Why observations are more powerful than questions

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Photo: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

Last year, when my son started kindergarten, my mom friends warned me that he might come home irritable the first few weeks. They were right: My normally happy-go-lucky five-year-old would trudge off the bus, throw his backpack on the entryway floor, and turn on the TV without a word (except to demand a bowl of Goldfish). When I asked about his day at dinner or at bedtime, he’d shut me down and change the subject.

It didn’t last long, thankfully, but I’ve spent the time since then wondering why a question as innocuous as “How was your day?” would prompt such a negative reaction. I recently found what seemed to be an answer in an Instagram post about how to get kids to talk about their feelings: Seattle-based therapist Lindsay Braman explained that such an open-ended prompt can increase anxiety, especially when you’re asking someone (like a five-year-old) to share emotions they don’t know how to explain. …


We’re getting better at pandemic life every day

A senior couple lie next to each other on the sofa with their legs in the air. They are holding hands.
A senior couple lie next to each other on the sofa with their legs in the air. They are holding hands.
Photo: Jessie Casson/Getty Images

“If the kids interrupt me one more time,” I hissed to my husband. I didn’t finish the sentence. I didn’t know how to. I was already at the end of my rope.

This was about a month into quarantine, and my anxiety was roaring into high gear — we hadn’t had childcare in weeks, and I was at max capacity trying to juggle my kindergartener’s distance learning, my preschooler’s constant emotional outbursts, and my own freelance writing work. Something had to give, and I had a hunch it wouldn’t be the pandemic.

The moment felt like a crossroads. I had a choice: I could keep living in frustrated denial, or I could find a workaround. With support from my husband, I scaled back on work, hired a pandemic-safe babysitter, and let my kids watch entire seasons of Paw Patrol when I was on a deadline. That wasn’t necessarily the reality I wanted to live in, but after a while, I realized that being more honest with myself about my own limits — as both a worker and a parent — made this less-desirable reality at least a tolerable one. …


Thinking ahead about your grocery list and laundry schedule can help you cope with chaos

A man holding laundry basket while walking through doorway at home
A man holding laundry basket while walking through doorway at home
Photo: Maskot/Getty Images

For the week of the election, I’m strategically planning my shower schedule. I’m usually an every-other-day bather, but next week, my only priority is to take a shower on the morning of November 3. Because if things don’t go as I want them to, I don’t see myself mustering up the energy I need to do it the next day, let alone venture off my couch. Starting with clean hair on Election Day gives me a few days of buffer.

A lot is at stake during any presidential election — but for many of us, this one in particular feels like it comes with life-or-death consequences. Kate Truitt, a California-based psychologist, says the ongoing stress of the last four years (not to mention a global pandemic) has made people more sensitive than usual to new, potentially threatening information. “Election Day is the pivotal moment where you’ll either be able to breathe again or feel like you need to go into hiding,” she says. …


It’s time for the platonic define-the-relationship talk

Two friends laugh together.
Two friends laugh together.
Photo: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

When the sound of my kids’ screaming starts to push me over the edge, I grab my phone to text my friend Rachel. “Shitshow here, how about there?” I inquire, usually followed by a series of GIFs that reflect my current emotional crisis. Instead of texting back, she usually FaceTimes. With our preschoolers losing it in perfect harmony, we air our pandemic anxiety and banter about how glad we are we didn’t marry the guys we dated in 2009.

It’s always a relief. …


Guide To Google Drive

Paying attention to the things you love is an underrated way to get to know yourself

Woman wearing face mask holding grocery bags on the street with Google Drive icons in foreground.
Woman wearing face mask holding grocery bags on the street with Google Drive icons in foreground.
Photo illustration; Image source: FatCamera/Getty Images

This piece is part of How Google Drive Can Make Every Corner of Your Life Easier

Right now, in a Google Doc under the heading “Things I Love,” I have the following list: velvet couch pillows. Leopard accessories. Rosy lip gloss. Pastel crocs. I wish I were joking about that last one, but I’ve lingered over enough targeted ads for those rubber shoes to accept the truth.

The Doc is a catch-all for items I’ve come across during trips to the store, during idle online browsing, or while scrolling social media — less a premeditated shopping list, more a brain dump of things that happen to bring me joy. When I happen across a product that screams “Ashley,” I feel like someone out there knows me, even if that “someone” is just the algorithm. …


Guide To Google Drive

When life feels too busy to connect to something bigger, open your laptop and type

Woman on laptop sitting on bed with light streaming in, with icons and sparkles in foreground.
Woman on laptop sitting on bed with light streaming in, with icons and sparkles in foreground.
Photo illustration; Image source: Cavan Images/Getty Images

This piece is part of How Google Drive Can Make Every Corner of Your Life Easier

Every once in a while, when I’m carrying a mental load that feels too heavy to bear on my own, I power on my computer and start a Google Doc. Dear God, I type, in Garamond for good measure. I’m sorry it’s been so long.

It’s a method of prayer that would have felt utterly bizarre to me not that long ago. I spent years believing that having God in my life meant living up to a very exacting ideal — a belief I fully embraced for the first time at age 14, when I became a Christian on a windy spring morning at a Wisconsin Bible camp. As I repeated the words of commitment after the emotional youth leader in front of me, I pictured myself following Jesus far away from my old life. …


Time to become an emotional doomsday prepper

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Photo: byakkaya/Getty Images

What would you do if you knew the world was about to end? Like any doomsday prepper, you’d probably stock up on the supplies you would need to survive the impending catastrophe: the nonperishable food, the bottled water, the first-aid kit.

Well, it’s not quite the apocalypse, but as we approach the darker, colder days of our pandemic winter, life as we’ve come to know it these past several months — our tenuous grasp on something resembling normalcy — is coming to an end. …


Being anti-racist means learning to manage your automatic stress response

A stressed White woman biting her nails while looking at her cell phone.
A stressed White woman biting her nails while looking at her cell phone.
Photo: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Most people have heard of fight or flight, but there’s a third, lesser-known way people respond to feeling threatened — and in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, it was visible all over the social media accounts of White people.

As the fight for racial justice gained steam across the country, millions of White people found themselves unsure how to act on social media: agreeing with anti-racist memes that filled their Instagram feeds, but worried about adding to the performative noise flooding the platform. …


The more vividly you can capture happy moments, the easier it will be to revisit them in harder times

Black man smiling over a cup of tea.
Black man smiling over a cup of tea.
Photo: Granger Wootz/Getty Images

After a long string of bad days, Tuesday night was an unexpected bright spot. My husband and I followed our sons on their scooters for a post-dinner romp at the neighborhood playground, which we had all to ourselves. The sky was cotton-candy pink, the temperature was just right, and best of all, the boys had traded their usual bickering for belly laughs.

Chasing my three-year-old around the park, I felt free, childlike, and connected — almost like the world wasn’t crumbling all around me. It was something I hadn’t felt in months.

It was also fleeting. By the next morning, the buzz of that evening had already worn off, and I once again found myself consumed by stress as I slogged through the day. If only I could teleport back to that breezy, balmy night at the park. …


The psychological reason vacations are great is also why they can be dangerous

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Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Five months into the pandemic, you’re probably familiar with the potential risks that come with traveling. Being on public transit like buses, trains, and airplanes, which don’t always allow proper social distancing, can potentially expose you to the novel coronavirus. Even road trips aren’t a guarantee of safety. (Chances are, you’ll have to make a pit stop or two.)

But no matter how you travel, you’re definitely not off the hook when you arrive at your final destination. …

About

Ashley Abramson

Health & psychology writer with work in WaPo, NYT, New York Magazine, Glamour, Allure, InStyle, & more.

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