Category Archives: Coping with Life’s Stresses

How Dogs Help People Get Along Better

How Dogs Help People Get Along BetterI have had many dogs in my life, and I have often experienced the mood boost and support that can come from spending time with a furry creature. Their warmth and fluffiness have been life-supports in times of need. This article explains the research suggesting why dogs help people and can be a benefit in many types of situations. I also had a dog named Casey who was the most friendly and loving dog I ever knew! – Terri

How Dogs Help People Get Along Better

By Jill Suttie | March 6, 2017 A new study suggests that when dogs are around, groups are closer, more cooperative, and more trusting.  

My dog, Casey, is one of my favorite beings on the planet. Not only is he extremely cute, his presence calms me, makes me happy, and helps me to meet new people…especially when I take a walk with him.

My husband and I often joke that if everyone had a dog like Casey, there simply wouldn’t be any wars—the assumption being that everyone would just get along if he were around. Now, a new study suggests that we might be onto something.

Researchers at Central Michigan University gave small groups tasks to do with or without a companion dog in the room. In the first experiment, groups generated a 15-second ad and slogan for a fictional project—a task requiring cooperation. In the second experiment, groups played a modified version of the prisoner’s dilemma game, in which individual members decide whether to cooperate with one another or to look out only for themselves. All of these interactions were videotaped.

Afterward, participants reported on how satisfied they felt with the group and how much they trusted group members. In addition, independent raters analyzed the video recordings, looking for displays of cooperation, verbal and physical signs of bonding or closeness, and expressions of vulnerability that indicated trust.

Regardless of the task, groups with a dog showed more verbal and physical signs of closeness than groups without a dog. Also, raters observed more signs of cooperation during the first task, and group members reported that they trusted each other more during the second task, if a dog was in the room.

These results suggest that there is something about the presence of a dog that increases kind and helpful behavior in groups.

“When people work in teams, the presence of a dog seems to act as a social lubricant,” says lead author Steve Colarelli. “Dogs seem to be beneficial to the social interactions of teams.”

Why would that be? Could it be that dogs make us feel good, which then impacts our social behavior?

To test that idea, the researchers asked independent raters to watch 40-second videos of the groups edited from the first study—with the sound off and no evidence of the dog in the room—and to note how often they saw indicators of positive emotions (like enthusiasm, energy, and attentiveness). The raters noticed many more good feelings in groups with a companion dog in the room than in groups with no dog, lending some support for their theory.

Although the dogs didn’t seem to impact performance on the group tasks during this short experiment, Colarelli believes that the observed social and emotional benefits could have impacts on group performance over time.

“In a situation where people are working together for a long period of time, and how well the team gets along—do they speak together, have rapport, act cooperatively, help one another—could influence the outcome of the team, then I suspect a dog would have a positive impact,” he says.

Of course, not everyone likes dogs, and some people may even be allergic. Colarelli says that we shouldn’t just start bringing dogs into every workplace—there would be a lot of factors to consider.

But his work adds to a body of research that suggests that dogs impact social interactions and personal well-being. Past studies have shown that people accompanied by dogs tend to elicit more helpful responses from others and that dogs in the workplace can reduce stress. Though most of this kind of research has been done on individuals or pairs, Colarelli’s study shows the positive impacts of dogs may extend to groups.

While the study is relatively preliminary, Colarelli believes that his results tie into another area of research finding positive effects when people are exposed to natural elements—which he thinks could include dogs and other animals—on wellness in the workplace.

Perhaps it’s time I consider letting Casey come to our next staff meeting…for everyone’s sake.

Not enough

Today, I woke up and thought, I didn’t get enough sleep. I got ready for the day, made breakfast, and ran out the door thinking, I don’t have enough time to get to work by 8:00am. Once I got to the office, I glanced at my schedule for the day and thought; I don’t have enough time in the workday to complete all of these tasks.

My common thought throughout this morning was “not enough.”

It’s really unfortunate that my first four hours of this beautiful Tuesday were spent feeling largely inadequate.

I recently read Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, a researcher who focuses on vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. This book resonated with me for a variety of reasons, but one idea in particular spiked my interest with its applicability into the context of relationships – the idea of “not enough.” Thinking back to my experience this morning, I’m sure you can relate, but I started wondering if others can relate to this feeling of inadequacy in their relationships?

I’m not successful enough.not enough

I’m not communicating enough.

I’m not attractive enough.

I’m not smart enough.

I don’t support my family enough.

I don’t encourage my husband enough.

These ideas infiltrate our minds through mainstream media and social media. We see couples romanticized in television episodes and idealized in #RelationshipGoals posts. Sometimes, we compare our relationship to past relationships or to a fantasied idea in our mind. We even compare our relationships to previous versions of themselves – which isn’t healthy either. If you are like me and sometimes feel like you are “not enough,” then you probably have spent some time comparing and contrasting your relationship and yourself.

Brené takes this idea of “not enough” and identifies three components: shame, comparison, and disengagement. She also provides hope – feeling “not enough” can be challenged with awareness, commitment, and work.

My husband and I are committed to our marriage and each other; we exemplify this by working on our relationship a lot – a perk of the job I suppose! In spite of that, I feel burdened by shame, comparisons, and disengagement. This burden translates to feeling “not enough.” From checking in regularly with my husband, I know, every so often, he feels this way too. What I’m realizing is that we need to focus more on being aware. We need to become more mindful of when we feel shame, over compare, and disengage.

If we become more aware, be vulnerable in the process, and knock out some of that “not enough” feeling, I know our relationship will be stronger.

Life Coaching Made Simple

WhLife coachingat do you want your life to be about?  What gets in your way?

Have you ever stopped to answer these questions? Or do you just keep going along, like most people – doing what comes next, the next obligation, the next task that is pressing in your household, or even the next fun event?

Of course, we can’t just stop fulfilling our responsibilities or doing the things that matter, or can we?

And yet what happens if we don’t stop? Well, ‘Life happens’ and our time gets filled up with things that don’t necessarily matter.

I have a few friends that have retired in the last few years, and it has been interesting to see what happens with the large amount of time that they thought they would have. It was filled up quickly… and not necessarily with things that they wanted to be doing.

But even in our mid-life or early, adult life, I just don’t think people put enough time into answering this question for themselves. It seems that we just go along with whatever life happens to offer us, kind of letting life make our decisions for us.

So, Life Coaching can be about taking some time for yourself to explore these questions. Basically, a life coach helps someone bridge the gap between where they are and where they want to be.

So, here’s a sample of the kinds of things that we would do. First, we look at where you are today, by exploring what’s important to you in several life domains {work/fun/family/friendships/health/personal growth}, and then we ask if you are living up to your hopes for each of these areas. If you are not, then we look for the barriers that get in your way. We all have barriers that we will face, especially if we are moving out of our comfort zone into new, challenging situations.

Life Coaching Example:

Let me offer an example.  I have had a desire to be a public speaker for some time. Yet, I also have a rather significant fear of getting in front of people. You might say I have a love/hate relationship with public speaking. So, in order to move forward towards my goals, I have had to push through the barrier of these fears.

In my case, I used several strategies. For example, I joined a Toastmaster’s group so that I had to practice speaking (to a small group) on a regular basis. I put in some stretch goals, like scheduling a speaking engagement about 6 months away, so that I would have something to shoot for.

Then, I continued to work on my skills on a regular basis, and with the encouragement and feedback from the Toastmaster’s members, I was able to build my skills and confidence. I continued to have issues with anxiety. And I still get butterflies every time I speak, but I also have a clearer presentation style, because I have practiced many, many times. And it feels really good to have followed my dream.

Also, I always keep in mind why I am doing it. If I begin to lose motivation or think about quitting, then I just go back to my journal notes where I had written about my goals and values and why I was doing this in the first place.

Here’s another example:

For someone considering a job change, it is quite difficult to imagine the future and a lot of fear comes up. Again, first examine your values that are involved, and then see what small steps you will need to get you there, and when motivation falters, go back to your values and renew your resolve. It also helps to have an accountability partner, or a supportive cheerleader.

Another example might be exercise and/or diet goals. As you probably know, many people have goals in these areas, and many people fail in reaching these goals. Again, the system is the same, it’s important to know why you are doing this, so you make a statement about the values involved. The next step is to make a plan, and to have routines and supports to make this easier. The final step is to plan for relapses, with methods for getting back on track.

So, one of the things that I do as a Life Coach is to help people to see what it is that they actually want to ‘be about’ in the world. What I am talking about today is that we need to take the time to stop and assess what our goals are, asking what type of lifestyle do I want to have, and how is my current schedule/habits/choices matching up with that ideal life?

As a Life Coach, I use structured and creative methods to help people explore what they want to add to their life and what they want to discard. I help you to get motivated to do the things you want to do more of and to develop the skills to push through the challenges of behavior change. It’s not easy to change habits, but it can be well worth the effort, especially if we can begin to enjoy the life we want to have even sooner!

Doing my best to Live Life on Purpose.

 – Terri Mudge


Stress Reduction in 5 Easy Steps

stress reductionThere are hundreds of ways to accomplish stress reduction. Why am I focusing on only 5? Because it doesn’t help to give you 100! That stresses me out just thinking about it.

Here are my favorite five stress reducers:

  1. Watch your physical and mental intake. What are you putting into your body?  Caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, fried foods, heavy foods, ephedrine and other agitating supplements. There is also the mental:  TMA – Too Much Activity or too much of anything, too much sleep, too much TV, too much stimulation, too much noise, too much activity, too many demands, too much clutter and too much stuff! The internet is chock full of too much: info, news, stories, drama, advice, judgment, entertainment, etc.
  1. Watch your output.  Are you trying to do too much or too little?  Sleeping, bogged down with decision-making, too many choices, trying to do everything?  Instead of multi-tasking, begin a new habit of doing one thing at a time. Studies of highly productive people are now showing that multi-tasking is highly overrated. People who really get a lot done say they do this by staying focused on one thing at a time.
  1. Use your energy wisely. Exercise increases energy. Why is it that using energy in a productive way like this, creates more energy? I don’t know but I like it! Don’t you love the feeling you get when you have worked out and you have that ‘good tired’ feeling? The energy of “I worked hard, now I deserve a rest!” Research shows that exercise is great for mood, health, and improving our coping with stress. We know this, and yet, we often don’t do it. So, I will borrow a line from one of my favorite ads:  “Just Do It!’
  1. Seek support. Get together with people who lift you up. Spend time with people who make you laugh. You don’t have to “talk it all out.” In fact, this may be less than helpful. Research shows that “venting” is not all it’s cracked up to be. Instead, just connect with that friend or family member that you can just hang out with. Find some activity that is nurturing and go do it. Laugh, play, explore, exercise, learn, anything that gets you moving and connecting with life.
  1. Enjoy nature. Appreciate the outdoors. Contemplate the beauty and wonder of life. Study a leaf, or an ant, or watch the wind or water. Be still and have gratitude for the simplicity and amazing intricacies of life.


Terri Mudge, LPC is a licensed professional counselor who provides individual therapy and life coaching in Mobile, Alabama. If you are feeling tossed around by the storms of life, call Terri today for a FREE Phone Consultation, at 251-343-2597.

What To Do When You Have Too Much to Do

Working Hard When You Have Much To DoI recently read an article on Leo Babauta’s site about 5 Tips For When You Have Too Much To Do. In this article, Leo also talks about strategies to cope with the dreaded ‘too much to do’.  He offers some great ideas to have an impact, for example, he again talks about doing ‘just one thing’. And I love that he also talks about choosing a task that has a lot of meaning for you.

You may have a lot of little things to do, like cleaning the kitchen, responding to e-mails, or other small tasks. He suggests using these small tasks as a break from doing the one more meaningful task. I really love this strategy, and besides, it even gives you a reason to avoid the dishes for a while!

Another great thought in this article is the idea to be happy where you are. That idea feels much better than worrying that there’s too much to do, and I’d rather just smile, and get done what I can.

“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” – Leonardo da Vinci



Let’s Live a Life Worth Living

goodnewsbadnews-3Are you someone that is focused on clear goals and unaffected by outside influences or are you swayed by distractions, emotions, and other people?

I’m not saying I have it all figured out, or that I know what your life should look like. I’ve just learned the insight that comes from slowing things down for just a minute, and giving yourself the gift of examining your life and contemplating where you really want to go in life.

Many of us live our lives on auto-pilot and letting other people or circumstances decide where we go. Of course, we all have responsibilities and commitments that are influential in our daily choices. Things like, kids, spouse, job, church, and social demands. In order to become more conscious about how these influences are affecting our life choices, ask yourself this question:

“Is this a free choice, or am I being controlled by an outside influence?” If it is an outside influence, ask yourself: “Do I really want to allow this to make my decisions for me?”

Sometimes there are inside influences that push us around, too.  Things like, feelings of fear, anxiety, anger, boredom, or urges to fulfill some desire. Staying true to our values is difficult when stressors arise, like minor annoyances and irritations, whining kids, ringing phones, traffic, bad weather, being hurt or disappointed, or even rude people.

What can I do when I catch myself being pushed around by an emotion? I can stop, slow down, and notice what is there. Simply noticing what urge is happening, what desire or knee-jerk reaction is there. Then, I “consciously” choose my next step.

I like the ABC model of managing emotions or desires.

A –  Awareness – Slow down and be aware of what’s happening in this moment.   What are the external or internal happenings in my environment?   Thoughts, feelings, sensations?

B –  Breathe –  Take a few slow, deep breaths and focus attention on the breath movement.  Experience the breath like waves, flowing in and out.

C –  Choice –  Choose the next action with awareness.  Consider responding instead of reacting to your environment.

These concepts can help you to thoughtfully consider your next move with more consciousness and get off auto-pilot.

mindfulwaythroughdepressionRead more about the ABC process from the book: The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness, 2007, by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, and Jon Kabat-Zinn. Four experts demonstrate how to avoid the mental habits that lead to despair, so you can face life’s challenges with confidence. Or watch this video: The Mindful Way Through Depression: by Zindel Segal 

Let Go of Stress: Nothing to Cling To

stress relief this way

Stress is a killer. It contributes to health problems, unhappiness, depression, relationship problems and more. We’re always going to have some stress in our lives, but how can we manage it?

By finding the cause, and working with that cause.

In my mindfulness experiments, I’ve found that the root cause of stress is clinging to things. We cling to the hope that things will go as we expected or planned, and then get stressed trying to make that happen, or frustrated when it doesn’t.

Clinging to things causes our stress and frustrations.

So how can we stop clinging?

By realizing that there’s nothing to cling to.

The things we want to cling to, as if they’re real, solid, permanent fixtures, aren’t there. If anything, they’re fluid, changing, impermanent, or just imagined.

Nothing to cling to.

Imagine you’re swimming in water, struggling to hold on to a solid structure you think is near you. Trying to grab hold of it is stressing you out.

Now imagine that there’s no structure there. Just water. You can continue to try to grab onto something … or you can accept that there’s only water, and relax. Float.

The kicker: we’re just a drop of water too, in the middle of an ocean.

Here’s your challenge for today:

  1. Ask yourself what you’re stressed about today.
  2. Ask yourself what you’re clinging to.
  3. Now imagine that the thing you’re trying to cling to doesn’t exist. You’re just floating in water.

How does that change things?

Get Unstuck!

shutterstock_139305425-w~ by Terri Mudge ~

Learning to Let Go of the Thoughts that Torture Us

Our brains are amazing. All day long we can be thinking, planning, evaluating, wishing, wondering, working, trying, and noticing. All this activity going on in our heads, invisible to others, can be good or bad.  What do you do when you have negative thinking that randomly appears and it won’t go away?

Those thoughts rumble through our minds. We may have had these thoughts before. They wake us up in the middle of the night. They catch our attention in the middle of the day, when we are trying to focus on an important task or just trying to enjoy a pleasant moment.

What happens when our brains don’t seem to be going in the direction that we want them to?  What happens when it seems to get ‘stuck’ in a thinking loop, stuck in judging, stuck in wishing, stuck in trying, or like a broken record – stuck with the same song playing over and over again?   This is when our minds can cause us a lot of distress.

Maybe I can help! Here are four things we can do to help ourselves, to help our mind to get un-stuck from its distressed state of mind and a few things NOT to do.

How to Get UnStuck

#1  Tune into the senses  
You can pause, take a moment to connect with the world through your senses – seeing, smelling, tasting, touching, and hearing.  One way to do this is to take a mindful walk, and notice all of the sights and sounds that you can notice.

#2  Find a Different Perspective
Open up to the possibility that your negative thoughts may look different from a different perspective.  For example, how will this particular event/situation/perception change over time? Will it look the same in 3 months or 3 years?

#3  Give Yourself Permission to Worry – Once
Worry well, and worry once. Give yourself permission to worry for a given amount of time. And, really do a good job of it.  Put all your attention to the task of worrying about your particular dilemma.  Write down all the possible scenarios that could happen, and all the ways that this situation is distressing to you. Do a good job of getting all of your thoughts down on paper. Then, when your time is up, go and do something else. If the thought comes up again, say, “Oh, I already worried about that, I am finished with that one.”  (This idea comes from my favorite anxiety self-help book: The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques, by Margaret Wahrenberger, August 11, 2008)

#4  Distract Yourself
Think of that list of the many things the mind can do. Find something else to ask your mind to do instead of being stuck in these negative thoughts.

3 Things NOT to do.

#1  Don’t Keep Trying to Figure It Out
The mind has a habit of trying to solve problems and that’s what it was designed to do. The problem is, if you’ve already written down your thoughts and spent time seeking different perspectives, you have already spent plenty of time on this. It is now time to stop. Trying to find more possible solutions is not working. So don’t do it. It’s not that it’s the wrong thing to do, it’s just not productive.

#2  Don’t Think Positively.
Ok, I know, thinking positively is usually a good thing. I love to look for the bright side of something, but if you have already been trying that and it’s not working for you, then give it a rest. It may be just one more way that your mind is stuck.

#3  Don’t Try to Forget About It
Yes, forgetting seems like a logical strategy. However, this one can definitely backfire on you. Have you heard about the white bear experiment? This and many other studies have showed that the more you try not to think about something, you set yourself up to think of it even more. So let the thought be there, and try to create a different relationship to the thought. Open yourself to the fact that your mind doesn’t have all the answers. Acknowledge that it is OK to have this thought and it is OK that right now you don’t know what to do about it.

We all get stuck sometimes in our thinking. It happens to everyone. The most important thing to remember is that these thoughts will eventually go away. Believe that and keep on going.

It’s okay to let your mind wander toward thinking, planning, evaluating, wishing, wondering, working, trying, or noticing. We can recognize the random nature of the mind, there are so many possibilities!