The past is an important part of who we are. Our early upbringing, childhood memories, school experiences, first sexual encounters, relationships, and key decisions that shape our present self. Do you ever feel as if there are aspects of your past that are holding you back to being fully present?
The National Suicide Prevention Website lists a number of warning signs that can be helpful in recognizing if one is at risk for suicide. Knowing the warning signs, especially if behaviors are new or have increased as well as signs that seem related to a painful event, loss, or change are tell-tale signs.
“Laughter is the best medicine”, especially now. Scrolling through social media, humor was interspersed leading up the election results. You may think of entertainment when it comes to laughter–your favorite sitcom, comedian, or personality that evokes and good belly laugh. However, laughter has many purposes besides entertainment. It is a great means of coping during difficult times by offering relief from stress.
PLEASE MASTER is a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) skill to help reduce vulnerability to negative emotions. This is a great skill to help with emotional regulation while also having a framework for steps to take that create healthy habits within daily routines.
I’ve been talking with my clients a lot recently about how to manage anxiety and stress. We’re all experiencing probably a higher level of anxiety than what we’re used to. Some people have a lot of skills for managing that and some of us don’t
Happiness is an elusive concept, we all want it but not many of us can define what it actually is and even fewer how to get it.
Unfortunately, a lot of us fall into the trap of the ‘I will be happy when’mentality. It’s an easy fix supported by our own psychology and propagated by the modern world. You end up thinking; ‘I will be happy when I have lost 10kg’s’, ‘I will be happy when I find a partner’, ‘I will be happy when I get that new car’ and so on. The difficulty is that you will be happy briefly, or at least you think you will. But this feeling won’t last long and then you will be onto the next thing that you believe you need to feel happy.
Now, don’t get me wrong, being healthier and finding positive relationships are good goals, but when you anchor your entire life onto the ‘i’ll be happy when’ philosophy you will always be left wanting more and the happiness you seek will likely remain elusive.
I am not promising that trying the following tips will immediately fix everything, but remember that you are the author, editor and viewer of your own life. You choose what you do from day to day. You filter experiences based on what you expect to see and you choose what you focus on and remember. So maybe just try some of these and see how you feel, who knows it could really make a difference, they have to me over the years.
- Try something new.
Now this doesn’t have to be big, in fact it can be tiny and in any aspect of your life. Try a new route from work and see what different sights there are, or people you meet. Maybe it will simply turn out to be quicker. Try a new restaurant, try a new activity. Go big and visit a country you have never been to before, go brave and ask that person out, or end a toxic relationship. Novelty can help reinvigorate you, it can give you new perspectives, new experiences. You may meet new people, who in turn give you new ideas. It can give you new things to consider and talk about. Maybe just try one new thing a month and see what changes.
- Start Small
This is really important, people often make the mistake of trying to change everything at once. You set yourself giant targets and when you don’t achieve them in a month you start giving up and feel like you have failed. Instead focus on the tiny wins. If you want to lose weight, don’t think “I want to lose 2 stone”, start some exercise and if you feel a bit better then thats your target. Maybe your clothes feel a bit looser or you have little bit more energy. There is nothing wrong with big bold targets, but don’t measure your progress by it. Instead, break it into smaller goals and celebrate when you achieve them (perhaps not with a cheesecake though).
- Count the Good Things
Try this experiment with a friend, when you are somewhere you haven’t been before, ask them to look around and memorize everything that is red. Once they have done that, ask them to close their eyes and list all the things around them that are blue. A lot of people will struggle because they simply haven’t paid attention or focussed on the blue things around them. This is how our minds work. Very simply, we see what we expect to see and remember based on our preconceptions, your mind filters to make it more efficient. Now this is great from a survival perspective however it can cause problems. If we expect to have a bad day we will unconsciously only look for the things that confirm this. If we think we are unlucky we will look for things that prove our bad luck streak. Instead try something very simple, everyday before you go to sleep, think through your day and focus on five good things that have happened. They could be anything from ‘a nice walk in the sunshine’ to ‘meeting someone new’. There are always at least five events you can find that haven’t been awful or disastrous. Try this for a while and you may be surprised how it starts to change your mindset. You will start to look for more and more of the good and likely feel more positive.
- Say no….and yes more
This might sound like contradictory advice, but a lot of us spend a significant amount of time trying to second guess what other people want us to do. We try and make decisions on their wants and needs. We might do this for lots of reasons; we care for them, love them, live with them, dislike them and so on. Instead I want you to make decisions about how you feel and what you want. Have the confidence to say no to things you don’t want to do and yes to things that you do want to do. You may have avoided things in the past as you are worried that friends and family might judge you or it might change their view of you, but it’s not their life! It’s not about being selfish, just recognising that to be a good friend to others you need to first look after yourself and that you are entitled to do what makes you happy.
- Read a Book
In a world of social media and access to non-stop entertainment, books have sometimes fallen out of favour. Books give you a window into a different world or another persons life, a glimpse into history, they stimulate your imagination and mind. The focus required to read without distractions is sometimes considered a form of meditation; you can’t half read like you do with some TV programmes, it requires all of your attention. Books have the time to be more descriptive and delve deeper, ask questions that mass media are unwilling to, they can put you in the shoes of another world changing your perspective on life. Books have literally changed the course of history so why not give one a go.
- Stop and Meditate
We spend so much time running around thinking about work, family, friends worrying about what we have to do next, dwelling on something we did last week, rarely just stopping and taking in where we are and how we feel right now. Meditation can be practiced in many forms and its worth learning more about it. Essentially though, meditation asks you to focus on the moment you are in now, your place within it and the internal feelings and thoughts going on at that moment. Acknowledge them and then work to find stillness and quietness. Learn to slow down and quieten your mind to stop if from jumping from thought to thought like a over excited animal. Simply give yourself 5 minutes a few times in your day to just stop and look around you, admire the view and really take it in. Ask yourself, where are you now and how do you actually feel?
In anything, anywhere and anytime, just do it. Stop worrying about what to do and stop giving yourself the excuse that you have no time. Everyone has 10 minutes to take a brisk walk even if it’s to pick up the kids, 20 minutes for a run, 15 minutes for some Yoga, weights or just some stretching in your living room before you crash in front of the TV. The physical and psychological benefits of exercise are documented on an almost daily basis and finding information could not be easier online. Just start, today, you will not regret it.
- Think about your Food
Like with little changes you don’t have to stop eating all your favourite foods (pizza) immediately but perhaps just cut down on some of the worst offenders. You know what they are. Fast food, packaged cheap food full of salt and sugar. Reduce your meat intake for the sake of your own gut and the environment, eat…….some…….greens. It really isn’t rocket science, you just have to eat a balanced diet, there is so much information online and healthy food isn’t that expensive anymore. Now I know this is difficult when you don’t have time or money to cook, but a bag of salad is instant and chicken takes 10 mins to cook. Like above, focus on little changes that you can maintain and see how you feel after a few weeks. It should be no surprise that the food you put into your body can dramatically affect your internal state.
“No-one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another” Charles Dickens
Giving money is great and I applaud you for doing it, but also try and give your time. Stop and talk to people and really listen to them. Volunteer for something nearby. Your time is the most precious resource you have, far greater than money, and spending it to help others is an amazing way to improve the world around you and you will be surprised how good it makes you feel. Give to charity, help others, give anything you can and as much or as little as you want to. There are always people more and less fortunate than you, don’t judge or compare just give.
- Spend time with your Friends and Family
There have been numerous surveys over the years conducted with terminally ill patients each one asking them about the meaning of their life, what made them happy and what they wished they could change about how they lived their lives. With each study there are some things that just keep coming up. For a start “I wish I worked more” is never in the list and almost always at the top is wishing they had spent more time with their friends and family. Good relationships are believed to even lengthen your life and none of us can get through this alone.
Remember though people come and go into your life, don’t be afraid to make new friends or say goodbye to toxic relationships. Never worry about calling that friend or relative you haven’t spoken to for years. They are just like you and will be busy with their lives and wondering if they should call you. Always try and make time for a coffee or beer or just a chat with your friends and family, they are literally the anchors of your life. They reflect who you are and how you live your life and are the ones standing with you in your time of need and you in theirs.
One more thing before you go, another common theme from these studies is patients often comment how they wished they had lived true to themselves and had the bravery to live their lives as they wanted to and not how they thought others wanted them to.
So here is a little experiment to leave you with, in Australia, the life expectancy is just over 82 years which is actually only 718,320 hours, this really doesn’t sound like much does it? But it gets more powerful when you divide that by three. A third for sleep and at least a third for work leaving you with less than 240,000 hours of free time…..then subtract how ever many years you have lived.
Life is genuinely very short and you should strive to live your own life and as positively as possible.
“Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present” – Jim Rohn
Have you ever felt hesitant about approaching someone you met eyes with? Or felt nervous talking to someone you’re interested in? Or felt a knot in your stomach while finding the courage to ask someone on a date? Most likely, you’ve experienced at least one—or maybe all—of these feelings, because anxiety and dating are a difficult pair to separate.
Dating enhances several of our deepest fears: rejection, being judged, getting emotionally wounded. It can be challenging to overcome these fears and put yourself out there. In fact, our dating culture has shaped itself aroundthese fears in an attempt to make the process of dating “easier.” But in many ways, this evolution has made dating more complicated and anxiety-inducing than ever. Take, for example:
Meeting People Online
Many online websites and apps have been created so people can screen potential suitors before ever having to physically meet them. For those who engage in online dating, there is a multitude of new concerns to contend with: Is this person real or are they just “catfishing” (using a fake profile)? How are they going to perceive me based on my profile? What questions can I ask to get to know them? This is all before the anxiety of actually meeting the person.
Knowing “The Rules”
It has become the norm to refrain from showing too much interest in someone you’re getting to know. This standard has produced a set of unspoken “rules” for any person engaging in modern dating culture. Some of these rules include:
- Don’t double text (i.e. send an additional text before the person responds to your first text). This makes you seem too eager.
- Don’t call someone. This will likely be met with distaste and confusion because phone calls are essentially obsolete.
- Don’t respond immediately to a text message. This makes it seem like you were sitting around waiting for them to text you.
- Don’t “like” any old posts or photos on their social media. Otherwise, they will know you were “Facebook stalking” them, or intently monitoring or looking through their Facebook updates or history.
- Don’t let them see you typing for too long on systems that show the other person when you are typing a message (e.g. iMessage, Facebook Messenger, etc.). Then they will know you were putting a lot of thought into saying the perfect thing.
If someone breaks these rules, they are typically perceived as desperate and unattractive. So if we like someone, we have to bury it away. It’s almost a competition of who can be less interested. How can our pride be hurt if our attitude is: “Oh I wasn’t really that into you anyway”?
Dealing With “Trendy” Rejections
The way people reject those they are casually dating is constantly changing based on what’s “in.” For a while, the trend was “ghosting,” or abruptly ignoring the person on every channel of communication. This causes the person rejected to anxiously wonder when the other person will respond and what they did so wrong. Similarly, there is also the “slow fade,” which is the same thing, except more drawn-out.
As if those trends weren’t bad enough, there’s a new one coined “breadcrumbing,” which is not being interested in someone, but continuing to lead them on. People who do this are trying to keep a person interested while they seek out other options.
How Can We Make This Easier?
With all these challenges (and more), it’s important to maintain your mental health when trying to connect with someone. And it’s important to remember that dating isn’t hopeless—even if you experience a mental health condition that makes it even harder. Here are a few things you can do to reduce your anxiety while dating:
❤️ Accept Yourself First
As cliché as it sounds, it is essential to love yourself and be happy with who you are before you add another person to the mix. A lot of dating anxiety happens because of insecurities within ourselves. Learning to be content and fulfilled while single before looking for a relationship is extremely helpful towards dating in a healthy way. When your happiness isn’t dependent on your search, you won’t put as much pressure on the situation or feel as anxious about every person you meet.
“Your relationship with yourself sets the tone for every other relationship you have.” – Robert Holden
❤️ Be You Always
Once you have accepted yourself, you will feel comfortable being open and honest about who you are. You will respect yourself and won’t waste your time playing the usual games to pique someone’s interest. If someone doesn’t like you or the fact that you are open with your feelings, then they’re not the type of person you should be with anyways.
❤️ Dismiss Exaggerated Thoughts
Thoughts that rev up anxious thoughts need to be either ignored or thought through in a logical way. For example: “I’ll be alone forever” is not a rational thought. Yes, you may have to wait to find someone, but most likely, you will not be alone for the entirety of your life. Being able to recognize that a thought is exaggerated can be helpful in minimizing your anxiety.
❤️ Know It’s Okay to Feel Anxious
It’s okay to feel nervous, awkward and uncomfortable when first meeting someone. And it’s also okay to tell them that when you meet them—chances are they feel the same way. After all, it’s human nature to feel nervous at the prospect of finding a partner.
Laura Greenstein is a communications coordinator at NAMI.
It’s early. You don’t want to move, let alone get up and start the day. You feel drained. You’re cozy, all wrapped up in blankets. Thoughts about all that you should accomplish today floods your mind. You feel overwhelmed, so you hit “SNOOZE” one more time.
Uh oh, now you’ve overslept. You’re running late. Time to get up and rush into the day.
Sound familiar? Mornings are hard, right? Actually, mornings aren’t definitively hard—they can be made easier.
The key to an easier morning is to keep your first waking hour as consistent as possible throughout the weeks. The more we struggle to make decisions, the more energy we deplete. When first starting the day, it’s important to avoid “decision fatigue” by having a set morning routine.
Having a morning routine can increase your energy, productivity and positivity. It also generates momentum, building up to the brain’s peak time for cognitive work (late morning). Here are a few suggestions to include in your morning routine.
Ease Into The Day
It’s easier to lull yourself out of sleep when you’re not rushing into the day. You feel more motivated to open your eyes and let your body properly wake up when you have a little bit of time to lounge in bed without jumping up. After a few minutes of lounging, follow these steps:
- Open your curtains and let the natural light energize you. Exposing yourself to sunlight in the morning can improve your alertness and energy during the day.
- Put some upbeat tunes on—music lights up the entire brain.
- Do some light stretching to get your blood flowing.
These small things can help you start the day in a positive mood, rather than feeling stressed to get up and out the door.
Research shows that those who eat breakfast have more energy than those who wait until lunch to eat. While coffee will help jolt you awake, your body will eventually crash without food. You don’t need to feast first thing in the morning—a healthy snack and lots of water is all that’s needed to start the day off right.
There are many ways to stimulate your brain, but one of the most recommended methods is reading. Reading a book in the morning can start your day in a richly detailed story, “how-to” or narrative, as opposed to a stressful, overflowing to-do list.
Reading is considered a “mental break,” because the brain is only focusing on one thing rather than the usual eight things. You can’t multitask while reading a book, and what you’re focusing on causes you to think, use imagination and create your own visual imagery. It’s this type of focus that gets our minds more nimble and creative. As the saying goes: “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.”
Stimulate Your Body
Speaking of, you should also exercise in the morning. Exercise increases production of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine, which enhances the body’s ability to deal with stressors and creates a post-workout feeling of bliss. Research shows that you are more creative and productive for the two hours following exercise. It also shows that people who exercise regularly are less stressed at work and more able to maintain work-life balance.
Begin Work With A Proactive Mindset
Psychologist Ron Friedman explains in an interview with Harvard Business Review that our usual start to the work day—checking email, answering questions or listening to voicemails—is, as he says, “cognitively expensive.” Starting the day this way puts you into a “reactive” mindset, and while switching from a proactive mindset to a reactive mindset is easy, the reverse is much more challenging. Instead, he suggests starting the workday with a brief planning session: strategize first, execute second.
Using these tips, here’s an example of what a healthy morning routine could look like:
6:55-7:00 – Slowly wake up, and open your eyes.
7:00-7:15 – Open the curtains, put on energizing music and do some light stretching.
7:15-7:30 – Eat some fruit and almonds for breakfast.
7:30-8:00 – Read and drink tea or water to get the mind stimulated and the body hydrated.
8:00-8:30 – Shower (don’t forget to sing!) and get ready for work.
8:30-9:00 – Walk to work to get in some moderate exercise.
9:00-9:15 – Begin work with a planning session to strategize your day.
As you can see, this routine takes two hours from the time you wake up until you get to work. While it may be difficult to find the extra time, you will find yourself reaping only benefits throughout the day. Many people don’t like getting up early, but this is the type of routine that can help you actually enjoy mornings.
Laura Greenstein is communications coordinator at NAMI.
When I worked at a psychiatric hospital, I would wheel my cart full of instruments and musical gadgets down the hallway every morning. Patients lingering in the hall would smile and tap on a drum as I passed by. Some would ask me if I had their favorite band on my iPad. Some would peek their heads out of their rooms, and exclaim, “Molly’s here! It’s time for music therapy group!” Oftentimes, I would hear about patients who were asleep in their rooms when I arrived, but their friends would gently wake them with a reassurance: “You don’t want to miss this.”
Music to My Ears
I’ve been lucky to serve many children and adults in various mental health settings as a music therapist. I’ve heard stories of resilience, strength and adversity. I’ve worked with individuals who have experienced trauma, depression, grief, addiction and more. These individuals have not come to me in their finest hour, but despite feeling lost or broken, music provided them with the opportunity for expression and for experiencing safety, peace and comfort.
Research shows the benefits of music therapy for various mental health conditions, including depression, trauma, and schizophrenia(to name a few). Music acts as a medium for processing emotions, trauma, and grief—but music can also be utilized as a regulating or calming agent for anxiety or for dysregulation.
There are four major interventions involved with music therapy:
- Lyric Analysis
While talk therapy allows a person to speak about topics that may be difficult to discuss, lyric analysis introduces a novel and less-threatening approach to process emotions, thoughts and experiences. A person receiving music therapy is encouraged to offer insight, alternative lyrics and tangible tools or themes from lyrics that can apply to obstacles in their life and their treatment. We all have a song that we deeply connect to and appreciate—lyric analysis provides an opportunity for an individual to identify song lyrics that may correlate with their experience.
- Improvisation Music Playing
Playing instruments can encourage emotional expression, socialization and exploration of various therapeutic themes (i.e. conflict, communication, grief, etc.). For example, a group can create a “storm” by playing drums, rain sticks, thunder tubes and other percussive instruments. The group can note areas of escalation and de-escalation in the improvisation, and the group can correlate the “highs and lows” of the storm to particular feelings they may have. This creates an opportunity for the group to discuss their feelings further.
- Active Music Listening
Music can be utilized to regulate mood. Because of its rhythmic and repetitive aspects, music engages the neocortex of our brain, which calms us and reduces impulsivity. We often utilize music to match or alter our mood. While there are benefits to matching music to our mood, it can potentially keep us stuck in a depressive, angry or anxious state. To alter mood states, a music therapist can play music to match the current mood of the person and then slowly shift to a more positive or calm state.
Songwriting provides opportunities for expression in a positive and rewarding way. Anyone can create lyrics that reflect their own thoughts and experiences, and select instruments and sounds that best reflect the emotion behind the lyrics. This process can be very validating, and can aid in building self-worth. This intervention can also instill a sense of pride, as someone listens to their own creation.
On Another Note
When I worked at a residential treatment center, I was notified that a child refused to continue meeting with his usual therapist. Even though he was initially hesitant to meet with me, he soon became excited for our music therapy sessions.
In our first session, we decided to look at the lyrics of “Carry On” by FUN. I asked him to explain what it means to be a “shining star,” which is mentioned several times in the song. I was expecting this 8-year-old to tell me something simple, like “it means you’re special.” But he surprised me when he stated, matter-of-factly: “It means that you are something others notice. It means you are something to look up to, and you are something that helps others navigate.”
And just like that: This lyric offered the opportunity to discuss self-worth, resilience, and strength. Music provided him with the structure and opportunity to process in an engaging way. Soon, his therapist began attending our sessions to help build a healthier therapeutic relationship. His family and teachers reported improved emotion regulation and social interaction skills. Music therapy had provided countless opportunities for building healthy relationships, just as it has for thousands of others.
By Molly Warren, MM, LPMT, MT-BC
Have you ever had a conversation with someone that tempted you to open up about something incredibly personal, but you hesitated due to the fear of that person’s reaction? Were you worried that telling them would alter their perception of you? Many people experience this feeling as they attempt to determine whether or not to be forthright about their symptoms and their struggle.
If you are considering opening up about your mental health condition, here are some tips.
Deciding Whether You Should Say Anything
Before telling someone, be certain that the decision is right for you. Making a list such as the following can help you determine if the pros outweigh the cons.
• The person may be supportive and encouraging.
• The person can help me find the treatment that I need.
• I may gain someone in my life to talk to about what I’m going through.
• I may have a person in my life who can look out for me.
• If a crisis were to happen, I would have someone to call.
• The person may be uncomfortable around me after I tell them.
• The person may not want to associate with me after I tell them.
• The person may tell other people that I know, and I could be stigmatized.
Dr. Patrick Corrigan, principal investigator of the Chicago Consortium for Stigma Research and Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the Illinois Institute of Technology, leads the Honest, Open, Proud program, which offers advice for talking about mental health conditions. He encourages people to open up about their mental health condition but to do so in a safe way. “Be a bit conservative about the process,” he says. “Once you’re out, it’s hard to go back in, but the important thing is that the majority of people who come out and tell their story feel more empowered.”
Also consider the potential benefits of telling someone. Perhaps being open would help your loved ones understand why you can’t always spend time with them, or you might ease their concerns by making them more aware of what’s going on in your life. Or maybe you need special accommodations at work or elsewhere. To learn more about accommodations at work, visit www.nami.org/succeeding-at-work
Deciding Whom to Tell
Once you feel confident in your decision to share, you should consider how the person you confide in might react. Think about what kind of relationship you have and whether it’s built on trust. If you still have concerns, try a test conversation. Mention a book or movie that includes mental illness and ask their opinion about it in a context that doesn’t involve you.
Deciding When You Should Tell
Once you feel comfortable about confiding in someone, start to think about when to tell them. It may be important to tell someone to receive help and support before you reach a point of crisis. That way you have a calm environment in which to be open and learn who in your life is most willing and able to help if you need support.
Initiating the Conversation
You have a few different options for telling someone about your mental health. Perhaps scariest is to come out with it without setting up the conversation because you might catch the person off-guard. Another option would be to let the person know in advance that you want to talk about something significant so they can prepare for a serious conversation. Once you have told them that you live with a mental health condition and experience certain symptoms because of it, use examples to help them understand what it’s like. For example, “Everything I do every day, even something simple like taking a shower, is exponentially harder when my symptoms are more serious.”
Share only what you’re comfortable with. Dr. Corrigan states, “You can disclose in steps, start with safe things and see how you feel, and going forward you can choose to disclose more. Anything that’s still traumatizing, you should consider keeping private.”
If someone is supportive and encouraging, let the person know how to help you, such as if you need a ride to an appointment or someone to listen. Tell them that you’ll let them know if you want advice and that you would prefer support rather than counseling.
Refer them to resources to learn more, such as information from NAMI. The more people who talk about their mental health, the more acceptable it will be for people to be more open about the topic. “The best way to change stigma is not education—it’s contact,” says Dr. Corrigan.
Laura Greenstein is communications coordinator at NAMI.