Apr 22

What does Earth Day Mean for Your Mental Health, Wellbeing?

Something incredibly important to remember on Earth Day and every day is how deeply connected to, even dependent upon our planet we are for our mental health and wellbeing.

 

Earth day is a wonderful day because it’s about health. As a global society, we intentionally recognize the Earth and the good things it does for all life. This day is a reminder that we’re all in this together, that this planet is for all of us. Together, we all benefit from its health. Together, we all suffer from its illness. Taking this day to connect with the Earth and to thank it for all it does for us is a powerful, positive thing to do. Something incredibly important to remember on Earth Day and every day is how deeply connected to, even dependent upon our planet we are for our mental health and wellbeing.

Blow you’ll find some of the myriad ways you can connect with nature every day to boost your wellbeing and life satisfaction. Which ones do you already do? What do you want to add anew or do more of?

1.Connect with someone through nature. Give flowers. Give a dandelion (which is a flower, not a weed). Give your time; for example, go for a hike or even a short walk outside and look for beauty and life.

Something incredibly important to remember on Earth Day and every day is how deeply connected to, even dependent upon our planet we are for our mental health and wellbeing.

2. Escape outside and simply be. Pause and just listening to sounds, inhaling scents, taking in the beauty of nature, and feeling with your hands and feet. This is a big part of the practice of mindfulness, and the Earth gives us many opportunities for our mindful, peaceful life.

Something incredibly important to remember on Earth Day and every day is how deeply connected to, even dependent upon our planet we are for our mental health and wellbeing.

 

3. Use the world to stimulate fond memories. See your loved ones in their flowers. Remember special times with your children in a park or studying with friends outside in the shade on a nice day. When we stop to realize it, the Earth is there with us in what we do. Having fond memories while enjoying the present is part of wellbeing, and the Earth can be a constant reminder.

Something incredibly important to remember on Earth Day and every day is how deeply connected to, even dependent upon our planet we are for our mental health and wellbeing.

4. Experience awe. When we connect with nature, we realize that we’re part of something bigger. Awe is realizing, and appreciating, that there are things on this planet that are ancient and vast. A sense of awe pulls us out of ourselves and our daily stresses lets feel connected to a bigger picture. Awe can bring a sense of meaning that you might not even have words for. Awe is a feeling that grows big enough to calm our thoughts. Many opportunities for experiencing awe are outside and of the Earth.

Something incredibly important to remember on Earth Day and every day is how deeply connected to, even dependent upon our planet we are for our mental health and wellbeing.

5. Appreciate beauty. This is similar to awe, yet separate from it. Appreciating beauty is a tool for enhancing mental health and wellbeing because doing it shifts your focus from the “ugliness” of stress and struggle. Gazing at the blue sky and white fluffy clouds (and maybe pausing to see cloud pictures while you’re at it) or watching a ladybug scurry on a leaf doesn’t make problems go away, but it changes your attention. The Earth’s beauty is everywhere. Find beauty in a bowl of raspberries, fruit of the Earth. This attitude is a component of mindfulness, and it makes a moment better plus making it a habit can make an endless string of moments better.

Something incredibly important to remember on Earth Day and every day is how deeply connected to, even dependent upon our planet we are for our mental health and wellbeing.

 

6. Get outside, get active, and manage stress and anxiety. The Earth won’t judge. It won’t tell you to lighten up or make you feel “less than” because you have anxiety. It won’t look at how you’re walking or running or whatever it is that you’re doing and tell you that you’re doing it wrong. The Earth just lets you be active help your mental health. Breathe the air. Let your body work and get those neurotransmitters flowing correctly. Appreciate beauty while you’re at it for an even deeper impact.

Something incredibly important to remember on Earth Day and every day is how deeply connected to, even dependent upon our planet we are for our mental health and wellbeing.

 

 

Something incredibly important to remember on Earth Day and every day is how deeply connected to, even dependent upon our planet we are for our mental health and wellbeing.

 

Something incredibly important to remember on Earth Day and every day is how deeply connected to, even dependent upon our planet we are for our mental health and wellbeing.

7. Let go. Getting out into nature helps you let go of all that you need to let go of. You change your scenery and your perspective. You have the chance to breathe deeply, slowly, freshly. You can use your senses to be mindful in your moment. When you let yourself be with the Earth, your thoughts and emotions can become still, and you can refocus your vision on what matters.

Something incredibly important to remember on Earth Day and every day is how deeply connected to, even dependent upon our planet we are for our mental health and wellbeing.

Happy Earth Day. Happy mental health, wellbeing, and quality life. Spring, summer, fall, and winter.

Something incredibly important to remember on Earth Day and every day is how deeply connected to, even dependent upon our planet we are for our mental health and wellbeing.

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Apr 16

Anxiety, Rumination, You, and Cows

 

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.

Rumination is a common effect of anxiety. It involves overthinking almost everything. Cows ruminate when they chew their cud, but you aren't a cow.

To stop being cows means we do something other than ruminate about our anxious thoughts. If we gently shift our attention and refocus, we begin to think, feel, and act differently. Mindfulness creates this shift within us. With mindfulness, we can become our human selves and move away from our bovine, ruminant nature. By placing our attention on the present moment rather than on the thoughts and emotions racing around in our head, we find that anxiety disappears, leaving peace in its place.

Rumination is a common effect of anxiety. It involves overthinking almost everything. Cows ruminate when they chew their cud, but you aren't a cow.

Learn more about the workbook that will teach you not to be a cow. It’s available soon, and you can preorder it now. Rumination is a common effect of anxiety. It involves overthinking almost everything. Cows ruminate when they chew their cud, but you aren’t a cow.

 

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Apr 10

Anxious Thoughts are Sticky: Use Mindfulness to Remove Them

Anxious thoughts stick to us and are hard to shake off. Learn how mindfulness reduces anxious thoughts and increases wellbeing and inner peace.

 

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.

Anxious thoughts can stick around to the point of becoming obsessive thoughts. We ruminate about them, rolling them over and over in our mind and feeling their disruptive intrusions throughout the day and often into the night.  If you’ve ever tried to argue with them or force them to go away, you might know that that doesn’t usually work. It’s something almost everyone tries, though—myself included—because we just want the anxious thoughts to stop, to go away. While the struggling and arguing doesn’t work because thoughts are sticky and you can’t shout sap off of a tree, you can turn to mindfulness.

A Mindfulness Exercise to Reduce Anxious Thoughts

According to acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), we become fused with our thoughts. To break free from those thoughts, it’s necessary to become defused, to loosen ourselves from their stickiness. Mindfulness is a way to gently do that.

Mindfulness involves calming your mind, stilling your thoughts by focusing them on the present moment—the things our senses are taking in— and on visualization. The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety helps you take back your life from stress and anxiety, including from anxious thoughts. This exercise from the workbook helps with sticky, anxious, thoughts:

Anxious thoughts stick to us and are hard to shake off. Learn how mindfulness reduces anxious thoughts and increases wellbeing and inner peace.

You can unstick yourself from your anxious thoughts (what ACT calls defusion) through this and other mindfulness activities. The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety is full of exercises, including mindfulness ones, to help you reduce anxiety and reclaim your life. It’s available for pre-order now!

Anxious thoughts stick to us and are hard to shake off. Learn how mindfulness reduces anxious thoughts and increases wellbeing and inner peace.

 

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Mar 30

Mindfulness Reduces Anxiety with a Gentle Shift

Mindfulness is effective in reducing anxiety and in creating a calm, peaceful quality life worth living. Learn more here.

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.
It makes sense. The anxious mind races with often uncontrollable worry and fear. Mindfulness calms and quiets the mind. Therefore, mindfulness will quiet anxiety. It’s a reliable truth, clinically proven by research and experientially proven by mindfulness gurus and ordinary people alike. That said, it’s not a quick fix. It’s a process of becoming.

When Anxiety Makes Mindfulness Difficult

I remember suffering through a yoga class years ago. I didn’t suffer because I was ridiculously inflexible (I am, but that wasn’t the problem). It was painful because I couldn’t get my mind to shut up and experience the peace of the class. I kept telling myself that I should be still, that I shouldn’t be thinking of the million other thoughts and worries that were whirling around my mind. When it came time for the final relaxation, my mind and body were so agitated that I could barley lie still on the mat. The only thing that prevented me from jumping up and bolting out the door was that I was on the far side of the room, trapped by a sea of calm bodies that I was unwilling to disturb by leaving.

So much for mindfulness. And in the wee hours of the morning when I would toss and turn and ruminate over mistakes both past and future? I simply could not still my mind and be present in the moment. Of course, this failing added fuel to my fire of anxiety that burned within.

Here’s why mindfulness sometimes doesn’t work:

  • We’re using our brain to try to be mindful
  • The brain is our thinking center and creates anxious thoughts
  • The brain is our reasoning center and when we try to convince ourselves that anxiety is uncalled for, it overrides us with its own, stronger, reasons
  • When try to reason our thoughts away (or even order them away), it doesn’t work because we’re struggling in an endless loop
  • We’re trapped in the struggle rather than stepping outside of it

Mindfulness Really Does Calm Anxiety

Mindfulness, when practiced regularly, is effective in reducing anxiety and increasing mental health and wellbeing. Mindfulness frees us from anxiety and so many other mental health challenges, including daily stress.

The healing power of mindfulness lies in its ability to create a shift within us. When we are mindful, we gently turn our attention away from our anxious thoughts and emotions. Rather than fighting with them, we softly replace those thoughts with something different.

Anxiety feeds on itself and grows ever bigger in our thoughts. Those anxious thoughts restrict our actions, what we think we can or can’t do in life. This in turn affects our way of being with ourselves and the world. When we live mindfully in every moment we are in, fully present with life in each little bit of it, anxiety shrinks. What we pay attention to grows, and what we don’t attend to withers.

Mindfulness means letting our anxious thoughts be and paying attention to other things around us. It means using all of your senses re-focuses your attention. What do you see, hear, smell, feel, and taste (this last one isn’t always practical—licking things around you isn’t desirable)? In activating all of your senses and paying attention to them, you invoke the power to simply exist in the present moment and to quell anxiety. When you practice mindfulness, your anxiety begins to wither, and your sense of peace grows.

Practicing mindfulness creates the stillness that allows you to create your own quality life, your life worth living.

Mindfulness is effective in reducing anxiety and in creating a calm, peaceful quality life worth living. Learn more here.

 

Learn how to use mindfulness to reduce anxiety and make mindfulness a part of your peaceful way of life. The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety is available for pre-order now (and available on May 15, 2018).

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Mar 28

A Way to Be: Announcing The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety

 

What is mindfulness, and what can it do for you? Find out what practicing mindfulness can do for you, your anxiety, and your quality life.

Mindfulness receives quite a bit of attention. Rightly so, for it is a vital part of the ongoing journey of a life of mental health and wellbeing.

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.

Mindfulness is so much more than trying to find time in our busy schedules to sit and meditate. In fact, while sitting meditation and mindfulness can go hand and hand, mindfulness doesn’t have to look like that at all.

Mindfulness is a way of
• Being with yourself that slows down the racing thoughts of anxiety
• Thinking rather than overthinking
• Interacting with others and the world around you
• Soothing yourself during a panic attack
• Reducing excessive worry
• Freeing yourself from fear
• Feeling confident in social situations
• Achieving inner peace no matter what chaos is happening around you
• Showing up for and living fully in every moment of your life
• Life itself

My new book, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, is my way of sharing with you how you can reduce anxiety with mindfulness and simply be. It’s available now for pre-order on Amazon!

 

What is mindfulness, and what can it do for you? Find out what practicing mindfulness can do for you, your anxiety, and your quality life.

 

Learn more and see what it can do for you

 

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Mar 20

Be Your Authentic Self for Happiness and Wellbeing

You can create happiness despite any circumstance by being yourself and carring your own colors with you. Here are 5 ways to 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.

Ah, there’s the thing. We face personal struggles: physical health, mental health, financial health, relationship health, and more. The world is unhealthy in many ways, too. Has “happiness” become extinct, no longer anything more than an artificial construct in a psychology research lab?

Happily (and I use the word intentionally), the answer is an emphatic no. To see why happiness is alive and well and in reach of everyone, it helps to know a couple things about what happiness is and what it is not.

What Happiness Is Not

Happiness isn’t
• Having a perfect, problem-free life
• Forcing a smile for appearance (sometimes, we frown; the key word is “sometimes”)
• Relying on people or circumstances in the world to make us happy

What Happiness Is

True, deep-seated happiness, the happiness that gets us through the toughest times, is

• Creating ways, big and small, to thrive each day despite problems, struggles, and challenges
• Giving a smile to someone who needs one to remind both of you that there are things bigger than problems
• Developing your own purpose, passions, and strengths to create happiness from within

The above points involve knowing happiness. The next component of wellbeing is doing happiness.

Do Happiness by Carrying Your Own Colors

Maybe creating this will help me start getting comfortable in my own mind.” – Isaac to his therapist Susanna in the novel Twenty-Four Shadows

Happiness is being comfortable in our own mind. It’s knowing our strengths, passions, and purpose—together, our unique colors—and drawing on them in some way every day to live the quality life we envision even though life and people are messy and flawed.

Here are 5 ways to do happiness:

“Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.” (Captain Kangaroo as quoted in Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 Steps) We fall down, but we don’t have to stay down. A key to happiness is knowing why you want to get back up. Once you know your why, you can create an action plan.

 

 

Live mindfully in each moment. In times of peace, calm, and joy, keeping your attention on the present lets you savor it and be deeply happy in that moment. In times of trouble, being mindful of what’s around you right now anchors you. It helps pull your thoughts and emotions out of your head to focus on the here-and-now. Living in the present rather than in your head is part of doing and being happy.

 

 

Accept. Accept others. Accept your circumstances. Accept yourself. Struggling against what you don’t want keeps you from living what you do want. Acceptance doesn’t mean giving up or giving in; it means letting go of wishing things were different in order to discover the good. As therapist Beth Greene has painted on her wall, “Find something good in every day.” (My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel)

 

 

Connect with others. Share your colorful balloons. It can be as simple as holding a door or as involved as volunteering your talents and your passion.

 

 

 

Be who you are, your authentic self. Rather than worrying about what color or style your balloons “should” be, embrace them. Share them. Make babies laugh with them. Give adults something to smile about. Most of all, enjoy them for what the are: your own inner authentic happiness.

 

Create your world in living color, and enjoy the ride. Because life is a ride, and en-JOY is an action verb.

You can create happiness despite any circumstance by being yourself and carring your own colors with you. Here are 5 ways to create happiness.

 

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Mar 12

Triumph Over TBI: How to Turn Loss Into Opportunity

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) can cause many types of loss. Learn how to use loss as opportunity for moving forward and thriving after TBI.

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.

TBI can affect people more profoundly than (almost) any other injury. It can impact our physical and mental wellness, who we think we are, how we think, how we feel, how we act, and what we do. The brain is our control center, and when it is injured, we feel much of the damage in the form of loss.

Among the losses that people can experience after a brain injury are

• Physical abilities
• Feelings of wellness
• Relationships
• Employment
• Confidence and self-efficacy
• Stability

At the heart of all of this is the self, the feeling of knowing who you are and where you fit in the world (and where others fit in your world).

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) can cause many types of loss. Learn how to use loss as opportunity for moving forward and thriving after TBI.
When it comes to TBI, some things don’t completely heal. Some people don’t fully recover movement. Others have permanent vision problems or concentration problems or difficulties with whatever functioning is related to the injured part of the brain.

That said, it is absolutely possible to triumph over TBI. You can turn loss into opportunity and create a life worth living.

How to Turn TBI-Related Loss into Opportunity

Once the dust settled (it took several years), I used my own TBI as opportunity to create the life I wanted to live. This didn’t really involve sweeping changes, as I had always been happy with my life. But it was an opportunity to intentionally shape my quality life the way I defined it despite the lingering effects of TBI.

To take charge of your life when you’re recovering from a head injury:

• Define and create a sense of purpose—what do you want? What are your values?
• Prioritize your losses. Which of the above loss areas is causing you the most difficulty?
• What will make it better (realistically, within limitations you might face)?
• Create a plan of action—what intentional actions can you take every day to move you toward your purpose and values?

Write down your answers in a way that is meaningful to you, such as on the computer or in a journal. Use colors and artwork, or keep it plain. Go with what makes your brain happy. Sometimes brain injuries interfere with memory, focus, and comprehension, so putting your reflections in writing can help you internalize and remember them.

Two Key Themes in Thriving After Brain Injury

As you work around the injury and losses, to re-create the quality life you desire and deserve, keep two important concepts at the forefront of your thoughts:

• Your SELF: Who am I…now?
• Action: Determined and purposeful, planned in order to move you forward toward what you value

To understand your self, who you are now, discover, observe, and embrace your character strengths. With TBI, it’s easy to feel your deficits, those losses of who you thought you were and what you thought you could do. That’s why it’s important to attend to your strengths, what you do well, and discover ways to use those strengths to create a quality life.

Keep in mind, too, a truth that is easily forgotten when you’ve sustained a TBI and are struggling to function and to find yourself: Despite the loss and the difficulties and the changes and all of the sequelae, you are functioning, and you can take action to move forward.

The loss of our sense of self after a TBI can be devastating; however, it isn’t the end. We have the opportunity to redefine ourselves and our goals.

 

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Mar 6

How to Find Yourself and Overcome Mental Health Struggles

Rise above any challenge by shifting your focus. Discover yourself and who you are, and focus on taking steps to achieve your vision.

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.

However, our struggles lose power—we can almost completely overcome the hold they have on us—when we shift our focus and journey to find ourselves. It is simple (but not always quick or even easy) to find yourself—your true self, not your mental health struggles because your challenges aren’t who you are at your core.

No matter what we are facing, shifting our focus from the struggle to ourselves is powerful.

I have a short, simple novel entitled Losing Elizabeth and an accompanying curriculum that I use in high school classrooms (it’s suitable for middle school, too) and community programs such as teen library programs. It’s about toxic relationships and all that they encompass. The curriculum is called Find Yourself. Keep Yourself, and the emphasis is on students developing awareness of losing themselves and developing a strong sense of self (finding themselves) to either avoid or overcome toxic relationships.

While finding yourself does help in situations like toxic/abusive relationships, it helps with all other struggles, too. This process can be helpful:

Are you losing yourself?

Perhaps the better question is how are you losing yourself? What challenges are you facing? What is the nature of your struggles?

• How you feel like things are out of control? Get specific. The more you can pinpoint the problem, the better equipped you are to overcome it.
• In what ways is your life being affected? Relationships with others? Feelings about yourself – your self-concept?
• Are your actions and behaviors changing? Do you find yourself avoiding people, places or situations? Are you making unhealthy or dangerous choices?
• What are your thoughts like?
• What about emotions?

When I sustained a traumatic brain injury and two subsequent concussions fourteen years ago, things were challenging for a while. In addition to seeking professional help, when I eventually sorted out precisely what I was experiencing, I could conceptualize what it was that I did not want.

This, though, is just a first step. Knowing what we don’t want for ourselves and our lives isn’t the solution. It’s merely the step that leads to the most important thing: finding ourselves.

How to Find Yourself

You know what you don’t want. Now it’s time to shift the focus. Who are you at your core? Developing this is what gives you the strength to transcend anything that come your way. Some questions for introspection include (but aren’t limited to):
• What are my values, the things and people most important to me?
• What are my passions, the things that make me excited right now?
• What is my sense of purpose, the “why” behind what I do?
• What type of person do I want to become?
• What are my goals?
• What are my unique strengths I can use in my life?

Rise above any challenge by shifting your focus. Discover yourself and who you are, and focus on taking steps to achieve your vision.

 

When you can develop a deep sense of yourself, you can begin to act and make choices accordingly. Rather than remaining stuck in mental health struggles or other problems, you can work to transcend challenges, which often means living well in spite of them.

Seeking and finding yourself is a powerful tool that lasts a lifetime, a quality lifetime.

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Feb 27

Want to Increase Wellbeing, Mental Health? Communicate!

Communication is vital to wellbeing, mental health, and creating a quality life. Learn why it's so important and how to communicate.

 

Communication is a vital part of wellbeing, mental health, and a quality life. The single word, though—communication—can be complex, difficult, and overwhelming. Communicating is deeper than talking. Communication is words, and it’s more than words, and it is vital for wellbeing and life satisfaction.

What Does Communication Have to Do with Mental Health and Wellbeing?

Talking is the act of verbally sharing information. Communication is the act of connecting, of sharing not just information but all aspects of being alive. We communicate hopes and dreams, successes and failures, triumphs and struggles, problems found and problems solved, and the gamut of human emotions. Communication is connection, with others and with ourselves, too. We communicate with ourselves with the words we tell ourselves, behaviors, and more. Same for others: the words we say, our body language, tone of voice, and things we do are all part of our communication.

This all-encompassing concept we call communication has everything to do with mental health, wellbeing, and our ability to create and maintain a quality life. When we can communicate with each other, and ourselves, fully and honestly, we:

  •  reduce stress and anxiety (no more guessing games or making assumptions about what someone meant)
  •  create stronger, more satisfying relationships because everyone feels heard
  •  solve problems more efficiently because everyone stays on the same page
  •  let others know our needs
  •  learn others’ needs so we can better respond
  •  discover how to compromise while remaining true to ourselves
  •  laugh together more often because we’re closer, more positive about each other
  •  grow confident in ourselves and in others

Communication is indeed fundamental to our wellbeing and our quality life, but it’s not always easy.

How to Maintain Communication and Connection When It’s Hard

Communication is vital to wellbeing, mental health, and creating a quality life. Read on to discover why it's so important and how to communicate.

 

As vital as it is to connect and communicate, it definitely isn’t always easy. If the topic is heavy, communication can be awkward and bumpy. Mental illness or mental health challenges that aren’t diagnosable as an illness can also interfere in healthy, relationship-building communication. A variety of mental illness symptoms, including (but not limited to) difficulty focusing and concentrating, emotional ups and downs, difficulty interpreting others’ nonverbal communication, racing, distracting thoughts, worry about what others are thinking, feeling, or doing, or dissociations.

When we’re facing any type of challenge, communication is perhaps even more important. When you keep it simple, it’s possible to communicate despite struggles.

  • develop an understanding in which each of you shares what’s important (“I can handle anything that comes our way with this [Isaac’s diagnosis of DID], but I cannot handle you withdrawing and shutting me out. That can’t happen.” — Reese explaining her needs to her husband during a conversation in Twenty-Four Shadows.)
  •  if someone begins to violate the understanding, simply and calmly remind him/her of the understanding
  •  set a timer, and when it sounds wind down the conversation, agreeing to pick it back up later — breaks are important when the topic is intense or one or both of you are facing difficulties
  •  walk and talk, or shoot hoops or toss a baseball — movement can loosen intense emotional reactions by releasing endorphins, decreasing cortisol, and other positive brain and body reactions
  •  know that communication isn’t just about talking — simply being together in silence for awhile, doing something relaxing and engaging like reading, can put everyone on the same level for even communication

 

And above all, the skeleton key to wellbeing, mental heath, and a quality life is to remember your ultimate goals and values. Why to you want to have great communication with others in your life? With your answer to that question as your guiding star, your communication — and your wellbeing — will shine.

 
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Feb 23

Want to Stop Avoiding? What Would That Mean to You?

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.

Is “letting” the right word? Do we actively permit anxiety to cause avoidance? Of course we don’t actively invite anxiety and avoidance into our lives. The vast majority of people who are plagued by avoidance, including avoidance in its most extreme form—avoidant personality disorder—do not want to avoid and are not actively choosing it. The problem is this: avoidance, once started, quickly takes over thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It looks like this:

The cycle of anxiey, fear, and avoidance keeps people trapped.

At first, everything is pretty much even in the cycle of anxiety and avoidance, avoidance actually increases anxiety over time, which strengthens avoidance. The cycle begins to look like this:

In the cycle of anxiety, fear, and avoidance, anxiety and avoidance make each other stronger. There's a way to shrink them.

While initially, avoiding something that causes anxiety does reduce that anxiety. But the human mind doesn’t like to be confined, and we begin to think of freedom of action, freedom of being. That causes anxiety, which causes avoidance. Anxiety and avoidance feed on each other, and they grow bigger and more powerful. Strangely but surely, avoidance doesn’t reduce anxiety anymore. It makes it ever stronger.

As daunting as this cycle of avoidance and anxiety is, we can break it. The key lies within the cycle itself.

To break the cycle of anxiety and avoidance, fill your life with meaning and purpose.

How to Break The Cycle of Anxiety and Avoidance

Thoughts about the people and things that make us anxious do increase anxiety and avoidance. Those very thoughts, though, are the keys to breaking the cycle and reducing anxiety and fear. Use the keys to unlock your doors to freedom.

To turn the key, you must first insert it into the keyhole. At first, you’ll discover surface-level thoughts that are easily overrun by anxiety. Have you ever tried to turn a key and unlock a door when the key is only partially inserted? It doesn’t work. You have to insert it completely.

It’s the same with anxiety, anxious thoughts, and avoidance. Buried under all of the worries, uncertainties, what-ifs, and fears lie your hopes, dreams, wisdom, and more—the whole of you. The heart of all of it—the key, the hole, the stuff inside the hole, the stuff beyond the locked door, and you yourself—are meaning and purpose. 

When you identify and embrace your greater purpose, that which gives meaning to your life, you begin to break that cycle of anxiety and avoidance. The more you intentionally think about your purpose, the more your thoughts shift toward meaning. The more you focus on meaning, the less you are focusing on anxiety. Purpose and meaning are so much more powerful than anxiety, stress, depression, and any other problems and challenges we face. Honing our sense of purpose doesn’t directly “cure” anything, but it allows us to transcend our struggles and live well anyway.

Develop your purpose and meaning thoughtfully. Consider question such as:

  • What brings you joy?
  • What is important to you?
  • What actions make you feel good about yourself and the world?
  • What do you value?

These are just a few thoughts along the path of meaning-making. When we have a sense of greater purpose, it becomes possible (not necessarily easy, at least initially) to stop avoiding. Develop your reason, your purpose, your “why,” and the “how” will follow. (Check out Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas: Why and How. It’s more about purpose than it is the holiday.)

My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel tells the story of Brian Cunningham, a man who has lived with debilitating anxiety and avoidant personality disorder and a sense of stranger danger for nearly all of his 37 years. It isn’t until he discovers meaning that he begins to, little by little, create freedom from his own prison.

Usually, I mow my small front lawn and trim the hedges on Monday mornings. The weekends are a bad time for me to do this because one, I’m typically camping, and two, there are more neighbors out and about on the weekends than on a Monday morning. I don’t know my neighbors. I’ve never had to talk to them. I certainly don’t want to change that now after seventeen years of planned isolation. However, I’m home this Sunday because of my failed camping trip. Further, I have a dreaded appointment with Dr. Greene tomorrow and thus will be unable to perform my Monday lawn maintenance. That’s how I came to be working in the front yard today when I saw Abigail Harris trudging down the sidewalk across the street.

My need to hide from people is so deeply ingrained that it has become instinctive. Automatically upon spotting her, I duck behind the cluster of large rhododendron bushes I’m pruning at the moment. I peer around the side of one of the bushes and see her shuffling slowly down the walk, head down. I wonder where those small pink and purple tennis shoes are taking her. I’ll learn the answer to that shortly because it is reprehensible for me to be cowering behind a bush while there is a tired-looking seven-year-old child walking slowly down a sidewalk all alone.

Crossing my fingers that nobody steps outside and approaches me to see what’s going on, I take a deep breath and dash out from behind the bush and run across the street. My intent is to get to Abigail immediately, before anything bad happens to her. 

 

Anxiety and avoidance become almost instinctive. Learn what makes it possible to change the instinct.

 

It’s true. The cycle of anxiety and avoidance becomes so strong that it’s automatic, almost instinctive. Your purpose and meaning, though, are strong enough to turn the key, break the cycle, and set yourself free. What brings you meaning? How will you develop it? What will it be like for you when anxiety and avoidance are history?

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Tune in to the Wellbeing & Words YouTube channel to hear more about meaning and a different passage from My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel.


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