Ways of thinking that can make you stress out

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Ways of thinking that can make you stress out - Tan colored squirrel with his body hair standing up

Ever felt like this?

If you subscribe to my series, Mental Health Moment, then you heard me talk this past week about thinking styles that really make you stress out. In the mental health field, we refer to these as cognitive distortions.

We all have rules and filters that we run our thoughts through as we have new experiences. When we’re kids, we learn how life works by watching others around us. We pick up on what they use to manage their lives.

So that’s what we use to figure out how to respond. It affects us at home and at work.

Overall, there are about 15 cognitive distortions, but these are the main ones that can add to your stress.

See if you recognize any of these in your life.

As always, you can subscribe to Mental Health Moment on Amazon Alexa, Apple Podcast, Google Podcast and Spotify. And you can always visit here to read or listen to the latest episode.

Ep 37: How do you see your world - young woman standing outside looking through sunglasses

Episode 37: How do you see your world?

 

Ep 38: Two ways thinking goes wrong

Episode 38 – Two ways thinking goes wrong

 

Ep 39: Stop predicting the end of the world - man standing alone on the end of a pier

Episode 39 – Stop predicting the end of the world

 

Ep 40: Don't make it personal - hand holding a clear globe with a picture of the skyline in the background

Episode 40 – Don’t make it personal

 

Ep 41 How labeling keeps you from growth and change - single flower blooming against a fence

Episode 41 – How labeling keeps you from change and growth


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How to go beyond positive thinking

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Stuffed toy sitting next to a coffee cup that reads "Today is gonna be a good day."

It’s no mystery that positive thinking is a valuable part of good mental health. You don’t have to be a genius to know that negative thinking will get you nowhere. So why should you go beyond positive thinking?

There’s nothing wrong with having optimism for the future.

It’s important to be able to believe that somehow everything will turn out okay. I believe we refer to that as hope.

But how do you make that hope tangible?

How can you feel invested in how things turn out instead of just hoping for the best?

I can remember when I was first exposed to the power of positive thinking. It was in my early married years when my husband and I became part of what was then known as Amway.

Amway was a multilevel marketing company that sold everything from toilet paper to vitamins. Not only could you buy products you used every day, but you could also make a little money and grow a business.

Well, we didn’t make a lot of money. But what we did do in Amway was make excellent friends.

Those excellent friends encouraged us to listen to cassette tapes each week. These cassette tapes had inspiring stories from people who had gone before us in business. They also contained positive messages from the big guns of positive thinking: Napoleon Hill, Norman Vincent Peale, Zig Ziglar, you name it.

The idea was that if you listened to these positive messages enough, you would just start to believe them. Your brain would naturally absorb these messages.

If you listened to them in place of negative feedback — for example the daily news — you would really start to see growth and progress in your business and your life.

Garbage in, garbage out. 🗑️

Makes total sense.

This was an earth shattering concept for me at the time. If I’m honest, negative thinking is kind of my default mode.

I’ll look at what’s not working before I try to figure out how to make things work. (Hmmm…..this might actually make me a good therapist. 🤔)

I’ve often been accused of always finding ways to shoot holes through things right off the bat.

I understand now that it’s part of my personality, but I know there is much power in trying to be positive first. So this was a real challenge for me to apply these principles to my everyday life.

I’m grateful for this time in Amway because I learned that I had the power to map out and visualize a life that I wanted with positive thinking.

I could choose to keep that picture in front of me. Using the power of my own thinking, I could march towards that picture.

But the hardest part about this for me was that every time I looked at myself in the mirror and said, “This is going to be the best day ever,” and “I am awesome,” I didn’t believe it.

In my perspective, there was too much evidence that said otherwise. It felt like I was lying to myself.

All I could see was that I had several issues I needed to resolve that day and being awesome didn’t really give me a roadmap for how to solve my problems.

I was just giving myself a whole lot of thumbs-ups. 👍

What I was missing was adaptive thinking.

Adaptive thinking goes beyond positive thinking.

You have to do more than just believe things will be okay.

  • What happens if they’re not okay?
  • What do I do then?
  • Am I still awesome even though I dropped the ball?

This is where anxiety can so easily enter the picture because you don’t feel like you have any control over the outcome.

In order to solve problems, you have to know what role you play and which of your strengths you will use to come up with a solution.

Adaptive thinking allows you to keep a positive attitude as your foundation and lets you build on that to actually generate solutions to your problems.

Adaptive thinking helps you form contingencies.

Being able to plan around unexpected stuff without losing your stuff is the biggest key in remaining flexible. Anymore, being flexible is everything, especially at work.

Positive thinking would tell you to hope for the best when something you didn’t expect flies in to your day. You got this!

Adaptive thinking would tell you to consider all the possible scenarios in front of you and come up with solutions based on how you’ve handled these things before.

Of course you should stay positive that you can handle whatever comes your way.

But adaptive thinking gives you some real data in the moment so you can see how this might actually turn out. This is how you calm yourself.

Adaptive thinking helps you create observable and measurable plans instead of going off of some vague feeling of trying to feel better about the situation.

Adaptive thinking focuses on your strengths.

We all have things we are really good at. Those strengths give us the confidence to solve the problems that may pop up in the day.

When you are faced with a difficult situation, using positive thinking to hope for a positive outcome can help you persevere.

Adaptive thinking, however, lets you focus on your specific skills that will help you power through this situation.

  • Are you good at bringing some order to chaos? Focus on using that skill to make a step-by-step list of the things you will take care of today.
  • Are you the person who can find solutions under a rock? Bring that strength to the equation to help you and your team see the light at the end of the tunnel.
  • Are you the empathetic one who can help keep the peace in tense situations? Please, yes, your strength is superhuman and can help your team survive some tough times. (Why is there no Superman emoji?)

Focusing on the strengths you’ve already developed builds tremendous confidence for the next challenge that comes along. You have results you can point back to. 👈

“I’ve got this because I’ve done this before.”

Feeling inspired or hopeful is a great place to start. But you will really succeed when you go beyond positive thinking to focus on applying your strengths and skills to a challenge.

Use adaptive thinking to paint yourself a track record of what you’ve already done really well.

Adaptive thinking allows you to be curious and forward focused.

Positive thinking is forward focused all by itself. It always points you to believing you can succeed in some future moment. This is great.

Adaptive thinking takes you to the next level by letting you create that specific future moment for yourself. It allows you to explore your own natural curiosity.

  • What questions can you ask to look at this problem from all angles?
  • What strategies can you look at now that will set you up for that next level?
  • What have I done before that didn’t work?
  • What did work?

Interacting with your strengths, skills, and investigative prowess helps you keep moving toward your goal.

How do you build adaptive thinking into your day?

Let’s say it’s time for your annual evaluation at work. Nobody really enjoys these, including and especially your boss.

But you have a bit more of a disadvantage of being judged by someone who doesn’t sit in your seat every day. Performance evaluations are ripe ground for positive thinking because you really have no idea how this may go. You want to feel as good as you can when you walk in the door.

If you’ve had a bit of a tough year in meeting your goals, you may already be a little worried.

So you tell yourself that things will be good. You’re a valued employee, you know that, and you can handle whatever your boss may bring up.

FAN-tastic.

But take that positive attitude a step further.

  1. Before the meeting with your boss, make a list for yourself of specific areas where you already know you missed completing some things.
  2. Ask yourself some questions about how and why you missed the mark. Don’t beat yourself up, but do come up with some data on what you could have missed.
  3. Generate some ideas for how you can come up with a plan to address those issues. What will you do differently next time? Who can you collaborate with in the future that might help complement your skills?

If those ideas come up in the meeting, you have some actionable and forward-focused stuff to bring up if you need it. Now you have a better chance of contributing good information to the meeting and being a little less on the defense.

This takes you much further down the road than just telling yourself things will be fine.

I wish I had done more of this when I was in the corporate arena.

When I did finally understand the importance of adaptive thinking, I came to the conclusion it was time to leave that arena.

So that prompted a whole new round of adaptive thinking.

But I was confident I could take the next step because I started a new chapter of my career based on the track record I had already built.

I was positive about my career change, but adaptive thinking helped me to be pragmatic about what I needed to succeed.

Think about it

What are some areas where you could apply adaptive thinking?

Drop me some comments below! 👇👇👇

 


Check out my new Alexa Skill – Mental Health Moment with Lori Miller

You’re busy at work and at home, and you take care of everyone else. You’re allowed to have a few minutes in each day to set your focus, regroup and feel a little more in control.

Join me every day as I bring you simple and practical tips you can use right now to gain a little more control over your life.

Visit my Amazon page for more information.

Amazon Alexa skill - Mental Health Moment with Lori Miller


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What spoons can teach you about stress

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Happy spoons lined up together
Life in the 21st century feels like the state fair. There’s a lot of brightly-lit activities, some cool animals, and a carnival of thrilling and terrifying rides.

But if you don’t have time to stop and enjoy a giant pretzel somewhere, what’s the point, really? 🥨 🤭

I think we all know instinctively that we’re trying to take in too much and do too much.

It’s the scourge of our modern life.

Even on the days where things come together well, we still leave some things on the table.

And that can create anxiety if we don’t frame it well.

When I think about my previous corporate life, one stressor stands out above all the others – the relentless, daily focus on output.

My task then was to get big stuff completed and out the door every single day. (My actual job description involved words like “synergies,” “cross-functional” and “liaison” but this was basically the job.)

The high pressure environment around me at the time demanded this. My inbox was full of emails every day from my boss about where this or that project was and when could they expect to see it.

My day wasn’t successful unless I had delivered all of the things on my list that day. ✔️✔️✔️✔️

Really, Lori?

I’ve spent a couple of years trying to unravel that perspective for myself.

Don’t get me wrong. I still believe in creating output because at the end of the day I really like to make things.

But I know now that I was trading the best of my energy and focus every day for small returns.

I would start each day feeling as if I had limitless energy and focus. I was legendary for it.

I even labeled it “Releasing the Kraken.”

(I’ve never actually seen Clash of the Titans but I surmise from the movie trailer that there is a beast unleashed that is to be feared. For some reason I want to relate to that.)

So it was hard for me to understand how this little Kraken could fall so far behind by lunchtime.

At the end of the day, after scrambling all afternoon, I was exhausted emotionally and physically. I felt like I had very little to show for the effort I had just put out.

Was it poor time management?

Maybe. I’m never dedicated to one specific system for very long, and I think that hinders me.

Was it unrealistic expectations from my boss?

Uh, yeah.

Working in a high pressure environment means that you learn to redefine certain phrases like,

  • “I’m pretty sure there’s no way in H-E- double hockey sticks I can pull that off today” and
  • “I’m leaving for lunch.”

But the reality for me centered mostly around how much I thought I could really do.

I assume I could have pushed back on my boss’ expectations because I was very good at what I did. They needed me to continue to come to work every day.

But I didn’t value my energy enough to negotiate those expectations at the time. I really thought I could pull off those high expectations. My pride didn’t dare let me show that I was vulnerable to this kind of stress. 😰

In a way, much as I hate to admit it, the burden of that stress rested with me.

I didn’t understand how to allocate and spend my daily spoons. 😳

Allow me to explain.

The Spoon Theory 🥄

The spoon theory was first shared by Christine Miserandino in describing what it’s like to live with a chronic illness. In her case, the illness was lupus.

She was trying to describe to a friend what it’s really like to perform daily functions with an unrelenting sickness. In her analogy, people with a chronic illness or disability start the day with a finite amount of energy for tasks the rest of us take for granted.

She illustrated this by presenting her friend with a handful of spoons — 12 to be exact.

She asked her friend to describe tasks she would undertake daily, like showering and getting dressed. If you have struggled with an illness or  disability or know someone who does, you know that just two simple acts to start the day can take hours.

It may feel like the biggest thing you accomplished and yet you still have the rest of the day to go.

Her friend lost a few spoons just in completing these first tasks of the day.

For every subsequent daily task her friend described, Christine removed more spoons.

At the end of the exercise, her friend was shocked to see that she had almost no spoons left and her imaginary day wasn’t yet over.

She was almost out of spoons. Where would she have the energy to make dinner if she also ran errands on the way home from work?

Christine was trying to get her to understand the kinds of decisions she would have to make throughout the day to ensure she had enough energy to get the important things done.

And to help her know how much tradeoff and planning Christine had to put in to every day to just do the basics.

It’s a powerful analogy. I encourage you to read the full article.

The Spoon Theory can be applied to stress and our daily lives

Even if you don’t have a chronic illness or disability, you really only have so much energy and focus to dedicate to all the things in your life. Sorry, Marvel Superperson but that’s just how it is.

And our modern life is making it harder for us to quantify where our best energy is going.

So make sure you’re devoting your spoons to the things that will give you the best return on the things you value most.

1. Be intentional about who and what you give your energy to.

If you’re giving someone your time, you’re also giving them your energy. I don’t think that’s just my introvert brain talking. I think that’s how it is for most people.

When you offer someone your time, you are giving away a commodity you cannot replace. As far as I know, time travel back to Marty McFly’s 1985 is still off the books.

That 15 minutes you spent helping someone turn off that annoying setting in Outlook is time you can never get back.

This is serious business. Not everyone and everything deserves your energy equally.

I’m not saying don’t help your Outlook-challenged friends. Your goodwill helps establish a stronger bond on your team and makes you a valuable part of a good culture. That’s important.

Just consider the cost for everything that crosses your desk and your to-do list.

This especially applies for those humans who cross your desk to gossip. 😑

Gossip is a ginormous energy sucker, and serves the purpose of also being negative. There are no winners in gossip world and it also keeps you from your work, so that’s not helpful.

Ask yourself how many of your spoons you want to devote to others today and how you will allocate them.

2.  Don’t use all your spoons every day. 

Pace yourself. Just because you started today with 12 spoons doesn’t mean you have to use all 12 spoons today. It’s okay to reserve one in case you need it tomorrow.

Keep one spoon in tow so you can build some margin in your day.

John Maxwell says that as much as 20% of his day is spent in margin time. How is that possible? Do you know how many spoons John Maxwell must have thrown at him every day? (I’m now imagining him with his hands up defensively, deflecting incoming spoons. 😂)

He understands that his energy and time spent in non-productive activity and reflection is key to his success. It must work because in spite of his busy schedule, he has managed to write more than 50 books. Granted, he makes use of a certain spoon named Charley Wetzel, his writing coach and co-author.

But I’m guessing he realized he needed help with his work when he was participating in that margin time he sets aside each day.

Margin is where insight happens because we’re not so focused on making things or getting things done. This is a great way to reserve some of your energy and maybe have a little more for tomorrow.

3. Understand that you simply can’t do everything.

I know you tell yourself this, I do too. Every freakin’ day.

But on those days when you’re completely frazzled, look back over your day. You’ll see you tried to hold on to every spoon at all costs.

In fact, during the day, use your frazzled-ness as a trigger to stop right where you are and start reflecting.

This happened to me just last week.

I was falling back in that old pattern of measuring my energy and success by how many widgets I was going to gaze upon at the end of the day.

I was so excited about being little Kraken-girl again. I may or may not have talked some trash. 🙊

But it was not to be.

The obstacles who stood in my way and blocked my widget production got the full force of my energy.

And it was pointless. It didn’t change anything at all.

My week ended up exactly the same as it would have if I had just let it go.

That day, I guess I just got six spoons. That’s okay. I still had six spoons that I did spend well.

At some point, you have to decide what you are going to let go of.

Identify those things that are most important to you, and use your precious spoons to scoop up those things.

Happy spoons image by congerdesign on Pixabay.

 


Check out my new Alexa Skill – Mental Health Moment with Lori Miller

You’re busy at work and at home, and you take care of everyone else. You’re allowed to have a few minutes in each day to set your focus, regroup and feel a little more in control.

Join me every day as I bring you simple and practical tips you can use right now to gain a little more control over your life.

Visit my Amazon page for more information.

Amazon Alexa skill - Mental Health Moment with Lori Miller


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How to simplify your week to reduce stress

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“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” Steve Jobs

I’m not one to quote Steve Jobs too much. He was brilliant, no question. But I’m not sure he’s the model to follow for a low-stress life in the workplace.

He seemed to ooze complexity. At least that’s what it looked like from my judg-ey overstuffed reading chair and ottoman.

I think he was onto something here, though, in understanding how we can simplify one of our real stressors at work — our workload.

Simplifying your work helps you do work that matters

If we think about the Apple products we use, they are dead simple.

My iPhone requires almost no instruction. The apps on it reduce complicated processes down to one or two steps I can do while I’m in the bathroom. (Don’t judge me, you do it too. 🙃)

In spite of the challenges the smartphone era has brought us, it’s also made so many things in life easier.

  • Don’t you remember what it was like trying to find answers to life’s big questions on Yahoo using your two-inch-thick Compaq laptop?
  • Remember scribbling tasks in your Monticello-themed, double-binded Franklin Planner?
  • Have you forgotten just how complicated it was to take your own pulse by using two fingers on one hand?

This was the crazy world the iPhone entered back in that dark age.

Apples’ development team started with the simplest version of what they thought could work and built on it from there. I’m sure they had a veritable scroll of features they probably could have included in that first phone (known then sweetly as “iPhone”).

But we’d probably still be waiting for that first iPhone, clumsily walking around with two fingers on our carotids and using hash marks to count our 10,000 steps.

The ensuing versions of the iPhone — all the way to today’s iPhone XR — came about once humans started actually using the phone.

I mean, who knew one day we would rarely even use these things as a phone? Who saw that one coming? 🤷

Use an MVP to simplify your work

You business-minded folks may recognize this process as a principle called “Minimum Viable Product,” or MVP.

(Bear with me. The therapist is using a business principle to make a point here.)

Entrepreneur Eric Ries was the first to toss this definition of MVP around in his book, “The Lean Startup:”

A Minimum Viable Product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.

In regular-people speak:

  • Build the simplest version of your product that will let you learn how people use it,
  • Gather feedback from them while they’re using it, then
  • Add new features from what you learned.
  • And so on, and so on….

This can save you time and energy because you’re not trying to build the best product ever by just guessing what might work. That’s so old school.

  • MVP gives you a real-life lab to build a product that helps people solve the annoying problems in their lives.
  • MVP helps you see what really helps people, not just stuff you and your team think is cool.
  • People tend to celebrate and buy stuff that helps them solve problems.

Maybe you don’t build a tangible product per se.

(Actually you do! Your work is your product. Make work your product!)

Apply the MVP principle on this Monday to simplify the rest of this week

This frees you up to do the work that solves real problems and creates forward momentum.

I don’t know about you, but nothing stresses me out more than doing work that doesn’t matter.

Here’s a little MVP roadmap I made for you:

1. Create and plan a wicked simple baseline for what you want to accomplish this week

I’m showing my INFJ skin a bit here, but planning is essential to reduce stress at work. Sorry.

You have to create some buckets, even leaky ones, to capture your important work or you’ll just end up with a messy pile of pointless doo-doo on Friday.

I know that may fly in the face of your possibly more spontaneous nature, but spontaneity and joy are not mutually exclusive.

Don’t go crazy and overplan (see also: procrastination).

But do plan, please.

Give some thought ahead of time about how you want this week to end up.

  • What do you want to hold in your hand on Friday (besides a cold beer)?
  • What MVP product can you produce this week that you can then build on next week?
  • Put everything else on a “next release” list of some kind.

Be honest about what you can really do. This is an area where we create a lot of our own stress.

Our work eyes are sometimes bigger than our work stomachs, if you will. 😋

Create a workable plan that is do-able with the time and resources you have this week and focus the week on that.

2. Protect your plan by establishing boundaries around your work

I know what you’re thinking. That’s great and all, but what about when my boss runs in with a little project on fire, and I’m the one who’s supposed to put it out? 📝🔥

What happens to my well-crafted plan then, sister girlfriend?

In many cases, you can give your boss some options on how you put that fire out.

“Sorry this project is on fire, Susie. Take a deep breath. Here are a couple of things we could do. Which one do you like?”

  1. Use the fire extinguisher. This will put the fire out immediately but it will also trash everything around us. It will resolve the problem immediately but we’ll spend two days cleaning up. This will delay all our other projects.
  2. Use the sweater slung over the back of my office chair to put out the fire. This will suffocate the fire and ruin my sweater, but it will most likely resolve the problem and preserve the working environment. We’ll need a minute to regroup, and I’ll need a long lunch to go buy another sweater. But we can get back on track today.

(Fire people are going to kill me on this one. It’s an analogy. If there’s an actual fire in your office, please be safe and follow your company’s fire safety plan.)

Of course there are plenty of unexpected things that pop up in the work week. But they don’t have to completely derail your work.

Unless they truly have to.

The best part about having a plan is how you can adjust it to meet changing needs.

But you can also protect it by offering other options besides you always having to set everything else aside.

And you still have a shot at maintaining momentum with your plan while getting credit for helping put out a fire, too.

3. Capture feedback to build your next version

In building an MVP, capturing feedback is what drives the best new version of the product.

Thoughtful and engaging feedback makes your work better.

If you work in a team format, you absolutely should be open to feedback. Unless you’re freakin’ Leonardo da Vinci, you need other perspectives to do great work.

Here’s the dealio with feedback, though.

You’re not necessarily required to convert that feedback into action items. And certainly not this week.

If the feedback is a game changer for where your work is headed right now, then be for real and change your plan.

But don’t feel like it’s always required. Put the feedback on your “next version” list and see how it may fit in later.

Put a little fence around your work and be your own gatekeeper.

This serves to focus your best cognitive energy on the feedback you can use now to do your best work this week.

4. Make it your task to understand how your work ties in to a larger goal

Why do you do the work at your job? I don’t mean to start you on an existential quest here, but really … why are you doing this work?

Part of an MVP is knowing that your work is accomplishing a specific outcome. You can touch it, define it and explain it.

Apple’s slogan for the first iPhone was “Apple reinvents the phone.”

Apple reinvents the phone - 2007 Macworld Steve Jobs introduces the iPhone

“Apple reinvents the phone” by Nobuyuki Hayashi is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Did the developers working then understand that? I hope so because they did reinvent the phone. They absolutely did.

This is where Steve Jobs’ focus on simplicity comes to bear. He was obviously great at painting a vision, not just for customers but for the people doing the work.

And it made all the difference.

Many leadership teams lack the skills to communicate business goals in simple ways.

How does Allison in accounting understand how her weekly report contributes to the company’s quarterly success? To her, it may be just a thing she does on Monday before lunch.

Yes, the burden of that understanding should really fall on Allison’s company.

But remember, the power to reduce stress is in our hands, not waiting for someone else to figure it out for us.

So Allison may have to ask that question of her boss or someone else at her company who’s in the know.

This is an excellent way to make sure the work you’re doing is needed.

If not, you can apply your efforts toward something that will.

Now what?

Companies who use the MVP approach have seen enormous, even overwhelming success. It allows them to put great work out there and let others help them refine it.

You can do the same in your workweek if you resolve to keep your stuff simple and workable.

  • Be honest with yourself and others about what you can do.
  • Don’t be afraid to set boundaries around your work.
  • Let others use their perspective and knowledge to inform your work and make it better.
  • Seek out the larger picture for yourself, and bring it back to your desk every day.

 


Check out my new Alexa Skill – Mental Health Moment with Lori Miller

You’re busy at work and at home, and you take care of everyone else. You’re allowed to have a few minutes in each day to set your focus, regroup and feel a little more in control.

Join me every day as I bring you simple and practical tips you can use right now to gain a little more control over your life.

Visit my Amazon page for more information.

Amazon Alexa skill - Mental Health Moment with Lori Miller


Subscribe to the Be Well, Do Well newsletter

GET THE BE WELL DO WELL DIGEST!

Info and tips each week to help you improve and change your life!

Give yourself a Mental Health Moment every day!

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Amazon Alexa skill - Mental Health Moment with Lori Miller

Sometimes you need some encouragement right at the top of the day so you can stay focused on what will keep you energized and productive. 🌝

I’m excited to debut my Alexa skill, Mental Health Moment with Lori Miller.

It’s a little shot in the arm to start your day.

Every day I’ll talk about small ways you can inject a bit of sanity in your day.

If you have an Amazon Echo you can enable Mental Health Moment in the Alexa store. You can also download the Alexa app on your phone or tablet and enable the skill there.

Check out all the details on my Amazon skill page.

Feel free to leave me a review. I’d love to know what you think! 🤔