The Mental Health Boot Camp

Think about it. Your mental health plays a role in EVERY area of your life: relationships, work, physical health, spirituality, even sex. Isn’t it time you made it a priority? The Mental Health Boot Camp is a new and engaging way to accomplish just that.

Created by Joanna Boyd, Dr. Brooke Lewis and Chris Boyd (along with their friend from Los Angeles, Dr. Ryan Howes) the project is the first of its kind and combines the commitment of a traditional ‘boot camp’ with a mental health focus.

The Boot Camp’s comprehensive and varied curriculum is hand-crafted to boost your awareness, self-control, and well-being. Each day you’ll complete 4 or 5 activities that only total the length of one episode of your latest binge program!

The program includes: thought provoking articles, inspirational videos, soothing meditations, and stimulating activities to experience, reflect upon, and integrate into your life. Topics include: psychoeducation on common emotions, cognitive re-framing, character strengths & virtues, Big Five Personality Test, communication, gratitude exercise, acts of compassion, and spending time in nature, and much more! The various strategies utilized in the program have been shown to help decrease feelings of anxiety, sadness and anger.

After signing up, you’ll have 30 days to complete the 25-day program. This is meant to motivate you as the Boot Camp involves a commitment of time and energy to complete. By the time you’re finished, you’ll have an increased awareness of yourself, knowledge of your healthy and unhealthy patterns, and tools to help you live your mental-healthiest life!

This program was designed to boost your well-being and should complement, not replace, existing mental health supports. The program has a cost of $39 USD. To learn more, go to: www.mentalhealthbootcamp.com 

Posted in General, Personal Growth, Therapy Tagged with: , , , , ,

Smartphone Addiction

The headline in the Globe and Mail read, “Your smartphone is making you stupid, antisocial and unhealthy. So why can’t you put it down?” by Eric Andrew-Gee.

As I began to read the article I became alarmed by the research quoted.

Internet companies have spent “billions of dollars” trying o figure out how to hook people into their programs. They have come up with strategies which access the same neural pathways as those affecting gambling and drug usage.

The natural drug that interests the internet industry is a “feel good” one by the of Dopamine. This is a neurotransmitter which is released when the brain “expects a reward or accrues fresh knowledge.” A human vulnerability is being exploited by the internet industry and we are the victims.

Ex-employees of Google, Facebook and Apple have become alarmed by the technology they helped to develop and are now sounding the warning bells we need to hear. One of these past employees was quoted as saying “The short-terms, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. It is eroding the core foundations of how people behave.”

Professor John Ratey (Harvard Medical School), an expert on attention-deficit disorder, is quoted as saying “We are not developing the attention muscles in our brain nearly as much as we used to.” He went on to say that the symptoms of people with smartphones and those with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) are “absolutely the same.”

Research into attention span is sobering. In 2000 the average human attention span was 12 seconds. In 2013 another study found that this time had shrunk to 8 seconds. If the investigation were to be done today, five years later, it is estimated that there would be further decrease. Here is food for thought: the average attention span of a “goldfish” is 8.5 seconds!

Parents need to be particularly cautious with their smartphone usage, as the quality of their relationships with the children is being compromised.

When a mother nurses her baby (or holds a bottle for the little one), there is an opportunity for eye to eye contact with the child; this contributes to the bond between parent and child. It has been determined that, through this interaction, the brain waves of the baby and the mother will synchronize.

Mothers who are distracted with their devices are missing precious moments of bonding with their newborn and only time will tell the impact of this distraction.

Catherine Steiner-Adair, a psychologist, interviewed 1000 children between the ages of 4 and 18. She used the data she collected to write a book entitled “The Big Disconnect” in which she stated that kids said they no longer run to the door to greet their parents because adults are so often on their phones when they arrive home.

Andrew-Gee in his article added “And it gets worse once they’re through the door. One of the smartphone’s terrible mysterious powers from a child’s perspective, is its ability ‘to pull you way instantly, anywhere, anytime.’ (quoting Stiener-Adair).”

“To children, the feeling is often one of endless frustration fatigue and loss.”

Other research findings indicate that “family time” has dropped one third between 2006 and 2011 from 26 hours a month to 18 hours. It was also determined that children are more at risk today due to distracted parents with a 12% increase in injuries for children under five from 2007 and 2010.

Even when families gather, there is no guarantee of healthy interpersonal interactions. A friend recently relayed a situation he observed wile out for dinner with his wife. A mixed generation family arrived and sat at a table nearby. He observed them from time to time and noticed: “They sat around the table and were all engrossed in their phones or tablets for the entire time they were in the eatery.”

I recall dropping into a coffee shop one morning and observing a father with his two kids having a visit together. The kids were quietly drinking their hot chocolate while their father was busy paying attention to his cell phone.

On another occasion, a couple of old friends and I were having lunch in a pub a couple sat down nearby. Once seated there was minimal conversation before the guy pulled out his phone to check messages while his table-mate sat looking bored, more or less twiddling her thumbs.

After a bit, the woman brought out her phone and began to scroll through while the fellow put his away and sat looking bored. He then took his phone back out and they spent the bulk of their time physically present but mentally miles away. An opportunity for some good relationship enhancing interaction was compromised drastically. (And of course I was distracted by what was happening!)

TD Bank is on the right track with a poster it has created for it’s downtown centre in Toronto: “Disconnect to Connect. Put your phone down and be present.”

Posted in Addictions, Family & Parenting, General, Marriage & Relationships, Personal Growth Tagged with: , , , ,

Why do we Lie?

Lying destroys relationships and damages the bonds between human beings.

The Journal of Intercultural Communication Research (2016) states that “we all lie, but not all lies are the same. People lie to achieve a goal: WE LIE IF [we believe] HONESTY WON’T WORK. Essentially the truth comes naturally, but lying takes effort and a sharp, flexible mind. Lying is a part of the development process, like walking and talking. Children learn to lie between the ages two and five, and lie the most when testing their independence.”

While it is a normal developmental process for children to lie, many adults get stuck in the same pattern and do not seem to grow out of a need to lie in order to achieve rewards or avoid perceived punishment.

Below is a list of possible motivations for lying.

TO PROTECT YOURSELF:

Personal Transgressions:                         Cover up a mistake or misdeed.                        22%
Avoidance:                                                 Escape or evade other people.                         14%

TO PROMOTE YOURSELF:

Economic Advantage:                               Gain financial benefits                                        16%
Personal Advantage:                                 Bring benefits beyond money                             15%
Self-Impression:                                        Shape a positive image of ourselves                    8%
Humour:                                                     Make people laugh                                               5%

ALTRUISTIC:                                            Help people                                                            5%

UNKNOWN:                                              Motives are unclear, even to ourselves                 7%

SOCIAL OR POLITE:                               Uphold social roles or avoid rudeness                   2%

MALICIOUS:                                              Hurt other people                                                  4%

PATHOLOGICAL:                                      Ignore or disregard reality                                      2%

The research of David Leys PHD. (Psychology Today) can also help readers gain some insight into the way liars think.

“Believe it or not, their lying makes some sense, when you look at it through their eyes.

  1. The lie does matter…to them. People lie when it just doesn’t matter because they actually do think it matters. While everyone around them thinks it’s an inconsequential issues, the liar believes it is critically important.
  2. Telling the truth feels like giving up control.  Often, people tell lies because they are trying to control a situation and exert influence toward getting the decisions or reactions they want. The truth can be “inconvenient” because it might not conform to what they are trying to achieve.
  3.  They don’t want to disappoint you. It may not feel like it to you, but people who tell lie after lie are often worried about losing the respect of those around them. They want you to like them, be impressed, and value them. And they’re worried that the truth might lead you to reject or shame them.
  4. Lies snowball. If you tell a little lie, but then to cover that lie, you tell another one, then another, and another – each gets bigger and bigger. Finally, we’re arguing about the colour of the sky, because to admit anything creates the potential of the entire house of cards tumbling. If a chronic liar admits to any single lie, they feel like they’re admitting to being a liar, and then you’ll have reason to distrust them.
  5. It’s not a lie to them. When they say something, it’s often because they may genuinely believe, at that moment, that it is the truth. Their memory has been overwhelmed by stress, current events, and their desire to find a way to make this situation work. Sometimes, this can become so severe that the person almost seems to have created a complete alternate world in their head, one that conforms to their moment-by-moment beliefs and needs.
  6. They want it to be true. Finally, the liar might want their lie to be true so badly that their desire and needs overwhelm their instinct to tell the truth. Sometimes, liars hope that they can make something come true by saying it over and over.”

Most people who lie may not be aware that others see through the facade of their lies. This is an entirely different subject to be addressed and begs the question of why the recipient of the lies does not compassionately address their loved one’s lies? It is likely for the same reasons the liar lies. To avoid conflict, deny reality, or having to confront an uncomfortable situation.

Facing the truth of why we lie and becoming dedicated to dismantling this behaviour allows us to stop hiding behind a cloak of desperation and fear. We learn how to become an honest and authentic human being. If you recognize yourself or a loved one who engages in these behaviours, consider getting therapy to stop the devastating cycle that destroys integrity, safety, trust, marriages and relationships.

 

Posted in Depression, General, Marriage & Relationships, Stress & Anxiety, Therapy Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,

Empathy and Mirror Neurons

Empathy differs from sympathy. Sympathy reflects an understanding of another person’ situation- but viewed through your own eyes. In contrast, empathy is what you feel when you can step outside of yourself and enter the internal world of another person. You experience the other’s emotions and conflict without abandoning or losing your own perspective. It involves being able “to see with the eyes of another, to hear with the ears of another, to feel with the heart of another” (Alfred Adler).

Two people have a disagreement. They lash out or walk away from the other. It is possible that due to each of their life experiences, they learned that anger can equal harm, a dissolution of a relationship, an attack upon their view, or some perceived threat of which they are not really aware. With empathy they would STOP, and try to understand and experience the other’s position. A baby cries, the caregiver is upset and angry they can’t stop the screaming and crying. Stop! Imagine what it is like to be in the baby’s position, which is feeling emotions or discomfort they cannot describe. This is empathy.

Research has shown that individuals have what are described as “mirror neurons”. When we witness or hear another’s experience, these mirror neurons trigger memories in the brain of the listener. This may stimulate emotional experiences connected to those memories. If the memories are negative we may respond in anger and fear consistent with our own experience with respect to what we observe in other’s behaviour. At the same time, if we can suspend our own experiences, and try to see it through the lens of another person, then these neurons contribute to the deepening of an empathetic understanding of individuals.

Mirroring helps dissolve the barrier between self and others. It is the way nature facilitates caring about other people. One could ask why we experience tears when someone is kind to us? why do we feel at peace when someone understands us? Why that simple “are  you ok” can so move us? It is because empathy validates and lends to a deeper understanding of another’s experience.

Empathy can be used when we seek to understand someone better, argue unproductively, have difficulty connecting emotionally to another, or when trying to calm our temper and manage our own emotions. A loved one who is experiencing depression, anger or any conflicted emotion shows greater healing when levels of understanding are deeper through empathy. Being told ‘get over it’, or lashing out, by a loved one, does not reveal empathic understanding.

Think of an upset child, partner, stranger, anyone for that matter. Instead of responding in anger, use those mirror neurons that generate empathy. what is happening with that person in this moment of time? Don’t judge, just imagine. Are they frightened, did they receive bad news, are they feeling unwell, stressed, did their partner break up with them, etc.?

Are their views of life or behaviour different from yours? Do not become threatened by the differences, it does not mean either of you are right or wrong. Think of ways you are similar to that person beneath the surface differences. Empathy does not mean letting them walk all over you. Rather, Empathy gives you a stronger and wiser base for resolving conflict. You can bridge differences more effectively and with less destructiveness.

Empathy allows us to be mindful of our commonality and connection with fellow humans, rather than emphasizing the differences between yourself and others. Try to understand or imagine the feelings and attitudes of others by reflecting who he or she is and the forces and influences and choices that have shaped their life. Even if you do not know that person, just imagine.

The more one practices empathy, the more it is reinforced to become a natural response. While a person’s empathy can be attributed to genetic factors, research shows us that empathy can also be taught and learned.

The result is not applying empathy is personal conflict, communication breakdown and the development of adversarial attitudes – even hatred – toward those who differ from ourselves. Without empathy we exist inside a self centred world, that can breed emotional isolation and disconnection.

Instead seek to understand first before ensuring you are understood. Ask ” How are you doing…What is that like for you?”

People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. (President Theodore Roosevelt).

 

Posted in Depression, Family & Parenting, General, Marriage & Relationships, Personal Growth, Stress & Anxiety, Therapy

Getting to Optimum Health

There are many books written about overcoming depression and anxiety, most of which are excellent companions to helping us move forward out of these difficult experiences in our lives. However, if we learn to practice proactive habits of self care and life engagement, we can inoculate ourselves against these debilitating conditions and build resilience for life’s adversities. Here are a few of the daily life habits I recommend to anyone wanting to move out of depression and create a physically and mentally healthy lifestyle for themselves.

Daily Self-Care

  1. Get into a regular routine of sleep patterns
    *  Work with your body’s natural circadian rhythms: Wake up before 8, work, eat and sleep at consistent times. Keep a consistent daily routine.
    *  Get enough sleep (7 – 8 hours) but not too much. REM sleep is important, but also stages 3 & 4, which are the deep, restorative stages. Avoid too much caffeine–over 250 mg (1.5 cups) disrupts these sleep stages.
  2. Get regular exercise – at least 3x weekly. Include cardio, weights and stretches.  Exercise uses up stress hormones and produces the happy hormones – our endorphins!
  3. Take care of yourself nutritionally. Use food as fuel, not stress relief.
    *  Drink 4 – 8 glasses of water daily to prevent dehydration, irritability, fatigue and headaches.
    *  Take 1000 mg of fish oil daily ( as well as Vitamin D through our BC winters)
    *  Eat balanced meals and small nutritious snacks throughout the day.
  4. Connect with a supportive person every day…And be a support to someone else daily.  Take initiative to be social and consistently connect with others.
    *  Once a day, do or say something kid for another.
  5. Plan something to look forward to every day.
  6. Practice good personal hygiene and care.  As much as we may not like to admit it, appearance is important.  Be clean and smell good!
    Healthy Thinking Habits
  7. Face your fears. By willing yourself to do what you need to do, you will actually change your brain as well as change the image you have of yourself — and move from feeling helpless to  feeling strong.
  8. Be aware of when you worry and obsess about the same things repeatedly.  Move on to more productive thinking and action.  Talk to someone wise who can give you objective perspectives.  Learn strategies from reading or listening to skilled professionals.*
  9. Give yourself the opportunity to be listened to and understood.
  10. What negative thoughts do you keep telling yourself?  Write them down so you see what they are, and challenge them.  DO NOT believe everything you think – especially if it is negative.  (This is key to combatting despondency.) Focus on what is good and positive and true.
  11. It is OK to feel sad, and to acknowledge what you are feeling, but don’t allow yourself to stay there. Instead, recirculate your joyful states: Remember wonderful times and people.  Revisit photos, listen to and tell stories of positive memories and people overcoming challenges.
  12. Each day, ask: “What are three things that went well today?” OR “What three things am I grateful for today?” Write them down. Every. Day.
    Life Engagement
  13. During stressful times, having fun, self-nurturing and humour are the first things to go.  So keep doing these!  Keep engaging in positive activities and take initiative to plan them with others.
  14. Try new things! …new foods, new activities, talk to new people…Don’t let yourself get into a rut!
  15. The most effective treatment for depression is “Life Engagement!”  The opposite of depression is not happiness–it is feeling alive!
  16. Step back from resentment that attaches itself to the difficulties that others have caused us.  Practice Forgiveness.  Make it a habit.
  17. Have daily contact with nature and other living creatures. Get outside!

 

Keep focused and working towards valued goals – meaningful, purposeful things in life.  Live with integrity, treating yourself and others with respect.  Keep clear about what is truly important and how you can impact others for good.  In that sense, your life is not your own – you are here for a purpose – to make an impact for good in your world.
Determine to be an influence for good in your world.

*check out the writings of David Burns (“The Feeling Good Handbook”), John D Preston (“You can beat depression”) and Martin Seligman (“Flourish”), among others.
Posted in Depression, General, Personal Growth, Stress & Anxiety

Using Pop Culture to Impact Positive Change – Part 2

Welcome back! In Pop Culture Part 1, I discussed how, when connecting with children/youth, I utilize pop culture to: 1) develop and enhance rapport, and 2) gather information in regard to values, traits and indicators of resiliency. Please go to www.psychealth.com if you haven’t had a chance to read Part 1; it would be like watching the Empire Strikes Back without watching Star Wars! In Part 2 I will discuss the third way I have utilized pop culture: to help facilitate positive change.

Working with children and teens can be a humbling experience. I can prepare for a session for hours and then watch the plan fall flat within seconds or minutes. To help avoid this happening, I try to creatively get the message across by using an avenue the client is interested in. You may not be able to personally use the following examples, but I’m hoping they will spark some creativity when connecting with your child or teen.

A 14-year-old client was referred to me by his social worker but truly did not want to be in therapy; his lack of participation during our sessions reflected this. One day he came into my office wearing a Tupac shirt. I was pleased to see this because I knew that Tupac’s music has several messages of strength, resiliency and advocacy in the face of adversity. When asked, my client shared what he knew about Tupac and his favourite rappers and what he respected about their music. For the next session, I decided to create a game. I gathered 20 different lyrics from various rap songs and had the client guess what rapper sang each specific lyric and the message he or she was trying to convey in that lyric. For the first time in 4 sessions my client was engaged and interested in the task at hand. He did well with the guessing game and spoke effectively about the themes. He decided, as a result, to start creating a song of his own that described some of the challenges he faced in his own life. Writing is a beneficial, cathartic way to process past situations and the counselling sessions progressed well after this break-through.

A 9-year-old client was referred to me, along with a diagnostic list of various mental health disorders, including oppositional defiance and attention deficit. The little guy would get angry and say horrible things to his mother, teacher and peers. This was extra distressing for the boy because he felt regret afterwards for saying and doing these things, especially for his behaviour towards his mom. One day he saw a ‘Where’s Waldo’ book on my desk. We ended up having a look at it and I was impressed by how patiently and systematically he scanned each page. Upon finishing I provided him with some positive feedback and explained how he can use these great scanning skills to notice sensations and thoughts in his body, a great lead in to a mindfulness exercise. A few weeks later my client and his mother came in for a session and his mom said that the yelling and extreme reactions had decreased significantly. Although I can’t take credit for the improvement (there could have been many confounding variables), my client did mention that he now notices the thoughts popping into his mind but now he chooses not to say them.

I used to work with a 10-year-old client who had significant feelings of depression and anxiety. He had a hard time connecting with peers and spent a lot of time alone at school. During our sessions, he would routinely give me one word answers or stare off when I started talking about techniques. One day I asked him to explain ‘Pokemon Showdown’ to me, a video  game he frequently played in his spare time. He lit up as he shared his expertise. In this game you select a team of 5 Pokemon characters, then select a range of abilities and moves for each character. Once you have selected these preferences, you go head to head with another player and their team of Pokemon characters. Pokemon Showdown became a metaphor for assisting my client navigate through challenging situations at school and home. Using the same framework, we came up with abilities and moves that he could use when facing difficult moments or adversaries. It made sense to him to conceptualize life circumstances in this way and it increased the probability of him using the techniques we discussed in our sessions.

Pop culture can be utilized in many ways to assist the ones we care about. The possibilities are endless!

Thanks for tuning in!

Posted in Depression, Family & Parenting, General, Grief, Internet, Personal Growth, Stress & Anxiety, Therapy Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How Are Strong Marriages Like Healthy Gardens?

This is a question that I often put to couples who attend the premarital workshops I present. I like the question because it requires what are called “higher order thinking skills” – a more effective way of engaging new information that simply receiving it in a rote learning format. The answers I receive to this question are often quite insightful. Following are a few of those insights.

Successful marriages, like gardens, must be cultivated. What sunlight, soil and water are to a garden; respect, trust and cooperation are to a marriage. Without these key ingredients neither a garden nor a marriage can survive.

Successful marriages, like gardens, need to be tended. One would not reasonably expect a healthy harvest by merely throwing seeds in the ground, then ignore them. Time and effort are required to watch over the growth of those seeds. Adjustments are made depending on perceived needs. More or less water and/or nutrients may be required until the seeds mature to become healthy plants. Just like fruit, neglected marriages can also die on the vine. One need not do anything outrageously inappropriate to kill a relationship, one need only neglect it long enough for it to whither and die.

Marriages like gardens also need to be protected. One must be vigilant to ensure that nothing is allowed into the garden that would harm it. Fences are often put around gardens to keep intruders out. This is necessary to avoid losing what one has worked hard to create. Marriage must also be guarded. Unhealthy friendships, over involvement in too many activities, excessive use of technology and social media can all threaten the sense of connectedness between spouses. Instead of making each other the first priority, these activities and interests can take  precedence. Like an unwanted vine entering the garden, the wrong influences can choke the marital relationship. When such influences have slipped in, they too must be weeded out.

Some marriages, like plants in a garden, occasionally require pruning. When part of a plant becomes unhealthy, the unhealthy piece may need to be removed to ensure that the healthy parts of the plant receive the full nutrients. This is necessary to ensure the ongoing survival of that plant. In the marital relationship, boundary setting may occasionally be required. This setting of boundaries is in a sense, a type of pruning. Any activity or behaviour which is perceived to be harmful to the relationship must be cut off. Those behaviours which threaten relationship respect, trust and cooperation, the very foundation of what makes a marriage healthy, are especially damaging. Under these circumstances, one may even need to severe the connection for a period of time until such destructive behaviours have stopped.

Finally, marriages and gardens both require nurturing. The ongoing investment of love and care for something is often directly proportionate to the outcome one receives. When one loves and cares for a garden, one reaps a healthy and bountiful harvest. Again, I think there are similarities to nurturing one’s marital relationship. Plant lovers will often tell you that by attending and talking to your plants you help them to grow. I believe that the same principle applies to our spouses.

Posted in Marriage & Relationships, Personal Growth, Stress & Anxiety, Therapy Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

The Problem with Pursuing Your Passion

Christine was a 24 year old university student graduating with a liberal arts degree from a nearby university. She was in a state of anxiety over the need to urgently make decisions regarding her future career. At times her anxiety was so pronounced she felt quite panicky, with frequent insomnia, digestive upsets and continuous worry. Although she had been successful academically, she was uncertain about how her education would translate into the “real world”.

Christine had been given the advice to “follow her passion”, which she was told, would lead her to a great job and ultimate success. This confused her because although she did enjoy travelling, cooking and rock climbing, she wasn’t sure if these “passions” could translate into a meaningful career. She also was unsure of what “success” looked like. Although she wanted to be able to provide for herself, having a large bank account or enviable lifestyle were not goals she envisioned for her life.

Where should she start?

The many changes that have occurred over the last number of decades in North American society have resulted in greater job and career possibilities than ever before. With the multitude of options available to young adults, career choice advice has often been to “Follow Your Passion”. This advice is limiting in that it focuses on the individual, instead of looking at the world around, seeing what is needed and how meaningful contributions might be made. Christine’s first step is to consider a larger perspective of the world around her, understanding where there are needs to fill, and see how she might use her skills to meet those needs.  With Christine’s travels, friendships and education, she has already begun this process, however she needs to refocus her perspective to see possibilities for contribution to an existing need.

Christine also needs to identify her transferable skills.  Sometimes referred to as ‘soft skills’, these are the skills that are adaptable to multiple situations. These include problem solving, effective oral and written communication, time management, attention to detail, technological proficiency, amount others*. Her skills can be legitimized through references from professors, coaches and work supervisors. She can also reference any recognition she has received through her past volunteer and extra-curricular activities. Although Christine’s degree reflects academic proficiency, it is her skill set  that will make her a meaningful contributor.

Thirdly, Christine needs meaningful purpose.

Martin Seligman*, a well-known psychologist, suggests there are two ingredients of happiness. The first is achievement or mastery – becoming excellent in what you do. Mastery, according to Anders Ericsson of Florida State University, takes 10,000 hours honing their skills to excellence in their profession – whether it be a concert pianist, a surgeon, a teacher or chess player. World class performers in any field have become so due to the sheer amount of “time on task” they have had. If one’s goal is to be a “master” in one’s field, perseverance pays off! Seligman’s states the second ingredient of happiness is  being engaged in a meaningful work that impacts other for good.

If Christine strives to do something more than just make herself happy, she will be looking for meaningful ways to contribute to her world. When she looks for ways to resolve unmet needs or solve existing problems, she has the potential of creating the passion she so desires for herself. She may even have the side benefit of others wanting her to succeed because her focus is altruistic. Benjamin Todd* echoes these thoughts in a recent TEDX lecture. He states that by addressing a pressing problem in the world one is contributing something “valuable”. Doing what’s valuable will motivate  Christine, creating a passion that leads to the success of having a meaningful fulfilling career. This is what Seligman refers to as “Flourishing”: Being wholeheartedly engaged in our world and committed to the betterment of others.

                          A man’s true wealth is the good he does in the world (Kahlil Gibran).

*For further reading and viewing, check out:

Benjamin Todd at TEDx @ Tallin. (2016); also website at http://80000hoursorg/CNBC.com Fivesoft skills that will get you hired. (2017)

Seligman, Flourish (2011)

 

Posted in General, Personal Growth, Stress & Anxiety Tagged with: , , , , ,

Get More Out of Life

Do you want more out of life, something different, a new way of doing things and yet you do not have a clear idea of how to bring this about? Perhaps you have tried everything you can think of but things are not improving. You may be feeling overwhelmed by the events in your life. You may have experienced a catastrophe, loss or trauma (recent or buried in the past) and your coping skills have been stretched to the limit.

Have you considered speaking to a counsellor? It’s a way of building on assets you already possess. Courage, openness, clearly defined goals, accepting personal responsibility, hope, belief that things can change and a support system are some of the assets that a client can bring to counselling or learn during the counselling process.

It takes a great deal of courage to approach a stranger and ask for help. It takes courage to try new strategies and courage to be willing to make mistakes, evaluate what has happened, make adjustments and move on. It takes openness to discuss problems; listen to new ideas; try new behaviours; think about yourself and your life in new ways.

Knowing where you want to go is an important part of ensuring your arrival. You may start off with general goals such as wanting more out of life, wanting someone to change, wanting to be happy, wanting to be a better parent or wanting a better marriage; perhaps you may not have any goals in mind at all. Your counsellor will ask you questions that will help you understand how you will be behaving and thinking differently when you reach your goals. When you begin with the end result clearly stated and understood, the way to move forward becomes clearer and helps ensure that the results of counselling are what you really want.

In order to effect changes in your life, it is necessary to accept personal responsibility for bringing about those changes. When you wait for circumstances or another person to change, you adopt a “victim” stance. Accepting personal responsibility for discovering how you can change your life and implementing those discoveries removes you from a “victim” stance to a stance which is proactive and empowered.

When life is tough, hope helps you believe that somewhere there are answers that will stop the pain and help them obtain the life you desire. You may believe that it is only desperation that drives you to seek help, yet, the fact that you are considering reaching out speaks to the fact that you have not given up, that you are still willing to try at least one more thing.

Belief, like hope, can be faint when you approach your first session. As counselling progresses, you will develop the belief that you will be able to effectively use their newly obtained knowledge to bring about the changes you desire.

Lack of a support system can be a major drawback to success. Counselling will provide support and can be the first step in building a strong support system. Belonging to a support group helps you begin to lose their sense of isolation. It can be great encouragement to realize that others share the same burden, but survive and move on in life. Belonging to a church, athletic association, social group, or volunteer organization can also provide support. I usually discourage the use of the internet or finding support. there are just too many pitfalls and landmines!

Counselling helps you to modify behaviours and attitudes, find solutions, develop skills, and access your inner resources in order to move toward your chosen goals. If you believe the therapist understands your problems and has the skills to help, and you are ready to build on your personal resources, counselling will probably have a successful outcome

This article originally appeared in our PsycHealth newsletter, Winter 2007 issue.

Posted in Depression, Family & Parenting, General, Marriage & Relationships, Personal Growth, Retirement & Aging, Stress & Anxiety, Therapy

Nature is Good For Us

How fortunate we are to live in a rain forest! Even as I’m sitting at my computer, looking out the window at the snow, sleet and grey skies, I’m grateful. Not for the grey skies, but for the trees surrounding us and a climate that allows us to get outside and be active year round.

Regular physical activity is important at all ages, but as we grow older being active becomes increasingly important. There is a significant and growing body of research showing that physical activity is beneficial in many ways. Exercise give us energy and strength, increases metabolism and reduces the risk of chronic disease such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It reduces bone loss. Research is also showing that regular physical activity can improve brain functioning too and may protect against dementia in later life.

Regular physical activity has psychological benefits too. It lifts our mood, reduces stress and decreases anxiety. People with mild to moderate depression derive significant benefit from regular physical activity. Our sleep improves; our ability to cope with stress (resilience) improves. We gain a sense of self-satisfaction and confidence when we are fit and strong. We can achieve a better balance between work and relaxation. If our work involves lots of thinking, computer work, and sitting at desks, it’s especially important to make time for physical activity.

But does all that research about the physical, cognitive and psychological benefits of exercise motivate me to go to the gym, to sweat, lift weights, run on a treadmill, or pound the pavement? Well, not really. What does get me motivated to move is the opportunity to be in nature, among trees. Several times a week, I like to hike or run trails in the mountains or parks. No music or counting kilometres to distract me, just moving. And looking, listening, smelling, sensing. It’s meditative, it’s relaxing, it’s stress busting. On sunny days, the rays of light shinning through the trees trunks and the green glow of the tree canopy are magical. On rainy days, moss covered rocks glow brilliant lime green while decaying cedar trees on the paths glow in red orange contrast. The sounds of birds are captivating. On windy days, the trees squeak!

I recently came across some research showing that being in nature is good for us whether we run, hike or walk. While walking in nature may not give us cardiovascular fitness, it does provide some important benefits, just like we get when engaging in more intense activity. Studies are being conducted, especially in Japan and South Korea, in which people walk quietly in the forest. This activity has been given the name shinrin-yoku (“nature bathing”) or Forest Therapy and it’s being touted as the latest fitness trend. Shinrin-yoku means taking in nature, using the five senses: seeing, hearing, sensing, smelling , tasting. (Please note: tasking doesn’t mean nibbling on unknown plants, which may or may not be poisonous!). At it’s simplest, forest therapy involves quietly walking and attending to the environment around us rather than thinking about other things such as that work project or the week’s schedule waiting to be sorted out. IT doesn’t include listening to music, checking emails or talking on the phone. Being in nature in this contemplative way is showing benefits such as reduced blood pressure, relief from depression and anxiety, improved cognition and reduced stress.

Walking quietly in nature gives our brains a rest. This can be vital to our well being when we consider how much time we spend on our devices and computers, working, checking social media, texting, playing games and so on, and sometimes all at the same times. Our brains are stimulated throughout the day. And our busier lives require more planning, organizing, scheduling and problem solving. How refreshing to put away the phone, turn off the pings and buzzes alerting us to incoming messages, to stop multitasking for an hour or so to just walk, breathe, look, listen, notice. This is what one researcher refers to as “soft fascination”.

Soft fascination requires that we feel safe and relaxed. For example, if I’m walking near a cliff edge my brain is on high alert. I can’t engage in soft fascination. But walking on a well travelled trail that’s familiar, with no cliff edges in sight, I can attain that sense of quiet interest in my surroundings. It’s restorative and rejuvenating. I come away from the forest happier, calmer and more grounded.

Here’s some more good news. If you’re unable to get to the woods, or have mobility issues, it turns out that looking at images of nature can provide stress relieving benefits too. So, whether running, hiking, walking, or gazing at images, nature is good for us!

Posted in Depression, General, Internet, Personal Growth, Stress & Anxiety, Therapy