Wellbeing & Words Blog
Guided journaling puts you in charge of your body’s automatic stress- and anxiety response. It’s an activity you choose to do intentionally that helps not just your thoughts but your entire mind and body system. You may be familiar with the adage “The pen is mightier than the sword.” While true, that’s not the half of it. The pen is mightier than anxiety and your body’s natural instinct to freak out in response to stress.
I love to search for life lessons, especially lessons in wellbeing. We are meant to be healthy and well, to create a quality life and live it to its fullest, moment by moment. However, life is busy and stressful and full of challenges big and small. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the downs of life and forget that we can climb up and enjoy the peaks. That’s why it’s important to seize our moments and intentionally create calm and joy amidst the busyness.
My hope for you, for everyone, is that we keep our wellbeing during COVID-19 alarm and fear. We seem to have entered mayhem globally, nationally, and locally. For your own sake, please don’t panic. It’s hard not to be anxious right now, so I want to help. If you’re like me and are very tired of seeing coronavirus headlines everywhere, bear with me. I am simply here to humbly offer some tips you can use to keep your wellbeing strong and live your quality life, moment by moment, despite what society is doing.
Believe it or not, you can stop anxiety and find peace. I’ve lived with anxiety, and I deeply understand that it’s not something any of us wants to live with. That’s why I love to share researched-based, self-tested and applied ways help. It’s my goal in the books I write and the articles I write online including the Anxiety-Schmanxiety Blog for HealthyPlace (I have more on HealthyPlace and elsewhere online, too). I have exciting news. My latest book, 101 Ways to Stop Anxiety: Practical Exercises to Find Peace, has just arrived at my doorstep. It’s the first time I’ve seen the physical copy of the book, and I’m sharing the moment—and an exclusive peek—with you here.
It’s true: creativity makes mindfulness easier. Mindfulness is a way of being that you develop and hone, and as you do, you begin to experience inner peace amidst stress and problems you can’t control. Mindfulness is a basic as shifting your attention from anxieties and stress to your objective moment (the present moment exactly as it is, without all-too-human negative thoughts and judgments imposed upon it.) The idea is deceptively simple. Living it is often challenging, especially when we regularly experience stress and related anxious thoughts. We need ways to hone our ability to be mindful. One powerful way is by tapping into creativity—and enjoying it. Here’s a look at why creativity makes mindfulness easier so you can reduce anxiety and stress and enhance mental health and wellbeing.
Were you one of the millions of people who chose to focus on improving their overall health in the new year but didn’t know where to start? Don’t worry—you’re not alone; in fact, only about 8 percent of people actually follow-through on their resolutions. You, though, do not have to be among the 92 percent that don’t achieve what they promise themselves. You have the power to own your resolutions, feel better about yourself, and thrive. Keep reading for ways to do it!
Are you thinking of healthy New Year’s habits or New Year’s Resolutions? The difference is subtle yet powerful. With 2019 winding down, everyone is on the lookout for ways to make 2020 one of the best years of their life. But instead of taking the traditional route of creating a resolution that you’ll give up on by the time February comes, choose to start creating healthy habits now that you can build upon as the year goes on. Whether they’re bad habits you’ve struggled to rid yourself of in the past or new healthy ones that you’d like to develop for the rest of your life, here are a few sustainable ideas that you can take into the new year:
- Take care of your metal health
- Eat well
- Commit to social interactions
- Keep a journal
Here’s a look at how to make these lifestyle choices work for you in the new year.
Do anxiety and depression join you during your holiday season? They certainly can hang around for a long time because for many of us worldwide, autumn and very early winter bring a steady stream of celebrations from traditions both secular and religious. This, of course, is generally a wonderful thing. Celebrating aspects of our lives is important for our mental health and wellbeing. It shifts our focus from “to-do” to “to-be,” from negative to positive. Celebrations also have the potential to connect people anew. They also present a plethora of opportunities to enjoy practicing mindfulness. Holidays can indeed be all this. However, they can also be stressful and even painful. Anxiety and depression skyrocket during the holiday season. There are things you can do to uninvite anxiety and depression from your holidays and replace them with peace, joy, love, and light.
Is anxiety relief really possible? After all, anxiety can be discouraging and disheartening and frustrating and a whole lot of other negative adjectives. It’s common to feel doomed to be crushed by anxiety for life. That’s because anxiety worms its way into our mind and controls many of our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. When that happens, it often doesn’t seem like we’ll ever have a break. I’ve been there, and I can relate. I can also proudly state that relief and freedom from anxiety are possible. Read on to learn about a helpful tool for bounding past anxiety.
By using your perspective, you can boost your wellbeing and meaning whether you’re currently facing significant problems or you’re life is humming smoothly along. Your wellbeing is important. It’s your level of comfort with yourself when your with others and when you’re by yourself. Your wellbeing is your emotional stability, your satisfaction in relationships, and your overall quality of life. Regardless of how you feel about the state of your wellbeing, you can enhance it with your perspective.
Cold weather affects our mental health as much as our physical health. As the weather gets colder, it becomes crucial for people to take care of their mental health. We’re often vulnerable to the stress induce by regular exposure to low temperatures, and it’s easy to slip into a negative frame of mind as the temperature drops. You may not even realize that what’s happening, and that’s why it’s imperative to recognize the symptoms early. If you are affected by cold weather, here are some tips that may help.
1. To Keep Cold Weather from Affecting Your Mental Health, Stay Positive
Staying positive during this gloomy time can seem impossible at first, but it’s a significant step towards developing a way to withstand the cold. Don’t let stress win by allowing situations that are currently happening, or have happened in the past, to shape the way you live your life. Allow yourself a moment to forget your troubles and visualize places and people that make you happy instead. Remembering and acknowledging good times, rather than the bad, will help you become more emotionally and mentally well. However, sometimes stress is unavoidable; consider finding activities that allow you to release some of the unfavorable emotions you may be feeling.
2. Find an Outlet to Reduce the Stress of Cold Weather on Mental Health
Some people cannot easily overcome stress and anxiety the frigid temperatures create. They may need an alternative solution like exercise, because it doesn’t require an excessive amount of mental concentration. Working out is a great outlet for stress, anxiety, and depression because it also releases endorphins which help decrease the chance of developing depression. Three fitness activities to try include:
Experiment with other stress-relieving workouts because not every outlet has to be physical in nature to improve your wellbeing. Activities like painting and meditation are valuable as well because they can help to unwind and ease your mind.
3. To Boost Mental Health in Cold Weather, Adopt Healthy Habits
To conquer the cold and maintain your mental health, your body needs to be healthy as well. The mind and the body work as a unit and influence how efficiently you deal with stress, depression, anxiety and more. Lifestyle changes, like getting more hours of quality sleep and eating a more balanced diet, play a vital role in keeping your mind and body running properly. Taking care of yourself and practicing better self-care techniques doesn’t have to be hard. It’s as simple as buying a more comfortable mattress so you can get better sleep or incorporating healthy organic foods into your meals.
4. Embrace Life and Forget About the Cold
Unhappiness may not solely be because of the low temperatures outside, but also because you are feeling unsatisfied in some areas of your life. Cloudy skies and chilly weather have a way of evoking our most negative thoughts. Remind yourself of what life has to offer, and that nothing is out of your reach. Know your values and what’s important to you in life, and create goals to achieve it step by step. Once you let go of that worry and embrace the unknown, you’ll feel like a happier, more prosperous version of yourself. While you’re out living life to the fullest, you attention will be on happiness, positivity, and mental health rather than on how frigid and miserable you are.
Maintaining your wellbeing is one of the most important things to prioritize in your life, but it can sometimes seem overwhelming or challenging to make it a daily priority. Life can undoubtedly get busy, but that doesn’t mean self-care and your own personal happiness should take a back seat to any other commitments you have going on in your day-to-day. If you are unsure of how to improve the overall quality of your wellbeing, take a look at 5 simple suggestions that are sure to make a massive impact.
You can enhance your wellbeing immediately, whenever you need to. You can also do it your way and tailor your actions to suit your personality and wellbeing needs of the moment. This list of quick actions is sorted by purpose: what do you want right now? Take a look, and put the ones that appeal to you in your wellness toolbox.
I love that Mental Health Awareness Month is in May. It’s the height of spring, and flowers are in bloom, leaves are unfurling, and birds are soaring as they build their nests. Signs of life abound when we tune in mindfully to enjoy them. May is the perfect metaphor for mental health (note that the representative color is even green).
Just as the earth is waking up and creating itself anew, so, too, can we. It’s what mental health and wellbeing are all about. This is an ongoing process and spans across all months, but Mental Health Awareness Month shines sunlight on the process on purpose, a reminder that we can take charge of ourselves and our wellbeing. We live an ever-flowing journey of creating ourselves anew.
Reducing anxiety with a mindfulness practice works. Not only that, it works on a deep level and creates a life-long change in our relationship with anxiety. If you’re skeptical, you’re not alone. After all, mindfulness is largely about being present where you are. If anxiety is constantly with you, does mindfulness mean you’re present with it? How, then, does being mindful reduce anxiety? Let’s explore that and gain some mindfulness tools.
Thirty days of wellbeing words can go a long way in shaping goals and inspiring action and attitudes, and goals, action, and attitudes are ultimately what help us create wellbeing and the quality life we desire–and deserve. Words are powerful things, and just a few can be meaningful. Scroll through the images to find your insights and inspiration.
To live life one moment at a time in one room at a time would be the foundation of a quality life. Imagine being able to be in the present, fully in one room. Your whole being is present, living only what’s around you. That is the essence of living one moment, one room. I invite you to be in the room with me and explore the concept further.
Imagine what your life would be like if you could feel beautiful or handsome. (Here, I’ll use “beautiful” for simplicity. Feel free to substitute your own description.) Close your eyes for just a moment and picture it. What meaning do you place on a word like “beautiful?” It’s a concept that means different things to different people. Whatever significance it has for you, you can cultivate it in your life. Keep reading to explore why beauty is good for wellbeing and 6 ways to feel beautiful.
We’re over two months into the New Year. How are your New Year’s resolutions, the goals, intentions, and promises you made to yourself? Have you lost sight of them? Many people make health-related resolutions; whether it’s to make better-eating choices, exercise more, or quit smoking, many people look to the new year to better their wellbeing. However, more than half of people that set resolutions for themselves usually don’t stick to them. Studies have shown that focusing on smaller, more attainable goals can help you achieve a larger goal by the end of the year. Now that it’s March, I’m here to help you stay on track this year with smaller ideas to keep you motivated in the next few months!
Wellbeing is a lifestyle, a way of being in your life and with yourself. Researchers from a variety of disciplines continue to discover how the brain and body work and what we can do to optimize our functioning to enhance the wellbeing within us. This information is quite helpful as we work to move past difficulties and create a quality life. However, sometimes it can feel like information overload and be overwhelming. If you’ve ever felt that no matter what you do, it’s not enough, read on. There’s a way past these crushing thoughts and feelings.
The mind-body connection is the intimate dance that occurs from head to toe and weaves around and through systems and cells. At its essence, the link between mental and physical is “you.” This intimate connection is more than the sum of its parts. It transcends them to become your self. Use your self as the ultimate tool to create, boost, and maintain mental health and wellbeing.
Practice acceptance of mental health challenges and life problems–stress, jobs, relationships, school, money…the list is long and in our faces day and night, night and day. This is a terrible list. Why would anyone want to accept these things? Accepting them actually reduces their hold on you. As counterintuitive as it may seem, accepting struggles helps you distance yourself from them.
Mindfulness is a paradox that we all can embrace fully, living mindfully in its depth of meaning. When we see the paradox in mindfulness, we can use it to live our lives in such a way that we create wellbeing both now and in the future.
Do more of what helps your wellbeing and mental health. It’s a wise and effective approach to overcoming struggles like anxiety, depression, stress, and a host of other challenges. By embracing the strategy of finding what improves the quality of our lives and intentionally doing more of those things, we make at least two things happen: We shift our thoughts by choosing our focus from what is wrong to what is right, and we empower ourselves to do something to move past what’s negatively impacting wellbeing. This is sometimes easier said than done, however. Yes, doing something that works to propel us forward is helpful, but when we’re stuck, trying to think of what to do can seem nearly impossible. These five ideas can help you discover what increase your mental health and wellbeing.
Much is written about happiness. Books. Articles. Songs. Videos. Happiness seems to be a universal pursuit and one that has existed through ages; indeed, it was a frequent topic among philosophers from the ancient worlds of West and East and has been pursued without pause since then. No one has yet to discover a single answer to how to find happiness. Russ Harris, a important leader in acceptance and commitment therapy, wrote a book entitled The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living. Is happiness attainable, or is it a trap, a sham?
Don’t Move on to Your New Year Without Doing This
Pausing for mindful reflection on your year can help you end your year well, content in the now, which will carry you into the new year. In the wake of holiday stress, many people begin thinking of resolutions for the new year. That’s a great practice to make the new year yours, as it gives you a sense of control over over what your year will be like. This reduces anxiety, powers through depression, and gives us the upper hand in our relationship with mental health. So don’t discard the ritual of creating resolutions, but don’t start them quite yet. There’s still time to finish the year strong.
It’s difficult to create inner peace when circumstances around us cause or contribute to stress, anxiety, negative thoughts and emotions, and cognitive dissonance (an uncomfortable feeling that develops when your actions and values don’t match up). Sometimes, to be at peace and decrease the experiences we don’t need, we need to walk away. However, doing so is often easier said than done. Knowing what it involves and how to do it will move you in the direction of wellbeing and inner peace.
Gratitude check-in: it’s the week of Thanksgiving in the US, and many people are stressed with preparations. If that’s you, are you harried or happy? Is November in general a happy month? It’s a very good thing when countries set aside a national holiday for feeling and expressing gratitude, but can that truly make people happy?
Mindfulness journaling for wellbeing can help you quiet anxiety and develop your own personal version of stillness and inner peace. When it comes to mental health and wellbeing, journaling simply works. The Positive Psychology Program, an organization dedicated to improving wellbeing and mental health through the application of positive psychology, provides 83 sound reasons why journaling is an excellent healer of depression, anxiety, stress, trauma, and more. I’ve reaped the benefits of journaling, and I’m excited to announce that I’ve written The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety that, in combination with mindfulness exercises, guides you gently on a rewarding journey to stillness and self-recovery.
Welcome to the Wellbeing & Words 30-Day Mindfulness Experience! Mindfulness is a way of being that you can cultivate by regularly doing mindfulness activities. It doesn’t remove problems, but it changes our relationship with those problems–and with ourselves. Being fully present in your moment is a wonderful experience that gives us the power to take back our lives and help us live well despite anxiety, depression, stress, and a multitude of other physical- and mental health challenges. Mindfulness allows you to free yourself from these problems by rooting yourself in what’s going on in your real world rather than in your racing, spinning mind.
Meaning-making is a powerful tool to enhance mental health and wellbeing. While useful year-round, turning inward and creating personal meaning in your life is especially effective in late autumn. Intentionally caring for our mental health in November allows us to enjoy the month and the changes it brings. Doing so can prepare us for the holiday season that begins this month, and it can even stave off seasonal depression (seasonal affective disorder, SAD). Among the many things that can boost wellbeing is taking time to reflect and engage in personal meaning-making.
International Day of the Girl means many things to many people. One important aspect of this day is that it’s a reminder, much like a movement alarm on a fitness band, to pause ad appreciate ourselves. We’re strong, and we’re worthy because we are here.
Disregarded and abused in some way by so many people who should have loved her, Catie’s self-concept has been crushed. She can’t see her own worth. Her new colleague and friend Marcy sees it. All that Catie has survived, all that she has become–mother, caregiver to children orphaned or abandoned or delivered to daycare by loving parents off to work, devout Greek Catholic buoyed by her faith, selfless weaver, supportive friend–Marcy believes has made Catie a true, real-life Wonder Woman. Catie thinks Marcy is ridiculous.
Here’s food for thought in the literal sense: The food you eat directly affects your thoughts, emotions, behaviors, energy level, and overall wellbeing. The mind and body are intricately connected (beyond mere connection — they’re one fluid system), and nourishing both keeps your feeling physically and mentally healthy. A crucial component of our overall health and wellbeing that many of us often overlook (I’ve been guilty) is nutrition. Food for healthy thoughts: You need good food for great functioning and quality of life.
Acceptance is a vital part of wellbeing and mental health. The word can be misleading, however. If I’m told, for example, that I just need to accept my anxiety, I might think that there’s no use trying to beat anxiety and that I just need to resign myself to it and retreat. Thank goodness that is not what acceptance means in the world of mental health. We don’t have to accept that we live with any mental health challenge. What, then, is acceptance? Acceptance is a concept that is empowering and puts you in control of your mental health and wellbeing.
The idea of creating happiness can sound absurd when you’re facing hardship. Sometimes, life makes people want to stop, turn around, and retreat to bed indefinitely. This can make a whole lot of sense, because life can be incredibly stressful. A burdensome struggle, even. No one is exempt from times of hardship. Further, sometimes people deal with extra challenges such as mental illness, abuse, trauma, loss, and more. How do you—how does anyone—keep from retreating? How do you smile and even find happiness in the face of strife?
Anxious. Unsettled. Uneasy. Agitated. Frustrated. Tense. Racing thoughts. Obsessive thoughts. Rumination. Headache. Heartburn. Chest pain. Lump in your throat. Clenched jaw.
This list could continue on and on. And it does continue within us. These are some of the things we can experience when we’re anxious. There’s a way to deal with being anxious both right now and going forward.
While I’m not one to tell people what to do, I will say this anyway: You need to celebrate stuff every day. Intentionally seeking things to celebrate on a daily basis increases your sense of wellbeing and your life satisfaction. Finding or creating things to celebrate, even if they are minuscule, is a way of making a good life lived in moments (as opposed to chaotic chunks). Identify the good and taking a moment (or multiple moments) to celebrate it shifts your perspective in a positive direction and infuses your life with a sense of meaning.
Wellbeing and mindfulness aren’t just for retreats, spas, and other calm environments. Quite the opposite is true, in fact. While placing yourself in a soothing environment, like sitting in a favorite room in the morning while enjoying a cup of tea, is important for calming mind and body, the power of mindfulness can be fully experienced in the midst of chaos.
Among the many types of freedom, mental freedom is perhaps the most important of all. Every year in early July, the United States celebrates Independence Day. Many nations joyfully observe their own independence at various times throughout the year. Regardless of where one lives, an independence day is a day that celebrates freedom from unwanted control. The significance of this day goes far deeper than the political realm and touches each and every one of us on a personal level of being and impacts our mental freedom and wellbeing. .
To live well and embrace a life of wellbeing, we need to experience mental freedom. When we feel as though we are under the control of anxiety, depression, trauma, eating disorders, brain injury, toxic relationships, or so much more, we often feel caged. Our mental health and happiness suffer. Just as entire nations have broken free from unwanted control, so can we as individuals who want to live quality lives.
Today is Memorial Day.
For many, it marks the beginning of summer. Some schools have already dismissed, the academic year officially over. It’s the unofficial first camping weekend of the season. It’s a day of picnics and barbeques, of gardening—planting and nurturing vegetables and fruits that will nourish us in the moment and through the next seasons as well as planting beautiful flowers to appreciate and enjoy mindfully.
Memorial Day weekend—the weekend, not the “Day”—is this, yes. The dedicated day, however, is beyond this. Today is a day that we remember, honor, and appreciate soldiers who sacrificed their lives standing for the freedom they valued for everyone. It began in 1865 at the end of the Civil War and continues today as an honor those who have continued to preserve our way of life for 153 years and counting.
To appreciate beauty, to be able to pause, take in the world around you, and enjoy the myriad beautiful things around you is empowering. Appreciating beauty is many things at once. It is a:
- Character strength, something inherent within us that we can develop and use to enhance our lives and the lives of others
- Mindfulness technique to rein in your thoughts and attention to the here-and-now
- Grounding experience that connects you to the physical world (versus the realm of your thoughts and emotions)
By doing the simple act of savoring splendor, you stop your anxious thoughts, worries, stressors, depression, all mental health challenges, and physical health struggles. Certainly, these problems don’t automatically stop and retreat forever when you pause to appreciate beauty. It would be nice, but it doesn’t work that directly. What happens when you pause and appreciate beauty is that you experience a shift in focus and perspective. What happens, though, when it’s hard to find something beautiful to appreciate?
Mindfulness. What, exactly, is it? We hear the term often, but there is much about it that remains a mystery. Beyond living in the present moment, what is the practice? The more we know (I’m always learning), the better we can use it to decrease anxiety or other challenges and cultivate our lives of wellbeing.
Social anxiety prevents us from fully living our lives. All anxiety does this, of course, but social anxiety does a particularly good job of blocking our movements along the path to our quality life. This anxiety disorder is more of a spectrum of experiences than it is one single form of anxiety. It ranges from shyness (which isn’t a diagnosable disorder) on the mildest end of the spectrum to avoidant personality disorder (this one is so pervasive that it’s categorized as a personality disorder rather than an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety and rumination are evil partners conspiring against our wellbeing. Anxiety works its way into our entire being and settles in for the long haul. All types of anxiety disorders do this, as does “ordinary” anxiety, the experience of worry, doubt, fear, etc. that isn’t quite diagnosable as a disorder but is disturbing and bothersome nonetheless.
Anxiety affects us in many ways including the way we think that the thoughts we have. Anxiety is connected to experiences such as overthinking and ruminating. We chew on them repeatedly, the way a cow chews on grass in its original form and in cud form. The more we chew on, or think about, our worries, fears, stresses, and the like, the more we’re paying attention to them. And the more we pay attention to them, the harder they are to swallow. So, like a cow and other ruminants, we regurgitate and ruminate.
Anxious thoughts are annoying at best and quite damaging to our mental health and wellbeing at worst. Part of the problem with these worries, fears, and what-ifs is the fact that once they form, they stick. It’s as if they’re covered in oozing tree sap so when they pop into your mind, they don’t leave. When we try to shake them of, they tighten their hold. When we try to argue them away, they grow because we’re giving them our full attention. We are focusing on all of our anxieties, and they stick together, growing larger and larger and threatening to consume us. Plain and simple, anxious thoughts are sticky so they don’t go away. It can seem as though we’ll never be able to loosen them. That is a common thought/feeling borne out of the frustrations of anxiety. It’s also false. You can remove your sticky thoughts. Mindfulness is a powerfully effective way to do it.
Several years ago, when my anxiety was stuck in its intense phase, I decided to give mindfulness, the act and state of being of living fully in the present moment rather than stuck inside our mind, another try. Yes, another try. In my quest for the holy grail, that one thing that would miraculously poof away all of my social anxiety and generalized anxiety, I had tried many things many times. Mindfulness as a technique for soothing so many things, including anxiety, is something that was and continues to be hailed as effective in decreasing anxiety. Yet for quite some time, it eluded me.
I’ve practiced mindfulness for over a decade. I was first introduced to the concept when I was hospitalized in a behavioral health center following a traumatic brain injury. Since then, it’s become a key element in my mental health and wellbeing, and it’s allowed me to both reduce anxiety and live well in spite of any residual anxiety or anxiety flares. Here’s a look at mindfulness and why it is so good for our wellbeing.
It can be difficult to be your authentic self and create happiness. Sometimes, life—our inner world, outer world, or both—is drab, dull, lackluster. When that happens, create happiness anyway. Carry your own colors with you. Every March 20th, the world celebrates International Day of Happiness. This is just one of 365 days in a year that we can choose to embrace happiness in our lives and to spread happiness around us in a world that seem to need it now more than ever.
In the aftermath of a traumatic brain injury (TBI), life can feel chaotic. There is so much to sort out, and doing so isn’t easy. By knowing what losses TBI brings, we can take action to turn loss into opportunity.
Sometimes, the best way to overcome our mental health challenges is to, rather than focusing on the problem(s), turn away from them. Shifting our focus and perspective can empower us to transcend, to rise above, any problem we face.
Perhaps a clarification is in order before going forward: Changing focus isn’t about avoiding or ignoring or even getting rid of problems. Avoiding, I learned from my own life experiences as well as through working with others, tends to make problems bigger. Fighting problems to make them disappear doesn’t work, either. Some things, such as mental illness, brain injury, and chronic health problems, don’t fully disappear.
Communication is a vital part of wellbeing, mental health, and a quality life. Unfortunately, it can be complex, difficult, and overwhelming. Communicating is deeper than exchanging ideas. It’s a tool (and a skill) that fosters the connection that is vital for wellbeing and life satisfaction.
It’s easy to get trapped in a cycle of anxiety and avoidance. Avoidance is a common human behavior that has good intentions but can spiral out of control until, before we realize it, we’re trapped, boxed in by anxiety and blocked from fully living (see What is Avoidance Doing to You?) Avoidance is fear- and anxiety-based. Whether we avoid one situation, such as making or taking phone calls, or almost every situation, such as anything that takes us out of the house, we are letting anxiety limit our lives. Let’s explore how to stop avoiding.
Knowing what avoidance does to us can help us make positive changes to embrace life. Avoidance is a behavior that is hardwired into us. It’s an instinctive reaction (think: fight-or-flight response, specifically the “flight” part) that in theory keeps us safe from danger. And sometimes avoidance, or flight, does just that. When we avoid walking across dark parking lots alone at night (whether we’re male or female, young or old), we keep ourselves out of risk of significant danger. What happens, though, when our brain tells us there is danger lurking here or there, and we avoid good things because of it? When we understand what this avoidance does to us, we can stop avoiding the wrong things.
Many of us want to but don’t know quite how to reduce stress. It’s perhaps surprising, but true: the idea of reducing stress can actually cause anxiety rather than alleviate it. We do have legitimate reasons for clinging to stress despite wanting relief from it. Sometimes the mere idea of relaxing causes anxiety because we’re afraid that our performance will decline or that seeking stress relief will cause us to be judged as weak. Stress can come to be a badge of honor, too. High degrees of stress can show the world, and ourselves, how much we are achieving or how much we care about loved ones, and more.
Does the idea of reducing stress cause your anxiety to skyrocket? How do you really feel about reducing your stress? Most of us automatically respond that we’d love to have less stress in our lives. Many times we state proudly that we’re working on getting rid of so much stress. Yet the stress hangs on. And on. And often, it builds. Do you find this happening to you? Is it possible that the idea of letting go of even some of your stress creates anxiety? Is there a small chance that you might be afraid of reducing stress?
To make promises for your fresh year and fresh self is exciting, but to keep New Year’s resolutions is often frustrating. You can take charge of your goals for yourself and stick with them long past the next new year. Here are some ways to do that.
Using mindfulness to create a perfect reading space can boost your wellbeing. Wellbeing is perhaps one of the most important concepts for our lives. It encompasses so much: physical health, mental health, balance, energy to live with purpose and intention are among the important aspects of wellbeing. Wellbeing is the ability to create, maintain, and enjoy a quality life according to your values and definition of such a life. Positive psychologists call this life worth living.
When social anxiety is extreme, it can become avoidant personality disorder (APD). APD is like social anxiety on steroids. Someone with such intense social anxiety lives a severely limited life because he or she is compelled by anxiety to avoid any and all social situations and even simple interactions with others. APD imprisons people in their own mind, holding them captive with fear and anxiety. It traps people in isolated places, such as inside their own home or in a job that involves no contact with other people.
Really, what good is gratitude? It’s the mindset of appreciating things in life. Numerous studies have shown, and continue to show, that an attitude of gratitude enhances mental health, wellbeing, and general life satisfaction. Yet sometimes it seems hard to believe. Is being grateful that powerful? And, more bluntly, what is it about feeling grateful, something that can seem superficial, that has a positive impact on our lives? What good is gratitude?
First a little girl…
From the Romanian Countryside…
To Sacramento, California
Who is she? What happens to her in her life? Find out in Behind Silent Smiles, the latest novel by Tanya J. Peterson.
Previous novels by Tanya J. Peterson
On International Day of the Girl, the world comes together to honor girls, our young women who have the potential to bloom and thrive and make a difference in their own lives and in the lives of others. Sometimes, though, a girl’s potential is thwarted. For that reason, the United Nations raises awareness of girls, their lives, and their struggles every October 11.
International Day of the Girl Empowers Girls: Before, During, and After Conflict
This year, the theme for International Day of the Girl is “Empower girls: before, during, and after conflict.” This is a important focal point indeed, for according to the UN, an adolescent girl somewhere in the world loses her live as the result of violence–every 10 minutes.
Sometimes the violence is related to war. Other times to some inhumane punishment. Violence can also be at the hands of a parent, boyfriend, or other person in the life of a girl.
Losing Elizabeth is a novel for adolescents in middle- and high school to help them see what an abusive relationship is like. It’s a vehicle for discussion to help empower girls to recognize all types of relationship abuse and remove themselves from a toxic, even violent, situation.
I’ve taken Losing Elizabeth and the accompanying curriculum Find Yourself. Keep Yourself into schools for a 10-week (once weekly) program and to libraries for a single afternoon program. The goal is to use the story and discussion to empower girls to
- Know the early warning signs of toxic behavior
- Recognize control tactics like isolation, manipulation, behaviors, and words
- Respond and act
- Know how to help a friend
- Know how to ask for help
Additionally, and most importantly, girls explore and come to know themselves, their relationship goals, their hopes, dreams, and plans, and more. For it is when girls and teens develop self-awareness that they are empowered to keep themselves rather than losing themselves to others, to abuse, to violence.
Mental Illness Awareness Week is an important “ribboned” event. A dedicated chunk of time (the first week of October each year) increases society’s knowledge and understanding of mental illness. This is a wonderful thing to which to dedicate time and attention, for as anyone who has lived with any type of mental illness knows, lack of understanding can lead to prejudice and discrimination. To help end that problem, we observe Mental Illness Awareness Week.
An emotionally healthy school year means that kids and teens are thriving. The school year is underway. Classes have begun, students are learning, and ideally, there’s a concerted effort among schools, home life, and other support systems to help students build academic success. Academics are important, but they’re not the only part of school. Our kids, no matter their grade, deal with an entire world of people and situations that impact their emotional health and wellbeing. Use this checklist to help your kids create and maintain an emotionally healthy school year.
Many, if not all, people have occasional racing thoughts and obsessions and wonder if it’s OCD. OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) is a debilitating illness that involves, in part, racing and obsessive thoughts. According to the National Institute on Mental Health, OCD affects one percent of American adults—that’s over three million adults in the United States alone. Because it impacts millions and has been portrayed in movies, television, and books, the term OCD has become fairly well-known; however, obsessive-compulsive disorder is often misunderstood, leaving people wondering if their racing, obsessive thoughts are OCD.
The idea of quieting the mind seems like a foreign concept, esoteric and perhaps even the stuff of science fiction. As our society get busier and noisier and faster, so, too, do our minds. Stress levels have skyrocketed, tens of millions of people live with anxiety disorders, and more than that experience bothersome anxiety that isn’t quite diagnosable as a disorder. “Agitated” has become the new form of “calm.” Because of this, experts in the fields of psychology, mental health, wellbeing, spirituality, and common sense agree: it is more important than ever to be able to step back and quiet the mind.
It’s a conundrum. Our mind races with thoughts of stressors, worries, and fears. Racing thoughts become broken records, and we begin to focus too much on these thoughts, strengthening and perpetuating them. We overthink. For our own health and wellbeing, we need to become still, to quiet our mind. But because of our racing thoughts, becoming still seems impossible. The harder we try to quiet our mind, the busier our mind grows.
To be sure, quieting your mind is challenging. Doing it, though, brings deep peace. Imagine facing the same stressors you face now but feeling at-ease in spite of them. Imagine, too, possessing the ability to believe fully in yourself and rise above stress and anxiety. Quieting your mind brings these mental health benefits. With patience, practice, and persistence, you can quiet your mind. These five tips can help you along your journey:
5 Tips to Learn How to Quiet Your Mind
- Become physically still and comfortable. The mind and body follow each other in a dance.
- Breathe slowly and deeply. Let your mind concentrate on your inhalations and exhalations, but don’t force it. Deep breathing (and, by extension, meditation) positively changes the brain to foster stillness and calm
- Be mindful. Tune in to your senses. Pay more attention to what you see, hear, feel, and smell than your thoughts.
- Accept your thoughts rather than fighting against them. Allow negative thoughts to come and go while you do your own thing and practice mindfulness.
- Gently conjure images of positive things, such as your personal values and goals. Visualize yourself experiencing them.
For the visual among us, here are the principles in graphic form.
One of the approaches to mental health and wellbeing that promotes the above principles is acceptance and commitment therapy. With ACT, you define what’s important to you and learn how to accept what you can’t change while taking charge of creating a high-quality life. For a workbook that shows you how to quiet your mind and create your life worth living, check out Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 Steps.
Using the five steps to quiet your mind will help you, over time, create inner peace and contentment. The stressors will remain, but you won’t become trapped in them.
Emotional health is an important component of our mental health and has to do with our subjective emotions like joy and sorrow, pride and shame, self-love and self-loathing, and more. While it’s true that emotions come and go, often striking us seemingly out of the blue, it’s also true that we are not powerless in the face of our feelings. While we might not entirely stop them, we can rise above negative emotions in order to live well in spite of them. One way to do so is by creating a bare spot in your garden.
So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act. —Dr. Seuss
Dr. Seuss certainly knew his stuff. Life—and wellbeing—are indeed a Great Balancing Act. Specifically, they’re about balancing doing with being.
Knowing how to handle ANTs (automatic negative thoughts) can reduce anxiety and increase wellbeing. Recently, in ANTs—Automatic Thoughts Can Ruin Your Picnic, I explored how ANTs can be pesky little creatures that get in the way of our living life fully. These automatic negative thoughts that pop into our minds in certain situations can cause great stress and anxiety. They can even intensify depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. We all have ANTs (they’re not exclusive to mental illness). Unfortunately, it’s natural for the human mind to get stuck in unhelpful thought patterns that drag us down. There are ways to deal with ANTs so they don’t ruin the proverbial picnic of your life. Here are three approaches whose effectiveness has been proven by research.
Are ants trying to ruin your picnic? If you’re human, it’s quite likely that they are. Ants are pesky little critters that love picnics, and ANTs are pesky little (or big) thoughts that love our mind. No matter what kind of ants you are dealing with—the insects or the negative thoughts—you don’t have to let them ruin your picnic.
Self-optimize to live your life intentionally, creating your own concept of a quality life. Determining what makes a quality life and creating a path to get there is a process that in many ways is similar to what web developers call search engine optimization, or SEO. Think like a successful business person and self-optimize to enhance your own personal SEO.
Is there a positive side of anxiety? Anxiety isn’t something people often embrace as positive; indeed, people tend to go to great lengths to eliminate if from their lives. That said, very few things are either all good or all bad (that’s part of all-or-nothing thinking that contributes to anxiety, depression, and more). Anxiety can actually have a positive side, and seeing the positive actually works to pull you up and move you forward.
Mindfulness for traumatic brain injury can be both extremely helpful and seemingly impossible. For a long time, mindfulness and traumatic brain injury didn’t fit together for me at all. Over a decade my first brain injury (I’ve had three), I still deal with TBI symptoms (check out these eight signs of TBI). I’ve explored a wellbeing technique known as mindfulness for numerous challenges, including anxiety, mood disorders, “ordinary” stress, and so much more. It works to improve mental health. But what about for brain injuries?
Believe it or not, you can stop negativity. Does negativity sometimes ruin your day? Complaints, anger, discontent, and intolerance for differences of opinion are overwhelming. This negativity is omnipresent. It’s on the news, on social media, and in our communities, neighborhoods, and homes. Often, people don’t treat each other with genuine kindness; this can be intentional or, more frequently, unintentional, the consequence of being surrounded by negativity. All of this is overwhelming and exhausting. There’s a lot that is out of our control, but there is more that is within our control. Below, you’ll find eight ways to keep negativity from ruining your day.
I have a purpose in my life and in my writing: to share stories, information, and strategies so that we all may thrive despite problems and challenges and create our own version of a life worth living. I love meeting and collaborating with like-minded people, so I’m delighted to have discovered Inpathy—their services and their wellness blog The Inapthy Bulletin. I love the below article about self-compassion, something so important but for one reason or another so often neglected.
Enjoy learning a bit about Inpathy, and cherish the article that can make a positive difference for all of us.
My first traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurred more than a decade ago. Since that time, I’ve worked to thrive, to live well in spite of my unique brain injury sequelae. I recently discovered a whole new way to thrive with TBI. I now see the world through rose-colored glasses.
TBI can cause different types of visual impairments and disturbances. For me, my already-mediocre vision worsened, I began experiencing double vision, I developed depth-perception issues that exacerbated my normal clumsiness and rendered me unable to properly give high-fives (much to the amusement of my children), I developed significant sensitivity to light (termed photophobia despite the fact that it has nothing to do with fears and phobias), and headaches (I haven’t had a single headache-free day since 2004). Finally connecting with the right eye doctor has improved my vision and my outlook.
It’s never too late for the brain to heal. I recently learned this lesson, and it’s timely for Mental Health Awareness Month, and opportunities for growth and increasing our wellbeing are all around us. We simply need to know where to look. For me, this “looking” had the most literal of meanings. For mental health awareness month, I scheduled an appointment with a new eye doctor.
Mental Health Awareness Month, observed every May, places a spotlight on mental health and mental illness. The terms mental health and mental illness are broad terms, encompassing a lot (it can be argued that because these terms involve brain and body, mind and spirit, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, and relationship with self and others, mental health and mental illness are truly everything. I think that that is indeed true; however, because it’s difficult to bring awareness to “everything,” here are just five specific things you should know about mental health and mental illness for mental health awareness month.
Mental Health Awareness Month is a great time for self-care and nurturing your own mental health and wellbeing. It’s fitting that this important mental health month is in May. May is spring in full bloom. Buds unfurl to become leaves. Spring flowers such as rhododendrons and tulips brighten our world. Spring, and Mental Health Awareness Month, is a time for each of us to nurture and care for ourselves so we bloom and grow.
Spring is here, and with it comes spring cleaning! Spring is about freshness and renewal. It’s about new life and life lived anew. The ritual of spring cleaning is an important one. The idea of spring cleaning conjures images of freshening up a house, but there’s more to this ritualistic refreshing than just our living spaces. To enhance our mental health and wellbeing, we need to spring clean our brain.
Self-confidence is a major component of our mental health and wellbeing. Self-confidence involves valuing yourself (as in self-esteem), and it involves believing you have the ability to do things (as in self-efficacy). Confidence is also about feeling deeply satisfied with who you are as a human being, with all of your strengths and weaknesses, triumphs and struggles. It is knowing that you’re not perfect and being okay with it. When you have self-confidence, you know that life isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. You feel good about your ability to create a quality life in which you are strong enough to hang on for the ride. This deep contentment with who we are at our core doesn’t always come naturally. It’s a skill that we can all build.
Creating balance in life is one of the most important components of mental health and wellbeing. The idea of balance for mental health is that, instead of driven by stress, pulled in multiple directions, sometimes tipping one way and sometimes tipping other ways, we stay centered in one spot, calmly doing life tasks. The idea of living a harmonized life is valid and legitimate. Experiencing a sense of evenness reduces anxiety and stress, replacing them with harmony around us and within us. However, the mere fact that we need to strive for balance implies that we’re rather imbalanced. And because we’re off-center (and likely stressed, anxious, or otherwise challenged), righting ourselves can be difficult.
Psychological Flexibility? You’ve likely heard of flexibility, and chances are when you think of the term you think of the body – as in, when you bend forward, can you touch your toes, your knees, or your thighs? (I’m working toward the goal of consistently reaching my knees.) We Both our bodies and minds can be flexible. Psychological flexibility directly impacts the life we live and our sense of wellbeing.
Teen dating violence happens. This can be hard to believe. We don’t want to think of our teenagers as being victims of relationship abuse, nor do we want to believe our teenagers are behaving in harmful ways toward their girlfriends and boyfriends. We’d also like to think that our adolescents, who are nearing adulthood, wouldn’t put up with someone hurting them. But it happens, and it can happen to any teen. That’s why Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month is essential. Knowing the signs of toxic relationships can help teens distance themselves from them, and it can help parents, teachers, and other adults help teens navigate the world of relationships.
It can be hard to know just what dissociative identity disorder (DID) is. DID is among those mental illnesses that are wildly misunderstood. Part of the reason is that the human brain is complex, DID is complex, and researchers are just now beginning to uncover answers. Here’s an infographic that highlights what, exactly, DID is.
Split is a movie that portrays a man living with dissociative identity disorder (DID), a mental disorder that develops in childhood as a defense mechanism against severe trauma, usually in the form of abuse. My daughter first introduced me to the existence of the movie, and she stated in her text message, “This is why the world needs your writing. To balance out crap like this.” (Okay, she’s maybe biased in her opinion of my writing, but I’m fine with it.) She’s right about what I do (or attempt to do). As a mental health writer, certified counselor, person who was diagnosed with mental health disorders after a traumatic brain injury, and general human being, I write to increase understanding and empathy.
The movie Split premiers today, January 20, 2017. Is Split another movie in a long line of sensationalist movies that uses mental illness as a fear factor to trigger our psyches to spring into alert, inducing that edge-of-the-seat sensation that generates a lot of cash for the movie industry?
Do you ever have days when you feel irritated and annoyed at almost everything—and everyone? I hate feeling irritated and annoyed, so when I have days like this, I become even more irritable and more annoyed, the irritability feeding on itself and growing ever stronger in a vicious, seemingly endless, circle. I dealt with this very thing this morning, actually, but I was able to turn my mood around and regain my sense of wellbeing. If you hate finding yourself irritated and annoyed, read on for six ways to deal with it.
Feeling overwhelmed? You’re not alone. Life, as wonderful as it often is, can also be quite stressful. Demands and deadlines can stretch people to their limit. Many different things can cause us to feel overwhelmed. The stressors of daily life can take a tremendous toll. Relationships can be difficult to navigate. If these weren’t challenging enough, sometimes we’re hit with big whammies like chronic illness, traumatic brain injury, mental illness, or other big obstacles.You can reduce that overwhelmed feeling and thrive. Rather than waiting for stressors to pass so you can feel better, take charge right now. Here are four practical things to do to reduce stress and overwhelm and boost wellbeing.
Right now I have a wonderful room with a view. Seated on a smooth leather couch with deep, soft cushions, I can see calm blue water through the picture window in front of me. If I get hungry or thirsty, I can stroll over to the deli counter and order myself something nourishing. This would be great if I were actually on vacation. Unfortunately, I’m not on vacation. The calm blue water isn’t a tropical lagoon. It’s a lap pool. I’m at the gym my son and I belong to. He’s working out. I’m just working.
Sitting in the lobby with a computer on my lap isn’t quite what I had in mind when I said I wanted to go to the gym. I joined for physical health, mental health, family bonding, and connection with others. I enjoy increasing both heart rate and endorphins. Exercise enhances wellbeing and improves lives. Does it count when I go to the gym but sit on a couch rather than on exercise equipment?
Action. It’s activity. It’s taking charge and doing. It’s creating great moments every single day rather than waiting for them to finally come into your life. Action means not having a good day or good moments but making a good day and good moments. Action is something that we can all do, right now, regardless of how bad things in life might be. If taking action seems easier said than done, keep reading. There are things you can do to empower yourself to act and create the life you want.
It can be hard to mindfully appreciate beauty when life is far from perfect, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and overpowered by stress, struggles, and negativity. When facing a mental health challenge, whether it’s a bad day, a tough situation, a problematic relationship, a diagnosis of mental illness, a chronic health condition, or something else entirely, it’s natural to concentrate on that. Unfortunately, when we do that, we’re giving the problem and our worries our almost-full attention. This increases the stressful effects of the problem while depleting our energy and sense of stability. By mindfully appreciating beauty, we can shift our focus from worry to wonder and increase wellbeing.
Be happy or do happy? In the English language, the idea of happiness is often conceptualized as a passive thing. We ask, “Are you happy?” which implies that one either is or is not happy. This suggests that happiness is a personal characteristic, a character trait that one possess or doesn’t. This can lend itself to resignation and the belief that one just isn’t happy. This is an unfortunate consequence of how the English language developed. In reality, happiness isn’t a passive characteristic. Instead, happiness is something active. You DO happy.
Chip and confuse is a subtle, sneaky tactic that toxic people use to trap and control others. Perhaps surprisingly, teen dating violence and abusive behavior in toxic relationships can be hard to spot not only from the outside but from the inside, too. People who have never experienced an abusive relationship often wonder why someone stays in a relationship that is verbally, emotionally, and/or physically abusive. Why not just get out? If it were indeed that simple, of course men, women, boys, and girls alike would run, fast and far, away from an abusive relationship and never look back. Unfortunately, toxic people often use words and behavior that aren’t always easy to interpret. Here’s a look at one toxic, manipulative behavior: chip and confuse.
Knowing the greater purpose for your holiday can help you take action to make it a positive one despite stress and problems. The traditional holiday song tells us, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas.” It makes it sound easy, as if we can just snap our fingers and have a wonderful holiday season, whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Solstice, or something else entirely. Is this a wish that is oversimplified? What about people facing stressors and challenges? What about those experiencing mental illness such as anxiety disorders, mood disorders, dissociative disorders, trauma-induced disorders, and much more? Is it possible to have yourself a merry little Christmas despite challenges, even serious mental illness?
Reading is an activity that enhances our mental health and wellbeing. Settling in with a good book is a very nice thing we can do for ourselves. Our mental health and wellbeing are much more than the mere absence of problems. In fact, the absence of problems isn’t even part of mental health and wellbeing. It’s impossible to live a problem-free life, but it is very possible to create wellbeing and live mentally healthy despite problems and challenges. The process of increasing and maintaining mental health can be quite pleasant. It can involve reading!
Teen dating violence awareness is vital. It’s fitting that Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month is February, a month earmarked to celebrate love. Love is an experience that, because it’s such a basic part of being human, isn’t always discussed. It’s just there. It is what it is. It’s an instinct. Unfortunately, while love is an integral part of humanity, it not always easy to know what healthy versus unhealthy love is. This is especially true during adolescence, when teens are pulling away from parents, and friends and dating relationships become important but are new territory. As a high school teacher and counselor, I saw too many teens, boys and girls alike, become stuck in toxic relationships before they recognized what was happening. Here’s a look at some toxic behaviors in relationships.
Dissociative identity disorder (DID), a mental illness formerly known as multiple personality disorder, can be a confusing, frustrating, even frightening disorder that makes someone feel like a stranger: a stranger in the world and a stranger within his or her own mind. Imagine what it would be like to be a stranger to yourself. Picture a party or a school dance or a family holiday gathering. (You don’t have to love these things — just picture it.) The setting is festive. It’s light and cheery. Perhaps there are colorful decorations. There’s delicious food, both of the junk variety and the healthy variety. And of course there are happy people. Most of them know each other and mingle happily. There is conversation, laughter, joviality. And you don’t know a single person; nor do they know you. You are a stranger in the room. You decide to stand by yourself. However, will you stay yourself? Will a different part of you emerge, in effect taking over who you are for a while? If so, who will it be? Someone you don’t really know and thus can’t predict what he — or she — will do? You’re a stranger in the room and a stranger to yourself. This, in part, is DID.
How Does DID Make Someone a Stranger to Himself?
In dissociative identity disorder, someone is one person with his/her own unique identity, just like any other person on the planet. With DID (which begins in childhood and has a very distinct cause), someoene’s psyche has fragmented into different parts/alternate identities (often called alters). Each alter (with DID, there can be as few as two or more than 100) is also unique with his/her own identity.
The different identities aren’t always aware of each other. A goal of treatment is to increase awareness so that each alter, and the main identity, knows each other. Its as if that festive gathering mentioned above is perpetually happening in one’s mind, and he/she doesn’t know the others at the party. It’s awkward when that happens in someone’s outer world. It would be disconcerting, to put it mildly, when that is a regular experience inside one’s own mind.
In the novel Twenty-Four Shadows, family man Isaac Bittman discovers that he lives with DID, and he definitely feels like a stranger to himself. At one point, he is venting to his wife, Reese, lamenting that he just doesn’t know who he is:
Here’s the thing. Sometimes I don’t know who I even am, and that frightens me, Reese. I mean, I’m starting to see a pattern. Ishmael is the angry one. Jake is the adventurous and artistic one. Isaiah is the depressed and anxious one. Alton is the musical one. June is the protective one. And there are so many others. So where does all of that leave me, leave Isaac? Who am I?”
Isaac isn’t alone. DID can be very frightening, and it’s easy for someone to feel lost inside his/her own identity. While there is no cure for DID, there is indeed help and hope. Typically, someone with DID does develop awareness of alters. With help, that awareness crystallizes, and he/she gets to know him/herself better and better. The alters, too, come to know each other. It’s very possible for someone living with DID to answer the question “who am I” positively and with certainty. Someone living with dissociative identity disorder isn’t forever doomed to being a stranger to him/herself.
Acceptance and commitment therapy is a powerful approach to our mental health and wellbeing. It may not seem like it sometimes, but each and every one of us has the power within us to create what in positive psychology is known as a life worth living. A life worth living simply means the life that we, individually, find valuable–a quality life that we want to fully and completely live. A life worth living is never out of reach. There is an incredibly useful therapeutic approach that can guide us all along the long and winding path. Referred to as acceptance and commitment therapy, or ACT, this approach empowers us all to live well and thrive in spite of problems, hardships, and challenges.
Dealing with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be overwhelming. The best part of that sentence is the phrase “dealing with.” I know from experience that TBI can indeed be dealt with. A delightful way to do it? Read! It’s brain injury by the book.
A woman with a voice is, by definition, a strong woman.” -Melinda Gates
International day of the girl is a day to celebrate girls. It’s a day to give them strength and voice as they grow and develop into women. Women young and old are wonderful human beings with unique strengths and gifts to offer the world. We positively influence families, neighborhoods, schools, communities, and beyond – far beyond.
It’s October 10th, and it’s a great day to celebrate. It’s World Mental Health Day, a day we, the people of the world, say to ourselves and to each other that mental health is important. Thanks to so many organizations (there’s a partial list and links at the end of this article), people are increasingly talking about mental illness and mental health and are realizing just how important it is to take care of mental health. What, though, does mental health really mean? We know that it has to do with the brain and with thoughts and emotions and that it’s a good thing to have. This is all true. However, it’s limited; there’s so much more to mental health, and the more we know, the better we can take charge of our mental health to thrive. For World Mental Health Day, a look at what mental health is, sometimes in the context of what it is not.
Positivity. It’s the art and science of seeing the good, of continuing to seek mental health and wellbeing, of knowing that you’re capable of taking action toward a life worth living. There are multiple components to positivity. Perhaps oddly, one of those components is doubt. It’s common, and very okay, to wonder if positivity is effective. Does it have an actual function, or is it just fluff? Does it contribute to wellbeing, or does it only happen once you “have” wellbeing? The short answer: You can hone positivity when you’re down and experience wellbeing despite mental health challenges.
Dissociative identity disorder (DID), formerly called multiple personality disorder, is hard to understand and even harder to live with. Could you imagine what it would be like to suddenly realize that you have absolutely no idea what you’ve been doing? To be smack in the middle of something, and you don’t really know what that something is or why you’re doing it? People living with dissociative identity disorder (DID) experience this on a regular basis; indeed, life with DID can be full of confusion and absent memories. DID is a mental illness in which someone experiences disruption in his/her identity involving the presence of two or more distinct personality states. People switch from one to another involuntarily, and because they’re unaware of what an alternate identity is up to, coming back to awareness can be disorienting and frightening. Here’s a look into what that might be like.
When I experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in a car accident, and proceeded to exacerbate it by sustaining two subsequent concussions, there were times when I felt as though I had suffered a great loss, the loss of who I thought I once was. My mental health and sense of self took as much of a blow as my head did. The sense of loss was accompanied by anxiety, often extreme, and mood swings, from low to high multiple times in a single day. I often felt as though I had lost myself, the person I had been for over three decades.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and when it comes to mental health, there is a lot to be aware of. It’s fitting that May is the month dedicated to increasing awareness of mental health. Spring is in full bloom. Buds are unfurling. Grass is greening and growing. Birds are singing and animals frolicking. Flowers are blossoming. The world is so beautiful in the spring because the sun shines and warms; also, the rain falls and cools. Spring is wonderful to enjoy; also, spring can bring allergies and misery. Spring is neither all good nor all bad. Being aware of spring’s positives and negatives can help us keep it in perspective, to enjoy the positives despite the negatives. I love that May, springtime, is Mental Health Awareness Month. The nature of spring is similar to mental health. Just as being aware of all facets of spring can help us live the season fully, so too can being aware of mental health help us live fully despite challenges and even mental illness.
Mistakes and anxiety can be a dangerous combination for our wellbeing. How do you feel about yourself when you make a mistake (or when you think about goofing up?) If you are prone to perfectionism or social anxiety, making mistakes might negatively impact your wellbeing. When we realize that a mistake is just an event and that we can choose our response, we can increase our sense of control to reduce anxiety.
Twenty-Four Shadows has received honors from top book review companies. Kirkus Reviews awarded Twenty-Four Shadows a Kirkus Star, a rating reserved for “books of remarkable merit.” Additionally, the US Review of Books has given this novel a Recommended rating, also an honor reserved for a select few books. I couldn’t be more thrilled, but the reason might be different than what people may think.
Abusive relationships aren’t love. That might seem obvious, but abusive, toxic people behave in convoluted, contradictory, and confusing ways. In toxic relationships, love isn’t as cut-and-dried as a neutral observer might expect it to be. For example, one might think that love, real love, doesn’t hurt. And it shouldn’t. Love should never hurt. Sometimes it does, though. Sometimes one partner in a relationship is toxic. The hurt is direct in the form of actions and words, and the hurt is indirect in the form of actions and words–actions and words that seem kind, caring, loving.
Finding ways to forgive after we’ve been hurt can feel impossible. Being human can be difficult. Beginning in toddlerhood and lasting for the rest of our lives, we navigate our many worlds that include other human beings and, of course, ourselves. Mistakes and transgressions abound. We get hurt, sometimes deeply. The wounds of life and love and all types of relationships can take an emotional toll. Yet learning ways to forgive is an important component of our emotional health. Forgiveness allows us to let go of the past so we can live fully and well in the present moment.
Beating anxiety involves intentionally doing the opposite of what anxiety is at it’s core. Anxiety isn’t fun, it is devoid of all positive purpose, and it robs us of passion for pursuing life. Therefore, cultivating passion, purpose, and fun despite anxiety can go far in beating anxiety.
It can be really hard knowing what to say to someone experiencing tough times. You care. You want to say the right thing to a friend, family member, coworker, or neighbor who is going through difficulties. You want to be supportive, but knowing exactly what is and is not supportive can be tricky. Experiencing mental illness or even non-mental-illness-related general emotional upheaval can throw off someone’s entire world. It’s often inaccurate to say that life is turned upside down, for life doesn’t always hold still enough to even stay upside down. It twists and turns and spins out of control, taking the person with it. The last thing we ever want to do is make things worse. Yet there are helpful things to say to someone experiencing tough times, including mental health challenges.
Character strengths. Strength. It’s a word so often associated with humanity. We refer to people as strong, and we admire them for it. We encourage each other to be strong in the face of adversity. And, almost without exception, we all want to be strong. Whether we are facing physical health challenges, mental health challenges (the two aren’t actually mutually exclusive), relationship challenges, situational life challenges, or any combination of these very human struggles, we can be strong.
Life. It’s a ride. Specifically, it’s a roller coaster, and according to Grandma in the movie Parenthood (1989), a roller coaster is wonderful. She describes,
“You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.”
Panic attacks are nasty little–no, nasty huge–storms that can hit suddenly, and tear through the mind and body like an F5 tornado, the strongest type of this destructive storm. In describing tornadoes, Enchanted Learning says that their intensity is difficult to measure “because a tornado usually destroys local measuring equipment, and also because tornadoes only exist for a short time at random places and they are gone before meteorologists can study them.” That description sounds a bit like panic attacks, doesn’t it?
Ah, life. So many adjectives describe it. Magnificent, stressful, wonderful, difficult, joyous, challenging, invigorating, and exhausting are but a few words that apply to the four-letter-word “life” (and there are, indeed, some four-letter-words that can also describe it). Note that among the words just listed, “easy” is not present. In the words of the great philosopher/writer Voltaire, “Life is a shipwreck…” That it is. As human beings, we must struggle against many obstacles and challenges. From the moment of our first interaction with siblings or our first play date with friends, we have to discover and rediscover and re-rediscover how to work with others to keep our sailboats afloat. We have to protect what is ours yet share what is ours. We have to adjust our behavior according to social norms yet be true to ourselves. We have to figure out how to navigate relationships that involve power disparity. We have to defend ourselves yet avoid being aggressive.
When I worked as a teacher and then a teacher/counselor in different high schools, I was shocked to discover that a significant number of students, both female and male, were trapped in unhealthy relationships that ranged from toxic to downright abusive. Out of care and concern for these adolescents grew Losing Elizabeth. I wanted to reach teens, starting in middle school but older adolescents as well, through a simple story, stripped of extraneous detail that could detract from the message. I sought to write a tale of fiction that would entertain rather than preach and one that could reach younger adolescents before they begin to date as well as older ones who themselves might be trapped in a controlling relationship. The result was Losing Elizabeth.
The term mental health has become quite a buzz word (and well it should), but as a concept, it is very broad. What does mental health really mean? At its core, it means not merely the absence of illness; mental health means thriving and enjoying a quality life.
Let’s face it. Being human is often no easy task. Myriad challenges can greet us on a daily, even an hourly, basis. We face struggles both intrapersonal and interpersonal. There are work difficulties and home difficulties. Illnesses physical and mental rise up to block us in our quest for a life worth living. All of this is enough to make anyone want to hole up in a dark, quiet room and rarely leave.
Flow, a mindfulness experience of being completely immersed in the joy of what you’re doing, reduces stress. Stress comes in many different forms and from a multitude of sources. It also has many rather nasty symptoms. In general, people often find themselves busy, rushed, facing looming deadlines, dealing with conflict, addressing seemingly insurmountable problems and challenges, illnesses both mental and physical. We hurt, we ache, heads pound, stomachs protest, and in general we feel that we’ll explode, and if we don’t explode we’ll certainly implode.
As a parent, I thought that playing games with my kids was a great idea. I was right. We formed connections and bonds, very important for growth and development. They learned cognitive skills and social skills. Gracious winning and losing. Turn taking. Patience. Laughter. Etc. Surprisingly, there was an added bonus to playing games with my kids: I learned lessons, too.
Holiday wellbeing is real, but it can be hard to maintain. It’s wonderful that one of the things that makes us all human is our ability to celebrate. We search for meaning, we continually discover and re-discover meaning throughout our lives, and we celebrate that which we find meaningful. Celebrating the things in our lives, big and small, is one of the things that enhances well-being. As mentally healthy as celebrations are, they can also be overstimulating and exhausting. Knowing some of the benefits of celebrating can help you do it–and go to those gatherings and parties that can sometimes be obnoxious and draining. It helps, too, to know how to maintain your wellbeing when celebrations begin to overwhelm you.
Do you discount the positive things about you? How often do you feel inferior? Do you take others’ words, gestures, and actions to heart, assuming they are being critical of you and using them to judge yourself harshly? A wise, powerful humanitarian, Eleanor Roosevelt’s legacy includes a vast array of wise words to inspire us all to be better people for ourselves and each other. Many people can absolutely live her words and apply their philosophy when it comes to the “each other” part. Sadly, it’s hard for so many people to apply her wisdom and kindness to themselves. Too many people struggle to like themselves.
Recently, we took a family trip to Disney World. Topping my children’s list of enjoyment was pin trading. Disney sells cute little pins to tourists, and employees throughout the parks and resorts wear their own to trade with guests. It’s typically something that connects people, brings them together in friendly conversation and exchange.
One day, a man brought his own gigantic selection of pins and parked himself at a table to trade with guests. Unlike the Disney employees, he could be selective in his trading and only accept/trade away what suited him. That’s entirely well and good. What was not so well and good was how he rejected my thirteen-year-old son’s trade proposal. The man was harsh and brusque, telling him his pin was inferior and refusing to trade for the one my son had been seeking.
Wellbeing & Words
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Honors & Awards
Named to Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2016
My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel
Named to Kirkus Reviews’ list of Best Books of 2014
U.S. Review of Books
Recipient of the Storytellers Campfire Marble Book Award for being a “book which has made a significant difference in the world.”