ifIknew is a health initiative for young adults that uses a multi media approach, including social media and in person programs, to address the contemporary issues that impact the well-being, self-image, careers, and relationships of people in their 20's and 30's.

If I Knew is a prevention education project that raises awareness about risky behaviors that can profoundly impact lives.

If I knew then what I know now I would…

dear me Trent Bell is a well-respected architectural photographer for publications like the New York Times and Design New England. He was shocked to find out that a dear friend of his, who was a husband and a father of four, was sentenced to prison for 36 years. Bell decided that he wanted to create a platform for inmates to speak about their experiences and lessons learned. He asked the inmates of Maine State Prison to write letters to their younger selves and then photographed them alongside their letters. What came out of the project was life changing-- the inmates wrote wise and insightful advice to their younger selves that were relatable, powerful, and meaningful. From this experience, Bell recalls that, “Our untold stories can contain loss, remorse, and regret but the positive value of these bad choices might be immeasurable if we can face them, admit to them, learn from them, and find the strength to share.”

We all make mistakes in life, but how often do we get the opportunity to truly reflect on the choices we have made? What kind of insight would you come up with if you had the opportunity to talk to a younger version of yourself? You might tell yourself the same things that the inmates told themselves like, “Never lose the person you really are because it may be too late by the time you find yourself again,” or “You must be willing to forgive those that ask or deserve for forgiveness in order to be forgiven yourself.”

In response to Bell’s project, we invite you to write a letter to your former self asking, “If I knew then what I know now, I would have…” Please post letters in the comment box below our blog or scan/e-mail them to sshapero@jcsbaltimore.org to possibly get featured on IfiKnew’s Facebook and Twitter page.

What part of your life would you want to reflect on the most? Would you want to keep your letter private or share with someone? How could this letter help you now in making decisions? Does this letter help you feel more confident in trusting your intuition? From getting some perspective, you may find that you are wiser, braver, and stronger than you could have possibly imagined.

The consequences of taking sexy pictures and sending them on your phone or putting them online

sexting picture Let’s take a minute and walk through a hypothetical situation. Let’s say I was to take explicit photos for my boyfriend or girlfriend on my phone and send them to him or her for fun. Someone else sees my photos by accident and thinks it would be a funny joke to post them on Facebook. I wake up to texts from my friends who saw the photos online and are concerned for me. I get online to see that most of Facebook has seen my pictures. I am horrified and humiliated. What do I do? How would my life change if my most intimate moments were shared with total strangers? What if my family and friends saw them?

Sexting is really popular right now. Whether you are sending texts on your phone, Snap Chatting inappropriate pictures, or uploading pictures and videos online, you never truly know who is looking at your content. In the moment of taking that selfie, it is easy to forget what the possible consequences are. There is an epidemic of photos being shared online without permission. Legally, if you give your pictures to someone else, they can do whatever they want with them. Even if it is a person you trust, it can get leaked. Computers can be hacked and nowadays none of our content online is truly ours. If someone really wanted to, they could access your information.

Since information spreads online within seconds, even if social media sites to take down the photos- there would still be links or archives online that connect you back to the images. Basically, no amount of work can clean up an incident like this. Information online is permanent and can circulate forever. We aren’t trying to scare you but we do want you to be smart. Think twice before you send someone naked pictures because it could turn your private life public. It might mean risking your personal life, your stress levels, and your self-esteem.

Just like our GPS, sometimes we all need to do some “recalculating”

let go You may feel lost. You may feel like you are on board a ship with a captain with no compass. It may even feel like you are far away in another country & whoever is doing the translating for you has had too much to drink.

That feeling is normal before any change occurs. The truth is--we can never predict how a change will affect us before it happens, even if we thoroughly prep ourselves. In the famous words of Outkast, “You can plan a pretty picnic but you can’t predict the weather.” Being adaptable to change is one of the greatest tools you have to help process challenges.

I’ve gone through a lot of changes.  Here are the best tools I’ve learned for dealing with big changes:

  1. Be kind to yourself. Make time in your schedule to do something that feels comforting whether that be creating something artistic or taking a long walk/run. When you can find quiet time in your life, your intuition will guide you in the right direction.
  2. Let go of your “should’s.” Having self-judgement makes change even harder.  Next time you catch yourself saying, “I should have…” take a deep breath and change the “should” to “I can choose to do this or I can choose to do that. Which options feels right to me at this time.”
  3. Let go of your expectations during the change. The more you try to control the process-the longer it will take for you to accept your new reality. Be open to what is happening by surrendering and acknowledging that there must be personal growth in the change even if it feels scary.
  4. Try to let out whatever emotions come to the surface while you are processing the change. This could include mediating on how you are feeling, writing down your emotions, letting yourself cry or laugh, or getting out anger through exercise. The more accurately you can be honest with yourself about how you are feeling, the quicker you can process the change and heal from it.
  5. When everything around you is changing, look for the part of you that doesn’t change. The part that is calm, centered, and always present.
  6. Surround yourself with a team of people who can help you navigate the change. These may be people who have been through a similar change and can relate or be people who you admire and who have the right skills to help guide you through the change. It could be both. One of our biggest flaws as human beings is the tendency to keep thinking we are alone. Whatever the situation, there is always      someone who can help.
  7. Create a plan for yourself and take action. This plan could be as small as remembering to brush your teeth and eat breakfast every morning or it could be as large as moving to a new place or finding a new job. Whatever the action is, put your energy into something positive.
  8. Remember that this change may be bigger than just you and your life. It is always important to keep your life in perspective and be grateful for the life you have.


“If you hold on to the handle, she said, it's easier to maintain the illusion of control. But it's more fun if you just let the wind carry you.”- Brian Andreas

Why breaking up with Facebook for a year was the best decision I ever made

fb pictureDeciding to delete your Facebook is a big move. It takes guts and a whole lot of self-control. Some people can practice self-control on their own and not get addicted. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of those people. I couldn’t just use Facebook once a week or once a day. I needed to be on it all the time. At first, deleting your Facebook can feel like spontaneously deciding to move to a foreign country with no communication to the outside world. It can feel isolating and lonely. But then something magical happens. You get your real life back.

I was obsessed with Facebook. It felt almost as necessary as having a cell phone or a social security number, and I checked it over 10 times a day. Did you know that Americans spend an average of 8 hours a day on a computer and an average of 16 hours a week on Facebook? This means that I was spending the equivalent of two whole nights of sleep per week on Facebook.

I wanted to delete my account because I had become addicted to my online image. Every time I took a photo, I would analyze whether or not it qualified as a profile picture. I would check my account throughout the day just to see how many likes my post got. I would compare my picture to others and before I knew it, Facebook became a place where I needed to receive constant validation. I also spent way too much time thinking about people’s lives that I did not interact with anymore. All of the sudden I was following Katie and David’s engagement from high school and noticing that Tommy ate pizza for breakfast every morning. My brain started racking up unimportant facts about people and no matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to clear my head of the chatter and gossip.

When I actually got up the courage to delete my account, it was harder than I imagined. Once you tell Facebook you want to say goodbye, it shows you pictures of all your friends and says, “Are you sure you want to lose touch with all of these people?” Can you believe that?! They try to guilt trip you into staying. But I took a deep breath and deleted it anyway.

Here’s what happened:

Within the first week, I noticed that all the chatter in my head disappeared. I began to feel more at ease and more present with what I was doing. Because I couldn’t be connected to Facebook 24 hours a day, I started using my time more wisely and doing activities that I actually wanted to do. By the second week, I felt my self-esteem rising. I no longer felt the need to impress others with my pictures or make sure each move I made was ‘liked’. I began to feel wholeness and compassion towards myself. I also began deepening my relationship with others. When I wanted to check in with someone, I would call them and hear their voice or make a date to meet for a meal. I began focusing my attention on the people who mattered most to me and saw them in person more often. By week three, I was relieved and happy that Facebook was out of my life for good.

So here is my advice to you:

Make a conscious effort to see in person the people you care about. Instead of commenting on people’s online pictures, try calling them to catch up so you can hear the tone of their voice and let them tell you how they are doing. We tend to assume how someone is doing is based on Facebook but we are really only seeing certain aspects of their life.

Also, try deleting your Facebook account for just one week and see how you feel. If you are worried about losing your information, don’t worry- all of your posts and pictures will be saved for you when you return. But if you try it, you just might find that you get more back than you thought. You might just get your life back.

Why we need to say NO to Fat Talk.

beauty Have you ever spent seconds, minutes, hours, or even days judging your body for how it looks? It’s okay to admit it. Most people have. Unfortunately, 93% of women and girls in the United States “Fat Talk” in front of each other, finding commonality in what they think is wrong with their bodies. More than 6 million people (men and women included) have fat talked about themselves online. This can include everything from “joking” about their ‘muffin tops’ to destructive undervaluing of oneself via Twitter or Facebook. Today, fat talk has become part of ordinary conversation, spoken without a second thought. Unfortunately, fat talking can lead to more serious issues like eating disorders and depression.

So why do we do it? What makes us not feel good enough? Why do we say negative things about our bodies and how can we create positive self-talk about ourselves and others? Here are three different perspectives of why we fat talk:

Dalia, age 22 said, "Sometimes I don’t even know that I am engaging in fat talk. I catch myself making a mean face in the mirror, rolling my eyes when my pants don’t fit, or judging myself in a photo online. Fat talking is subtle, but has the ability to slowly really tear apart your self-esteem. It’s like having a character from Mean Girls in my head who judges me all the time. I fat talk because I don’t like the way I look compared to other women I see. I am not obese but I am ‘chubby’ and it makes me feel not good enough.”

Jake, age 27 said, “I don’t necessarily fat talk about being too fat but I definitely talk negatively to myself for being too skinny. I judge myself for not having enough muscle mass and not working out enough. I think men feel pressure just like women do to look a certain way and we are really hard on ourselves when we don’t meet our goals.”

There are ways to say NO to fat talk and YES to self- love-

The first thing to do is to notice when you begin to say negative things about your body. Developing self-awareness is crucial for killing your internal fat talk. When you feel the need to vocalize something negative, take a moment and ask yourself, “Is this thought real? Is it worth giving power to?” Newsflash: You do not have to believe every thought that comes into your head.

Try taking 1 minute every day to look at yourself in the mirror and say the words, “I love you”. This may feel incredibly awkward at first, but overtime, you can deepen your love for yourself by doing this simple exercise. Acknowledge that you have a relationship with yourself, even if you currently choose not to see it. There is a part of you that is doing the talking, the listening, and the observing. Determine how you feel about yourself and what thoughts and emotions come up when you say, “I love you.”

Try creating a phrase, prayer, or mantra that you can always refer to. Here is an example of a quote you can use from Deepak Chopra: “Today I want to belong. I want to feel safe and at home. I want to be aware of what it is like simply to be, without defenses or desires. I will appreciate the flow of life for what it is-my own true self. I will notice those moments of intimacy with myself, when I feel that “I am” is enough to sustain me forever.”

No one else can see the world the way you see it. No one else can feel your life the way you feel it. Because of this, it is impossible to ever compare two people because each person stands on such different ground. You were born worthy of love and belonging and once you realize your beauty, the whole world will be ready to receive your love.

Texting and Driving. Let’s talk about it.

texting It’s so easy to text and drive. Pull up to a red light, get out my phone and start texting with two hands. Then the light turns green but I convince myself that I can still manage to finish my sentence with one hand typing while placing the other hand on the wheel. I use the T-9 function to auto correct as I write with my non-dominant thumb. Maybe I take a peek at what I wrote (to make sure it is correct…which it rarely is) and get honked at by another driver. Maybe I swerve a little into the next lane, so I stop and wait until the next red light and then do it over again. Perhaps I want to change a song on Pandora (because I hate it when Justin Bieber comes on my Rihanna playlist). Or I could just be looking at my phone for directions to my job interview. Whatever the reason, the truth is this: cell phones have become a part of us and our daily driving experience.

Most of us have looked at our phones while driving. It feels satisfying. We are never bored. We feel stimulated. We may even feel good about snap chatting ourselves in the car because we look especially cute from that angle. Since we are used to instant gratification and experiencing constant communication with the outside world, thanks to our smart phones and computers, we have trouble waiting until we reach our destination to reach out. It becomes hard to stop, even if we want to.

We easily justify it in so many ways by saying things like, “I’ll hold my phone by the windshield for better visibility or I’ll read this text instead of sending one because I think it’s safer.” I mean, why wouldn’t we text and drive? We haven’t crashed into anyone’s car, right? We haven’t gotten hurt yet, right? We are purely making our driving experience more enjoyable and less boring, right? WRONG.

In the U.S. alone, there were 1.3 million cell phone related car crashes in 2013. It only takes 5 seconds of not paying attention on the road for an accident to happen. This means that if you are driving 55 mph, it equals driving the length of 1 football field without looking at the road. Crazy, right? And, statistics showed that text messaging while driving makes a crash 23 times more likely.

So, here are some thoughts on breaking the habit.

You have every good reason to not text and drive. It is illegal in the state of Maryland and 39 other states in the U.S. including Washington D.C. This means that if anyone ever gets mad at you for not digitally responding in a timely fashion, you can simply say, “I didn’t want to get pulled over by a cop and get a ticket.” No questions asked.

Need some time alone? Driving is an excellent excuse to unplug and not feel obligated to talk to people. Use that time for you and before you know it, you will look forward to your drive home without feeling the pressure of communicating. Your ride home will actually help you focus on the one thing you need to focus on most: driving.

Take a minute to think about the people driving around you. They all want to get home too. They all have families just like you do. Is it worth the risk? You could be hurting more than just yourself if you crash.

When We Use Stimulants to Keep Up

We live in a fast paced culture where we have to juggle many different balls at once both in our personal and professional lives. Because of our intense work environments, our challenging classes, and our busy social lives, we can end up over working ourselves and compromising our health. When we feel unfocused or exhausted and overexerted, it is easy for us to fall back on stimulants to help us stay on top of our daily tasks. There are a wide variety of stimulants: everything from Adderall and Ritalin to more subtle stimulants, such as coffee and sugar. While many stimulants are capable of improving mood and relieving anxiety, they are only temporary fixes that usually come with a crash and can easily be habit forming.

Take a moment and think: Have you needed to use stimulants on a regular basis? Do you feel dependent on them for your success? We’ve all been off balance before, but sometimes we forget how to get that balance back.

Here are some causes and symptoms of not maintaining a balanced lifestyle:

• Getting tired and groggy from lack of sleep, which can lead top long term exhaustion • Feeling over worked and over committed to too many activities or people at once, therefore developing greater stress and anxiety • Overdosing on caffeine, sugar, and other stimulants so that we have enough energy to get through the day • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, sleepiness, and mood swings if we do not get our fix

Unfortunately, when we are tired, we can’t just call our boss up and say, “Sorry, I don’t feel like coming into work today. I’m too tired and my coffee hasn’t kicked in yet.” We have to hold ourselves accountable for how we treat ourselves. If we treat ourselves well, we work better, do better, and ultimately live happier lives. Stimulants aren’t all bad, if you know how to use them in moderation. Check out these easy practices you can try that can lead to increased focus, productivity, motivation, and alertness in your everyday life.

1. Yoga- it’s a great stress reliever and can calm the mind by helping you focus on breath. Yoga is a tool that brings awareness to your body and opens the way for improved reaction time, coordination, memory, and focus. Most yoga studios have a one month beginner’s membership which is usually cheap. Sign up for a month trial and see how you feel! 2. Vitamins- Taking vitamins like omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin D, vitamin C, and vitamin B-12 can help with your overall brain functioning. Try starting with gummy vitamins if you don’t like swallowing pills. They taste like candy and they keep your immune system happy. 3. Mediation- A great tool that we can use to calm the heart and the mind. Even if you only have 30 seconds, try taking three deep breaths while closing your eyes. During this time, inhale for 4 seconds and exhale for 8 seconds. By doing this, our central nervous system immediately calms down. 4. Focus Games- Know how to juggle? During a work break, try juggling or doing a physical activity like throwing around a football because it will help bring all your awareness and attention to one thing. Even doing 10 push-ups when you get tired while writing a paper, will activate the natural stimulants in your body. If you can’t do a physical activity, try playing games on luminosity.com. They have stimulating exercises that are fun and refreshing. 5. Getting Sound Sleep- In order to get a better night’s sleep, try drinking non-caffeinated tea before bed and take a hot bath or shower. Also, try powering down your computer and TV at least an hour before you sleep. Even though you may want to get in your last FB comment or finish that TV show on Hulu, turning off your computer or iPad will let your brain quiet down. If your brain is buzzing like crazy, try writing down your thoughts and a to-do list so it can be on paper and out of your thoughts. 6. Alternative Stimulants- If you need that sugar buzz or caffeine hit, try eating fruit instead of candy and drinking green tea instead of coffee. Green tea lowers blood pressure and the amino acid, Theanine, is a natural relaxer. It will satisfy your craving but not give you a sugar or caffeine crash later. 7. Cardio Workouts- Remember to get in your cardio workouts at the gym! This will not only help you sleep better, but it will give you energy and blood circulation. Cardio improves one’s ability to deal with stress on a chemical level. It has been found to be a powerful anti-depressant. And it actually stimulates growth in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, responsible for our ability to focus.

Remember to listen to your body when you are feeling stressed or exhausted. When your body tells you to slow down, it’s probably knows what you need! Even though stimulants may be enticing, don’t forget that they are not a solid long term solutions to an unbalanced lifestyle and only you can decide what feels balanced or unbalanced to you.

Finding a way to love our vulnerabilities

girlIn our culture, vulnerability can be seen as a weakness. Even the dictionary labels vulnerability as: “Susceptible to physical or emotional injury or susceptible to attack.” Many people are afraid of being vulnerable with themselves and with others due to social pressures, gender roles, and fear of feeling unaccepted.

We are challenging you to think differently.

Brené Brown, a research professor at the University Of Houston Graduate College Of Social Work, has spent the past ten years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. She states that “Vulnerability is not weakness and that myth is profoundly dangerous. Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”

Then why do we struggle with vulnerability?

First of all, we numb ourselves. According to Brene Brown, “we are the most addicted, obese, in debt, and medicated adult cohort in history.” Unfortunately, we cannot selectively numb emotions. We cannot ignore fear, shame, vulnerability, and disappointment by pretending they don’t exist. When we ignore the bad feelings, we can escape by drinking, smoking, over eating, or isolating ourselves. The thing people don’t tell you is that you cannot numb the hard feelings without numbing the good feelings too. When we numb the bad feelings, we numb joy, gratitude, happiness. We then become miserable and look for meaning, which is why we reach for the beers or the smoke or the chocolate chip muffin, and it becomes a dangerous cycle. We do not just numb with addiction, we also pretend that what we do doesn’t have an effect on the people around us. Especially with texting and online chatting, we often forget that sarcasm is hard to read on the computer or phone, and we do not have visual access to body language that lets us know how someone interprets what we write. We pretend that what we are doing doesn’t have a huge impact on others.

How do we learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections so that we can engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness?

Turns out that when we welcome in vulnerability, we accept ourselves.

1. Have the courage to be imperfect. The word courage is from the Latin word cur- which means to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. When we develop the courage to be kind to ourselves first, we have more kindness for others. When we are willing to let go of what others think of us, we end up expressing our most authentic self.

2. When feeling vulnerable, fully embrace it. Lean into the discomfort. You can do this by writing your thoughts down in a journal or sharing your feelings with a close friend or mentor. It may not be very easy to share, but if you are in a safe space, it will make you feel much better.

3. Practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, moments like when we are wondering “Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this as passionately as I am? Can I be this fierce about this?” Instead of stopping and imagining what could go wrong, just to stop and say, “I am so grateful because to feel this vulnerable means I am alive.”

4. The most important key to vulnerability is believing that we are enough. Brene Brown says that the one thing that keeps us out of our connection is our fear that we are not worthy of connection. When we work from a place that says I am enough, we are kinder to the people around us, and we are kinder to ourselves. When we believe we are worthy of love and belonging then we become worthy of love and belonging.