Ask Dr. Mike: New Year's Resolutions and other Inquiries
The doctor responds to questions about starting anew, disagreements over discounts, children caught in divorce and OCD/PANDAS.
Tips for Tackling New Year’s Resolutions
Every year my husband and I come up with New Year’s resolutions, and every year we fail to achieve them. Any advice on breaking this horrible trend of ours? I’d like to lose 20 pounds, and he’d like to quit smoking.
K in Loudoun County
First of all, I don’t think you should be so hard on yourselves. According to surveys, more than 90 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail, with close to 50 percent of those failures occurring by the close of January. New Year’s Eve has always been a time to reflect on the changes we want, or need, to make, and to resolve to follow through on those changes; but for most of us, sticking to our goals for positive change is difficult. Every year clients of mine tell me their lofty plans for New Year’s resolutions – lose weight, work less, spend more time with family, quit smoking – and inevitably, like most people, when I ask about the progress of their resolutions weeks later, they confess that they have abandoned their goals. I hope that you and your husband can sustain your resolutions this year by following my four basic steps.
- Step #1. Reset reasonable expectations if you’ve already lost focus or direction. Too often we set the bar too high. If you set unrealistic goals you will be doomed from the start. You will find yourself discouraged, lacking motivation and eventually facing failure. Be reasonable with your expectations of yourself – instead of a goal to lose 20 pounds, try to first lose one to five pounds and then reassess from there. If you believe your goal is attainable, then you will be driven to meet it.
Don’t be overly ambitious. It is hard enough to focus on making one positive change at a time, yet many people overload themselves with several resolutions. Trying to quit smoking, to better manage your finances and to start exercising regularly is a lot of responsibility to take on all at once. Tackling goals one by one will be far less overwhelming and will improve your chances of success. Remember, January isn’t the only time of year we can resolve to improve our lives; once you meet your goal, then plan to tackle another.
- Step #2. Determine an action plan and the steps you will take to meet your goal. So, if one of your goals is to lose weight, define the steps you will take to get there – eat four fruits and vegetables a day, get at least 8 hours sleep, develop a manageable exercise routine, schedule a physical, etc. Make sure these steps are reasonable for you, as discussed above, and don’t make your action plan more than you can handle. A resolution without a plan of action is merely wishful thinking.
- Step #3. Develop a support system. If you are committed to making change, share your plan with your family and friends. They can help push you and encourage you along the way. Your goals of losing weight and quitting smoking make be too much to take on by yourself. Consider seeking out a support group in the area or online if you need it. Talking to people who are struggling with the same changes as you can help you move forward and meet your goal; it helps to know you are not alone.
- Step #4. Reward yourself. Recognize the positive changes you make along the way and reward yourself. Take pride in your accomplishments and share your progress with others. Once you pass certain milestones, plan a treat for yourself, for example – once you hit your weight loss goal, treat yourself to a night out. By setting rewards for yourself you have something to look forward to in addition to the self satisfaction you will feel.
As the old saying goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Remember, if you fall off track, don’t wait until next year to try again. Here’s to a healthy 2012 to you and you husband!
Curious about Parental Alienation Syndrome
Are you familiar with Parental Alienation Syndrome? My husband and I are separated, and he is saying horrible things about me to our children, which in turn is creating real problems for them. I believe that they are suffering emotionally as a result of his trying to turn our children against me. I recently met with an attorney who told me about Parental Alienation Syndrome and my rights to fight my husband in court for custody due to his behavior. What are your thoughts?
A in Loudoun County
Parental Alienation Syndrome was first termed by forensic psychiatrist Dr. Richard Gardner in response to growing custody litigation in the 1980s. It essentially involves the brainwashing of a child by one parent against the other parent with the child’s active participation over time in the denigration and alienation of a parent. The justification of the denigration and alienation is unfounded. As a disorder, it is seen primarily during child-custody disputes and cases. The syndrome is controversial, and in my opinion and experience, most courts are conservative when considering it unless there is convincing evidence that a parent is psychologically harming a child. You mention that your children are “suffering emotionally” due to your husband’s behavior. If your attorney intends on arguing that your husband is alienating your children from you, your attorney will need to prove that by having psychological evaluations and parenting capacity evaluations conducted on your husband and children. Your husband’s attorney may, however, request similar evaluations of you and your children with an independent evaluator of his own. The involved attorneys may also eventually order a formal custody evaluation to determine issues of visitation and custody if you and your husband are unable to resolve your differences as a divorcing couple. Of course, my points are all general here, not knowing the specifics of your situation. I recommend you follow your attorney’s lead on this but keep in mind that Parental Alienation Syndrome cases can be hard to prove and win.
Two Views on ‘Saving’ Money
My husband agreed to my purchasing Christmas decorations after the holidays to get better deals on them. I responsibly purchased all sorts of things and found some great deals. I thought he’d be proud of me, but instead he became very upset with my spending and made me return all of the purchases. Any advice on how to deal with Mr. Scrooge?!
B in Loudoun County
It seems to me that your husband and you have two very different ideas on what responsible spending looks like. Next time you agree on purchasing things, I would suggest that the two of you come up with a budget in advance. By having clear limits established in advance, you avoid being disappointed and he avoids feelings of frustration from your overspending.
It seems there was a definite miscommunication or misunderstanding. You did put in the time to go hunting for the deals, and it’s unfortunate you have to return everything. Let your husband know about your feelings and understanding of the situation. Likely he will see your side and you both can reach a compromise and return only some of the items.
In the future, you may consider going bargain hunting together. By working together your spending will likely be more thoughtful and measured and the two of you could even have some fun.
Seeking Advice on the PANDAS Form of OCD
My pediatrician recently told us that our 6-year-old son may have PANDAS given his history of multiple strep infections alongside OCD symptoms. She asked that we see a specialist in Maryland for a consultation. I’ve researched the condition online, and it just seems very odd to me. My son was initially diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and now I am being told that he may have PANDAS? Your advice is appreciated.
C in Loudoun County
Approximately 25 percent of children with OCD have the Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections (PANDAS) subtype or form. This is because the same brain region, the basic ganglia, is associated with the conditions. While PANDAS is a clinical diagnosis (meaning that there is no lab test to diagnose the condition), there are certain known differences between the PANDAS form of OCD and typical OCD:
First, there is an association with group A Beta-hemolytic streptococcal infection (a positive strep throat culture) for the PANDAS form of OCD. Second, the onset of PANDAS induced OCD is rapid, as opposed to the slower developing typical OCD. Third, PANDAS induced OCD typically occurs between the ages of 3 and prior to puberty. Fourth, the PANDAS form of OCD usually involves tics or involuntary movements.
Children with PANDAS have also been reported to experience greater mood instability, increased anxiety, nightmares and novel bedtime rituals, and sensory, math and fine-motor problems. OCD is typically treated with medication such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) and/or cognitive-behavior therapy. The PANDAS form of OCD may require additional medications (e.g., antibiotics). PANDAS is a controversial disorder so you are not alone in being skeptical or careful as you learn about it for your son. If you believe in your pediatrician, I recommend you follow her lead and get the consultation. You may also want to consider receiving a second local pediatric opinion or meeting with a pediatric and child psychiatrist for a more accurate diagnosis.