what can help remedy this massive epidemic, let me propose three things:

  1. NO MORE SMARTPHONES! If you are one of those parents shaking your head, thinking, No, I need my daughter to be able to call me or message me at any time. Sure, I get that. But why an iPhone? Would a simple flip phone–with calling and texting capabilities, but NO internet–not do the trick?
  2. Limit screen time. Okay. So you do not want to take your kid’s smartphone away. If this is your choice, I strongly recommend that you set limits and boundaries that include time frames for how often the phone can be used (hopefully less than two hours a day), that it not be used during class time, that it is not used inappropriately (like for “sexting”), that it be kept in your room at night (to encourage healthy sleeping patterns), etc.
  3. Be the example. Very recently, in Utah, there was commotion on Instagram because a middle school teacher, in a very religious area, asked her students, “What my parents don’t know about social media is…” These students filled in horrific things. The teacher took her story to the news. It went viral. A social media voice caught wind of this and created a conversation where kids, teachers, parents, grandparents–everyone–agreed that smartphones and social media are like drugs. Not only have we likely given the young a new, modern-day drug to rely on, but we are not helping! Our kids see us glued to our phones and they think that is the norm, they want to mimic us! While the conversation started out about the troubling nature of kids with smartphones, it came full circle to where the problem is the parent’s–both for enabling kids by giving them access to phones, as well as for showing them that it is completely okay to spend hours flippantly scrolling through Instagram. Be the example. Put your phone down and be present.

This may seem like an odd topic for a Marriage and Family Therapist to post about, but if we step back and consider the undeniable link between deteriorating mental health in teens and the use of their smartphones, it suddenly becomes all the more apparent why I care. Help your child stimulate his or her mind by scrolling a little less and tuning in to LIFE a little more. Help them cultivate and enhance meaningful friendships and relationships. Talk to them about how time wasted on their phones and social media makes them feel. Feelings of inadequacy, comparison, and discouragement need to be an indication that it is time to put the phone down. Help your children navigate their feelings so they can form productive habits and make good choices. Protect their mental health by decreasing screen time. If you have questions or need specific help, please contact me. I am happy to help!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Are You Addicted to Your Phone?

Cell Phone Addiction - Cluff Counseling, Addiction TherapyWhen the topic of addiction arises, we often think of drugs, sex, alcohol or gambling.  What we neglect to see, however, is our own dependence on everyday things. Anderson Cooper did an incredibly interesting segment on 60 Minutes where he discussed how major companies are not creating programs for people, but instead programming people. Watching this made me think about how much time I spend on my phone. I realized that we are programm-able; the developers of major software companies in Silicon Valley have literally conditioned us to constantly use our phones…it is like an addiction for some of us! Using our phones gives us satisfaction, but repeatedly using our phones makes us need them more. Although this may seem less serious than other addictions, it shares many commonalities with more severe addictions, and deserves some attention and self-reflection.

Defined simply, addiction is the consistent repeated use of a substance or an activity, despite the harm it has on self or others. Addiction is often accompanied by cravings–a recurring need to be filled–withdrawals, and an increased need of the substance, thing, or activity. Have you ever thought about your smartphone usage in this light? Former Google product manager, Tristan Harris, compares our smartphones to slot machines; every time we pick it up, we are wondering, what did I get? And I can relate to this! I will admit that I feel different when I have a well-liked photo versus one with less likes. Getting likes, messages, texts, or comments on posts is powerful reinforcement to stay on our phones. for example, I recently learned Snapchat has a feature called a “streak” that builds as you consistently send messages; if you are unable to consistently send snaps, your “streak” goes down. If you have ever felt panicked by a lack of access to your phone, you may want to reflect on whether or not you are addicted to your smartphone. Although they are incredibly useful, and can be used for beneficial purposes, smartphones can be addictive if we can develop an unhealthy reliance on them.

This addiction is literally caused by a chemicals in our bodies. When we hear our phone going off, we become anxious. A hormone called cortisol is produced (best known for its involvement in the ‘fight-or-flight’ response), and the only antidote is to check the phone. Once we do so, the molecule dopamine is released–which aids in the creation of desire and pleasure. This cycle will repeat itself over and over again. To demonstrate this in the 60 Minutes segment, a researcher applies electrodes to Cooper to track his heart rate and perspiration while he was distracted by the computer. Unbeknownst to Cooper, another researcher was sending text messages to his phone–which was just out of his reach. Every time his phone went off with a bing!, the line measuring Anderson’s anxiety peaked on the tracking device. This informal experiment mimicked what other formal experiments have shown: there is an identifiable chemical change that takes place in our brain which fuels our need to check our phones. Fact: the typical person checks their phone every 15 minutes or less, and 50% of the time there is no alert or notification triggering our need to do so! Our need to check our phones is impulsive–it is coming from the brain–and the only instantaneous cure is more phone. Recognizing our dependence on our phones and then setting parameters for our smartphone intake is a more long-lasting solution.

Although some may say this “addiction” is not problematic, from my point of view it IS for the following two reasons: 1) even being hooked to a smartphone for innocent reasons can easily lead to being hooked to a smartphone for very serious reasons (read: pornography, gambling, chatrooms, online shopping addiction); and 2) the more time we are staring at our screens means less time we are interacting with and having meaningful relationships with those around us (read: a spouse, children, family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, etc.) and ourselves!

Of course there are many positive ways to use our smartphones. I am not suggesting we all revert back to the flip-phone or abandon our cell phones altogether. What I am simply suggesting is that we recognize when we are potentially feeding an addiction by being glued to our phones; admit that you are not being present in an important conversation or relationship because the cyber-world has you hooked. Set limits and boundaries about when you will be on your phone, for how long, and what you will do with that time. I encourage you to delete certain addictive or time-consuming apps off your phone. You know what works for you. Set healthy limits and stick to them.

Let us put the phones down and tune into the important people and things in our lives. If you need assistance formulating a plan to break up with your phone, as always, my door is wide open. Contact me today to set up your first session.

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