Archive for Musings of a Mental Health Writer

International Day of the Girl: Empowering Girls in Conflict

Oct 11

The 2017 UN International Day of the Girl seeks to empower girls in conflict. The YA novel Losing Elizabeth is a book whose mission is the same.

Today the world comes together to honor girls, our young women who have the potential to bloom and thrive and make a difference in their own lives and in the lives of others. Sometimes, though, a girl’s potential is thwarted. For that reason, the United Nations raises awareness of girls, their lives, and their struggles every October 11.

EmPOWER Girls: Before, During, and After Conflict

This year, the theme for International Day of the Girl is “Empower girls: before, during, and after conflict.” This is a important focal point indeed, for according to the UN, an adolescent girl somewhere in the world loses her live as the result of violence–every 10 minutes.

Sometimes the violence is related to war. Sometimes to some inhumane punishment. Sometimes, it’s abuse by a parent, boyfriend, or other person in the life of a girl.

Losing Elizabeth is a novel for adolescents in middle- and high school to help them see what an abusive relationship is like. It’s a vehicle for discussion to help empower girls to recognize all types of relationship abuse and remove themselves from a toxic, even violent, situation.

The curriculum Find Yourself. Keep Yourself. accompanies Losing Elizabeth. I’ve taken it into schools for a 12-week (once weekly) program and to libraries for a single afternoon program. The goal is to use the story and discussion to empower girls to

  • Know the early warning signs of toxic behavior
  • Recognize control tactics like isolation, manipulation, behaviors, and words
  • Respond and act
  • Know how to help a friend
  • Know how to ask for help

Additionally, and most importantly, girls explore and come to know themselves, their relationship goals, their hopes, dreams, and plans, and more. For it is when girls and teens develop self-awareness that they are empowered to keep themselves rather than losing themselves to others, to abuse, to violence.



For Mental Illness Awareness Week, What I’ve Learned About Mental Illness

Oct 4


Mental Illness Awareness Week. It’s one of the “ribboned” events, with a dedicated chunk of time (the first week of October each year) during which knowledge and understanding of the issue are brought to light. Mental illness is a wonderful thing to which to dedicate time and attention, for as anyone who has lived with any type of mental illness knows, lack of understanding can lead to prejudice and discrimination. To help end that problem, we observe Mental Illness Awareness Week.

The term mental illness, though, is both vast and vague. Of what should we actually be aware? Of course there’s no single right answer to this, which is one of the things that makes Mental Illness Awareness Week so powerful. Both on- and offline, people and organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness provide facts, statistics, and other information in order to increase awareness of mental illness and those whose lives it touches. I don’t keep it a secret that I have not just professional (I’m credentialed as a National Certified Counselor) but personal experience with mental illness.

After a traumatic brain injury, I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder as well as anxiety disorders. As people don’t live in a vacuum, I had to navigate the worlds of family, friends, coworkers, supervisors, students, parents, clients, and more. It’s from both my personal and professional experience that I offer these insights for Mental Illness Awareness Week:

When it comes to mental illness, I’ve learned that…

  1. “Mental illness” is a fairly meaningless term. We don’t tell someone that we have a physical illness, because that is too broad. More specific: cold, asthma, prostrate cancer, breast cancer, influenza, schizophrenia, depression, dissociative identity disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder. When we know the specific illness, we understand the symptoms and how to manage them.
  2. “Mental illness” refers to a diagnosis rather than to a person. It’s a medical term used to identify what’s going on and how to treat it.
  3. “Mental illness” does not refer to a personal character trait. One isn’t depression, just like one isn’t cancer.
  4. “Mental illness” involves a different way of experiencing oneself and/or the world. It is not a wrong way of being with oneself or in the world.
  5. “Mental illness” doesn’t erase the good in your life and in who you are. To be sure, it adds challenges and difficulties, but it doesn’t not diminish the good within you and around you.
  6. With a diagnosis of a mental illness, someone can still “be,” can still exist and have strengths and weakness and ups and downs and interests and talents and more.
  7. With a diagnosis of a mental illness, someone can still “do,” can make choices and decisions and behave in intentional ways.

To me, the most important thing of which to be aware when it comes to mental illness…

8. With or without mental illness, each and every one of us can find our passions, live with purpose, and create a life worth living.

To be sure, when someone lives with a mental illness, adjustments might have to be made and living with passion and purpose might take extra effort, but passion, purpose, and a life worth living are within reach of everyone. That is important to know during Mental Illness Awareness Week and beyond.

A great way to increase awareness, understanding, and empathy for people living with mental illness as well as their families and friends is through stories. Listening to what someone has to share about their experiences is empowering for the storyteller and the listener. Reading stories, too, can help deepen human understanding. Fiction can convey fact in a way that goes far beyond information and extends to thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Stories humanize mental illness, which is one of the main goals of Mental Illness Awareness Week.

Others are recognizing, too, that novels can both entertain and inform. In honor of Mental Illness Awareness Week, here’s a peek at what professional critics are saying about Leave of AbsenceMy Life in a Nutshell: A Novel, and Twenty-Four Shadows:

24-shadows-us-review-quote-1   loa-pdx-bk-rev-quote-twitter   nutshell-portland-book-review-quote   24-shadows-us-review-quote-2   loa-us-review-quote   nutshell-kirkus-quote   24-shadows-odonis-person   loa-kirkus-quote   nutshell-kirkus-quote-2-twitter   24-shadows-kirkus-quote   PurchaseLinks circle for website 2
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SOS! What OCD Treatment Will Help Me?

Sep 27

OCD treatment can seem impossible. Yet OCD help and treatment are available. Here, learn about OCD treatments ERP and a new app called nOCD.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a cruel disorder to live with. It involves obsessions, repeated thoughts that cause sometimes-unbearable anxiety. To tame the fierce anxiety and get the thoughts to stop, or at least slow, someone with OCD often performs patterned behavior, or compulsions.

These obsessions and compulsions alone are cruel, but adding to the pain of OCD is the fact that most people with OCD know that the anxiety and fear are disproportionate to the situation and are even rather irrational. They know it intellectually, but the brain goes into freak-out mode anyway. Physical and emotional responses escalate, even when the intellectual part of the brain tries to reason with the anxiety.

The nature of OCD makes treatment difficult and frustrating. That doesn’t mean, however, that OCD can’t be treated. It can. Successfully.

Treatment & Help for OCD

The two treatments that research has shown to be effective for reducing obsessions and compulsions so people can live a full life are medication and a specific type of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) called exposure response prevention (ERP). According to the International OCD Foundation, about 70 percent of people seeking treatment for OCD benefit from medication and/or ERP.

ERP involves exposure to those things (in both your inner- and outer worlds) that trigger anxiety and fear. You face them, experience them, accept their presence and notice the increasing anxiety you feel. The response prevention component involves making a choice, a commitment, to be with the anxiety without engaging in a compulsive behavior in an attempt to relieve the anxiety.

Does ERP sound just a tad intimidating? That’s because it is. It goes against all human instinct to purposely expose yourself to a trigger then choose to do nothing about it. (Well, you’re not doing “nothing.” You’re learning how to face it and reduce the degree to which it bothers you. You’re just not succumbing to your compulsions.)

ERP is done with support, especially at first. Expecting you to expose yourself to a distressing thought, situation, place, object, etc. with no help through it would be as cruel, if not more so, than OCD itself. Support is as important as the exposure and the response prevention components of ERP. (Maybe it should be called SERP or ERPS.)

Why is Support so Important in OCD treatment?

A little story will illustrate the importance of support during ERP treatment. In the book My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel, Brian Cunningham is a man who, while he doesn’t have OCD, suffers from debilitating anxiety. He begins to see a therapist, who mentions that they’ll eventually engage in exposure therapy. A situation arises that makes him decide to try exposure on his own, at a crowded grocery store.

When I pull into Albertson’s I sit in my car for what feels like a long time and just stare at the building. The doors keep sliding open and shut, like a monster’s maw, sucking shoppers in and spitting them out. There are so many people. Before I can leave my vehicle, I have to breathe into one of my paper bags. I have to keep shoving the bag down when people walk close to my car so they don’t see me lamely hyperventilating into a bag. Finally, my breathing approaches normal and I can enter the store. The moment I step inside, I regret attempting this experiment.

Brian has an extensive panic attack that lands him in his therapist’s office for an emergency session. This is part of their conversation:

“You mentioned last time that we’d do exposure therapy and in vivo therapy, so I was trying it and failed.”

Even though everything is liquid, I can see her smile. “We’ll do those things because they are effective, but it’s far too early. We need to take this one small step at a time.”

Brian went out on his own and purposely exposed himself to triggers. This increased his already intense anxiety, and if he had OCD, it would likely have led him to do the compulsions rather than resisting them.

It would be great if everyone with OCD (or with anxiety disorders like Brian) had a therapist constantly with them. Too bad it’s not possible. But wait! Maybe it is.

Enter nOCD into Effective OCD Treatment

nOCD isn’t a therapist, but it is an excellent support and treatment OCD treatment and help can seem impossible. Yet OCD help and treatment are available. Here, read about OCD treatments ERP and a new app called nOCD.tool for OCD. It’s an app, so it can be with you at all times, whether you use a smartphone or smartwatch.

You create structured, daily ERP plans (this app is yours; OCD is different for everyone, and treatment should be, too). You use proven exposure response prevention therapy to decrease your symptoms, and you use it with your therapist for feedback and support. Your nOCD app also gathers your data so you can see what is working best and what needs adjusting.

nOCD was developed by people with OCD who know what it’s like, who know how obsessive thoughts and anxieties caused by those thoughts as well as by external triggers can severely limit your life. The developers know how the compulsions can be so time-consuming that you miss import things that you really don’t want to miss.

The creators of nOCD know, too, that treatment is possible and that ERP can be successful with the right structure and support. Thus nOCD was born. It’s your mobile treatment and support app to help you live free and well. The cost of the app? Nothing! It’s free in order to give people access to this OCD treatment technology.

OCD treatment can seem impossible. Yet OCD help and treatment are available. Here, learn about ERP and a new app called nOCD.Check it out, and download it. Take charge of your treatment! (If Brian Cunningham had had this, he might have been better able to deal with his grocery shopping experience.)



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What Triggers a DID Switch?

Sep 19



What triggers people with DID to switch to an alternate identity? Learn more about what causes this dissociation?

A DID switch, a dissociation in which a different personality emerges and takes the place of the dominant one, can be painful and bewildering.

Now an excruciating pain spread across his forehead, behind his eyes, and radiated sharp fingers toward the back of his brain. He staggered back against the counter and tried to massage it away. His vision blurred, and he had to close his eyes. He opened them, blinked, and looked around. He began to shake his head. (Excerpt from the novel Twenty-Four Shadows)

The sudden pain, change of vision, and closing and re-opening his eyes signal one of Isaac Bittman’s DID switches.

Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is a confusing, frustrating mental illness. Someone who lives with DID has within him or her a number of alternate personalities, also called alters or parts. The alters are legitimate identities in their own right, with unique interests, abilities, traits, gender, sexual orientation, and more.

The different identities, who can number from two to hundreds, form in the person’s childhood in response to severe abuse. They emerge throughout life, taking over the main personality and causing perplexing problems and situations. Switches originally happen as a defense mechanism to protect the child from horrible abuse; the child dissociates to escape from an unbearable situation, and a different personality emerges in his/her place. Once he or she grows up and the abuse is no longer a threat, why do switches continue to occur?

No. This couldn’t be. They weren’t really firing him. It just didn’t make any sense. He didn’t miss work the way they were accusing. He didn’t. He came to work. He didn’t miss. He was confused. Heavy guilt joined the rest of his thoughts and feelings, stomping from his mind down to his heart and kicking hard against it. What about his family? He couldn’t lose his job. The room was slanting and spinning, nauseating him. He didn’t know how to convince them or change their minds, but he needed to. His stress level was rising rapidly, and he was struck across his entire forehead with one of his searing headaches. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

When he opened them, he took off his glasses so he could see better and tucked them carefully into his shirt pocket. To make himself more comfortable, he slid down in the chair a little into a bit of a slouched and crossed his right ankle over his left knee. He studied the two people who sat across from him looking so somber. He extended his arms, palms up, and then shrugged. He grinned broadly. “Hey, c’mon, guys. What the heck? It’s me!” He thumbed himself lightly on the chest. “I ain’t got a clue what y’all are talking about, but surely we can make this right.” (Excerpt from Twenty-Four Shadows)

Isaac had just switched again.

In DID, What Triggers a Switch?

In both of the above passages from the novel Twenty-Four Shadows, Isaac is experiencing a switch. Every single time he switches, he’s going about his life when one of his alters takes over. Isaac recedes and a different part emerges. A big question Isaac has is why?

Isaac to his psychiatrist: I’m really sorry. It’s just that I don’t understand this at all.

Dr. Charlie: It’s okay. The experts don’t fully understand it yet, either, but we’ve figured out a lot and we’re constantly learning more. The human brain is so complex that we’ve only just begun to understand it. We do know that it’s strong and it does what it takes to survive.

It’s true. There is so much yet to be learned about DID, including what triggers a switch. Experts continually seek to answer those questions. So far, they’ve figured out some things about why people switch between alternate identities. Switches can be triggered by

  • Stress When someone is under duress, one of his/her alters often emerges to help, to ease tension or pain, to solve a problem, or give the primary personality a break.
  • Memories For all of us, memories can evoke strong feelings, and for people living with DID, they can trigger switches.
  • Strong emotions A sudden onset of emotion, either positive or negative, can cause alters to take the dominant spot in the personality system.
  • Sensory input Sights, sounds, smells, textures, and tastes can lead to switches between parts.


In looking at things that trigger switches in people who have DID, something important is evident: Every single one of these elements is something that can cause strong reactions in all of us, whether or not we live with DID.

People with DID live with a very difficult challenge that was caused by severe childhood abuse. They are triggered by the same things other people are; the difference is that for them, the trigger leads to dissociation and different identities coming forth to live in the world for a while. Switches are stress reactions that cause different parts of a single human being to emerge.

The movie Split, released in early 2017 features a man living with DID and highlights his switches. While some of this fictitious psychological thriller is quite unrealistic, the talented lead actor does an outstanding job of portraying DID switches. For more on the movie and to help decide whether it’s worth your time, check out these posts:

What the Movie ‘Split’ Got Right (and Wrong)

‘Split’ and Dissociative Identity Disorder: The Good, the Bad, and the Weird

What does it feel like to be Isaac Bittman? Check out this short preview.


Do you have a question about mental health or mental illness or a topic you’d like to hear about? Use the contact form below to submit it (put Q&A in the subject line), and I’ll address it on the Wellbeing&Words Q&A show on YouTube.

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Talk about Mental Health in a New Way: Start a Book Club

Jul 25


Mental health book clubs allow us to talk about mental health in a new way. Explore the benefits of a mental health book club and get tips on starting one.

There’s much for us to gain by talking about mental health.

Globally, talking about mental health brings the topic of mental health and its challenges and disorders out of the dark shadows and into the sunlight. It can be seen and heard and felt. It can even be tasted: NAMI Seattle holds an annual Depressed Cake Shop (an event that began in the UK and is spreading around the planet), an event that raises both funds and awareness.

Individually, having mental health conversations legitimizes the fact that hey, we all face challenges—whether or not they’re diagnosable as a mental illness—and allows us to share experiences, feel normalized, and develop strategies for maintaining optimum mental health. How, though, does one easily and safely go about talking about mental health? Through a book club, of course.

I started a book club with my local NAMI chapter. In short, the National Alliance on Mental Illness is an organization that provides support and education for people living with mental illness and for family members/care givers of people living with mental illness. People whose lives have been touched by mental illness in some way can enhance their mental health and wellbeing through NAMI’s services.

Even in such a supportive environment, it can be difficult to talk about mental health when it’s so personal. The Wellbeing & Words Book Club, like all book clubs, offer a way to discuss tough issues in a safe way—through characters and setting and plot and storyline that is tucked safely between covers.

Books aren’t a way to hide, though; instead, they’re a way to express. They humanize the broad concept of mental illness. Books and their clubs spark open-ended questions and encourage exploration and discussion. Mental health books, both fiction and nonfiction, show what mental illness is like. They inspire hope of recovery.

In the Wellbeing and Words Book Club, participants naturally and comfortably share their own stories as they relate to the book. Books offer a safe platform on which to walk. Some participants prefer to discuss only the books themselves, and they can do so without the pressure to get personal. It is, after all, a book club rather than a support group. The support that happens comes naturally through the books themselves.

Interested in starting a mental health book club? These tips might be useful:

  • Find a local organization to host. Many organizations welcome new ideas and the chance to enhance the way they serve their communities.
  • Hate the idea of asking an organization to host? That’s okay! Start your own. Most general book clubs meet on their own, usually at someone’s house or a restaurant, and initially involve just a few friends or acquaintances.
  • Use Goodreads to develop a list of mental health books. You can search their lists for such books.
  • As you read, jot down topics that stand out to you and use those as starting points.
  • Focus on takeaways. What did each member gain from the book that he/she can use in daily life?

Perhaps I’m biased about the power of mental health books, as that’s what I write. I do so intentionally because books have the power to influence lives, to increase understanding, to develop empathy. Sharing books with others is a great way to talk about mental health in a new way.



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How to Handle ANTs to Increase Mental Health and Wellbeing

Jul 18

Automatic Negative Thoughts, or ANTs, can decrease mental health and wellbeing. Learn three ways to handle ANTs to enhance mental health, wellbeing.

Recently, in ANTs—Automatic Thoughts Can Ruin Your Picnic, I explored how ANTs can be pesky little creatures that get in the way of our living life fully. These automatic negative thoughts that pop into our minds in certain situations can cause great stress and anxiety. They can even intensify depression and aggravate other mental illnesses. We all have ANTs (they’re not exclusive to mental illness). Unfortunately, it’s natural for the human mind to get stuck in unhelpful thought patterns that drag us down. (Follow the above link to last week’s post to see a list of common ANTs.)

There are ways to deal with ANTs so they don’t ruin the proverbial picnic of your life. Here are three approaches whose effectiveness has been proven by research.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an approach to healing that focuses on our thoughts. A fundamental belief of CBT is that events, situations, and people aren’t problems; instead, our thoughts about those things are the problem. Therefore, if we change our thinking, we change our perception, interpretation, outlook, and overall happiness.

To get rid of the ANTs at our picnic, CBT has us identify our negative thoughts and then look for evidence to prove that the thoughts and beliefs are faulty. This approach is supported by research and is helpful for many people (nothing is helpful to everyone, which is why there are so many therapeutic healing approaches).

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an approach to mental health and wellbeing that doesn’t have people fighting with and focusing on their ANTs but instead has people shift their attention to their values, those things they hold dear, and actions they can take to create the reality they desire.

ACT allows people to define what it is that makes a great picnic and take specific measures to enjoy it. ACT acknowledges that life does contain ants (and helps us accept that fact), but we don’t have to let them ruin things for us.

Passions, Actions, & Relaxations

Another way to deal with ANTs, of getting them out of your picnic, is to be intentional about the picnic you create. We can’t create a perfect, ant-free picnic. Life contains problems and challenges, some small and some big. We do have negative thought patterns that of course we can identify and replace but not completely and permanently eradicate. By pursuing our passions, taking positive actions, and practicing self-care that relaxes and rejuvenates, we can turn our attention to things other than ants and ANTs.

To be passionate about books is a happy passion indeed. Books hold great value for our mental health and wellbeing. This infographic shows just seven of the many positive things books can do for our picnic.

Automatic Negative Thoughts, or ANTs, can decrease mental health and wellbeing. Learn three ways to handle ANTs to enhance mental health, wellbeing.

Fill your picnic basket with good books, lie back, and enjoy getting lost in a book. It’s a great way to beat the ants and ANTs and enhance your mental health and wellbeing.

Listen to the July, 2017 Wellbeing & Words show to hear more! Scroll down to the picnic image.


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ANTs—Automatic Negative Thoughts— Can Ruin Your Picnic

Jul 18

ANTs are automatic negative thoughts that pop into our mind. ANTs can ruin your picnic, your mental health and wellbeing. Learn more here.

Are ants trying to ruin your picnic? If you’re human, it’s quite likely that they are. Ants are pesky little critters that love picnics, and ANTs are pesky little (or big) thoughts that love our mind. No matter what kind of ant you are dealing with—the insects or the negative thoughts—you don’t have to let them ruin your picnic.

In the world of psychology, ANT is an acronym for automatic negative thoughts. These are thoughts that pop into our mind without us giving them much thought. From the moment we are born, we begin to take in the world around us. We see things happen, we watch the reactions of others, and we feel and become aware of our own responses and emotions. As we grow and develop, we form cognitive distortions, ways of thinking about ourselves and the world that are our own unique interpretations.

Here Come the ANTs

Think, for example, of two toddlers. Both are outside playing and exploring, and both stumble over a rock, falling to the ground and scraping a knee. Bewildered and a bit stunned, the children turn to the parents to gauge their reactions.

The parent of one child rushes up, very anxious and tense. This parent swoops up the child, frets and worries, points out the problematic scrapes, and tells the child that he should stay away from the rocky area and even sit down out of harm’s way. The child starts to cry, and he begins to learn that the world is dangerous and anxiety-provoking.

The parent of the other child approaches him calmly. The parent swoops him up playfully and assesses the boo-boo in an attentive but silly manner. The child giggles. Then, the parent suggests that they check out the rock. Finding that the rock is just fine, the parent and child move the rock out of the way. The child resumes playing. This child learns that he can fall and get scraped, but that things are still okay.

The first toddler is forming automatic negative thoughts about himself and the world, ANTs that could very well negatively impact his mental health and wellbeing. The second toddler, on the other hand, is also forming automatic thoughts. Some are negative (the rock, after all, was jarring, causing disruption and pain), and others are positive. As these children grow, countless incidents that occur every single day will shape their outlook.

It’s like this for all of us. We form automatic negative thoughts throughout life. ANTs are present, they bother the way we think about ourselves and the world, and they can block the actions we want to take.

ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts) Are Specific

Because we come into the world assessing whether it’s safe and if we’re loved and cared for, and because we become worried and anxious when our basic needs aren’t met, we develop a negativity bias that influences our thoughts; thus, we form automatic negative thoughts. For decades, researchers have studied thinking patterns and have developed a list of automatic negative thoughts common to us all (people have these in varying degrees and intensities). In The Feeling Good Handbook (Burns, 1999), Dr. David Burns, lists 10 cognitive distortions, or ANTs:

  1. All-or-Nothing Thinking or Black-and-White Thinking (seeing things/people as either all good or all bad)
  2. Overgeneralization (seeing one event or situation as representative of your entire life)
  3. Mental Filter (dwelling on the negatives while ignoring the positives)
  4. Discounting the Positive (acknowledging something positive but dismissing it as insignificant)
  5. Jumping to Conclusions (mind reading—assuming others are thinking negatively of you—or forutne-telling—predicting that things will go poorly)
  6. Magnification/Minimization (blowing things out of proportion or reducing their significance)
  7. Emotional Reasoning (letting your feelings drive your thoughts; if you feel anxious, things must be scary/bad/worrisome)
  8. “Should” Statements (imposing rules on yourself, others, or the world)
  9. Labeling (using harsh labels to describe yourself)
  10. Personalization (unjustly blaming yourself or others for situations, circumstances, etc.)

These thoughts can intrude on the picnic of our lives. When we allow our negativity bias to have a welcome place on our picnic blanket, we make a nice, easy path for ANTs to rush in, multiply, and take over. They even burrow into the picnic basket and creep and crawl on all of the sweet stuff in our lives. Some of the ANTs, such as the ones that discount the positive, minimize the good, or magnify the ants-y picnic, make it seem like we can’t do a thing about our ant-infested life.

ANTs Don’t Have to Ruin Your Picnic—or Your Life!

The wonderful thing about automatic negative thoughts is that they are indeed distortions. Just because we have learned to think something doesn’t make it true. We really, truly don’t have to let ANTs ruin our picnic (because who wants to have an ant-infested picnic in the summer time, or any other time of year?). Next week, I’ll give you some tips for keeping ANTs out of your picnic and filling your picnic basket with things that enhance your mental health and wellbeing.

Source: Burns, D.D. (1999). The Feeling Good Handbook. NY: Plume.


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Gain Mental Freedom, Embrace a Life of Wellbeing

Jul 11

Every year in early July, the United States celebrates Independence Day. Many nations joyfully observe their own independence at various times throughout the year. Regardless of where one lives, an independence day is a day that celebrates freedom from unwanted control. The significance of this day goes far deeper than the political realm and touches each and every one of us on a personal level of being.

To live well and embrace a life of wellbeing, we need to experience mental freedom. When we feel as though we are under the control of anxiety, depression, trauma, eating disorders, brain injury, toxic relationships, or so much more, we often feel caged. Our mental health and happiness suffer. Just as entire nations have broken free from unwanted control, so can we as individuals who want to live quality lives.

You can gain mental freedom from problems and challenges. Here are ways to achieve this freedom and experience wellbeing.

Breaking free from what is imprisoning us is a long-term lifestyle more than it is a quick fix. It’s a process of awakening, of increasing awareness of how we’re trapped and why we want out as well as what we want to do when we gain mental freedom.

It’s not dissimilar to an actual prison. If a prisoner desires freedom, he or she could attempt to break out. He’d have to fight against barriers and sneak around. If she were able to escape, chances are high that she would be caught and re-incarcerated. However, if he were to acknowledge why he was there, discover what wasn’t working for him, and visualize the life he wants when he’s free, he could plan steps to achieve true freedom. Once released, she wouldn’t return and would be truly free.

The right to be free from unwanted control (that anxiety, depression, etc.) is fundamental. These tips can help you break free to gain mental freedom.

How to Gain Mental Freedom and Wellbeing

Begin with a vision. Visualize what would make you free. What does mental freedom mean to you? Create a vision board, ongoing collage, journal, or anything else that allows you to represent your life away from unwanted control.

Build awareness and insight. You can’t gain freedom from something vague and undefined. It’s important to know what is trapping you. Fully admit to yourself why/how you feel trapped. Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings and how these are affecting your actions. You  certainly don’t have to psychoanalyze yourself and dig deep into the roots of your challenges. You simply want to sharpen your awareness of what is keeping you mentally trapped.

Accept what you’ve discovered. Your thoughts and feelings are okay and are part of where you are right now. Like the prisoner who fought barriers and sneaked around in order to escape, if you fight where you are or hide who you are, you’ll be caught and wind up mentally trapped again and again. Allow yourself to be where you are now and put  your energy into moving forward through the mental door and into freedom. Acceptance and commitment therapy teaches people how it’s possible to be accepting of yourself and your life.

Return to your vision. Now you can go a bit deeper and make a plan for creating wellbeing and mental freedom. Reflect on important questions such as:

  • *  Where do you want to go when you are free from unwanted control? This can be a physical destination, a    career, a relationship, etc. What are your passions and your purpose?
  • *  How do you want do be? What kind of thoughts will you have? Feelings? How will you be in relationships?  How will your mental freedom impact how you respond to problems?

Executing Your Escape to Mental Freedom

Often, when we are trapped and controlled, it can seem impossible to take back a life of wellbeing and mental health. Even when you’ve done the above activities, it can be daunting to know how to actually begin to act. That’s normal and part of the mental trap.

An approach to mental health known as solution-focused therapy (or solution-focused brief therapy) gives us a useful tool for moving forward. This therapeutic approach uses scaling to help people feel less overwhelmed and more empowered to move forward.

What you do is consider how you are feeling in a given moment or think of a goal you want to achieve (something that makes you mentally free). Rate this on a scale from 1-10, with one representing the lowest point and 10 the highest. So, for example, if one of your quality-of-life goals is to wake up wanting to get out of bed, where on the scale are you? Then, determine how you can move up the scale just a bit. If you feel that you’re at a four in wanting to get out of bed (Congratulations! You’re not at a one.), what can you do to get to a five?  (See Five Solution-Focused Ways to Beat Anxiety on HealthyPlace for more on this approach.)

You can scale anything. It helps you assess where you are now and where you still want to go, and it helps make your own independence manageable. You can create small steps rather than being daunted by the big picture.

You can gain mental freedom from problems and challenges. Learn simple ways to achieve this freedom and experience wellbeing.

As you act, continue to think in terms of lifestyle and what mental freedom truly, deeply means to you. This will fuel the small actions you do every single day to create a quality life of wellbeing.

 You can gain mental freedom from problems and challenges. Learn simple ways to achieve this freedom and experience wellbeing.



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Think Like a Business: Optimize Yourself with Personal SEO

Jul 11


Optimizing yourself is part of living life intentionally, of creating your own concept of a life worth living. Determining what makes a quality life and creating a path to get there is a process that in many ways is similar to what web developers call search engine optimization, or SEO. Think like a successful business person and enhance your own personal SEO.

In the business world, SEO is what allows websites to be discovered and helps businesses flourish. To be successful, most businesses need an online presence that includes a website optimized to find and be found by customers. As people who want to enhance our wellbeing, we’re not trying to attract customers. Our goal is different, but we can use some of the primary principles of SEO to optimize ourselves for mental health and wellbeing.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) enhances websites for businesses. We can use SEO principles to enhance our own mental health and wellbeing.

Personal SEO Development

  1. Know what you want, clearly and intentionally.

The first step in SEO for business happens even before the web developer touches the computer. A successful business person defines what he wants to accomplish, what “success” means to him. This business person can’t stop there. She has to have a method of creating success. It’s not enough for a business to create a goal and then sit and wait for it to materialize. Thus, the people behind the business create websites with great SEO so shoppers can find them.

As you begin to optimize yourself for mental health and wellbeing, become intentional about your goals. What, exactly, do you want for yourself and your life? How do you want to think? Feel? What do you want to do? How do you define a life worth living?

Once you know what you want, you are in a good position to optimize yourself to achieve it.


  1. What connections would you like to develop and enhance?

An important component for SEO is link building. When a website has other relevant websites linking to it, and when it links to other relevant websites, it becomes more visible. It’s ranking increases so that when someone searches for a topic that matches the business, the website is one of the first to appear in the long list of sites that pop up in a search engine.

If connections are important for websites, imagine how vital they are for human beings. We need relationships with each other to optimize our wellbeing. To be sure, this looks different for every one of us. Some of us are extroverted and are energized by gathering with other people, while others of us are introverted and are energized through solo time. Some people come from big families or live in large areas. Others are from smaller families or towns.  Some people deal with things like agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, or other mental illnesses that keep them secluded.

Personal SEO in the form of “link building” is about quality more than it is about quantity. Think of ways you can reach out to form one or more relationships with others. Consider volunteering in the foster care system, a nursing home, a humane society. Think of ways to strengthen connections you already have. Nurturing relationships is a great way to optimize your mental health and wellbeing.


  1. Know your keywords.

Keywords are important to SEO. These are simple words or phrases that are integral to whatever it is the website is about. They’re the words that people use when searching for a topic or product, and they drive the focus of the website.

Having personal keywords can be highly motivating, and they can keep us focused on what we want, thus shaping our actions. Think of your goals, then break them down into keywords. Often, taping the words where you can see them often or creating images to represent your personal keywords and having these images close by will keep you motivated. When you have easy reminders of your personal optimization, you’ll be equipped to make these keywords real.


  1. Be patient, consistent, and gentle with yourself, as SEO takes time to build.

Even the most skilled web developers can’t rocket a website to top ranking overnight. What a web developer does is put the elements of SEO in place for the business to build on. Business people have to do a lot of work to keep their website optimized. Businesses take steady and repeated action to maintain their SEO and grow it further.

That’s how it is with our mental health and wellbeing. We do things such as define goals, putting links in place for connection-building, and narrow our focus with keywords, motivational phrases to keep us on track. Once these are in place, we build on them, patiently and consistently, over time. Nurturing ourselves is a process. With patience and self-understanding, it’s an enjoyable one.


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Can Anxiety Have a Positive Side?

Jun 16

Anxiety isn’t something people often embrace as positive; indeed, people tend to go to great lengths to eliminate if from their lives. That said, very few things are either all good or all bad (that’s part of all-or-nothing thinking that contributes to anxiety, depression, and more). Anxiety can actually have a positive side, and seeing the positive actually works to pull you up and move you forward.

Recently, I had an online conversation about this very thing with a woman named Kay who lives with anxiety and seems to have had experiences similar to my own. We agreed that looking only at the negative is dangerous for our mental health and wellbeing. To be sure, negativity exists and anxiety does have it’s share of negatives; however, anxiety has a positive side, and discovering it can be very helpful in shaping how we see ourselves and the world. Not only does anxiety itself have positive aspects, so do the people who live with it. (Five Character Strengths of People Living with Anxiety).

Kay wrote an article about the positive side of anxiety. It’s great to be able to share her perspective on the fact that being anxious isn’t always a curse.


Anxiety Isn’t All Bad

By Kay*

 Anxiety has many negatives, but it has positive aspects, too. Discover examples of anxiety's positive side. Anxiety might feel like its ruining your life, but is it all bad? I have suffered from anxiety since I was a child—I just didn’t recognise it. I thought it was normal to see catastrophe at every turn, to feel like all my nerve endings were on alert, and to be overly sensitive to everything. Perhaps it is “normal,” as there are certainly a great many people who feel the same.

As time passes, we may recognise that anxiety greatly influences our lifestyle. The choices we make when we feel frightened may be different to the ones we make when we feel confident and optimistic. We may choose the same college course as our friends rather than the course which suits our interests. We might remain in unsuitable relationships because we don’t want to be on our own. We are more likely to stick around in dead end jobs because we are too anxious to try something different.  And that’s just the big things in life!  Anxiety may also influence the smaller, day to day decisions and limit our opportunities to enjoy life.

Focusing on the negative impact anxiety has on our life can really get us down. But have you ever looked at it through different coloured glasses? In other words, have you ever considered that there may be positive aspects to your anxiety? And positive aspects to you yourself? Anxiety doesn’t necessarily say negative things about you.

Anxiety’s Positive Side

I’ve Rarely Met an Anxious Asshole

People who suffer from anxiety are often kind and compassionate by nature. We may feel things deeply and be sensitive to other people’s emotions. We want (need!) everyone to be happy, so that is often motivates our interactions. We tend to play the role of peacemaker because conflict increases our anxiety. You may be riddled with anxiety, but chances are you are a nice person with a good heart. Pull that bit up to the surface!

We See the Negative but We Keep Going

Anxiety creates many automatic negative thoughts that plague us day and night, such as catastrophizing situations and seeing the bad before the good. That said, those of us who suffer from anxiety can be strong and keep going despite being anxious. How else would we talk our way down from whatever dizzy, anxious heights we have reached? To do so, we consider the positives in the situation, or the good that will come from continuing on. Next time you are catastrophizing, rather than focusing on how your mind reached the catastrophe, concentrate instead on how you have been able to move it back down a gear.

Our Anxiety can bring Achievement

You might think that being a high achiever brings high anxiety, but what it if works the other way? If anxiety means you can never sit still, or your brain never stops whirring, then you may be in a great position to channel this into your goals. If your employment prospects have suffered at the hands of anxiety, could you turn this around? Could anxiety drive your potential? Overthinking can be a terrible affliction but it might also mean there is a genius in there. Sweating over the small stuff might mean you have a great eye for detail. Your anxiety could lead you to achievements, and you just might find that your achievements help to banish anxiety.

Being Anxious Can Involve Being Caring

There is no question that anxiety may have a negative impact on your relationships with other people. But remember that it can also mean you are a great person to have around. If you’re emotional, you might be more open and loving towards your nearest and dearest. We can use our sensitivity as a strength and reach out to those around us. Experiencing anxiety can help us help others understand themselves. Further, our sensitivity can help us respond positively to the needs of others, be they human, animal, or plant. We may be full of worries and “what-ifs,” but that often equips us to care for other people, other things.

So there you have it!  These are just a few examples showing the upside of anxiety. Think of it this way: anxiety might rule your life, but it doesn’t have to ruin it. There’s always a flip side so don’t focus on what your fears do to you; ask yourself what they can do for you.

*Kay considers herself to be a professional worrier – not because she gets paid for it but because she is so good at it! She is ‘mid forties’ and lives in Scotland where she runs her own online business.  It has taken her a long time to recognise her anxiety disorder but, now that she has, she’s happy to share.  Her survival technique has always been to look for the upbeat aspects of anxiety and to see the funny side.  That is the basis on which she has started her own blog – “Worried Sick”.  You can find it at 

Anxiety has many negatives, but it has positive aspects, too. Read some examples of anxiety's positive side.

Feeling love and a desire to move forward for loved ones is a big positive.




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