Category Archives: Personal Growth

7 Steps Back From Depression

Posted on January 11, 2016 in Personal Growth by Sandra Bienkowski

Try my emotional toolkit for life’s ups and downs.

When I was in my 20s, I just wanted to stay in bed and cry. I had a journalism degree but worked as an administrative assistant and a waitress. A rough childhood with an alcoholic mother made me think I couldn’t do any better. I had an apartment that I shared with a friend, but depression left me feeling lost and hopeless. Desperately wanting to feel differently, I made an appointment with a psychologist.

My psychologist was funny and blunt. After a long psychological assessment, he described me back to me: “Chronic depression; fear of abandonment; angry but you have a difficult time expressing it; people pleaser.” That hurt, but it also hit home.

Talk therapy helped me because I finally felt heard and understood what was happening inside my head. I’d drive home from those appointments and write down everything I could remember. I wanted to study my way out of depression’s dark grip. Slowly, I started to feel strong. My solution wasn’t a quick fix, but I came away from therapy with an emotional toolkit that has stood the test of time. Here are some of the things I’ve learned:

1. Practice self-compassion

Would you treat a friend the way you treat yourself? When I was depressed, I condemned myself for normal human flaws. Start treating yourself in the same compassionate way you would treat a child or close friend. Give yourself a soft place to land when things don’t go right or something doesn’t work out.

Read the rest of 7 Steps Back From Depression on Live Happy.


5 Ways To Dig Yourself Out Of Depression

Posted on December 28, 2015 in Personal Growth by Sandra Bienkowski

I was in my early twenties, and I knew something was wrong with me. I was too uncomfortable with myself to even enjoy just one night alone. I worried something might happen that I couldn’t handle. So I spent a lot of time losing myself in T.V., food or dating bad men. I was afraid to be quiet with my own thoughts, and had about zero ability to comfort myself.

The healthiest thought I had was knowing that I needed help. Tired of feeling deeply alone, I found a psychologist who fired a gazillion questions at me in hour one on the first session.

He didn’t accept patients unless he knew he could help them. He was blunt and kind of a smart ass. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was my day one of digging my way out of the crushing hole that is depression.

I answered a gazillion more written questions in a standardized psychological assessment about my tumultuous childhood and about me. Around session three, he described me back to me: chronic depression, fear of abandonment, angry but afraid to show it, and lack of boundaries in relationships (people pleaser).

With talk therapy one hour a week for several years, my depression became a thing of the past. My solution wasn’t a quick fix, but it has been lasting.

Call me a student of depression. I’d drive home from those sessions, type up things he said while still fresh in my mind, and place my notes in a three-ring binder. I slowly got healthier, and life got better. I hope what I learned can help you too.

Here are five lasting changes in how you think and behave that will help you heal from depression.

Read the rest of this article on MindBodyGreen!

How to Survive the Holidays With Your Dysfunctional Family

Posted on December 7, 2015 in Happiness, Personal Growth by Sandra Bienkowski

While we all might desire the kind of holiday perfection we see in a TV movie or all over Pinterest, we will inevitably fall short. We live in the real world, after all, not in the movies or someone’s whitewashed home-crafting highlight reel.

It can be even harder to make holiday magic when you know you have a truly dysfunctional family. We turned to a few of our experts to find out how you can enjoy your holidays without letting the humbugs ruin your plans.

Ask the experts

“Holidays are tough,” says Connie Podesta, author of Life Would Be Easy If It Weren’t For Other People. “You’ve got high expectations, childhood memories we either want to duplicate or totally forget. And we have family members that literally drive us crazy, all smashed together at a table eating lots of carbs and sugar. It’s a recipe for disaster.”

And Pat Pearson, clinical psychotherapist and author of Stop Self-Sabotage, says it’s important to remember that, come holiday time, no one has changed. People on the whole stay who they are. So, what do you do?

1. Don’t expect to heal old wounds

Don’t use holidays as a time or place to repair old childhood wounds, Connie suggests. With difficult family, keep conversation simple. Don’t start a debate or get drawn into their drama. If you can’t answer without wanting to lash out, then just excuse yourself from the conversation and don’t come back. Don’t apologize, defend yourself or make excuses. Just hang near the people you like and that like you. Also, don’t forget to breathe.

Read the rest of this article on Live HappyHow To Survive the Holidays With Your Dysfunctional Family

10 Ways To End Your Year Mentally Strong

Posted on November 30, 2015 in Personal Growth by Sandra Bienkowski

If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s this: Your life won’t work until you do. So much of what you want to accomplish with your health, fitness and personal goals all depends on the state of your mind. If you let your inner critic run wild, you trip up; we all do. In fact, thinking you can’t do something is the fastest way to weaken your mental state, depleting your energy and drive. Capture a “can do” spirit by using these tips to end the year (and start the next one) mentally strong.

1. Set specific goals.

Setting goals helps mental resilience as you feel your best when invested in a target that demands your focus and pushes you beyond your comfort zone. Once you achieve a goal, belief in your abilities soars. Your resolve for new goals is strengthened because you think: “I did ______, so I can totally do ________.” Get specific and set concrete goals with action steps. New Year’s Resolutions tend to be general and vague, like “lose weight” or “drink less wine.” Instead, try: “Sign up to run my first 5k in March and do the Couch to 5k program to prepare.” Or, “Lose the last 10 pounds by giving up sweets during the work week and by working out six days a week.” Or maybe: “Only indulge in red wine on the weekend as a planned treat.” Whatever the goal, be very specific and create a plan of action.

Related: The One Question That Can Change Your Life

2. Write down successes.

The end of the year is a natural time to reflect and think about what you want to improve upon in the year ahead. But before you focus on change, focus on your successes this past year. Sometimes we skate right by all of the things we’ve accomplished or improved upon because we quickly move to what’s next. Stop and celebrate you before you move on to next year. What are your 2015 wins? What challenges did you take on? What did you accomplish? Make a list of highlights and the steps you took that you are most proud of. Ruminating in your wins is like drinking a tall glass of self-confidence. Cheers!

Read the rest of this article on Get Healthy U: 10 Ways To End Your Year Mentally Strong 


10 Questions That Will Change Your Life

Posted on November 9, 2015 in Personal Growth, Self Improvement by Sandra Bienkowski

When we think about something that has the power to change our lives, we usually think big: a new job, a move across country, a relationship beginning or ending. Sometimes something small but meaningful can change the trajectory of our lives, such as a powerful book, a movie or even a gift.

It may be surprising, but even a question—complex, pointed, and mulled over with care—can change the direction of your life. Take a look at the 10 questions below and see if one or two of them resonate with you.

1. Am I really happy right now?

We have a tendency to put our happiness on hold by telling ourselves, “When I get married I will be happy,” or, “When I graduate, I will be happy,” when we could permit ourselves to be happy now and enjoy each day, says Dr. Srikumar Rao, author of Happiness At Work and head of The Rao Institute. As a second part to this question, he suggests asking yourself:What is keeping me from being happy at this instant?

Read the rest of this article on Live Happy:

10 Questions That Will Change Your Life


Why Therapy Saved My Life

Posted on November 2, 2015 in Personal Growth by Sandra Bienkowski

When I was a teenager, I told my parents I wanted to see a psychologist.

At the time, I was dating a guy who lived up the street. We had an exciting relationship but I was holding on too tight. With my shaky self-image, I pictured him breaking up with me and it felt like falling into a dark, bottomless well. I had no identity without him, and I knew the way I was feeling wasn’t healthy or normal.

I wanted help.

But asking for it wasn’t easy. I’d come home from school to find either a beautiful, kind woman at the front door or a drunk, disheveled, hateful monster (depending on whether my mom had started drinking vodka during the day). My childhood was filled with unpredictability, drama, screaming, and insults. My dad didn’t protect me — he was also lost in denial. My sister and I lived in fear for years.

But once my dysfunctional parents agreed that I should talk to someone (because I was adopted, they convinced themselves that I had “faulty genes”), I started talk therapy that changed the trajectory of my life.

Read the rest of this article on MindBodyGreen:

Why Therapy Saved My Life

Why Therapy Saved Me 2015-10-07 09.13.59


Top 10 Natural Remedies To Calm Your Anxiety

Posted on October 27, 2015 in Personal Growth by Sandra Bienkowski

Sometimes anxiety is just a troubling feeling that something isn’t right. Anxiety can show up as panic attacks, excessive worry or trouble sleeping, and it can be a nuisance or downright debilitating. To help you shift to a state of ease, we’ve rounded up 10 ways to quiet down your anxiety naturally.

1. Eat your breakfast
Calm your anxiety.

Skipping breakfast can make your blood sugar low and increase the likelihood of anxiety. Start your day with a bowl of oatmeal with strawberries or blueberries for a powerhouse combination of complex carbs to boost your serotonin levels and antioxidants to protect your body at a cellular level.



2. Practice meditation

Calm your anxiety. The science is in and the deliberate practice of mindfulness meditation—paying attention to the present moment without judgment—can lessen stress and anxiety as well as boost creativity and improve productivity. Enjoy all the benefits by mastering the art of clearing your mind.

Read the rest of this article on Live Happy: Top 10 Natural Remedies To Calm Your Anxiety

5 Out of The Box Ways To Reduce Stress

Posted on October 11, 2015 in Personal Growth by Sandra Bienkowski

A little stress can be good for you. It keeps you engaged and makes you feel alive—like finishing a project you are passionate about, or learning a new skill. But long-term, chronic stress can take a toll on your health.

If you stop and realize that stress is something you create based on your reaction to life circumstances (and not necessarily the circumstances themselves), you can play a big role in reducing your stress level.

Dial down your stress with these simple solutions for calming and re-energizing that were in front of you the whole time.

1. Take notice of your happiest days

Do you ever have a day that seems like it was professionally choreographed just to please you? Everything flows perfectly. You can’t believe how effortlessly your day is unfolding, and you just feel great.

Take notice of what you are doing on that day. What has made your outlook so bright? If you can pinpoint the specifics of what makes you happiest (getting a good night’s sleep, anticipating a date night, finishing a project), you can proactively replicate some of those things.

Doing what makes you naturally happy alleviates stress. Capture what brightens your days by writing it down. Soon you’ll have your own go-to recipe book for a less-stressed out, more contented you.

Read the rest of this article on Live Happy: 5 Out-Of-The-Box-Ways-To-Reduce Stress.

Reduce Stress with these 5 tips.