Mental Health Month: Challenge 3 Positive Affirmations

Welcome to Challenge 3!! If you missed the previous ones, you can check out Challenge 1 and Challenge 2.

Affirmations are thoughts or statements that reflect positive self-talk. Self-talk is the running dialogue that goes on inside of your head. Hopefully, the bulk of what you say is either neutral or positive. Sometimes, self-talk can be negative in nature. Let’s revisit the negative statements used as examples in Challenge 1:

“I’m so stupid.”

“I can never do anything right.”

“Nobody likes me.”

“You are always yelling at me.”

“This is the worst day ever.”

Affirmations take negative thoughts and turn them into positive statements. This is quite different from the strategy used in Challenge 1, which was to remove extreme language and instead saying what one means. Affirmations very specifically change the nature of the thought itself. Take a look at the following examples of negative self-talk that was turned into positive affirmations:

“I’m so stupid.” –> “I am intelligent.”

“I can never do anything right.” –> “I am capable.”

“Nobody likes me.” –> “I am liked by others.” or “My friends enjoy my company.”

“You are always yelling at me.” –> “The negative reactions of others will not bring me down.” or “I rise above this negative behavior.”

“This is the worst day ever.” –> “Tomorrow will be a better day.” or “Better days are coming.”

For Challenge 3, I encourage you to start each day with a positive affirmation. Take a few moments before you go about your daily tasks to choose one affirmation. Slowly say the affirmation three times. Take a few moments to comprehend what the words of the affirmation mean to you.

Under the “Downloads” section of my menu I have included an Affirmations worksheet. This free download includes a list of 30 affirmations to help inspire you to begin your day with positivity.

To get more inspiration and to see how I put affirmations into action, follow me on Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat (username: cindytgrahamphd or see my Contact page for my snapcode).


Mental Health Month: Challenge 2 Thoughts of Gratitude

Ready for your next challenge for Mental Health Month? Great!! This week’s challenge focuses on the thoughts we have. As we go about our daily lives it can be easy to forget the positive experiences we have. Life on a day-to-day basis isn’t about winning the lottery or buying a new car or landing your dream job. Life from day-to-day is about smaller things, a smile that brightened your day, one last big hug from your child before he or she heads off to school, and getting a work assignment done and checked off your list of to-do’s.

Gratitude is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the state of being grateful; thankfulness” (from We can be thankful for any of a number of big and small moments and my goal is to help you improve your mental health by taking notice of the wide range of positive experiences. Taking note of that which we are grateful for is associated with increased mental well-being.

It is easy to miss these small moments as we wait, pray, and/or hope for “bigger” moments to occur. So I challenge you to start taking notice of, and being thankful for, these small moments in your everyday life. As a guide, you can download this free Thoughts of Gratitude Worksheet to help you keep track of the things in your life you are thankful for. At the beginning of the day you can write down those events for the day  you are looking forward to and are thankful for (for example, a job opportunity, great weather, family time, etc.). You also have the option at the end of the day to record events that had occurred that day that were positive. For bonus points you can fill out your Thoughts of Gratitude Worksheet both day and night!!

So I challenge you to record at least once a day those things that you are grateful for in your life.

Mental Health Month: Challenge 1 Reduce Extreme Language

The words we express are a direct reflection of the thoughts that are being said in our minds. One way we can begin to change our inner negative thoughts (or, negative self-talk) is by monitoring and changing what we say out loud.

“I’m so stupid.”

“I can never do anything right.”

“Nobody likes me.”

“You are always yelling at me.”

“This is the worst day ever.”

These are examples of things we might say even though we mean something different. This pattern of behavior can become negatively impactful on one’s thoughts and mood because of the emphasis on extremes. When we say words like “never”, “always”, “nobody”, “worst”, etc. we begin to normalize the extreme and therefore lose sight of the “middle of the road.”

Let’s rework these statements to reflect what is really meant.

“I’m so stupid.” –> “I can’t believe I made this mistake.”

“I can never do anything right.” –> “I get frustrated when I make mistakes.”

“Nobody likes me.” –> “It feels like I have no one to talk to right now.”

“You are always yelling at me.” –> “It hurts my feelings when you raise your voice to me during our arguments.”

“This is the worst day ever.” –> “This has been a very difficult day for me.”

So your challenge is to get rid or your extreme language. Be mindful of the words you are using and try to say exactly what you mean. Use this Extreme Language Worksheet to record the extreme language you find yourself using. After recording the negative statement, be sure to write down next to it what you actually mean.

Faith and Mental Health: Cleanse the Lens

With today being Easter Sunday, I deem it only fitting for today’s post to tackle faith and mental health. Now, if you are not a spiritual person or if you are not a person of faith, don’t exit out of this page. The analogy that I use still pertains to you. So please, read on.

Princeton University Chapel. Copyright Cindy T. Graham, Ph.D.

There have been many times in my life, after getting to know me for some time, people were surprised to know that I am a born-again Christian. Mainly because I am such a strong advocate of evidence-based treatment methods for mental illness people tend to assume that I can’t be religious. Some of you reading this are probably wondering how I am able to rectify the two. How can I be a Christian and believe in science and scientific method. Quite easily, actually. The pastor at the church I attend explained it quite well a couple of weeks ago during his sermon when he said,

“The best I can do is to cleanse the lens that the Light shines through.”

Inside the Chapel at Princeton. Copyright Cindy T. Graham, Ph.D.

Believers know the Light makes reference to Jesus Christ and He is the light that shines through us once we have accepted Him. The lens represents us. How we cleanse that lens pertains to what we do to maintain our overall wellness. Do nothing and the lens becomes smeared, cloudy, lacking in the sharp detail it is meant to have. Use the wrong kind of cleaning supplies and you can still have a lint-filled, streaky and obscured lens.  Some events in our lives will leave next-to-no marks on your lens. Some events will leave behind finger prints, dust, dirt, grime…the list goes on.

You certainly could walk around like that. With a dirty lens. Squinting. Struggling to see clearly. You may bump into things or you may stop in your tracks. You may even try to figure out a way to get a new set of lenses. Whether you are a spiritual person or not, I think we can all agree that nobody wants to have dirty lenses. Everybody wants to move forward and live a life with as much clarity as possible. And this means you have to clean your lens.

Copyright Cindy T. Graham, Ph.D.

Sometimes you can use just a cloth to get the job done. Sometimes you have to fog it up with your breath to get some of the more oily streaks off. And sometimes, you have to break out the special cloth, the nice one that gets your lenses super, crystal clear and doesn’t leave behind any lint. It is the same with life. Sometimes you can “clean up” what you are going through by talking to a friend, going for walk, praying, etc. And then you are back on your way to living your life with clarity. But sometimes you will need a little bit more.

And this is where psychotherapy comes in. Psychotherapy is by no means the only method for getting the smudges off of our lenses. Psychotherapy is one of many possible tools at our disposal to help us get some clarity back in our life. If you have gotten to a place in your life where you are no longer able to live with clarity, you owe it to yourself to seek out those methods available to help you get to a place of better wellness. Therapy is one of those really great cleaning cloths that get the stubborn smears off your lenses.

So whether you are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ or whether you are enjoying another day of spring, why not make a decision to do what you can to live your life with clarity? Make a commitment to do your best to cleanse the lens that lets the light shine through.


Pi Day Pizza


For those who don’t know, Pi is a mathematical number, equaling 3.14 when rounded. March is the 3rd month and today is the 14th day of the month, so voila, Pi Day. You can find more details on Pi Day here.

You are probably thinking that my family and I made pizza pies today in honor of Pi Day. Well, you are wrong. If it weren’t for the snow day I would’ve been working until 6:15p so ain’t nobody got time for making homemade pizza on a weeknight. Our tribute to Pi day was to eat the final slices left from pizzas that we made over the weekend.

…I know, I know, that was a stretch. Let’s be straightforward, you are reading this article for the recipe and not for the backstory…

Since the hustle and busy of our weekdays do not allow for a lot of family time, I try to maximize our time over the weekend. Quality family time is important for children’s overall development, socialization/social skills development, and mental health. We also use these times to build on existing math skills (e.g. counting scoops of ingredients), science knowledge (such as going from liquid to solid states, how certain ingredients affect the outcome, etc.), and fine motor skills.

But most importantly we love pizza. By making it ourselves we know exactly what ingredients and how much of those ingredients are going in. This way we have a much better idea of what is going into our bodies. Healthy bodies, healthy minds.  Alright, on to the recipe.

Pizza Dough

I used this recipe by Bobby Flay. I used 4 cups of flour and ended up using at least 2 cups of water. I mixed and kneaded by hand rather than using the food processor and my bread maker. Since it is cold here in Maryland getting the dough to rise properly was an issue. A trick I used to help the dough to rise was warming my oven to the lowest setting possible, turning off the oven once it reached temperature, and then put the dough (still inside of the bowl and covered) on top of a sheet pan in the oven.

Pizza Sauce (bear with me again, I didn’t measure anything so these are rough estimates)

1 32oz can of pizza sauce

1.5tsp black pepper (freshly ground)

2tbsps parsley (dried; if using fresh use at least 3tbsps)

1.5tbsps oregano (dried; if using fresh use 2tbsps)

1tbsp Italian seasoning

garlic (5 cloves)

one handful of fresh basil (or about 2tbsps if using dried)

Mix all of the ingredients together and set aside. I did this right after I made the dough. Allowing it to sit gives the seasonings a chance to get to know each other (i.e., it enhances the flavor).

Pie Assembly

Toppings: mozzarella cheese (fresh, and sliced or grated), sausage (ground and cooked), black olives, Kalamata olives, green peppers, pepperoni, tomatoes

Grease the baking sheet with olive oil. Stretch the dough onto the baking sheet (we were able to make 2 large pizzas and one medium sized pizza from this dough). First top with the pizza sauce mixture and be sure not to put too much. Then layer whatever toppings you like but save the cheese for last. Bake in a 425 degree Farenheit oven for about 23 minutes for the large pizzas and about 20 minutes for the medium pizza or until the crust is golden brown. Allow to cool slightly. Slice and enjoy!!

By the way, I realize that the use of sausage and pepperoni flies in the face of healthy eating. First, I never said this was a healthy recipe. You can certainly swap out sausage and pepperoni for chicken or mushrooms (and we sometimes do). Second, I am a big believer in moderation and balance. Do we eat like this everyday? No. Do we even eat like this every weekend? No. It is okay to indulge in some of these less healthy ingredients as long as it is not a regular habit. Moderation and balance, people!!