Thursday, December 12, 2013

Holiday Heartbreak

Holiday Heartbreak*

Carol recently fell into a depression after breaking up with John, her boyfriend of a year. Tearfully, she told me, “He’s not what I thought he was. Worse, I just saw him with another girl, but I still want to take him back again! What’s wrong with me, and why can’t I let him go?” Broken relationships are hard anytime, but especially during the holidays, in which relationships can be stressed by additional social pressures. When we fall in love, often we go for a long time seeing only the ideal parts of a person and overlooking their character flaws (like John’s unfaithfulness). We can miss the warning signs of problems until eventually we can no longer ignore them, and our fantasies of the person collapse along with the relationship, leaving us depressed and disillusioned. Here are 7 insights Carol gained through our talks. If you are struggling with a “holiday heartbreak,” they may be of help to you!

1. She became aware of her anger toward John for his betrayal of her trust. This was a positive thing! Anger can bring the insight, clarity, and reality we need to understand where we went wrong in our assessment of the person.

2. She learned that she had put John on a pedestal, glossing over the many times he was unreliable, because she did not want another failed relationship. She had to face the fact that John was just not that "into" her.

3. She determined that in the future, she would reserve judgment until enough time passed that she could evaluate the guy more realistically by looking at both his positive and negative qualities based on his behavior in different situations. Then she could decide if the positives outweighed the negative, and more importantly, if she could accept and work with his human limitations and deficits. (Everyone has them!)

4. She realized that in general she had been too dependent on men for her happiness and needed to work on “individuation,” i.e. developing her own sense of self-esteem and identity independent of a love relationship. 

5. She used her anger to compile a list of reasons why John would not have been a good long-term relationship for her. Then she listed the traits she needed in a relationship in order to make it a happy one.

6. She identified an “addictive” behavioral pattern with John consisting of his unfaithfulness, her confrontation of him, a fight, break up, and Carol’s “forgiving” him and returning to the old status quo with no real change. 

7. Finally, she determined to “break” the addiction by resisting the urge to re-unite with him and turning instead to friends and family for support. With their help, she was able to refrain from “vegging out” and obsessing on her loss, and instead, try out some low-keyed social, community service, and religious activities that did not require her to bring a date. She returned to the gym, had friends over for a get together, and started a new hobby, photography. Carol realizes that getting over John will take time, but she has a solid strategy to get there. Even better, she has grown from this letdown, gained a stronger sense of self, and acquired the tools to establish a solid, happy, and mature relationship in the future. She is working on converting her holiday heartbreak to holiday health. Go girl!

*To learn more about this topic, see Keep Your Eye on the Prize—a Young Person’s Guidebook to Adulthood, Chapter 5:“The Emotional Compass Point—Falling in Love, Projecting the Ideal” (

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Holiday Health—Weight and Stress!

Jesse and Erica emailed, “The holidays are here and I don’t need to gain any weight!  Can you help?” This is a timely topic! The average American puts on 7 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s— not a healthy thing for the two-thirds of our citizens who are already overweight. Since stress and depression can lead to over-eating as a way to “self-medicate,” try out these 7 tips to curb the 7 pounds and have a joyful holiday!

1. The three “Friends”: Fiber, Fruit, Fluid:
Fiber is an excellent natural way to help feel full for hours. Some sources are bran, beans, raw vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli), or flavored or plain Metamucil® or its generic form taken in water in the morning or before a party. Fluid is essential to overall health and also helps curb appetite; water is best. Fresh fruit helps to satisfy a sweet tooth without damage to your weight.

2. More Protein, Less Carb:
Protein tends to satisfy appetites, while complex carbs (bread, pastries, cakes, chips, rice, potatoes) can enhance blood sugar swings and leave us feeling hungrier. Substitute fruit and veggies, which are made of different types of carbs that don’t produce such swings.

3. Activity:
To burn extra calories, add a little physical activity here and there. Take the stairs rather than the elevator, park across the lot from a store entrance, and take walks in your neighborhood, a park, or the malls during safe times.

4. Alcohol:
More alcohol, less control! Think substitution with seltzer refreshed with lime, mint, or a little fruit juice or dilute use it to dilute (and enliven) your drink.

5. All the Senses:
Enjoy holiday treats in moderation but enlarge the experience by taking in the decorations, smells, the warmth of a fire, lights, and holiday music. Make the holidays a feast for all the senses, not just one.

6. Be with People:
The holidays need not be a lonely time. Connect with others. Are friends and family unavailable? Try the gym, community service, or festive events open to the public. If you are a person of faith, participate in the fellowship offered by the rituals of this special time of year; it is the “reason for the season.”

7. Reduce stress:
If you are feeling overwhelmed with the expectations of the holidays, make a list of what you feel you “should” be accomplishing. You may find that your perfectionism is putting too much unnecessary pressure on you. Dare to be “average”! Find ways to trim the list and eliminate the extra work, focusing instead on the simple ways to enjoy this special time of year. 

Photo by Suat Eman

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Rejection Decision

The R Word

Rejection—the big disappointment. Everyone goes through many of these in life. Remember the Emotions Scale discussed in Keep Your Eye on the Prize and Hold On To Your Hat? The big challenge of rejection is to ‘re-boot,’ which means pulling out of the -10 area on the Emotions Scale (shame, guilt, depression, high anxiety) while refraining from acting out any feelings of anger and revenge directed toward others, like counselors and admissions officers. It also means accepting this new reality, overcoming fear of the unknown, and looking to the future with optimism and courage. You have the rest of life’s game to play; ‘give it all you got!’ Here is wisdom from Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, the University of Alabama’s “winningness” coach in the school’s history: ‘Don’t give up at halftime. Concentrate on winning the second half.’

Accepting with Class

Accepting with Class

If, after all of the work and waiting, an affirmative decision arrives, congratulations!  Enjoy this moment to the fullest but be mindful of how you respond to others who may have gotten disappointing news. Here is your moment to be a “class act”—to show restraint when you are feeling +10 on the Emotions Scale. Remember the boomerang of karma; what you send out may return to you, so tread softly and be grateful. 

Some students who get more than one acceptance get caught up in the attention and have trouble accepting only one offer and declining the rest. For these students, the acceptances are trophies. This is a dangerous play. If the colleges find out about this (and they often do), they will not only revoke your admission, but also, if they know them, notify the other colleges involved and you will lose them all. Tip:

Monday, December 2, 2013

Waiting For The College Decision


You have applied to college and are waiting for decisions. Especially if you have your heart set on a dream school, it is hard not to be overwhelmed with feelings of fear and dread. How can you manage the fear so it does not destroy your peace of mind? If you have read Hold On To Your Hat! you will have already applied to some great "comfort schools" that have favorable admission rates for students with your credentials, so as you await the news, stay calm and optimistic and remember that:
1. There are many roads to a happy life, not just one.  Winston Churchill said, "Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference."
2. Whether the dream school or not, embrace and enjoy the college that you ultimately attend! Like Randy Pausch said in his Last Lecture (, "It's not about the cards you're dealt but how you play the hand."
3. If the outcome is negative, don't take it personally, take it in stride.  Remember Grandpa Parker: "You never know your luck!"

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Welcome to Dear Dr. Barbara

Hello!  I am Dr. Barbara Long and have created this blog to help young people (and their concerned parents) handle the emotional journey of the "transition years" from high school through college and their 20's. There are so many challenges of this time of life-- applying to college, adjusting to college life, and moving on to career and life beyond. In this blog, I will offer encouragement and strategies for handling the emotions of each stage. I invite you to ask any questions or initiate discussions about these and other topics of interest to you. Please feel free to email me at barbaralongmdphd (at) gmail (dot) com or leave a comment below.

I have written two books for young people. Check them out! The first is Keep Your Eye On The Prize! - A Young Person's Guidebook To Adulthood. This book contains the essential emotional tools young people need to live a great life. The second book, Hold On To Your Hat! - Handling the Roller Coaster Emotions of the College Application Process describes the five emotional stages of the process and teaches students and families the skills they need to hand the stress with resilience and calm. 

So, write me, let me know what your concerns, stresses, anxieties and interests are! And, look for more coming from me.