Monthly Archives: February 2016

Self-Compassion

SELF-COMPASSION

By: Christine Hall   February 29, 2016

self compassion by christine

compassion

[kuh m-pash-uh n] /kəmˈpæʃ ən/

noun

a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.

Synonyms Expand

  1. mercy, tenderness, heart, clemency, sympathy.

“Self-compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give to others.”
Christopher Germer

Self-compassion is compassion directed inward.  Operationalized self-compassion consists of three main elements:  Self-kindness (vs. self-judgment), a sense of common humanity (vs. isolation), and mindfulness (vs. overidentification).  These components combine and mutually interact to create a self-compassionate frame of mind.

So why would one wish to incorporate self-compassion into their life?  Self-compassion can give you super hero powers!  No, really.  Self-compassion can help you when experiencing personal inadequacies, mistakes and failures, as well as confronting painful life situations that are outside our control.  How great would it be to be able to make YOURSELF feel better during times of pain or suffering?  Pretty great, I say….kinda like having superhero powers!

Let’s explore the 3 elements:

  • SELF-KINDNESS:  Being kind, gentle and understanding with yourself when you are hurting.  We are often SO hard on ourselves.  Try to imagine what you would say to a loved one that was hurting.  Now imagine saying those same kind things to YOURSELF.  Watch your language.  You may be so used to criticizing yourself that you don’t even realize that you are doing it.  If you wouldn’t say the same statements to someone else, you are being self-critical.

Comfort yourself with a kind gesture:  Kind physical gestures have an immediate impact on our bodies, activating the soothing parasympathetic system (like tapping into super powers!).  Examples of physical gestures could be putting your hands over your heart or simply holding your arm.  Any gesture will do.

Memorize a set of compassionate phrases:  Whenever you find yourself saying things like: “I suck”, it helps to have a few phrases at the ready.  Pick statements that resonate with you.  Combining that with a physical gesture – like hands on the heart – is especially (super!) powerful.  Here are some examples of phrases:

This is a moment of suffering.

Suffering is part of life.

May I be kind to myself in this moment?

May I give myself the compassion I need?

 

  • COMMON HUMANITY: Realizing that you are not alone in your struggles.  When we are hurting, we tend to feel especially alone.  We think we are the only ones to experience loss, make mistakes, feel rejected or fail (I bet this sounds familiar, right??).  But it is these very struggles that are part of our shared experiences as humans.
  • MINDFULNESS: Observing life as it is (especially the messy parts), without being judgmental or suppressing your thoughts or feelings.  You’re probably thinking:  “ick, I don’t WANT to sit in painful feelings!”, but when we do this, we actually amplify these unwanted emotions.  For example:  some people self-harm in an effort to numb to painful emotions.  In the short term, self-harming may feel soothing.  However in the long run, it ends up increasing one’s stress level.  Sitting with our emotions simply means allowing them to happen, resisting the urge to get rid of the pain, and not judging ourselves for having them.

 

So, how do I that? 

  1. Observe your emotions. Sit with your emotions by noting what you are experiencing without judging yourself.  For example:  “I’m feeling hurt that (fill in the blank)”.  I am feeling like I want to cry – my throat is tightening up.  Now I am noticing that I’m starting to judge myself because I don’t want to cry.

This is uncomfortable, but I am okay; I CAN tolerate this, and I can recognize that this will pass.

  1. Validate your emotions. Validating your emotions, means accepting  Accepting uncomfortable emotions does NOT trigger extra pain.  When you are “angry” at someone, attempt to discover what is underneath that anger for you. Anger is considered an “intense reaction to an unmet need”.  What need of yours is not being met?  Could it be: desiring to feel included, desiring to feel heard, respected?

Oftentimes, we can jump to negative conclusions about others, when in actuality they did not mean to hurt our feelings.  Have you even unintentionally hurt someone else’s feelings?

  1. Focus on the present. It is helpful to focus our attention on the present, instead of “wallowing” in the experience.  We wallow when new fixate on the feeling, judge ourselves, or judge others or the situation which triggered our negative feelings.

 

“You’ve been criticising yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”
Louise L. Hay

Christine Hall, Youth & Family Counsellor Community Options Society

  • Adapted from the works of Kristen Neff & Christopher Germer, creators of Mindfulness Self-Compassion

Coping with Negative Self-Talk

selflovevalentine

Coping with Negative Self-Talk

Anna Bystrova     February 27, 2016

When we talk about self-care, we often think about external stimuli that help us battle everyday stress. Taking a walk, going on vacation, meeting with friends and family, eating healthy food, exercising, learning something new, doing something exciting, going for a massage, and many more come to mind. All these examples are great choices of activities that help us lower our stress level and balance our emotional selves. However, there is one very important aspect that we often forget to address when we embark on a journey of self-care – negative self-talk!

Our brain is a magnificent thought-producing machine. It comes up with new ideas, stores and recalls wonderful images of our experiences, and provides us with millions upon millions of thoughts every day. However, at times, negative thoughts and memories come to the surface, often flooding our consciousness. Have you ever felt like a negative thought could not leave your mind regardless of how hard you tried to forget it or ignore it? It almost feels like the more you try to forget it, the more your brain tries to remember it and focus on it. These could be phrases that you have heard in the past, or some persistent messages from your childhood. These also could be ideas that stem from a recent failure or painful experience. In any case, these thoughts can become very heavy to bear on your shoulders. It is important to recognize that this experience can be overwhelming for anyone. You might even start to believe these negative thoughts because they are so persistent and you feel like you cannot escape them. In that moment, you might succumb to the power of your brain’s memory and accept these negative thoughts as the ultimate truth and reflection of your true self. There is great danger in this, as these thoughts can become so strong that they turn into your everyday mantra, leaving you with no space to breathe.

Recognizing that the negative self-talk spiral can happen to anyone, and you might have experienced it already, it is important to know how to take care of our thoughts and how to cope with negative self-talk.

Here are some examples of trigger thoughts that can start a whole cascade of negative self-talk, increasing your cognitive vulnerability:

__”I am so stupid”

__”I will never be able to do this”

__”There is no point in trying”

__”I’ll never achieve anything”

__”People always hurt me”

__”I am unlovable”

__”I am a failure”

__”It was my fault”

__”I can’t trust anyone”

__”There is something wrong with me”

__”It will never stop”

__”No one cares about me”

__”I don’t deserve to be loved/happy/successful/__________________”

__”I am incompetent”

__”I am going to be alone forever”

__”I am a bad friend/son/daughter/employee/parent/_______________”

__”I can’t make it in life without the help of _______________________”

__”I am broken”

__Your example:____________________________________________”

These thoughts can prove to be a powerful source of your distress. However, it is important to remember that even though it is difficult to ignore them and escape them, it is possible to learn to replace them with some coping thoughts that eventually will change the way you think, literally re-writing and rewiring your brain.

Coping thoughts can help you soothe your emotions and rebalance yourself when you are in distress. They are statements that remind you of some commonly held truths, your strengths, and your successes. If you find yourself in a situation when you begin addressing yourself in a negative way, use a self-encouraging coping thought that counteract the negative thought. You can create your own list of coping thoughts that you find powerful, encouraging, and motivating. Think of a list of negative thoughts above. Indicate those that apply to you and add those that you know you often think about. Then, keeping that list in sight, create a new list of coping thoughts that you think counteract those negative thoughts well. You can always search for more encouraging statements on the internet, ask your friends to come up with some, or look for some encouraging quotes that are easy to remember. If you are religious, you may want to use quote from your religious text that apply to your daily situations and can help you feel encouraged or motivated in a stressful situation.

Here is a list of some positive coping statements to start with:

___ “You don’t need to be perfect! Everyone makes mistakes”

___ “This too shall pass”

___ “My fear/sadness/anxiety won’t kill me. It just does not feel good right now”

___ “These are just my feelings, and eventually they will go away”

___ “It is ok to feel sad/anxious/angry/afraid sometimes”

___ “I can think different thoughts if I want to”

___ “My thoughts don’t control me; I control my thoughts”

___ “I am not in danger right now”

___ “Thoughts are not facts”

___ “It was not my fault. Some situations are out of our control”

___ “My feelings are like a wave that comes and goes”

___ “I have survived other situations like this before, I will survive this one too”

___ “I can ride this out and not let it get to me”

___ “I am strong enough to handle what is happening to me”

___ “This is an opportunity for me to learn how to cope with my fears”

___ “I can take all of the time I need right now to let go and relax”

Remember, it is not useless to continue doing this exercise on a regular basis as it  work on a neuropsychological level. Your brain houses about 100 billion neurons (more for children and adolescents) that interact between each other with the help of synapses. To simplify the process let’s visualize a pathway between point A and point B. When a stressful situation happens, a neuron A fires or activates. You start thinking a negative thought – your neuron B activates. Since they fired in close timing, they connect with a pathway. So, what happens when we react with a negative thought (neuron B) each time the stressful situation happens (neuron A)? We strengthen the pathway that our brain laid out the first time. Think of a grassy meadow. If we want to cross it, and there is no path in sight, we lay out a new path by stumbling through the grass. The next time you want to cross that meadow, will you stumble through the grass again or use the path you’ve already created? Yes, the majority of us will use the old path. So, each time you are near that meadow you end up using that path over and over again, until even grass does not grow there anymore, and you don’t even question which way to go, stepping on that path. It is exactly what happens in your brain. When you use negative self-talk each time you encounter a certain negative situation, the synapses (pathways in your brain) become stronger and more powerful, making it more and more difficult to see any other way each time that happens. Thus, to change how we think, we should not avoid the path, but consciously make a new one. Afterwards, we have to consciously choose that new path until the old path is covered with grass again.

McKay, M., Wood, J. C., & Brantley, J. (2007). The Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Skills Workbook: Practical DBT Exercises for Learning Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation & Distress Tolerance. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

7 Things You Do That Cause Depression and Anxiety

7 things you do that cause depression and anxiety!

By: Angela Englander    February 15, 2015

  1. Watching or reading the news: Seeing devastating and upsetting stories sends your brain messages that the world is a scary and unsafe place.IMG_0598
  2. Focusing on the negative: Focusing on the negative aspects of your life are training your brain to ignore positive events in your life and amplify the negative events. Over time you will have a hard time to appreciate things or feel happy and will just feel stressed and depressed.IMG_0604
  3. Spending all of your time with unhappy people: The brain uses a process called mirroring to help you sync up with the people you are around. You may have noticed you use similar mannerisms and have similar beliefs to those of the people around you. Your emotions are likely also similar.copy cats
  4. Trying to change the past: By refusing to accept things as they are you create an ambivalent tension in your brain. You logically know you can’t change the past yet you continue to rethink what you could have done differently.15312_384072104542_502649542_3932732_4121789_n
  5. Working too hard: By over-extending yourself you are ignoring the messages your body is sending you. Your body may become more and more tired until you can’t ignore it any more.030
  6. Holding grudges: These subtle energy seepers leave you tired and cranky!IMG_0506
  7. Ignoring your emotions: Emotions are the language of our subconscious. If you ignore its communication you won’t be able to make choices in your best interest.

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Thanks for reading and have a great day! As always feel free to e-mail me at Angela@waystowellbeing.ca or leave a comment below!

A moment of Mindfulness

mindfulness

A Moment of Mindfulness

By Angela Englander February 10, 2015

 

Mindfulness is a practice that can easily get forgotten when life gets busy, when we are stressed or nervous or frustrated or simply too busy or rushed. When we are on overdrive our system may feel sped up, as if we have had too much coffee, or perhaps you needed the caffeine to get your system pushing past your limits in the first place. This chronic pushing ourselves and going beyond our limits may make sense in the context of our busy lives and our busy culture but does it make sense biologically and from an evolutionary lens?

When we stop listening to our body’s signals we tend to fill up with stress hormones and exhaust our body’s natural storage of hormones and enzymes. In the moment we feel alive and have the energy to attend that extra meeting, run that race, stay out at that party, or get in to work a little early for a meeting. In the long term your adrenal glands (the ones responsible for your energy hormones) can literally burn out. Taxing these organs leads to feelings of exhaustion, depression, apathy, avoidance, weight gain, trouble sleeping, and a number of diseases. This adrenal fatigue also leads to boredom with life, increases risk taking behaviour, reduces impulse control and can lead to putting yourself or others in dangerous situations just to feel alive. The numbing between the adrenaline rushes and the feelings of exhaustion when not in over drive make it that much harder to switch gears, and who wants to slow down when life can be so exciting?

If you do find yourself wanting to slow down, to allow your body system’s to naturally rebalance and avoid diseases, or if you want to feel naturally calm and content, this moment of mindfulness is for you!

Sit comfortably in a chair or on the floor, this comfort is very important because I’m going to encourage you to spend an entire minute in this position during your mindfulness. Put your phone aside and remind yourself that for the next minute you are just going to slow down and be at peace. Take a deep breath, feel the life giving energy entering your lungs. As you exhale blow the air slowly out of your mouth and focus on what the air feels like on your lips. Is the air warm or cool? As you continue breathing take a moment to focus on your back, is your spine straight? Are you leaning to the side or backwards of forwards? Without judging yourself just take a moment to notice what your body is doing. As you take another deep breath focus on your gratitude. Find one thing that you are really grateful for and focus on that thing for the next thirty seconds. If you can’t think of something to be really grateful for, you can be grateful that you can read, you are able to breath, and you are alive. These everyday blessings that we so easily take for granted are gifts. Take a moment to notice how privileged you are to have these blessings. Take a moment to be thankful and really feel that blessing of having these gifts. Thank you for spending this moment of mindfulness and I wish you peace on your healing journey. If you have any questions please e-mail me angela@waystowellbeing.ca

Self-Care in Nature

Serene Forest

Self Care: Is It Time to Visit a Forest?

By: Anna Bystrova      February 8, 2016

Photo: Kevin Wang from https://flic.kr/p/hpPwfV

Let me ask you a simple question. How often do you go outside? No, not to get to the car or hop onto a bus to get to work or a place of study. How often do you go for a walk in a park? How much time out of your schedule is dedicated to spending time in a forest? If you are like any average city person, chances are your answer will be “not very often”.

Modern life places a lot of expectations on our lifestyles, often trapping us in schedules that we can barely keep up with. Going to the forest? We hardly have enough time to fit in lunch! Time constraints are often cited as a common reason why people do not spend time in nature. With fluctuating economy and pressing debt issues, we are forced to work longer hours, or find ourselves splitting between 2 or 3 jobs to keep up with bills and dreams. There are also such crucial participants in our lives as family and friends to add to the schedule. Entertainment media has entered our lives quite some time ago, and it found a solid spot there, bordering between giving us an outlet to relax and eating away our precious free time. In more recent years, social media proudly took the title of a Time-eating Monster, planting its roots deep into our schedules. A lot of us have even more commitments we have to comply with on a regular basis. Among all these important commitments and daily hassles, it is easy to regard self-care as the least important of them, dedicating very little time to it, if at all. This absence of self-care in light of busy schedules, challenging and demanding jobs/study programs, interpersonal relations, worries about future and financial stability increasingly more often lead to high levels of stress and extreme fatigue, at times even leading to a burnout or stress-related mental illness.

Understandably, for many the concept of self-care might seem like a luxury one cannot afford. However, do not fall for the claims of corporate producers and questionable know-how entrepreneurs trying to sell you another new product or service that promises that it is the only thing you would ever need to feel happy. There are many small lifestyle changes and inexpensive or free activities that you can add to your routine that will help you relax, unwind, return to your centre or even hold through a very challenging chapter in your life. You can refer to one of our articles for a list of pleasant activities to start with. You can chose the ones that you like, or make your own list.

As part of your journey of discovering the best self-care tools that suit your needs and preferences, consider exploring your relationship with nature. It has been know for a long time that interactions with nature are beneficial to general and mental health. Numerous studies have been conducted to explore this correlation. Exposure to nature and moving to countryside for a prolong period of time has been used by doctors as prescriptions for poor physical and mental health throughout the history of industrial world. Including readily accessible green spaces in cities is a part of urban planning and urban development research is partially due to the correlation between general and mental health and nature.

Social stress has been recognized as a risk factor for development of mental disorders. In addition, city living and urban social stress have shown evidence of being associated with increased prevalence of such disorders. In light of these factors, it is important to find accessible ways to support reduction of stress in urban population. Various modern studies indicate a strong association between availability of green space in cities and fewer cases of stress related mental illnesses. Some studies suggest that even availability of observable green space in the neighbourhood environment can have a positive effect on mental health. However, active participation in green spaces tops the charts of benefits to your general and mental health, offering stress reduction properties, immune function support, cognitive improvements, and much more. Some studies suggest that visiting forests away from the city that offer a serene feeling have even greater beneficial properties. Hopefully, these brief points will encourage you to explore ways to include nature in your self-care routine.

Remember – taking care of yourself is not a luxury. It is a necessity. As with many other issues in life, prevention is always a better choice than intervention. Taking care of yourself now will help you avoid a dangerous slippery slope of stress related issue in the future. Find self-care routines that are right for you and prioritize them while making your schedule.

And do not forget to visit a nearby park or forest. May I challenge you to do it this weekend? Maybe even today?

References

Annerstedt van den Bosch, M., Östergren, P.-O., Grahn, P., Skärbäck, E., & Währborg, P. (2015). Moving to Serene Nature May Prevent Poor Mental Health—Results from a Swedish Longitudinal Cohort Study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 12(7), 7974-7989.

Lederbogen, F., Haddad, L., & Meyer-Lindenberg, A. (2013). Urban social stress – Risk factor for mental disorders. The case of schizophrenia. Environmental Pollution, 183, 2–6.

Li, Q. (2010). Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine,15(1), 9–17.

Nielsen, T. S. & Hansen, K. B. (2006). Nearby nature and green areas encourage outdoor activities and decrease mental stress. CAB Reviews: Perspectives in Agriculture, Veterinary Science, Nutrition and Natural Resources, 1(059), 10.

Nutsford, D., Pearson, A. L., & Kingham, S. (2013). An ecological study investigating the association between access to urban green space and mental health. Public Health, 127(11), 1005–1011.

Selhub, E. M. & Logan, A. C. (2012). Your brain on nature: The science of nature’s influence on your health, happiness, and vitality. Toronto, ON: Collins.