How to Quiet Your Mind

Aug 15

 

Quieting your mind is important for mental health, including reducing stress and anxiety. With patience and practice, you can quiet your mind. Learn how.

 

The idea of quieting the mind seems like a foreign concept, esoteric and perhaps even the stuff of science fiction. As our society get busier and noisier and faster, so, too, do our minds. Stress levels have skyrocketed, tens of millions of people live with anxiety disorders and more than that experience bothersome anxiety that isn’t quite diagnosable as a disorder. “Agitated” has become the new form of “calm.” Because of this, experts in the fields of psychology, mental health, wellbeing, spirituality, and common sense agree: it is more important than ever to be able to step back and quiet the mind.

It’s a conundrum. Our mind races with thoughts of stressors, worries, and fears. Racing thoughts become broken records, and we begin to focus too much on these thoughts, strengthening and perpetuating them. We overthink. For our own health and wellbeing, we need to become still, to quiet our mind. But because of our racing thoughts, becoming still seems impossible. The harder we try to quiet our mind, the busier our mind grows.

To be sure, quieting your mind is challenging. Doing it, though, brings deep peace. Imagine facing the same stressors you face now but feeling at-ease in spite of them. Imagine, too, possessing the ability to believe fully in yourself and rise above stress and anxiety. Quieting your mind brings these mental health benefits. With patience, practice, and persistence, you can quiet your mind. These five tips can help you along your journey:

5 Tips to Learn How to Quiet Your Mind

  1. Become physically still and comfortable. The mind and body follow each other in a dance.
  2. Breathe slowly and deeply. Let your mind concentrate on your inhalations and exhalations (but don’t force it).
  3. Be mindful. Tune in to your senses. Pay more attention to what you see, hear, feel, and smell than your thoughts.
  4. Accept your thoughts rather than fighting against them. Allow negative thoughts to come and go while you do your own thing and practice mindfulness.
  5. Gently conjure images of positive things, such as your personal values and goals. Visualize yourself experiencing them.

For the visual among us, here are the principles in graphic form.

Quieting your mind is important for mental health, including reducing stress and anxiety. With patience and practice, you can quiet your mind. Here's how.

 

One of the approaches to mental health and wellbeing that promotes the above principles is acceptance and commitment therapy.  With ACT, you define what’s important to you and learn how to accept what you can’t change while taking charge of creating a high-quality life. For a workbook that shows you how to quiet your mind and create your life worth living, check out Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 Steps.

Using the five steps to quiet your mind will help you, over time, create inner peace and contentment. The stressors will remain, but you won’t become trapped in them.

 

 

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Enhance Your Emotional Health with a Bare Spot in a Garden

Aug 8

We can enhance our emotional health with a bare spot in a garden. Creating a bare spot helps shift perspective and appreciate beauty despite what’s around us.

 

Emotional health is an important component of our mental health and has to do with our subjective emotions like joy and sorrow, pride and shame, self-love and self-loathing, and more. While it’s true that emotions come and go, often striking us seemingly out of the blue, it’s also true that we are not powerless in the face of our feelings. While we might not entirely stop them, we can rise above negative emotions in order to live well in spite of them. One way to do so is by creating a bare spot in your garden.

A brief visualization exercise might be helpful here. Close your eyes and imagine a beautiful, lavish garden. What does it look like? What flowers or plants are present? Are there trees? Would you enjoy a pond, and if so, what is in it? How do you enjoy this garden? Are there comfortable benches or a swing within the garden or nearby? Perhaps there’s a winding path for walking meditation. Now become still and appreciate the beauty of this garden. As your eyes roam, your gaze falls on a patch of bare ground, dry and devoid of visible life.

Perspective and Emotional Health

As you continue to observe, where do you find your focus? Are you returning to the bare spot over and over again, are you seeing it while you’re looking at the beauty around it, or are you ignoring it and avoiding looking anywhere near it? Your response to the bare patch, a response you can learn to choose intentionally, is an important factor in your emotional health.

Our negative emotions are often responses to external events in our lives. We face stressors and problems on a daily basis. Some are chronic, such as toxic relationships, a hostile work environment, the effects of trauma, or caring for a loved one who is ill or disabled. Additionally, our negative emotions can be caused by internal factors such as mental illness or other mental health challenges.

Like everything in life, emotions are neither all good nor all bad. Just as there are negative emotions, there are positive ones, too. Some are a mix of both. Self-conscious emotions, those that deal with our feelings about ourselves, can be positive and motivating or negative and damaging. It’s actually not the emotions themselves but what we do about them that determine our emotional health.

The situations, whether external or internal, that cause unpleasant or life-disrupting emotions are the bare patches in the garden of life. Compared to everything else around them, they’re ugly. Barren. They seem to have nothing to offer. They ruin the garden. How can someone enjoy the garden of life and make it a garden worth being in when there are unsightly, dirty patches?

It’s a legitimate question that leads to some very important questions:

  • What is the rest of the garden like?
  • Is the bare patch truly capable of ruining the entire rest of the garden?
  • Does the spot make the nearby vegetation worthless?
  • Is the bare spot in control of what you see in the garden, or are you in control of your perspective?
  • Are you looking exclusively at the bare spot in the garden of your life?
  • Are you trying hard to avoid it but find yourself unwillingly focusing on it (because if you try not to think of X, you’re still thinking of X)?
  • Are you seeing the complete garden, all of it—flowers, bare spot, and all—and appreciating its beauty for what it is?

To Enhance Mental Health, Appreciate Beauty No Matter What Surrounds You

Reflecting on your complete garden allows you to appreciate real beauty, the wonderful flawed beauty that is life and people and gardens, and to develop the emotionally healthy perspective that allows you to see the good that exists despite the not-so-good. Appreciation of beauty, incidentally, is one of the character strengths that research in the field of positive psychology has shown to be a component of mental health and wellbeing.

I planted a small flower garden in my backyard, and I purposely left a bare spot as a reminder to check my perspective, appreciate beauty, and maintain emotional health and wellbeing. Negative and positive will always exist together. It’s how we see it that enhances our emotional health.

Consider planting a garden of your own. If you don’t have a place for a garden, you might buy plant and a flower pot that is bigger than necessary. You’ll have your own mini garden, complete with a bare spot, as a reminder of perspective and emotional health.

 

 

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Life, Mental Health are Balancing Acts

Aug 1
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life’s
a Great Balancing Act.
                              —Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss certainly knew his stuff. Life—and mental health—are indeed a Great Balancing Act. Specifically, they’re about balancing doing with being.

The Act of Doing

Doing is the stuff of life. We must do in order to live. We rise in the morning and forge ahead into the day of relationships, chores, work, and a seemingly endless to-do list of random yet crucial tasks. This doing is action and is vital for life-living, mental health, and wellbeing. Some of the benefits doing include:

  • meeting your needs—securing food, water, shelter, love and belonging, financial resources, etc.
  • creating a sense of empowerment—I can do it!
  • providing a source of energy—I am doing it and I’m charged up to keep going
  • building self-confidence and self-efficacy—”I didn’t think I could, I didn’t have the energy, but I did it anyway.”

Yes, taking action is crucial for our mental health and wellbeing. Taking even small steps, doing little things, goes a long way toward the place you want to be.

Despite the fact that doing is vital, too much action (or feeling too much pressure to act) can be damaging to our mental health and wellbeing. Living our lives on a hamster wheel can lead to

  • increased stressed, which negatively impacts mind, body, and spirit
  • fatigue, which is caused by too much emphasis on doing as well as the accompanying sleep disruptions
  • anxiety—the sense that nothing is ever done, is ever good enough and that you should be constantly working in order to be worthy, accepted, secure, etc.
  • depression— too much doing can throw us, including out brain chemistry, out of balance and negatively impact our mental health so significantly that we develop depression.

The Balancing Act: Doing and Being

If too much doing does more harm than good, its seems logical that we should stop doing that. Logical, perhaps, but it’s not always easy. Have you ever noticed that when you want to stop doing something, it becomes difficult? That’s because there’s an important piece missing: replacement.

To reduce something isn’t enough. We have to replace it with something else in order to fill in the hole left when we stop something. Replacement brings balance to our lives. In this case, to nurture our mental health by reducing our habit of frantically doing, we need to reduce the amount of harried action we’re taking and replace it with the opposite of doing: being.

Our being is our nature, the core of our self. Being is existing. It’s honoring who we are and allowing ourselves to be in each moment. Being involves mindfulness, using all of your senses to be fully present in the moment. It involves slowing down when you’re feeling agitated and taking slow, deep breaths to calm yourself down. Being is discovering what you like and doing more of it. In a state of simply being, we don’t feel pressured to do.  Being benefits our wellbeing in numerous ways, such as

  • quelling self-doubt—when we honor and accept ourselves for who we are, we begin to believe in ourselves more and more
  • relaxation—when we allow ourselves to just exist without the pressure to constantly do, we can let go of stress and reduce tension
  • stress-relief—when we allow ourselves to just be, our thinking slows, our muscles relax, breathing becomes slower and deeper, and we feel centered rather than pulled frantically in multiple directions.
  • enjoyment—when we slow down and let ourselves exist without self-judgment and rules for what we “should” be doing, we free ourselves up to discover what brings us meaning and to pursue it wholeheartedly.

Too much of either one, of being and doing, isn’t desirable. In excess, both disrupt our mental health and wellbeing because of a lack of balance between the two. We need to be do-ers, and wee need to be beings. We need a balance of doing and being, of action and relaxation.

Doing and Being: A Balance Budget

Achieving a balance between doing and being can be easier said than done. It’s one thing to know that this balance is important and another thing altogether to create and maintain that balance. First, know that it’s a process. It takes time to figure out what your personal balance looks like. Then, the balancing act takes practice. These two tips can help you achieve the balance:

  • Make lists, draw pictures, cut out images, or otherwise represent all of the things you have to do/want to do and all of the ways you like to relax, enjoy, and be—this will help you what’s important to you in both categories
  • Create a budget. Give yourself a certain number of “units” to spend in the doing category and in the being category each day. Track your spending to ensure you’re maintaining the balance you desire.

Striking a balance between doing (going, going, constantly going) and being (allowing yourself to relax and resist) will help you attain and sustain mental health and wellbeing.

 

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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 11

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 5

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

Jun 27

 

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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Thrive with TBI: See the World Through Rose-Colored Glasses

Jun 6

My first traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurred more than a decade ago, and since that time, I’ve worked to thrive, to live well in spite of my unique brain injury sequelae. I recently discovered a whole new way to thrive with TBI. I now see the world through rose-colored glasses.

TBI can cause different types of visual impairments and disturbances. For me, my already-mediocre vision worsened, I began experiencing double vision, I developed depth-perception issues that exacerbated my normal clumsiness and rendered me unable to properly give high-fives (much to the amusement of my children), I developed significant sensitivity to light (termed photophobia despite the fact that it has nothing to do with fears and phobias), and headaches (I haven’t had a single headache-free day since 2004). Finally connecting with the right eye doctor has improved my vision and my outlook.

The Meaning of Rose-Colored Glasses

I truly see the world through rose-colored glasses now. My lenses are special FL-41 lenses. As the picture vividly shows, the lenses are pink. They’re rose-colored. They reduce photophobia and make seeing simply feel better. Light no longer pierces my eyeballs to rush along my optic nerves and sear my brain. Admittedly, I still have a headache, but it’s better. (Said headache could be caused by adjusting to a stronger prescription, adapting to bifocals, and by noises given that my brain is overstimulated by both light and sound).

The term “rose-colored glasses” can have a negative connotation, invoking a Pollyana-type image of someone living in denial. It can be an accusation that someone is falsely positive, ignorant of the hardships of life.

“Rose-colored glasses” more accurately describes a worldview that acknowledges the negative but intentionally focuses on the positives in life. Someone who sees the world through rose-colored glasses is someone who faces obstacles and challenges and finds ways to move forward anyway. This is a true optimist; wearing rose-colored glasses, he or she has both a why and a how in life—his vision is on the beauty of his purpose. He sees the hues (roses and pinks) of possibility despite obstacles. She has hope.

The way we perceive our world is significant for our mental health and wellbeing. My FL-41 rose-colored glasses allow me to appreciate the beauty around me on an even deeper level and to feel physically better as I live a life of purpose and meaning. It’s intriguing to me that this positive treatment is happening now, thirteen years after my initial TBI. After so many years of accepting my vision issues as just a part of a brain injury, I see that there is more that can be done. It’s not too late to seek improvements.

Rose-Colored Glasses, Acceptance, and Mental Health

Acceptance is an important concept in the world of mental health. There is even a therapeutic approach that centers on it: acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). It can be a confusing concept, because like the phrase “rose-colored glasses,” acceptance has different meanings and interpretations.

Acceptance does not mean

  • resignation to a bad situation
  • giving up or giving in or rolling over

Acceptance does mean

  • knowing what can’t be changed and making new plans around this fact (for example, after seeing different eye doctors who told me that the only changes to my vision would be changes for the worse, I accepted it as fact and learned how to appreciate imperfect beauty anyway)
  • using the knowledge of what can’t be changed to move forward; sometimes knowing the reality that certain things won’t change helps prevent people from being stuck in rumination and regret
  • having an open mind and being willing to integrate new information (when I discovered that my town has eye doctors and vision therapists that specialize in brain injury, I accepted that maybe there was new information that I could benefit from)
  • keeping ego at bay (sure, pink lenses in glasses that aren’t sunglasses might not be ultra-fashionable, but I’m willing to accept that in exchange for better vision and functioning).

While I am literally seeing the world through rose-colored glasses, it’s just as effective to do so figuratively. Move forward knowing that it’s never too late to make the progress you want to make. Gather tools (for me, one tool is these glasses), intentionally shape your perspective, and create ways to thrive. Whether you’re thriving with TBI or other life challenges, see your world through rose-colored glasses.

 

 
 

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Mindfulness for Traumatic Brain Injury, Mental Health

May 30

For a long time, mindfulness and traumatic brain injury didn’t fit together for me at all. Thirteen years after my first brain injury (I’ve had three), I still deal with TBI symptoms (check out these eight signs of TBI). I’ve explored a wellbeing technique known as mindfulness for numerous challenges, including anxiety, mood disorders, “ordinary” stress, and so much more. It works to improve mental health. But what about for brain injuries?

Mindfulness has benefits but is hard to do with a TBI. Learn a few mindfulness techniques that work for mental health and TBI.The practice of mindfulness involves quieting the mind, becoming still, and using all of the senses to increase awareness of what is happening in the present moment. I’ve found it helpful for many mental health issues, and I’ve helped others use the technique. However, when I thought of using mindfulness for my TBI symptoms, I’ll admit that I was quite skeptical. When I tried it anyway, it didn’t work — until I figured out how to do it.

Brain injury symptoms are numerous and, like almost anything related to the brain, are individualized. Brain injury looks different for different individuals. For me, the ones that are the most annoying are the ones that loom over me in attempt to disrupt my life. It can be hard to function in the vast array of life tasks that includes work, family, other relationships, organization, problem-solving, and more when wrestling with

  • sensory overstimulation
  • difficulty concentrating
  • difficulty focusing properly
  • headaches that make the above even more pronounced

Practicing mindfulness has been shown to reduce these challenges to brain functioning and overall mental health and wellbeing. However, how does one practice mindfulness when one’s brain is overstimulated, uncomfortable, and unable to concentrate?

How to Practice Mindfulness with a Brain Injury

Mindfulness is traditionally the practice of stillness. Similar to meditation, it often involves sitting or lying down and using all of the senses to be fully aware, or mindful, of the present moment. It helps quiet mental chatter, such as worries, fears, self-doubts, negative thinking, and more, in order to induce a sense of peace and enhance mental health and wellbeing.

When concentration and focus are out of reach and the brain is already overstimulated with sensory input, trying to practice mindfulness can be aggravating. It can further disrupt mental health rather than improve it. That doesn’t mean mindfulness should be abandoned or that it can’t work when you have a brain injury, though. When sitting quietly and trying to focus doesn’t work, try these things instead:

  • Practice moving mindfulness. Take a mindful walk, go for a swim, or otherwise move around while paying attention to your surroundings. You don’t have to be still to be present in your moment.
  • Use an object. Having something tangible to feel, study, listen to, or even taste (think fruit) helps a jumpy brain tune in and learn to focus.
  • Do something mindfully. Help soothe a TBI by coloring, building, crafting, or doing any other hobby.
  • Stay far away from screens and technology to give your brain a much-needed break from what it often experiences as overstimulating chaos.

Experiment to see what helps calm your brain and increases your attention on your present moment. Even with a TBI, practicing mindfulness can pull you out of your head and into the moment. When you do this, you’ll decrease your brain injury symptoms and increase mental health and wellbeing.

 

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