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

A Sneak Peek at MDABC’s New Mental Health Awareness Campaign

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An illustration from MDABC’s new What Helps, What Hurts Campaign

For the past few months, the staff at the MDABC (in partnership with BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions) have been working on a new mental health awareness campaign aimed at young adults. For this very exciting new project, we began by doing research on other successful mental health campaigns and by talking to young people directly by holding a focus group. We wanted to design a campaign that young adults would pay attention to and that would ultimately get them engaged in talking about and being invested in positive mental health. Getting feedback from young adults about what they really wanted was an essential (and illuminating) part of the research process!

Based on all the information and opinions that we gathered, we got creative designing the actual campaign. We decided to go with a campaign that asked the question “Do you know what to say to a friend with low mood or depression?” and we  named the campaign  “What Helps, What Hurts.” We decided to go this route because our research told us that young adults were a lot more comfortable talking about a friend’s mental health than their own. We found that, unfortunately, stigma is still alive and well in our community and that many young adults are not ready to let anyone know that they are experiencing a mental health issue. That discomfort does not necessarily extend to talking about a friend’s mental health, and our research shows that most young people want to help and support their friends but often lack the know-how about what to say, how to talk about it, and what to do when a friend is really in crisis.

The What Helps, What Hurts campaign will reach out to young people in a variety of ways including posters on transit, a website, a hashtag, and a pocket guide which MDABC volunteers will distribute at events and on the streets. Our official campaign launch will be in early October 2016, more details to come!

If you are interested in getting involved in this campaign doing street outreach or writing a personal story for the website, please get in touch with Polly at polly.guetta@mdabc.net 

Polly Guetta

When was the last time you really cried?

zach cries

It may start with a sharp lump in your throat, followed by a little wobble of your chin. Next your eyes are feeling moist and you’re blinking hard in an effort to hold back the tears. But your effort to not cry makes your chin wobble even more, and the next thing you know the tears are flowing, the lump in your throat is melting, and your nose is running. You are now in full sob mode. You grab the box of Kleenex and succumb to the weeping.

When was the last time you had a good cry? If you are not in a chronically depressed mood, crying once in a while can be very cathartic and healing so it’s actually better for your health to allow yourself to cry.

Are you sometimes in the mood to watch a sad movie or listen to some sad music? Do you wonder why you are seeking out opportunities to feel sad?  Movies and music can help us get in touch with the sadness within ourselves, allow ourselves to feel it, and then let some of that sadness go. The calm after the storm can then set in, and we often feel that the sadness is diminished and that there is now room in our minds and bodies for happier emotions.

Neuroscientist and tear researcher Dr. William H. Frey IIhas spent over 15 years studying crying and tears. Some interesting facts about crying that his research uncovered are:

  • 85% of women and 73% of men felt less sad and angry after crying.
  • On average, women cry 47 times a year, men cry 7 times a year. (WOW!)
  • Crying bouts last 6 minutes on average.
  • Crying has been found to lower blood pressure and pulse rate immediately following therapy sessions during which patients cried and raged.

To make the most of a good cry and really reap the benefits, it is important to remember that you have to be kind and compassionate with yourself after the crying jag. If you beat yourself up about crying, feel guilty, or use negative self-talk and tell yourself things like “I’m such a loser for crying” or “Guys shouldn’t cry”, you will undo all the healing that your sobfest can bring you.

So, go ahead and cry it out. And then you can proudly say to yourself “Well done! That was a good cry and I feel a lot better now!”

By Polly Guetta

 

MDABC’s Community Comes Together to Create a Mental Health Awareness, Anti-Stigma Video – please view and share!

Part of the MDABC mission is to reduce the stigma that surrounds mental health issues by offering information to the public which offers a realistic, and empathetic view of the impact that mental health concerns have on individuals, families, and communities. Like other mental health agencies, the MDABC is seeking to build a society in which people can come forward with their mental health concerns without the fear of being unfairly judged or discriminated against. One way in which we create an atmosphere of acceptance is by creating videos about mental health which are available to the public on our YouTube channel.

We invited friends, members, patients, and clients of the MDABC to share their words for an anti-stigma video which we titled “What People with Mental Health Concerns Want You to Know”. The response that we had was amazing! Many people wrote thoughtful words about their own experiences with the goal of clearing up the misconceptions and misguided beliefs that exist about mental health. Other people contributed by using photography to capture images that reflected the words.

We at the MDABC are pleased to say that this video project is now complete and we hope that you will view it, share it, and send us your comments!

Thanks again to everyone who participated in this anti-stigma project. We look forward to developing more community-based projects so that your voices can be heard!

 

Warm Regards,

Polly Guetta and the staff of MDABC

 

Meet Nan Dickie-One of MDABC’s Wonderful Volunteers

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How did you come to be a volunteer at the MDABC?

In 1994 I started writing short stories, articles and essays for the MDA newsletter that came out every two months. I continued writing for the newsletter for six years.

In 2010, I became an MDA group facilitator in Salmon Arm. I am continuing with this volunteer work.

What kind of volunteer work have you done at MDABC?

I have been associated with the MDA since the early 90s when I lived in Vancouver. My first involvement was writing 1,000 word stories and articles for the newsletter which was published 6 times a year, and mailed out to members. (Email didn’t yet exist.) When I dropped the envelope containing an article in the box for the first time, I had the horrible feeling of having “exposed” myself. Quickly I knew it was for the greater good and I committed myself to writing stories and articles for each newsletter from then on.

After about five years of writing these articles (which now totaled 30), many people said, “You should make this into a book.” Easy to say, a huge challenge to do! However, I did it. In 2001, my book A Map for the Journey: Living Meaningfully with Recurring Depression was published. It contains over 40 articles and stories relevant to all of us and our supporters. The MDA held a book launch for me, and arranged a radio interview. I have written several articles for the MDA since that time.

I moved to Salmon Arm in 2007. In late 2011, as I was healing from a year-long episode of clinical depression, Garry Hall and I decided to start a depression, bi-polar and anxiety support group in this community. This group has been flourishing since then. Garry retired from being a facilitator about a year ago.

What do you find most rewarding about doing this work?

Writing for the MDA, starting 20 years ago, was a gigantic step for me to take. By writing about my (and our) conditions, I learned so much more about how we live with these disorders when we are ill and when we are well, how much courage we require to navigate our episodes. I received countless insights through writing that inspired me to write more and more. I also recognized how difficult stigma is for us, and how challenging it is for friends and loved ones to support us in a loving and wise manner.

Being a facilitator has been – and continues to be – very rewarding. I have  met over 50 individuals who share our disorders at our bi-weekly meetings. I love inviting brave new participants to the group, and helping them to feel comfortable in this new setting. I am moved by the stories (experiences, challenges, pain and joy) of all the participants, and their resilience in healing.

Our motto is, “We’d rather share with strangers who understand, than with friends who don’t.” We have all become special friends with each other, a special extended “family.”

The greatest reward of being a facilitator is how my life has been deepened and enhanced by the enthusiastic participation of a broad spectrum of courageous individuals.

What kind of programs would you like to see offered in the future?

The MDA provides a wide range of excellent programs and services to people living in the Lower Mainland that are not available to those of us in the interior of BC. I’m unsure of what programs would be valuable administered from afar. We do find the web-site informative and inspiring.

What are three things that you do to feel happy and well?

Each of us can have a large tool kit of things that can help us a great deal to attain and maintain good mental health when we are in remission. Many of these tools are invaluable when we are ill. My tool kit contains many “items” that yours does too: good eating and sleeping habits, support from family, friends and my support group, a good relationship with my doctor and psychiatrist, and so on. In addition to these (and other) things that keep me as mentally healthy as possible, I keep my body fit with road cycling, cross-country skiing and swimming. These activities are also conducive to mental calmness – and that great plus – a rush of endorphins! Spiritual life is very important to me and sustains me critically through my tough episodes and nurtures me when I am well.

Can ART Really be THERAPY?

art

By Tiffany Pan

The calculator has just spit it out: 40.7 percent.  That’s the proportion of my life that I’ve spent with a mental health diagnosis.  Almost eleven years of wondering if I qualify as having a disability for various forms, of waiting for people to react to the word ‘bipolar’, of scheduling appointments, and counting out medications. It is a slog, a constant Grouse Grind, to keep myself functional.

The list of things I can do to keep myself healthy is long.  Medication. Meditation, and the varieties thereof: yoga, breathing, visualization, and so on.  Counselling, individual or group.  Exercise.  Diet.  Sleep. Self-help books.  Religion or spirituality.  Socialization.  Coping skills, like journaling, setting up emergency plans, distracting yourself, etc.  Treatments and therapies.  In my mind, I must be inordinately vigilant – the mental equivalent of a rigid soldier on laughable alert outside Buckingham Palace – so that my mood doesn’t slide in worrying directions. Keeping myself well takes much upkeep and mental discipline; self-care has almost always been work for me, and never fun.

And then I tried art therapy through MDA.  I’ve always been curious about art therapy, mainly based on enjoying art classes in high school and having occasional creative phases where I scrapbook, or knit, or draw for an hour here or there.  But art as restorative, art as healing, art as something other than pure diversion has never been properly articulated in my mind.

I will not say that art therapy has been a cure-all.  However, it has given me something that I had not even thought to ask for.  There is finally a method of self-care which does not feel like a chore to me, a practice whose value comes from its ability to make me forget that I’m even doing therapy.  It doesn’t feel like work to colour, and it’s strangely mesmerizing to create a mandala.  The tangible evidence of whatever I feel on a page is validating, and freeing in the sense that my inner world is no longer just inside.  I experience a sense of creation, which counteracts the way mental illness can destroy and chip away at my life.  The wonderful facilitators of my group have also emphasized the need to let go of creating ‘good’ art, to not adhere to what good art is supposed to look like.

The immediacy of putting pen to page can be amazing.  For example, I can scribble hard, angular marks to represent frustration.  And all of a sudden, I am better able to visualize my inner tension, and I have also simultaneously let go of my angst.  Sometimes the pieces have clear symbolic meaning to my life, and I’m surprised that I was actually able to express visually the ill-defined emotions in my mind.  Then there are art pieces that seem to have no meaning, random colours and lines that were the only things that I could think of to put on the page.  But that’s been a good lesson too – to just do something and not judge its outcome.

In other words, I finally realize that there are ways of keeping healthy available to me that I can actually enjoy and look forward to and which help me to feel more grounded, productive, and well.