3 STEPS FOR LETTING GO OF NEGATIVE THOUGHTS

Feeling depressed or anxious is never pleasant but this unpleasantness is what makes negative emotions useful. Our brains are hardwired to attend to that which may harm us. Similar to how hunger motivates us to seek food, negative emotions motivate us to seek safety and comfort (and to take better care of ourselves).

Bad days and bad moods are a normal and healthy part of the human experience. But prolonged negative thinking can result in negative thinking habits, which alter our neural structure over time. However, we can lessen the impact that negative thoughts, emotions, and experiences have on our brains.

Psychologist Steve Hayes suggests that we allow ourselves to feel bad in order to feel better. This may seem counterintuitive, especially to Western cultures where we try to control and rid ourselves of our anxiety, depression, and frustration. But Tibetan Buddhists believe that this attempted control is the problem and not the solution.

An increasingly popular new treatment called Acceptance Commitment Therapy is based on this assumption. ACT proposes that when we stop fighting our emotional pain and focus on the things that are important to us, we actually suffer less.

Accepting negative emotions can free up mental energy to focus on other more important things in our lives.
ACT’s founder, Steve Hayes, suggests that when we judge a thought or feeling, we give it more power. For example, the more time and energy that we spend trying to control our anxious thoughts, the more anxious we become.

Beating ourselves up about feeling down just adds more negative feelings to the collection we’re already coping with. So we become depressed about being depressed. We may not be able to shift our unwanted mood but we can change how we feel about the mood itself.

The less attention we give to our negative thoughts and feelings, the less impact they have on our neural structure.
We have thousands of thoughts and feelings a day. We can’t possibly attend to all of them. When negative thoughts arise, don’t ignore them, judge them, or try to stop them. Acknowledge them and let them pass. Here is how.

1. Let your negative thoughts and feelings flow. Neurologist Rick Hall suggests that we think of our thoughts as flowing through our mind like a river. If we attach to a thought, then we can ‘let it go and let it flow.’ Here is an example.

Attaching negative thoughts and feelings:

Thought: I feel like such a failure.

Reaction: I am doing it again. I am beating myself up. Every time I try to be positive, I fail. See, I am a failure. Stop it. Stop it. But I can’t even do this right. Ugh.

Accepting negative thoughts and feelings and letting go:

Thought: I feel like such a failure.

Reaction. Hmmm. There is that thought again. What should I have for dinner?

2. Meditate ten minutes a day to get better at it. Apps such as Headspace offer short (some are only 1-2 minutes) exercises that you can do anywhere. The Acceptance exercise teaches how to accept our own thoughts and feelings as well as other people’s difficulties. There are also short exercises on patience, pain management, and happiness.

3. Practice self-compassion. I say ‘practice’ because self-compassion is a skill. We will inevitably get stuck on negative thoughts and feelings and it easy to get disheartened. With Kristen Neff’s collection of self-compassion meditations, you can learn to compassionately let thoughts and feelings flow. The less palatable it sounds to you, the more you may need it.

Accepting our negative thoughts and feelings does not mean that we should not take steps to better our lives. “Letting our thoughts flow” is useful when we have done what we can to remedy our negative mood but it still persists. We don’t have to be carried away by our thoughts and emotions. And letting go frees up the mental space so we can focus more on the positive experiences in our lives.

Warm regards,

Jena

HOW TO CATCH DEPRESSION BEFORE IT CATCHES YOU

When we think of depression, we may imagine being permanently pyjama-clad, lying in bed or on the sofa in a dark room, unable to move. Clinical depression (or major depressive disorder) can look this way and the Internet and media often paint this picture.

If we research depression symptoms online, it usually brings up Clinical depression information, leaving some of us thinking that, it feels bad but it’s not as bad as all that.

But some depressive symptoms are less recognizable. Most of us are busy. We might feel down but we can’t afford to stop. Even when a situation (like a breakup) triggers deep sadness in us, we have to keep going. So the symptoms are subtler, more gradual, and easier to disregard. They sneak up on us and if unaddressed they can become debilitating.

Recognise any of these?

– A sense of heaviness you can’t shake
– Impatience, irritability, quickly losing your temper over little things
– Growing intolerance of others, our surroundings, or ourselves
– Heightened awareness of negative things
– An emboldened inner critic, bullying ourselves or self-loathing
– Incessant worrying (going over the same thing again and again) or catastrophizing (using words like always and never)
– Wanting to hide from the world and avoiding things that make us feel better (friends, exercise, nature)

Our brain activity is habit forming; the more we think and feel certain ways, the more likely we will think and feel that way in the future. A persistent low mood can spiral into depression and the lower we spiral, the harder it is to pick ourselves back up.

We all have low moods but when feelings of depression seem unshakeable, it is time to start paying attention to them. One of the best ways to deal with depression is to catch it early.

Here is how:

– Become mindful of how you talk to yourself. Would you lose friends if you talked to them the way you talk to yourself? Your inner critic may have pushed you to do better but it can push you down that depression spiral too.
Get blood tests from your doctor. Low mood can be a side-effect of any number of physical ailments: nutritional deficiencies, bacterial imbalances in your gut, hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, fibromyalgia, hormonal imbalance, food allergies, infections, and medications.

– Create exercise accountability. Exercise is one of the best ways to improve our mood. We may have the best intentions to exercise regularly, but low mood can sap our motivation. When depressed, we are far more likely to put it off.

So instead of beating yourself up for not exercising, put measures into place that hold you accountable. For example, book a boutique exercise class, schedule workouts with a friend, or join a beginner’s club team (your Fris team depends on you). If you have no problem skipping those type activities, then hire a trainer for 30 minutes twice a week. (Hire a really cute one for added motivation!) Tell her/him to follow up with you if you miss a session.

– Forgive yourself for feeling this way and for setbacks that may have triggered these feelings. Low mood often increases our critical self-talk. We feel down so we beat ourselves up, which makes us feel even lower. Interrupt the self-critical spiral with self-compassion. If this sounds too difficult, read or listen to The Self-Compassion Skills Workbook by Tim Desmond.

– Listen to what thoughts are driving your emotions. There is no such thing as a ‘negative’ emotion. Even depression serves to protect us. Our low mood is a red flag. Sometimes it is telling us to slow down, to reconnect with loved ones, or to disconnect from unhealthy situations. Or to get help.

– The app Thought Record app from Moodnotes helps you uncover the situations and thinking patterns that may trigger your low mood. And to find alternative, more helpful perspectives.

Everyone feels low, drained, or worn-out occasionally. Many of the symptoms of major depressive disorder – irritability, lethargy, and hopelessness – can be normal reactions to stressful life events.

‘Sometimes, depression is a perfectly reasonable response to trouble in your life.’ Karla McLaren

However, if your low mood is cyclical or doesn’t respond to the healing changes you make, talk to your doctor or a professional therapist.

If you think you might be clinically depressed, you can take this test.  Depression Self Assessment

References

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fifth edition.
Tim Desmond. (2017). The Self-Compassion Skills Workbook. A 14-Day Plan to Transform Your Relationship with Yourself
Rick Hanson. (2013). Hardwiring Happiness. The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm and Confidence.
Karla McLaren. (2010). The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You.
Robert Plutchik. (1980). Theories of Emotion (Volume 1).
Dan Siegel. (2010). Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation.
Bessel van der Kolk. (2014). The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma.

Warm regards,

Jena

Stop and Smell the Flowers.

In a past struggle with depression a friend who enjoyed gardening told me to, “Stop and smell the flowers.” My first thought was, “I barely have the time to do everything I need to do. Where am I going to find time to stop and smell the flowers? (I want to assure you TWD fans that it was not a, “Lizzie go smell the flowers,” type of thing.)

I didn’t do it.

There were other things that were more important. I would look stupid smelling the flowers on my way out the door. It would make me late for work. What if a bee stung my nose?  I had soo many excuses.

One day I was running late for work. I couldn’t have breakfast and so I was hangry. I tripped on the cat and stubbed my toe. The cat was ok. I ripped my skirt on the door and stumbled down the stairs. I got in the car, started it up and then realized my purse was in the house. I became angry at myself and went back in, saying not so nice things to myself through clenched teeth.

On my way back to the car I noticed a gorgeous butterfly. It was drinking out of a rose. When I went up to it, it flew away. I smelled something delicious and took a deep whiff of the rose. I was transported back in time to a place when life was simple. I was a little girl at Balboa Park smelling the fragrant roses, not a care in the world.  Time stopped for just a little bit as I enjoyed my memory. I thanked the flower and later that day I thanked my gardening friend.

When we are grateful we open the doors up to possibilities.  Possibilities of good memories, of joy, of laughter and silliness. We get out of our negative mindset. We can tie our Monkey Mind to the pole and stop the negative voices in our head.

Gratitude can do so many positive things for us and yet we fight it tooth and nail. Why not stop and smell that flower?

Self-Soothing Through Visualisation

Self-soothing is a wonderful coping skill to possess.  It helps to calm us when we are anxious, afraid, or angry.  It can help lower our blood pressure and helps us focus. People who have experienced trauma may get a special benefit from these visualizations, but you don’t have to have experienced trauma to benefit from them.

These three self-soothing exercises focus on breathing and visualization (imagining images that are soothing) and are found in the workbook, “101 Trauma Informed Interventions,” by Linda Curran.

Not every visualization is for everyone, so if you try one and it doesn’t work for you, take what you like and leave the rest and try the other visualizations.  Visualizations aren’t the only way to self-soothe, but what we will focus on here. When people with anxiety come to see me I teach them the following exercises to self-soothe.

In the Roots visualization you will visualize having roots that ground you and go deep into the earth.  Some of my clients say that this one helps their mind stop racing and helps them fall asleep at night.

In the Container Visualization you will imagine making a strong container that can hold anything that you don’t want to think about right now.  You can put thoughts or feelings into this container and pull them out when you are ready to work on them.

In the Comfortable Place visualization you will create a beautiful and relaxing scene that you can go to whenever you feel upset and need help calming yourself.

The key to making visualization work is to use it every day so that it gets stronger and easier to use.  Try these first when you’re not upset so that you can master them and they will be more effective when you do need to use them.

Want to learn more? Schedule an appointment and let me teach you.

Much happiness,

Mechele

Laughter Is the Best Medicine

Some of you may be old enough to remember Reader’s Digest. When I was little I was so excited to be able to read the Laughter Is the Best Medicine pages; they always made me smile.

What can laughter do?

  • Release good endorphins that make you feel happy.
  • Relax your muscles- a good bout of laughter can relax your muscles for almost an hour!
  • Laughter boosts your immune system.
  • It decreases stress hormones.
  • It diffuses anger.
  • It may help you live longer.
  • It helps you put things into perspective and not take things so seriously.

Have you seen that Twizzlers ad that’s been running on TV for about a year? In it the people are very serious and cranky looking, but once the Twizzler comes from offstage and starts poking them in the face they can’t help but laugh. I love that commercial because it reminds me not to take myself too seriously.

I really don’t feel like laughing.

Come on, it’s good for you! Here are some things you can try to put more laughter in your life:

  • Watch a comedy.
  • Listen to or watch a comedian.
  • Talk to a funny friend.
  • Watch silly videos on You Tube.
  • Watch videos of people telling their kids that they ate all of their kid’s candy.
  • Watch baby animal videos.
  • Watch little kids play.
  • Tickle someone (with their permission).
  • Read a joke book or joke page on the internet.
  • Play weird or funny songs (anything by Weird Al Yankovic for me!).
  • Dance like a two year old.
  • Ask people to tell you their favorite jokes.
  • Ask little kids to tell you a joke.
  • Look at photos online from the 1980s.
  • Try Laughter Yoga.
  • Think about one of the silliest things you’ve ever done.

I hope that something on this list works. If you can think of anything that helps you to remember to laugh why don’t you send me an email about it? If I get enough responses I will revisit this topic. Let’s try to keep it fairly g-rated though, ok? MecheleEvans@hushmail.com.

Wishing you laughter, love, and serenity,

Mechele

Help Me, I Can’t Shut Off My Mind!!!

You know those thoughts. They creep up on you and attach to your brain like a fishing lure, just hanging out, oblivious to your pain, they could stay forever. You try to make them go away, but then the fishing lure seems to embed itself even deeper in your brain and the pain becomes more intense.

Way back in the day when I was a Junior Baby Social Worker sometimes a therapist would give advice to wear a rubber band on your wrist. When the thought would come and embed itself in your brain you were supposed to stretch that rubber band and let it go around your wrist. SMACK! Sometimes the pain made it go away temporarily, but then it would come back with a vengeance; like Voldemort going after that Potter kid.

What’s an obsessive thinker to do?

Distraction is a good coping skill that can be used in the short term to help get those thoughts out of your head. Eventually you will want to learn more lasting ways to rein in those thoughts. Sometimes a thought is just a thought, but sometimes it’s something that you need to deal with so that it can go away.

Almost 33 Distraction Techniques:

  1. Watch TV or a movie
  2. Listen to music
  3. Sing
  4. Meditate
  5. Laugh
  6. Talk to someone
  7. Work on your gratitude list
  8. Journal
  9. Exercise
  10. Play with a pet
  11. Be mindful
  12. Masturbate (only if you’re in private please)
  13. Create something
  14. Do math
  15. Play Sudoku
  16. Blog
  17. Go to Walmart and take a poll on how many people are eating red beans and rice this week
  18. Go volunteer
  19. Make a list of things you like to do to distract yourself and refer to it
  20. Write a letter
  21. Email a friend
  22. Go blow bubbles
  23. Offer to babysit and play with the kids/animals
  24. Go to a park and swing
  25. Go watch little kids play
  26. Write a story
  27. Knit or do some other crafty thing
  28. Play an instrument if you have one
  29. Balance you checkbook
  30. Give yourself an allotted period of worrying time and refuse to worry unless it’s that time
  31. Give the thought to a worry doll and leave it in another room
  32. Write the thought on a piece of paper and tell yourself that you can’t worry about it until tomorrow

By all means add to this list, take off the things that you wouldn’t do. Take a poll at Walmart and see how other people distract themselves or ask your friends and family.

You’re not the only one in this big world that worries and has obsessive thoughts and worries, but you don’t have to suffer with them. Now go on and try some of these things. Remember what works once may not work as well another time, so try lots of them.

Wishing you laughter, serenity, and a significant decrease in anxiety

Mechele

Monkey Mind?

“My mind won’t shut up.”

“I can’t focus to save my life.”

 

When it feels like your mind is in control of you and you don’t know how to take back control, chances are you have monkey mind. Monkey mind is exactly what it sounds like; imagine your mind is an energetic monkey jumping all over the place inside your head. Monkey mind is closely correlated with anxiety. It is a term that the Buddhists came up with many, many years ago.

You don’t have to be a Buddhist to have monkey mind or to get rid of it.

When we have anxiety our amygdala is overactive and as bulky as Dwayne Johnson. The amygdala is the part of our brain where anxiety and fear live. Once upon a time it helped us to survive by enabling us to fight or run away when faced with mortal danger such as a T-Rex getting ready to chomp us. Now our amygdala responds as if we’re in mortal danger when we’re not. Speaking to a stranger won’t kill us, yet our mind may tell us it will. Few people die if they embarrass themselves in front of others, but some people’s minds disagree.

Sara Lazar is a Neuroscientist at Massachusetts General and Harvard. She has studied the benefits of using meditation and mindfulness. Her study which had people who meditated an average of 30 minutes a day for daily to several times a week for eight weeks found the following[1]:

  • Increased brain volume
  • An increase in the area of the brain that is involved in whether or not the mind wanders.
  • An increase in the area that helps us learn, think, with memory, and helps us regulate our emotions.
  • An increase in the part of the brain associated with empathy and compassion.

So What?

So, there are other studies[2] that document the benefits of meditation and mindfulness on monkey mind. Neither mediation nor mindfulness is easy to do, but you weren’t born walking either. It takes time and it takes patience. When my clients agree to try this I ask them to start at 1-5 minutes and work up to longer times as their concentration improves and their monkey mind gets harnessed.

Are you willing to experiment? The only thing you have to lose is a few minutes a day, but you may also lose your monkey mind and gain the ability to control your own brain and cut down on anxiety. You have to really be committed to this for it to work; don’t just try it a few times and then say you can’t do it.

And Away We Go!

  • Remember, you’re going to start with a small period of time, 1-5 minutes.
  • Set your timer for however long you want to meditate.[3]
  • Darken your room.
  • If you’re not alone let people know you’re meditating and ask them to be quiet.
  • Sit up. If you lie down you will fall asleep. [4]
  • Take some breaths. Some people say through your nose, but I like in through the nose and out through the mouth. Very slow and deep breaths.
  • Focus on your breathing in and out and in and out.
  • Clear your mind.
  • Be gentle with yourself when your mind wanders and bring it back to your breath.
  • Breathe and repeat.

This is a beginner’s guide and as you get better with it your skill will advance. If you decide the experiment is worth continuing you may want to look up videos on You Tube of how to advance your meditation practice or find a teacher to guide you.

I wish you luck and self-kindness, skill will follow.

Wishing you happiness, laughter, serenity, and no more monkey mind

Mechele

 

 

[1] https://scholar.harvard.edu

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3004979/ This is a good article, but it is very dry

[3] You can get a free meditation timer in your Ap store. I like Insight Timer.

[4] People who meditate on a regular basis use a cushion, but if you have back problems try a chair. Sit up straight or you will get so relaxed you will fall asleep. The first time I did this my teacher gently smacked me to wake me up and boy was I embarrassed!

God*, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change.

“God*, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change.

The courage to change the things I can.

And the wisdom to know the difference.”

*God, Goddess, the universe, or whomever your higher power may be.  Many people who are atheists or agnostics find the Serenity Prayer helpful. Just  finish the article and overlook the fact that it is used as a prayer if need be.

I am a semi-reformed control freak.  What that means for me is that instead of biting my teen’s head off when he puts the spatula in the wrong drawer,  I remember I am thankful he’s doing the dishes. And then I silently sneak it back in the right drawer when he’s not looking.

But seriously, I like working with people with control issues.  I am a people with control issues. I think that helps me understand why it’s so difficult to change this particular personality quirk.  As a child (and often as an adult) I felt things were out of my control. Whenever I could, I convinced myself I had more control than I really did.  Parents going somewhere I didn’t like for dinner? Well, maybe if I have a big enough temper tantrum they won’t and we can go to McDonald’s. Sometimes it even worked.

The problem was that I believed I had more power than I did, that I was more important than I really was.  Maybe I was even magical. Take for instance when my parents divorced, I was around ten, a Big Girl. I knew why it was happening.  It was because I was told to get only A’s on my report card and I got two Cs. My father couldn’t stand to live with a daughter who would make two Cs and so he went away, or so my thinking went…  All My Fault.

Yeah, that was also about the time when my perfectionism started to rear its ugly head.  Control and perfectionism are related. Really, they are. But that’s a story for another day, Dearies.  Stay tuned.

As I got to be a teen I became more codependent (again, related to control and another issue for another day) and learned to “give” my power away and try to control people through guilt over what I did for them.  “What, you won’t lend me your car? But I just did all of your homework for you without you even asking me to and I missed dinner to do it and I loaned you $20 last week!” That didn’t give me the control I thought I would get.  Teenager’s brains aren’t fully cooked yet, as you can see by my teen “logic.”

As an, ahem…more surly, late teen I realized that I could control my needs by never asking for them to be met by anyone else.  If I didn’t ask no one would say no and I wouldn’t be disappointed, right? So, I lugged my belongings up four flights of stairs to move into my dorm.  By myself. “No, I don’t need any help, thank you very much!” Nope, no one knew what I needed. I was completely self-sufficient. I was great company, didn’t need anyone else’s. Or at least that’s what I told myself as I ate every meal alone for the first month of my college career. Lonely.  See, brain still not cooked.

After graduate school and about ten years into my career as a mental health therapist I decided I needed a change.  It seemed to me that almost everyone in treatment for mental health issues also had addiction issues. I decided to study more about addiction and learned one of the most important lessons in my life (aside from, “If the boy says he’s not good enough for you he most likely  isn’t.”). I volunteered to help lead a group for people struggling with addiction. These were some of the most amazing people I’ve met in my life. All of them were clean for six months to two years and were so grateful. In the meetings we said the Serenity Prayer (see opening paragraph) and I finally understood what it meant for me.

“It was as if my Higher Power had shaken me while yelling, “MECHELE, WAKE UP!  THE ONLY THING YOU CAN CONTROL IS YOURSELF. YOU CAN NOT CONTROL ANYTHING ELSE AND YOUR EFFORTS TO DO SO ARE FUTILE”  That really scared the shit out of me.  Then I got mad at my Higher Power, who was he to tell me that I can’t control anything.  I controlled nothing and the only thing in my power was me and the changes I could make to myself?  And then I felt the most beautiful relief. I was no longer responsible for what happened in the world or what other people did or said!  It felt as if a weight had fallen off of my shoulders and scales from my eyes. My life would be so much easier if I just focused on being the best person I could be and didn’t judge what others did (more perfectionism).

I began living my life that way.  Most days were much more smooth and happy than before.  Some days I forgot and regressed a bit. I’m not perfect.

Sometimes when I tell my clients, “Control is just an illusion, let it go,” they freak out and fight to stay exactly where they are.  And sometimes they change and generally lead a happier life. It’s not an instant transformation and it takes work. There is a fork in your road.  Which way will you choose?

Wishing you serenity and much happiness,

Mechele

 

Full Yogic Breathing Exercise

Full Yogic Breath or 3 part Breath

Almost everybody not uses full lung capacity, which can lead to disorders.

Breathing is life.
Breathing is healing.

Why Do This Exercise?:

By learning to breath properly you IMPROVE BREATH CAPACITY.
It can PREVENT disease or even REVERSE harmful conditions that can lead up to disease.
Each practice promotes VITALITY AND RELAXATION in only 1 single exercise.

Invest 5 up to 10 minutes of your time or even less to notice the benefits!

Guideline:

Do NOT use strain
Make the Breath smooth and effortless
Go slow and easy

Most important benefits of full yogic Breath are:

CALMS THE MIND
REDUCES EMOTIONAL AND NERVOUS ANXIETY

Other benefits are:

– release of muscular tension around the heart and digestive organs
helps to overcome the fear of shortage of Breath
Increases cardio vascular system
Improves detoxification
Amplifies auto immune system by increasing energy flow to the endocrine system.

 

Visit Katja’s website www.ReinventYou.me