Finding Comfort Amidst Change – A Meditation

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Change is difficult for us sometimes.  Often we avoid it or fight it because it scares us. There is a sense of safety in maintaining the status quo even if it is unhealthy.

When positive change occurs it can bring on stress even though the change is good for us.  Sitting with the anxiety, feeling it run through our veins, through our heart, circle our mind again and again, letting it exhale through our breath can eventually allow us to become more comfortable with the stress. Like anything or anyone, the more time we really pay attention to the details of it, I mean really, really observe every nuance of something, the less threatening it will seem.

Today I will sit with my discomfort and get to know it by observing everything about it, including where I feel it in my body, my mind, and my spirit, and I will know peace.

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Keep the Pace – A Meditation

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When it comes to mental illness, often our moods are “all or nothing.”  We are either on top of the world or in the pit of despair.  If we are not careful, our behaviors can reflect our emotions, leading to chaos in our lives and problems in our relationships with others.

When it comes to the emotional ups and downs of mental illness, we can fight the temptation to act on them by remembering the phrase “Keep the Pace.”  In other words, let’s keep doing what we do when we are stable.  Let’s keep showering and going to bed at a decent hour.  Let’s keep eating as healthy as we can and exercising moderately.  Let’s keep our social activities up, but not excessive, and our verbal and physical boundaries intact and closely moderated.  Let’s maintain an appropriate number of projects, neither dropping them all due to inertia nor starting too many.

When I feel myself slipping into either an elevated or a depressed mood state, I will remind myself to “keep the pace” and not feed into the insanity of my disorder by changing my behaviors too drastically.  Just like a marathon runner, who neither sprints nor ceases to run at all, I must pace myself to participate fully in the race, and then I will know peace.

3 Easy Ways to Practice Gratitude for Better Mental Health

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This week, in the United States, we are celebrating Thanksgiving Day. It is meant to be a day spent with family, being grateful for all we have in life. Often times, however, it is a stressful week filled with mad-dashes to crowded grocery stores, hours of cleaning and cooking, homes filled with obnoxious relatives, and the start of over-indulgent spending sprees as Christmas shopping begins the day after Thanksgiving, infamously dubbed as “Black Friday.”

It can also be an extra lonely and depressing day for those who have lost loved ones around this time of year or for those who do not have anyone with whom to celebrate or share a Thanksgiving Day meal.

In both scenarios, scientific evidence shows that practicing gratitude can improve a person’s mental health, in terms of both anxiety and depression. Now, this doesn’t mean that being grateful one day or one week a year is going to make a difference. It is something that has to been done consistently over time.

Why Gratitude is Good for our Mental Health

The evidence is in:  Across three experiments by Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough (2003,) they found evidence that practicing gratitude leads to positive emotional and interpersonal outcomes.  A 2006 study in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam Veterans who practiced gratitude had lower rates of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Robert Emmons, the world’s leading researcher on gratitude, has this to say:

  • “Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present. It magnifies positive emotions.
  • Gratitude blocks toxic, negative emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret—emotions that can destroy our happiness. There’s even recent evidence, including a 2008 study by psychologist Alex Wood in the Journal of Research in Personality, showing that gratitude can reduce the frequency and duration of episodes of depression and protect people from stress.
  • Grateful people are more stress resistant. There’s a number of studies showing that in the face of serious trauma, adversity, and suffering, if people have a grateful disposition, they’ll recover more quickly.  I believe gratitude gives people a perspective from which they can interpret negative life events and help them guard against post-traumatic stress and lasting anxiety.
  • Grateful people have a higher sense of self-worth. I think that’s because when you’re grateful, you have the sense that someone else is looking out for you—someone else has provided for your well-being, or you notice a network of relationships, past and present, of people who are responsible for helping you get to where you are right now.

Once you start to recognize the contributions that other people have made to your life—once you realize that other people have seen the value in you—you can transform the way you see yourself.”

 

3 Easy Ways to Start Practicing Gratitude Today

  1. The easiest way to start practicing gratitude is to wake up each morning and think of three things for which you are grateful. Name them off in your head and spend just a moment thinking about each one, and then go about your day.  Or think of them at night before you go to sleep, pondering each one as you drift off into dreamland.
  2. One of the most effective ways to practice gratitude, according to Emmons, is to keep a gratitude journal. Write five things for which you are grateful in it once a week.
  3. Finally, act grateful. Don’t just think it and write it, but say it to others, smile, say thank you, give freely in gratitude, write thank you notes, give hugs. A grateful spirit is contagious and attractive. People will be drawn to you, and you will know a new peace and calm in your life.

Personally, I am grateful for this opportunity to write about gratitude. I feel good just writing about it for you. I am grateful that you are there to read it.

I am also grateful for this week and all that it holds for me. I am grateful for my day of rest today and the busyness of tomorrow and Thursday. I am grateful for my new holiday outfit and my dog and the quiet in my home at the moment.

What are you grateful for?

Seven Ways to Cope with Indecision and Mental Illness

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Indecision and Mental Illness

I am feeling the nudge to write a post here today, and as I was sitting here pondering what topic I should write about many things related to mental health came to mind: stress of the upcoming holidays, social media addiction, shopping compulsion, and comorbid diseases to name a few.  My mind fluttered back and forth and back again around each topic.  I couldn’t decide.  Suddenly, I realized this is how I’ve been living my days for the last several years, in a state of indecisiveness.

Interestingly, indecisiveness is a symptom of many psychiatric conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders, psychosis and personality disorders.  Knowing this makes me feel better because at least there is a reason for my difficulty with making decisions versus it merely being a character flaw.

There are times, however, when I can make decisions, but they are usually impulsive and harmful, such as deciding to buy too many clothes or starting too many projects at one time.  For the most part, however, I either don’t trust my own decisions because of my history of impulsivity or I can’t make decisions and often defer to others to decide many things for me, such as what to watch, where to eat, what to buy, etc.

One of the biggest factors contributing to my indecisiveness is my fear of not knowing which choices I make will bring on symptoms of my illnesses.  I know what many of my triggers are after years of dealing with them, but not all of them.  Moreover, the ones I do know are inconsistent; sometimes they trigger symptoms, sometimes they don’t.  Therefore, deciding to risk it or not is always a difficult thing to do.

For me, indecisiveness also comes from lack of motivation.  I normally function at a mild level of depression, so making choices means taking action which is challenging at times.  More than even starting the action or task is finishing it.  I usually lose energy, mentally or physically, before completing tasks, and knowing this about myself prevents me from ever starting them.

This all sounds very depressing, and I guess looking at it from an objective point of view it is.  Honestly, though, I am so used to it I barely notice it is a problem.  I am sure if I found a way to deal with it I might rise out of my mild level of depression.  Maybe you all have some tips you can share?

Here’s what some experts have suggested:

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7 Ways to Cope with Indecision*

1. Forget About Always Appearing Smart

I can definitely relate to this.  I think my perfectionistic tendencies and fear of failing keep me from deciding to do things.

2. Trust Your Gut

I find this is often the only way I can make decisions, albeit impulsively.

3. Beware of the Paradox of Choice

The fewer the options, the easier the choice.  Therefore, maybe limit how much advise you seek.

4. Prioritize Your Demands and Fears

Make sure you have healthy boundaries established with the people in your life.

5. Act in a Moral and Sincere Manner

Do the right thing.

6.  Don’t Over Analyze Things

Act, evaluate results, make adjustments and move on.

7.  Flip a Coin

When all else fails, call it heads or tails.

*Source: Seven Ways to Conquer Indecision

5 Tips on How to Love Yourself When You Have a Mental Illness

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This morning, my middle schooler brought to my attention a quote she heard on social media:

“Can anyone say they truly love themselves?”

I asked her if she loved herself and to my relief she said, yes, except for how tall she is. 🙂  Then she asked me if I loved myself.  My breath caught in my throat as years of self-hatred flashed before my eyes, and I hesitated for half a second before giving her my best answer:  I love my true self, but I don’t like everything that I do.

I prayed she didn’t notice my hesitation, because I want to lead by example and instill a good sense of self-worth within her, but apparently, and thankfully, she already has that despite my poor self-esteem and overall dissatisfaction with my appearance and behaviors.

I went on to explain to her that our “true selves,” our spiritual selves, are different from our human selves, and that I really love my true self, the pure, perfect side of me.  It is the human side, the ill side, that is hard to like sometimes.  She looked at me like I was crazy, because, well, she’s only twelve and I was getting way too philosophical for her.  🙂

Our conversation got me thinking though, about how much I dislike myself because of my mental illness, its symptoms and subsequent behaviors – the depression that leads to crying and laying in bed all day, the irritability that leads to losing my temper with the kids, the anxiety that leads to extra work for my husband to do.  All of these things surmount to loads of guilt and self-hatred, thereby perpetuating the symptoms which caused the behaviors in the first place.

How do those of us with mental illness combat this destructive thinking; disrupt this negative thought cycle?

How do we come to love ourselves despite our mental illnesses?

Here are some ideas:

  1. Change our thoughts – I know, I know – easier said than done.  A long time ago, I even wrote about how impossible it can be, (How Positive Thinking Can Be a Crock) but try replacing negative thoughts with positive ones.  For example, instead of thinking, “I’m such a loser,” say to yourself, “I am a kind, thoughtful person with friends who enjoy my company.”  If you can’t bring yourself to think of positive thoughts, that is ok.  Don’t stress over it.  Just being aware of the negative ones is a good start.
  2. Keep a thought journal and write down any negative thoughts you have that day in one column.  In a second column challenge those thoughts.  For example, when my daughter said she didn’t like the fact that she is taller than everyone else, I said, “Even though being tall is an advantage when playing volleyball?”  She said, “Oh yeah, I guess I do like being tall then.”
  3. Make a list of positive attributes in your journal.  If you have a hard time coming up with things, ask friends or family members for ideas.  Keep adding to the list and refer to it often.
  4. Practice, practice, practice.  Just like learning any new skill or playing a sport, you won’t get good at this over night.  It will take lots of repetition before it becomes more automatic.  I have been keeping a thought journal for almost two months now and I still have a hard time catching myself in the midst of self-criticism, but this brings me to the final tip:
  5. Don’t give up!  Keep trying.  Have faith that it will work and that your joy and peace of mind are worth it.

And remember:

You are not your mental illness.

Your true self is perfect.

Mental Illness and Seasons of Change

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It is the season of fall here in the northern hemisphere; a time where the temperatures cool down, the leaves change colors and begin to drop from the trees, the grass goes dormant, and the days grow shorter and shorter.  For a lot of people with mental illness, it is a time of depression.  The professionals call it “Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD.)”

I have SAD, although with the mood stabilizers I am currently on for my bipolar disorder, my seasonal depression is not as severe as it once was.  I used to use a light box to help combat my winter depression, but I haven’t needed it for years now.  And last winter, I didn’t experience a depressive episode at all, which was a miracle!  I made up for it this summer, but that is a different story.

While thinking about the changes that fall brings outside, I was also meditating on some changes I need to make within myself.  I thought letting go of behaviors and beliefs which are limiting my good physical and mental health was, in a way, symbolic of the way trees let go of their leaves.

I know I want to set healthier boundaries with some of the people in my life.  I tend to do too much for others while neglecting my own needs which leaves me mentally drained and physically ill.  The belief driving this behavior is that I must be perfect to gain other people’s approval and that I need other people’s approval to feel good about myself.  This belief causes me much anxiety, and when I fail, which I often do because no one is perfect, I feel depressed.

It is helpful for me to identify these types behaviors, and more importantly, the beliefs driving them, because they really do affect my mental health as much as the chemical imbalances in my brain do.

It is only by changing the conversation I have with myself in my head about what I believe that I am going to be able to successfully change my unhealthy behaviors.  I have to plant the seeds of new, healthier beliefs this fall and let old behaviors die off this winter which will hopefully give birth to greater peace of mind come spring (or earlier – but I’m doing a metaphor thing here.) 😉

What unhelpful beliefs can you let “fall” away, and what negative behaviors might die as a result?

 

6 Foods to Avoid to Fight Daytime Fatigue and Other Things I Should Be Doing

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Anyone who has a depressive disorder knows the agony of bone-deep, stuck-in-molasses, ever relentless fatigue.  Day in and day out, dragging yourself around with that hundred pound weight chained to your ankle; barely being able to make it out of bed to use the bathroom let alone eat.

Or maybe your fatigue is not that extreme.  Maybe it is more of an annoyance; decreasing your motivation; making everything seem like more of an effort.  Either way, there are several foods that actually increase sleepiness that you may want to avoid during the day.

6 Foods to Avoid To Fight Daytime Fatigue

  1. Bananas because they are high in magnesium – a muscle relaxant that will make you tired
  2. Red meat because a lot of energy goes into digesting its high fat content, thereby making you feel tired
  3. Cherries because they are high in melatonin, a natural sleep aid
  4. White bread, including pastries, white rice, pasta, muffins, and processed foods because all of the flour and sugar in them causes drowsiness, and their lack of fiber causes them to break down too quickly to offer a constant flow of energy
  5. Fish like salmon, halibut, and tuna because the body uses the Vitamin B6 in them to make melatonin (the sleep hormone)
  6. Turkey because it is high in tryptophan, which is an amino acid that increases serotonin levels, a relaxing brain neurotransmitter

These foods shouldn’t be avoided all together.  Consuming them in the evening just might be a better idea.

 

Another way to combat fatigue is to maintain a healthy weight, which is something I struggle with.  I’d be happy to lose about 15 pounds.  I’d be ecstatic to lose 20.  Something that came across my mailbox today caught my attention, and I wanted to pass it along because its suggestions for weight loss are, in general, I think, good for overall mental health, too.

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7 Ayurvedic Secrets for Weight Loss

Ayurvedic Medicine is one of the world’s oldest medical systems, originating in India more than three thousand years ago.  The idea behind these “secrets” is that as you become healthier over all, the weight will naturally come off.

  1. Sleep from 10pm to 6am every night
  2. Exercise for 45-60 minutes vigorously, sometime between 6-10am each morning
  3. No snacking; three meals a day only
  4. Include all six tastes at each meal (sweet, sour, salt, spice, bitter, astringent. See resource link below for food examples.)
  5. Eat your largest meal at noon; finish your last meal 2-3 hours before bed
  6. Sip hot water or tea throughout the day
  7. Practice meditation

I think I could do some of these.  I am darn close to a few – sleeping from 11pm-6:30am already; having only one snack, at night after dinner, which I am planning on cutting out starting tonight.  I do hot coffee throughout the day, does that count?  I practice meditation, but not regularly.  Could easily change that.  Largest meal at noon won’t happen because family dinner is in the evening.  However, by cutting out the nighttime snack I will have finished my last meal well before the three hour mark before bed.

I think including all six tastes at each meal will be a huge challenge because I eat so little for breakfast and lunch.  Literally, for breakfast I have a bowl of Cheerios. That is a sweet food, according to the list.  This morning, however, I did have a swallow of citrus juice, which is a sour taste, and I do have my coffee every morning, which is a bitter taste.  I could have popped a few grapes in my mouth for an astringent taste.  Maybe this will be easier than I thought.  The hard one is the exercising.  I have a huge aversion to it.  Sigh.  Baby steps.

What do you think of these secrets?  If you try them and they help you lose weight or just make you feel better, let me know.

Resource links:
http://www.msn.com/en-us/health/nutrition/6-foods-that-always-make-you-feel-tired/ar-AAiD29S?li=AA5LBhu&ocid=spartandhp#page=1
https://chopra.com/ccl/7-ayurvedic-secrets-for-weight-loss