Overcoming Negativity Bias

caveman

Negativity bias is the name given by psychologists to the human tendency to be much more likely to focus on and to remember negative experiences, instead of neutral or positive experiences.

Human beings developed a negativity bias—that is, they evolved to notice and respond more forcibly to the negative because this bias helped our our ancestors to stay alive. Thousands of years ago, when we were living in survival mode and real danger was always present, it was more important to escape dangerous (negative) situations than it was to approach opportunity. However, in many ways, this bias no longer serves us in modern-day life.

A strong negativity bias can severely impact our sense of wellbeing and quality of life.  Fortunately, there are ways to deal with the negativity bias. The list below includes some ideas taken from the study of positive psychology and learned optimism which can help you to rewire your brain for increased positivity.

Some strategies to re-wire your brain:

  • Be aware of your bias. Knowing that you have a negativity bias will help you to recognize when and why you’re dwelling on the negative aspects of a situation.
  • When something positive happens to you, try to hold on to the feeling for a few extra moments. Replay it in your mind a few times so that the memory of the positive experience gets stored in your long-term memory.
  • Scatter simple pleasures throughout your day in addition to the bigger ticket events (like vacations) that you are looking forward to. Simply put, make sure that you make time to do more of what you love.
  • Gretchen Rubin—owner of “The Happiness Project”–recommends that you create an “area of refuge” in your brain. Have a list of positive memories, quotes, or lines from poems or favorite books—that you can think of whenever you find your mind wandering into negative territory. You can also make your home into a sanctuary in which you display art, photos, and objects which remind you of the things/people/ideas that you love.
  • Make gratitude a habit. Journal each night about all of the good things that happened to you throughout the day. Be specific! You can also think of three things that you feel grateful for every morning before you get out of bed. By focusing on the good you’ll gradually be rewiring your brain for happiness. If you do this long enough, it will eventually become a habit.
  • Keep a “well done” list. Every time you accomplish something (no matter how small), face your fears, help someone out, or receive a compliment, make a note of it on your well done list. When you are feeling bad about yourself, bring out your list and remind yourself of the good stuff you do.
  • Practice mindful awareness of your emotions. Try to accept yourself for having negative emotions and realize that they are part of the common human experience. Observe your emotions without judging them or acting on them. Do not let them define who you are. So instead of thinking “I am an angry, jealous person”, say “I am experiencing some feelings of anger and jealousy in this moment.”
  • Learn more about how to rewire your brain. Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and author of “Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom”.  Martin Seligman has written about positive psychology topics in books such as The Optimistic Child, Child’s Play, Learned Optimism, and Authentic Happiness. His most recent book, Flourish, was published in 2011.

By Polly Guetta

 How to be a Compassionate Friend (to yourself!)

self-compassion friend

Do people often tell you that you are too hard on yourself? Do you have a critical inner voice that keeps telling you that you are a failure, a loser, or just not good enough? Are you willing to accept that your inner critic is not really your friend and that a lot of the stuff you are telling yourself is simply not true?

The study of self-compassion encourages us to accept that the self-critic exists in most of us but some of us just have self-critics that are meaner, nastier, and louder than others. Some researchers in self-compassion assert that we develop that self-critical inner voice to keep us safe and to avoid taking dangerous risks and when we look at it this way, it is possible to have compassion for that negative voice- it is trying to protect us but just going about it the wrong way!

If you feel that your inner critic’s harsh voice is contributing to feelings of depression, anxiety, or inferiority, here are some steps that you can take to minimize that voice:

Step 1 – Begin to develop an understanding of the commonality of human experience. What this means is that when we accept that everyone is flawed and imperfect in their own unique way, it is so much easier to accept our own flaws. We can see that perfection is unattainable, and that we all screw up sometimes, make the wrong choice, or say the wrong thing. We all suffer and feel pain.

When people tell me that they feel that they are weird or that they messed something up, I don’t try to tell them that they aren’t weird or that they haven’t made a mistake. Instead, I usually say, “yeah, you’re weird but so is everyone else” or “you may have made a mistake, it’s probably because you’re a human being and human beings make mistakes.”

Accepting that we aren’t perfect doesn’t mean that we stop growing, learning, and striving for our goals. It just means that we do our best within whatever limitations we are living with and don’t beat ourselves up when things don’t go the way we planned.

Step 2–  Practice mindfulness. It’s amazing how much negative self-talk goes on just under your awareness. Becoming aware of the negative messages that you are telling yourself is essential to the process of getting more control over the emotional impact that the inner critic’s voice is having. Once you are aware of the voice, pay attention to it, and then remember that the thoughts you are having are not facts. Look for evidence that the message is inaccurate and that the voice is exaggerating, magnifying, or even fabricating the truth.

Step 3– Find balance in your life by developing a counter-voice to the inner critic. The counter-voice can be thought of as a compassionate friend who offers soothing, empowering messages while telling the inner critic to quiet down. Think of the way that you would speak to a child who is hurting and apply that voice to yourself.

Step 4– Visualize your compassionate friend. Writing the visualization down can be helpful. Think about what your compassionate friend might look like…. maybe it is a younger/older version of yourself or maybe it is an animal that you find beautiful and inspiring.  Explore what your compassionate friend sounds like, and what tone of voice he or she uses.  Most importantly, try to think of some of the things that your compassionate friend tells you when you are feeling like you need support and love.

An example of a compassionate message would be something like “ I know that you are feeling pain right now and, unfortunately, it’s a part of life to feel pain like this. You are going to get through this because you are strong and full of love and spirit.”

When you feel down or afraid, try to use this visualization and allow your compassionate friend to reassure you, soothe you, and allow you to feel loved and cared for.

Try this free Self-compassion Meditation with Anastasia Amour

By Polly Guetta

Self-Help Book Recommendation

It can be difficult to choose a self-help book when there are so many titles out there. With this in mind, we asked Valentina Chichiniova, one of our Counsellors at the Counselling and Wellness Centre at MDABC, to recommend a book which is easy to follow, enjoyable to read, and which offers real tools and strategies that you can use in your journey to mental health and wellbeing.

Book Recommendation: The mindful Way workbook: An 8-Week Program to Free Yourself From Depression and Emotional Distress by Teasdale, M. Williams & Z. Segal

the-mindful-wayThis book is an amazing resource for anyone who does not have the time to go to a mindfulness therapy program or has been through the program but wants a clear structure of how to continue with the practice on their own!

The authors walk you through the theory behind the mindfulness practice in a clear, easy to understand language.  The carefully organised chapters guide you step-by-step in you journey to change unhelpful ways of thinking and acting when dealing with depression, anxiety, or stress.  Each chapter clearly explains and describes the specific mindfulness practices for you to try each week.  In addition, to help you with the process, the authors ask you specific questions to reflect on and give you tools of how to keep track of your progress.  Furthermore, they give you examples of plenty of comments by other people who have been through the program so that you do not feel alone in some of the challenges you may be facing.

Finally, you are given the guided meditations on a CD with the option to download them as an MP3 on your phone, tablet, or home computer- perfect for easy access anytime anywhere!

Enjoy!

Vitamins for Mental Health

vitamins

 

Vitamins are specifically involved in the body’s metabolism, cell production, tissue repair and other vital processes. A diet that is rich in an assortment of foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats are the primary sources of vitamins and minerals, carotenoids and phytochemicals our body needs to function appropriately.

Vitamins are nutrients which are required in small doses for normal body functions and general good health which can be achieved from a well-balanced diet. Some supplements are more appropriate for individuals based on their medical history. For example, a pregnant woman is required to take a prenatal vitamins to ensure she receives adequate folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 to ensure the unborn baby is receiving appropriate nutrients that she may not receive from her diet. Or a menstruating woman may require an iron deficiency supplement due to monthly blood losses. In addition, individuals who are vegetarians or vegan may also require supplementation with vitamin B12. A vitamin B12 supplement may also minimize depressive symptom. Vitamin B12 Is found in animal products such as fish, lean meat, poultry, eggs and low fat and fat free milk.

In the elderly population, vitamin D and B12 can be common vitamin deficiencies if patients are not exposed to sunlight, are obese or who have osteoporosis requiring vitamin supplementation. In general, individuals who avoid sunlight and whose diet is low in vitamin D should obtain supplement with Vitamin D. It has also been known to protect against cancer and may also help ease the symptoms of depression as some individuals struggling with depression tend to have low vitamin D levels. You can obtain vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight and also from specific foods such as milk, eggs and cod liver oil, therefore, certain vitamins can be effective for patients struggling with depression.

Another effective vitamin is omega-3 fatty acids which may be beneficial to treat mild to moderate depression. The reason for this is individuals with depression may have low levels of brain chemicals called EPA and DHA. Fish oil is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids which can boost these chemicals and also play a role in brain function.

The most effective way to achieve the necessary vitamins and minerals is through the food we eat. By making healthy choices, we can considerably lower our risk of developing symptoms of depression.

We also have to be aware of the doses of vitamins as some can be toxic and also interact with prescribed medications. Therefore, it is important to discuss appropriate vitamins which would be most effective in each individual patient’s situation.

 

By Sunny Khangura, Nurse Practioner at MDABC

What to do when that person in your life just won’t get help…

pondering

When we want someone that we care about to make changes in their life, we often gravitate to telling them what we think they should do. It can be especially frustrating when we tell someone to get help for a mental health issue or to take better care of themselves but they just refuse!  However, if you think about it, does anyone actually like being told what to do?  Do you? Even children don’t like it. Telling others what to do sometimes makes people want to dig their heels in and do nothing or even do the opposite of what they’ve been told.

An alternative approach to just telling someone what to do is to guide them in the direction of positive change. The idea here is to help the other person come up with their own solution to the problem. Ok, fine, you say, but how exactly do I do that?

One way is to make suggestions or share information by using “wiggle words”. For example, instead of saying “here’s what you should do”, you could say:

  • Maybe, you could consider…
  • I have found it helpful to ….
  • What are your thoughts about…?
  • Another option is…
  • Here’s an idea…what do you think?

These phrases don’t assume that we know exactly what the person that we care about should do, how they should do it, or when they should do it.  The “wiggle” words send the message to the person that they have choices, that you respect them, and that the decision about if, when and how to change is theirs alone. This can be very empowering and can help people to start thinking about the changes that they are ready to make without feeling that they are being forced. Even if the person that you care about isn’t ready to consider making a change or getting help, you will at least know that they have been made aware of some options. If they are just saying no to all options you suggest, you could ask them if they have any ideas to improve the situation, or you could offer to explore the reasons for their resistance with them. For example, you could say something along the lines of:

  • I’m hearing that you aren’t interested in seeing a doctor/counsellor but can you tell me why you think this would be negative for you?
  • I get it that you don’t want to talk to me about what’s going on, so can you think of someone who you would be more comfortable talking to?

What if the person in question still refuses to make any change? Being a caregiver to someone who is struggling emotionally can be very draining and can lead to feeling burnt out and depleted. At this point, it is important to remember to take good care of yourself, to get support and to let the person know that you expect them to respect your boundaries.

By Polly Guetta

Rainbow Walking – A Mindful Activity for the Young and the Young at Heart

walking with dad

As the start of the school year approaches, some kids are getting excited and impatient while others may be experiencing nervousness and anxiety. Whether the kids that you care for are dealing with restlessness or anxiety or both, learning how to calm down and ground themselves is a great coping skill   to learn early on in life.  This simple mindfulness activity can be learned in just a few minutes and practiced just about anywhere. It is great for kids because it is easy to remember and involves being active. Adults who practice rainbow walking will reap the benefits of mindfulness too!

How to do a Rainbow Walk:

rainbow hands
Rainbow light crossing hands of a child on ground

The first thing to do when preparing for a rainbow walk is to review the colors of the rainbow with the child. If you have a prism, it’s great to show off how you can create rainbows right in your home (honestly, I spent hours and hours doing this as a child).

Now, head outside and simply start walking and looking for something in each color of the rainbow. You and your young companion will begin to tune into your surroundings and start noticing things that you would usually have just walked right by. You may see the raspberry pink reflection of a flower in a puddle or a bold cobalt blue streak of the sky. You may begin to wonder how you’ve missed all of these things for so long and why your mind has been so preoccupied with thoughts that you haven’t paid attention to all the beauty around you! Once you have found something in each color, you can just start over again.

As you finish your rainbow walk, you can remind your walking companion that they can practice mindfulness any time and that it is always available to them if they feel nervous, worried or overwhelmed.  If they are at school and they can’t go out walking, they can do a rainbow sitting activity and just look around the space that they are in finding something in each color of the rainbow.

Mindfulness activities and practice serve to quiet the constant chatter in our minds that prevents us from being truly present. When those thoughts of the past and the future are racing through our minds, anxiety and worry can take over. Mindfulness can help us to connect with the present moment and put our fears and worries aside.

For more information on how to help a child who is experiencing back-to-school anxiety, check out this very helpful page at at AnxietyBC.

 

Polly Guetta

 

You Won’t Believe How Good Reading Is For Your Mental Health

reading

Reading for pleasure could be just about the most relaxing activity around! According to research studies , reading for just six minutes has been shown to reduce stress by 68 percent. It works better to calm down your stressed nervous system than listening to music, going for a walk, or having a cup of tea.

This is great news for people who love to read, and it may encourage those who haven’t picked up a book in a while to hit the bookstore or the library to find something that piques their interest.  Dr. Lewis, who conducted the research studies explained how reading relaxes the mind and body,

“It really doesn’t matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination. This is more than merely a distraction but an active engaging of the imagination as the words on the printed page stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness.”

And besides the amazing calming power of reading, there are a ton of other benefits to being a reader such as improved brain health, vocabulary, and communication skills, just to name a few. Reading can also help us to develop empathy because when we learn about other people’s viewpoints and experiences, it is easier for us to understand how people are more alike than different.

The next time you are feeling stressed, try settling down with a good book and notice how your heart beat slows down, your shoulders relax, and your breathing deepens. And then just let go and let your mind travel to wherever the story takes you.

By Polly Guetta

 

Why Mindfulness?

Why are more and more people drawn to the practice of mindfulness? We see thatstones mindfulness centres, groups, and classes are popping up everywhere…is this just a trend that will soon fizzle out?

In fact, mindfulness has been practiced for centuries and although it may have recently seen a  surging in popularity in the West, it is certainly not a flash-in-the-pan Wellness trend. People who practice mindfulness find that they feel happier, more content, and more relaxed. Studies have shown that this practice can also help you to increase your self-compassion and your compassion for your fellow beings. This compassion can often lead to more altruistic behavior which creates a better society for everyone.

Very simply, mindfulness can be defined in this way:

Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; On purpose,
in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”   Jon Kabat-Zinn

Kabat-Zinn is a famous Buddhist monk and teacher of mindfulness meditation and the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center and many of the strategies and exercises that counsellors use when they teach mindfulness are based on his teachings.

If you would like to learn more about the practice of mindfulness and how it can help you to recover from anxiety and depression, we invite you to consider registering for MDABC’s Spring 2016 Mindfulness Course. Click here to start the application process.

mindfulness group april

Dealing with Emotional Eating and Anxiety

hunger pains

By Susan Furtado, Registered Holistic Nutritionist

Anxiety can trigger emotional eating. There is a good reason for this. When we make a list of signs of hunger – a gnawing; empty feeling in the stomach, rapid heart rate, feeling irritable, we realize that they are identical to some of the symptoms of anxiety. So it makes sense that we eat when anxious, trying to relieve what we sometimes mistakenly interpret as hunger. But this can set a vicious cycle in motion. When we realize that we’ve eaten inappropriately, we only feel more anxious.

Here are two ways to practice working with anxiety:

  1. Investigate anxiety and its antidotes

Anxiety is so pervasive that we may not realize we are anxious. It can be helpful to track anxiety for one week. How does it manifest in your body? Do you tighten your brow or facial muscles when the tension mounts? How does anxiety manifest in your mind? Racing thoughts? Do you have a sudden desire to eat?

You can check your anxiety level at intervals during the day. If anxiety is present, stop and practice a few moments of mindful breathing, Anxiety can make breathing quick and shallow, so you might try slower and deeper breaths. Move your awareness as far as possible from the anxiety-producing thoughts in your head by shifting your awareness to the bottom of your feet and the solid ground beneath them. Imagine breathing out anxiety and breathing in peace and mind.

     2.  Separate anxiety from hunger

When you feel unexpectedly hungry, check internally and ask your body, “Is this true hunger or is it actually anxiety?” If it is anxiety, eating may make it worse. When we realize that our true need is not for comfort food, we can make another choice. We can “feed” and comfort ourselves in many different ways; we can call a friend, drink a cup of herbal tea, take a walk in nature, play with a dog or cat, rest your eyes on something pleasing, listen to a soothing piece of music, or do a few minutes of mediation. You can make your own list of “non-food comforting snacks” that relieve anxiety for you.

 

New Self-Help Group is Open for Registration

If you have been experiencing stress and anxiety and want to get together with others who are struggling with the same concerns,  check out our new self-help action group starting in February. You will learn simple practices such as mindful breathing and visualizations to help you relax and calm  your body and mind. MDABC self-help action groups are offered in our Counselling and Wellness Centre, and you will find yourself in a warm and accepting environment in which you can meet new people and find support and connection.

ryan schick group