Written by : Susan Kane 

90 Days Later

After months of intensive coaching on a variety of issues, Live Happy staffers check in to share how things went.

Like pretty much everyone, we staffers at Live Happy magazine saw the 2016 New Year as a time to swap bad habits for good ones. Kim struggled with anxiety that put a damper on her otherwise sunny personality. Shelley’s insomnia had been undermining her energy for far too long. Donna, hardworking and conscientious, couldn’t unplug—she was looking at emails when she stopped for red lights! Chris felt like he was drifting along without a clear sense of his priorities and goals. And I was puzzling over how to communicate with a rebellious teenage daughter.

None of us knew how to begin to tackle our problems, but we knew that where there was challenge there was opportunity. We realized that if we reached out to experts and asked them to coach us for an intensive three months, we could not only help ourselves but also our Live Happy readers.

Are you just now learning about our “90 Days to a Happier You” project? Not to worry: Both we staffers and our coaches blogged about our progress and setbacks all along the way, and if you have any of the issues we did—with anxiety, sleep problems, unplugging, goal-setting or communicating with a loved one—you can get amazing advice from some of the country’s top experts. Meanwhile, here’s how the five of us from Live Happy magazine are doing.

Challenge 1: Unplugging From Work

Who: Donna Stokes, executive editor

Coach: Christine Carter, Ph.D., sociologist and senior fellow at University of California, Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center; author of The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work

Donna, the executive editor of the magazine, can get hundreds of emails in just a few hours. Christine taught Donna to change her habits and set boundaries so that Donna could feel less overwhelmed and more able to relax. Learning to stay away from email for a set three-hour stretch of her workday (from 1 to 4 p.m.) enables Donna to do the in-depth editing work she so enjoys.

Donna used to eat lunch at her desk while she worked; Christine urged her to go to our break room and leave her phone in her office (now we editors and designers eat together thanks to Donna’s initiative).

Most importantly, on the weekends, Donna is spending more time with her husband and on their favorite hobby—hang gliding!

Challenge 2: Anxiety

Who: Kim Baker, art director

Coach: Karen Cassiday, Ph.D., president of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America and managing director of the Anxiety Treatment Center of Greater Chicago

With Karen’s help, Kim discovered that most of her anxiety was coming from her perfectionism. When our deadline crunch time approached, she would spend so much time trying to make the art for just one story flawless that the work piled up and sent her into a spiral of anxiety.

Karen put Kim through a series of exercises that helped her challenge her perfectionist thinking and now Kim is less stressed both at work and at home. At the end of the 90 days, Kim had gained confidence in her ability to manage her worry without the wise counsel of either her friends or Dr. Google.

Challenge 3: Setting and Reaching Goals

Who: Chris Libby, section editor

Coach: Caroline Miller, MAPP, author of Creating Your Best Life: The Ultimate Life List Guide

Chris wanted more time for exercise and for his wife and young daughter, but it was tough because of the demanding jobs both he and his wife have. Thanks to Caroline’s coaching and Chris’ commitment, he is now getting up earlier three days a week to run—and he will reach his goal of running a half marathon this month! Because he is exercising early in the morning, he feels more energized at work and relaxed at night with his family. Chris also set 10-year goals and now has a blueprint for a happy future.

Challenge 4: Communicating With a Loved One

Who: Me (Susan Kane), contributing editor

Coach: Michele Gravelle, MA, communications strategist with Triad Consulting Group, founded by members of the Harvard Negotiation Project

Teenagers push your buttons. I knew that, but I also knew deep down that my 13-year-old daughter, Coco, loved me just as I loved her. I thought I was doing a good job staying fairly calm no matter how rude or dismissive Coco was to me—so why did things seem to be getting worse rather than better?

My coach Michele asked: Was it possible I was saying things with my body language and tone that I wasn’t saying with my words? I realized that my anger was, in Michele’s words, “leaking out.” Also, when I argued with Coco, Michele asked, was I stopping to think about things from Coco’s point of view?

As Michele and I worked together over the months, I reflected often on how lost and sad and angry and rejected and scared I had felt at Coco’s age. When you love someone who is behaving hurtfully toward you, you can lash out. Or you can make another choice—because, as Michele said, “part of choosing happiness is choosing a different way to respond.” I stopped “leaking” toxic emotions. I started listening with my heart, not just my lizard brain. And though we still fight—we’re mother and daughter, after all—we are closer than ever.

Challenge 5: Poor Sleep

Who: Shelley Levitt, editor at large

Expert: Michael Breus, Ph.D., board-certified sleep specialist and author of The Sleep Doctor's Diet Plan: Lose Weight through Better Sleep

Shelley used to be up more hours of the night than she slept, and was constantly tired and irritable during the day. Michael told her that her internal body clock, or circadian rhythm, was out of sync with her natural sleep drive. To fix it, Shelley endured a difficult couple of weeks where Michael limited the hours of sleep she could have so that when she did conk out, she experienced the kind of deep, unbroken, restorative sleep she hadn’t had for years.

Next, Michael had Shelley keep a detailed log of her daily and nightly habits until Shelley was practicing what sleep experts like Michael call “good sleep hygiene.” Going to bed and getting up at around the same time every night is key, as is limiting caffeine and—very importantly—dimming lights and turning off ultrabright television and computer screens well before bedtime, as these hyper-stimulating lights suppress melatonin, the brain chemical that allows us to snooze. Shelley is now sleeping through the night, and it has been a game changer for her.

Susan Kane is a contributing editor for Live Happy.

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