Dr. Stringer's Mental Health Tips

Self-Care: Happy Life

Who among us wants a happy life? To be contented, satisfied, fulfilled; to feel joy and experience life as a good reality? It would be no surprise if most who connect with this question respond in the affirmative. Most of us want to live a purposeful life filled with happiness and well-being.

The phrase “Know thyself” is engraved above the ancient Greek temple of Apollo at Delphi. This introspective statement has and continues to have a profound effect on human insight. The classical Greek philosopher Socrates (470 BC-399 BC) viewed such knowledge of self as being foundational to all quests of understanding and human fulfillment. Today, knowing oneself and taking care of oneself are keys to a happy life.

So, what are some things you can do to achieve happiness in life? Love yourself. Not like Narcissus, another ancient Greek character; but in a normative and healthy way. We know the mythological story told in Metamorphoses by the Roman poet Ovid. Narcissus was a very handsome young man and hunter who saw a reflection of his image in a pool of water and fell in love with himself, to the detriment of others around him. He crossed the boundary between healthy love of oneself and self-love that’s unhealthy and deadly.

If you’ve ever wondered how important it is to focus on yourself, consider what flight attendants tell passengers about the use of oxygen masks before the plane takes-off. You are instructed to take care of yourself first, by placing the mask over your own face before assisting others. The reason being, you cannot effectively help others until your own mask is secure. The same logic applies to a purpose-driven and happy life.

Something else you can do is “give back” by helping others. Humans are social beings. No one is an island unto oneself. Our achievements and progress are based on the work and achievements of those who preceded us. We stand on their shoulders. Honoring their legacy and acknowledging our interdependency on their achievements are essential for good mental health. Studies show that acts of kindness and giving back affect the pleasure center of our brains, where endorphins (a neurotransmitter or brain chemical) increase our sense of well-being and personal satisfaction. Also, the stress in our lives is lowered and becomes better managed.

While there are additional things you can do to enhance happiness in your life, the basic take-away from this discussion is that loving self-care and helping others can lead to a happy life. You have the capacity to apply these foundational guidelines on your own. However, you may need to reach out to others for help. Either way, you are in charge of your own self-care and happiness. It’s up to you.

Couples & Marital Issues

I think most people would agree that being in a healthy loving relationship is work-intensive. It is not always easy.

People naturally change with the passing of time. Such human dynamic often creates relationship challenges. However, it is possible to establish and maintain a high-quality relationship that is healthy, creative, and mutually satisfying long term. This is true for both romantic couples and marital partners, necessitated by attentiveness and continuous work.

To experience significant issues and problems in a relationship is normal. Among the most common of these concerns are: poor communication, weak compatibility, lack of genuine intimacy, money management difficulties, trust issues, and the refusal to forgive mistakes. Numerous research studies affirm and validate this insightful observation. Likewise, I work with these concerns on a regular basis in my private practice.

There are, of course, other problems or concerns which may add to or complicate the dynamics of a relationship. But the preceding variables - if not adequately attended to – are often the main cause of unhealthy relationships and failed marriages. Usually these problematic variables can be effectively dealt with by the average couple or marital partners, without outside assistance. However, there may come a time when professional help from an appropriately credentialed counselor or marital therapist is needed. If the couple gets conflicted or reaches an impasse, then it is time to seek help from an experienced clinician.

A healthy loving relationship contributes to good mental health, high functioning, and a desirable quality of life. Don’t allow issues and challenges in your relationship to stop you from having a happy life.

When to Seek Counseling

Our human situation is rich with a variety of experiences and challenges, either self-managed easily or not. It’s the difficult, not easily self-manageable experiences that require special attention. If you ignore these experiences, this often causes significant personal distress and/or unhealthy outcomes. So, here are a few things to keep in mind as you assess your situation in determining whether to seek professional help in counseling.

Personal – How are you feeling? Do you feel okay? Are you feeling the way you usually feel most days of the week? That is, are you feeling your normal self? Or, are you NOT feeling okay or normal? But instead you feel upset, worried, troubled, in pain or distress?
Daily Functioning – What is your mental status and how well are you going about your daily activities and interactions with others? Are you able to do the things you want and need to do each day, without extraordinary effort or struggle? On a scale of 0 to 10 (where 0 means you’re not able to function at all, and 10 suggest that your functioning is very good) what number do you give yourself?
Relationship With Others – How would you describe your present relationship with others (family members, friends, co-workers, significant others, social activity interactions, etc)? Are these relationships being negatively affected by your current state of being? Or, has there NOT been a significant change in these relationships?
Going Forward – What do you want to see happen with your future? Are there changes you would like to make? If so, what are they? What would be different in your life if you could make a miracle happen? How would you recognize any developments?
It may be that after you’ve done the above assessment, you come to the conclusion that all is well and you are not in need of professional or mental health counseling. You can handle your situation and challenges by yourself. However, should you reach a much different conclusion and decide to seek extra support in managing your challenges or situation - that’s quite okay. You are not alone. You are in good company. You are to be commended for this action, because this shows good self-awareness and healthy reasoning on your part.

Mental Health Tip

GUILT – Believing or feeling that you have done something terribly bad, or have crossed an ethical or moral boundary is to experience guilt. Sometimes this is constructive and a good thing, at other times not so good. So, you step up and take responsibility for your actions, but find it very difficult to let go of the wrong-doing and move forward. Here is something to consider: we all live in an imperfect world where things do not always go as planned. Mistakes are made. Expectations are not always met. Communication often breaks down. Good intentions come up short. Misunderstandings take place. Each person is unique with differing wants and needs. No one is perfect. We are all flawed in some way. Therefore, in order to move constructively forward, embrace your human condition and forgive yourself for the indiscretion(s). You may then find peace of mind, resilience, and strength for your life’s journey in this New Year. Why not make this your resolution if this is your dilemma?

Mental Health Tip


TO FEEL YOUR BEST - Most people I know want to feel their best. Reaching this goal is not always complicated or difficult. The following are a few basic things you can do to feel your best and have good mental health.

Sleep Hygiene: Sleep affects our daily lives in major ways. If you are not getting enough sleep or sleeping poorly, then you are depriving yourself of benefits from this very important natural phenomenon. Therefore, you can expect this to have a negative affect on your mental health and life in general. Most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Teenagers require about 9 hours per night and infants about 16 hours a day. Sleep problems or disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea, and narcolepsy can interrupt a normal sleep cycle and cause sleep deprivation, thereby preventing you from feeling your best.

Physical Activity/Exercise: Healthcare professionals will tell you that doing NO physical activity or exercise is not an option, if you want to be healthy and feel well. Not exercising can put a person at risk for a host of medical problems. To name a few: cardiovascular disease (e.g. high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease), obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and high blood cholesterol. Exercise is also an important treatment option for a number of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, cognitive decline, addiction issues, and elevated stress.

Healthy Eating: Yes I know you’ve heard this before so I’ll be brief. Choose a well-balanced diet of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and healthy protein. Drink plenty of water and eat in moderation (portion control).

No Cigarettes: Cigarette smoking is about the worst thing a person can do to harm his/her health. If you don’t smoke: good. Do not start. If you do smoke, it’s in your best interest to cease.

Relationships: Humans are social beings. Healthy relationships and effective interpersonal communication are very important to our development and well-being. Nurturing these innate qualities is essential for enhancing the human condition.

To feel your best mentally and emotionally and to have a high level of overall functioning, it would be very helpful for you to include the above concerns in your daily life. Perhaps you’re already doing so – hopefully!

Mental Health Tip


FORGIVENESS – In the Judeo-Christian tradition, and in other major world religions, the concept of forgiveness is a key principle of faith and religious practice. Forgiveness is also a significant concept in the mental health field, mainly because of its therapeutic benefits. These benefits include, but are not limited to, freedom from negative feelings and emotions (e.g. anger and resentment) that allows you to move forward and be mentally and emotionally healthy. Both you and the person(s) who hurt you will feel better. Mahatma Gandhi is quoted as having said: “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” This holiday season be well, and be strong. Give yourself the gift of forgiveness.

Mental Health Tip


ANGER – We all get angry from time to time. Not an unusual thing to do. However, the significant question is how do you express or handle your anger? The first thing to consider is that your thoughts almost always determine your emotions and feelings. No one makes you angry. YOU make yourself angry. This is done by the thoughts you think: thoughts about specific actions of others, or a given situation, or life event. When you change your thoughts, your angry feelings also change. Nationally renowned psychologist and anger management expert, Israel (Izzy) Kalman, notes the following concerning anger: “When you are angry, you feel like a victim but look like a bully.” This statement is instructive and filled with insight. It could help you respond constructively the next time you make yourself angry.

Mental Health Tip


DEPRESSION – Are you depressed? If so you may have trouble sleeping, or you may sleep too much. You may lack normal energy, motivation, and interest in things you usually enjoy. You may feel persistent sadness, hopelessness, and have low self-esteem. These are among the symptoms that can signal clinical (major) depression - a mood disorder. This condition is appropriately diagnosed by mental health practitioners (e.g. clinical counselors and psychologists) or specially trained physicians, such as a psychiatrist. Antidepressant medication and talk therapy (counseling, psychotherapy) are two common ways to treat depression. To help lift you out of depression and get you feeling better, do the following self-help basics: get lots of physical activity (exercise), eat a well balanced diet, maintain healthy sleep habits, do something you enjoy doing, avoid negative self-talk, make a list of your must-do daily activities and chores: and then do them. These things really work. Try them. They will help you beat depression.

Mental Health Tip


ANXIETY – Do you worry a lot, excessively so, about everyday ordinary life situations? Are you having trouble controlling your worry? Do you experience intense and/or excessive apprehension about things yet to happen? Is your worry often not focused on specific concerns? These are all red flags for generalized anxiety. They negatively affect your family-life, work, and other relationships. Anxiety is among the most troublesome mental health issues in America today. Approximately 40 million adults in the U.S. have some form of anxiety. If you think you may be affected by this unhealthy condition, find a competent professionally experienced therapist/counselor to help you manage this common and treatable life issue. You can get better. It happens all the time. You are no exception.

Mental Health Tip


CONFLICT – To say that conflict is a common and natural occurrence in human relationships is like saying breathing and eating are essential for life. These are undisputable facts. However, if not handled in a constructive and appropriate manner conflict can be devastating to all concerned. Relational skills such as active listening, empathizing, problem solving, and finding common ground can be very useful in conflict resolution. Know that having a healthy attitude or mind-set about the situation is just as important. That is, show respect for the other person and be patient with him or her. Be calm. Take on a non-defensive posture. Be willing to forgive and not be punitive. So then as you find yourself in another conflict, remember to use your relational skills in the context of a healthy attitude. You’ll be glad you did.

Mental Health Tip


RELATIONSHIPS – There is a conventional belief in our culture that in order to have a fulfilling and happy relationship with someone you love, this person must complete you - that is, be your soul mate. The logical inference, then, is that persons are incomplete, that there are missing parts - really? I suggest that persons are complete individuals by themselves. This is not to say that compatibility and affinity aren’t important in a relationship. They are very important. These factors enhance a relationship. They do not fill in missing parts. A balanced and healthy understanding of relationships affirms the equal importance of being yourself as a complete individual. Go for it ... !

Mental Health Tip

PERSPECTIVE – The past is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift; that’s why it is called the present (Alice Morse Earle, 1851-1911). This existential and wise perspective teaches against procrastination and encourages appreciation for the gift of life, lived in the moment. It also nurtures good mental health. Deal with your present reality. Live well and be healthy. Life is short and can be filled with happiness and self-fulfillment.

Mental Health Tip

CHOICES - Life is mostly about making choices. We make choices about what we will eat, the clothes we wear, relationships of various kind, where we live, job opportunities, educational options, personal behavior, and a wide range of other choices in life. Finding happiness and self-fulfillment is directly related to the choices we make. If you make healthy choices about the things you do in life, chances are happiness and self- fulfillment will come your way. However, if you make poor or unhealthy choices you are likely to experience unwanted and/or bad results.

Mental Health Tip

RESILIENCY – We all experience adversity in life. Resiliency is the ability to bounce back from adversity; to adapt positively to crisis, trauma, devastating loss, stressors of daily life or the buildup of stressors. So how does a person achieve resiliency? Three things to be considered: (1) be accepting and embrace change. If change does not occur then the situation will remain the same. (2) Be open and willing to move forward as a next step following the adversity. Staying stuck in the present or past will not be helpful. (3) Be prepared for a relapse. A relapse may not happen. However, do not be caught off-guard just in case. The degree to which you are resilient will significantly determine the quality of your mental health, and life in general.

Mental Health Tip


Most frequently when we hear the word addiction we think of someone being “hooked on” a chemical substance such as alcohol, heroin, chrystal meth, cocaine, or other drugs. These are addictive mood-altering substances that some people put in their bodies for enjoyment and/or pleasure, usually with negative consequences resulting in relationship problems at home and beyond. Poor health and even death can be an unintended outcome, if curative professional treatment is not acquired. Consider the death of a number of high profile personalities in recent years. Chemical substances, however, are not the only causes of addiction. Overeating, compulsive gambling, out of control shopping, too much TV watching, excessive computer usage including social media activities - and the list goes on – are also addictive behaviors which require therapeutic treatment. If you find yourself compulsively involved with the above, or any activity, to the extent that it significantly interferes with your daily responsibilities and/or relationships then you may have an addiction. Get professional help.

Mental Health Tip


Our human condition affirms that we all need love and affection in order to be emotionally healthy. Words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch are “the 5 love languages” according to marriage and family expert and internationally known speaker and author, Dr. Gary Chapman. He firmly suggests that this is the secret to lasting and loving relationships. Better your emotional health and enhance your love relationships by applying this interpersonal skill. Perhaps you will find this tip helpful and timely.

Mental Health Tip

While there may be some external circumstances which cause you emotional distress, know that you have the ability to control your own happiness. It is an unhealthy belief that external factors alone determine your happiness and wellbeing. In this New Year have a happier and more rewarding life. Take control of your emotional health. Get rid of those dysfunctional feelings and behaviors. Happy New Year everyone!

Mental Health Tip


Feeling stressed out? - If so, your body is telling you to take immediate action by “fight or flight” in defense of your situation. This process is also known as the stress response. Too much stress (stress overload) can cause physical, behavioral, emotional, and mental symptoms. Feel better and effectively manage your stressful situation by doing the following: Eat a balanced diet, Reduce your caffeine and sugar intake, Sleep 7-8 hours per day, Exercise daily, Listen to relaxing music, Breathe deeply, Talk with a friend. Other stress-reducing options are also available that will help you deal effectively with your stress overload and keep you healthy.

Mental Health Tip
Thanksgiving Day is this Thursday. You are not surprised by this. Yet, you may be surprised to know that giving thanks is good for your mental health. Research in the field of positive psychology shows that being grateful increases your level of happiness and well-being, about 25%, and lowers your levels of stress and depression (University of California-Davis). Giving thanks is not only good mental health, it is also good theology. So, what are you thankful for? I am grateful for you and for the opportunity to help others.

Mental Health Tip
The holidays are fast approaching. For most of us this is a joyful and festive season. However, it can also be a time of hurried activities and unwarranted stress that might lead to anxiety and/or depression. To prevent or minimize these unhealthy conditions, keep in mind this amusing but wise saying: Q – “How do you eat an elephant?” A –“ One bite at a time.” That is to say, approach the holiday season with measured steps rather than taking it on as one big cohesive event. I suggest doing the following: 1. Slow down. Take deep cleansing breaths when you feel stressed. 2. Keep focused on the true meaning of the season. 3. And if you don’t get done all that you had wanted to, don’t worry; neither did Charles Dickens (The Mystery of Edwin Drood), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Mozart’s Requiem), Leonardo Da Vinci (Gran Cavallo) and many others. You’re in good company.

Mental Health Tip
My mental health tip for this week may help you to better understand your feelings and behavior. So here it is. >> Did you know that what you think and the thinking process itself significantly affects your feelings and behavior? This is true for most of us. If you want to change either or both, try changing your thoughts that are directly associated with these concerns. You have this life changing ability.

Mental Health Tip
Albert Ellis, renowned clinical psychologist, has suggested that it is irrational to believe that it is absolutely necessary for an adult to be loved and approved of by most of the significant people in his/her life or surroundings. This type of thinking makes no sense and is unhealthy. Keep this in mind for good mental health and self-fulfillment.

Mental Health Tip
Ever wanted to change or control someone’s behavior to improve your relationship with him/her, or to better their life situation? Perhaps the person(s) of interest is a friend, family member, coworker, boss, partner or spouse. Know that the only behavior or person you can change or control is you. Remembering this reality nurtures emotional maturity and good mental health.

Mental Health Tip
Your response to any life event greatly determines the results you experience. Think and act rationally. Make healthy choices in life.