Overcoming Negativity Bias

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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

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 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!

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:

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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

 

What on earth is “forest bathing”?

By Polly Guetta

While looking at all of the beautiful photos that have been submitted for our photo contest “the Healing Power of Nature” (www.gogophotocontest.com/mdabc),  I have found myself wishing that I was spending more time in the great outdoors. And I mean really outdoors, as in far, far away from concrete, cars, and, skyscrapers. To really feel the healing power of winter magicnature, I think we need to have a fully immersive experience.

While researching the evidence that direct contact with nature really can help people to heal, I kept coming across the term “forest bathing”. What on earth is forest bathing? Is it nude people running through waterfalls? Rolling around in fields of flowers and “bathing” in the dirt?

I HAD TO KNOW!

After a little bit of digging, I found out that forest bathing is also known as Shinrin-Yoku and the term was originally coined in 1982 by the Forest Agency of the Japanese government. In Japanese, shinrin means forest, and yoku, although it has several meanings, refers here to “bathing, showering or basking in”. And so, forest bathing is simply the art of being truly present in nature, specifically forests, and using all of your senses to fully absorb all of its awesomeness.

Intuitively, we feel that when we connect with nature, we often feel more grounded, healthier and calmer. Personally, I find that when I am surrounded by nature, my breathing becomes deeper, and I have more energy. Now, there is a ton of research that backs up what most of us have known all along. Forest bathing has a positive impact on many markers of stress; it has been shown to decrease blood pressure, anxiety symptoms, and stress hormones. When we feel relaxed, the parts of our brains that are sometimes in overdrive can slow down, and the parts of our brains associated with pleasure and empathy can have a chance to flourish. Our bodies and minds can then start to heal and transform.

So, who’s up for a little forest bathing this weekend? Let us know how it goes!

 

 

 

 

Gratitude Meditation

On Tuesday, May 10th the MDABC hosted a training event for our volunteers and staff in which we explored the ways in which we would like to grow as an organization and how we can all contribute to our organization’s mission. We had a lot of spirited discussion as we attempted to reach a better understanding of how to work together towards our common goals.   We ended our session with a gratitude meditation which we’d like to share with all of you.

Gratitude Meditation

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Get into a relaxed seated posture. Bring your hands together to form a bowl and close your eyes. Take a few deep, calming breaths to relax and centre. Slowly, take three deep breaths and repeat the words “For this day, I am grateful.”

  1. Next, bring to mind those people in your life to whom you are close: your friends, neighbors, family, coworkers…. Repeat the words, “For the people that I share my life with, I am grateful.”
  1. Next, turn your attention to yourself: you are a unique individual, and you possess imagination, the ability to communicate, the ability to learn from the past and plan for the future, and the ability to overcome any pain you may be experiencing. Repeat the words, “For all of my abilities, I am grateful.”
  1. Finally, think about something that you saw or felt today that made you smile. It could be as small a thing as seeing a child laugh or the feeling of a soft breeze on your skin. Repeat the words, “For being able to see the ordinary as beautiful, I am grateful.”

Continue to focus on your breath as you take 3 more deep breaths. Open your eyes and look into the bowl that you have made with your hands. Realize that your bowl is full of all the things that you have expressed your gratitude for. When you are ready, release your hands and prepare to meet the rest of your day with a renewed sense of wellbeing.

 

MDABC Photo Contest is in Full Swing!

It’s been one week since we launched our contest at gogophotocontest.com/mdabc, and we are off to a great start. We’ve had a phenomenal response and a lot of amazing photos have been submitted. We still have a long way to go if we want to meet our fundraising goal by June 10th when the contest closes so make sure that you submit your photos, donate to vote, and tell everyone you know about this contest! Our top three fundraising photos will win brand new i-pads and have their photos included on an MDABC annual wall calendar. Here are the three photos that are currently in the lead for the top spot:

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Changes, Renewal, Transformation by Michael
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Summer on the West Coast by Tim
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Yamnuska by Ashleigh

 

 

Get Involved in MDABC’s First Ever Photo Contest Fundraiser!

You don’t need to be a professional photographer to enjoy taking photos of the beautiful things that nature offers us everyday. So, why not grab your camera or phone, take a few shots and submit one or two to our new fundraising photo contest? And then don’t forget to ask  everyone you know to DONATE to VOTE. All donations will go to mental health programs and services offered by the MDABC in BC. And of course, you could win one of three brand new I-pads donated by www.openbox.ca.  Click on the poster below to go directly to the contest page.

MDABC's First Ever Photo Contest Fundraiser

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

The Gifts of Self-Compassion

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By Caer Weber

“I will always be here to support you, whatever your choices are. Above all, I will help you whenever you are in pain. I won’t put you down for it. I won’t make you feel worse than you already feel. I want to help you be yourself and be proud of who you are. Whatever you choose to do is fine by me. If you are happy then I am happy.”

Can you imagine hearing that every day? Can you imagine that was the voice in your head saying that to you all the time? A voice that never criticized you, never called you an “idiot”, never put you down, and never blamed you for mistakes and failure to accomplish things?

Well, it’s possible. Very possible. It’s all part of holding the utmost self-compassion for yourself. So how do we do this? I lead workshops on self-care and self-compassion here at MDABC, and here is a little bit of what I teach participants:

We can hold compassion for ourselves in three ways –  through kind self-talk, like in the above quote, through physical gestures that can give us comfort and, finally, through practicing the best self-care that we can.

So many of us have self-critics in our head; that voice that is always angry, always judging and always critical. It finds fault with what we are doing, have done, or haven’t done. Sigh. It’s so exhausting…

However, it can help to understand that self-critical voice. It is the scared part in all of us. The part that is afraid we won’t measure up in some way, the part that is afraid that we will be rejected by others. When we humans first started out on this planet, we needed that kind of vigilance for survival. We needed constant reminders to be aware of our surroundings, aware of predators. We also found safety and better chances of survival when we were part of a group, a tribe. And to be rejected by that group, to be ousted by the tribe, was the worst possible thing that could happen to us.

We no longer need the tribe for physical survival but we still need others to validate us and accept us as we are. The self-critic’s job is to make sure we behave in such a way to be accepted by others. Unfortunately, the self-critic goes about it all in the wrong way. It undermines us, and makes us feel bad and guilty about our failings. It is trying to protect us but it comes at such a cost. In contrast, a voice of compassion, like the one in the opening quote, can help in a marvelous way. It can support us and encourage us. It can forgive us when we make mistakes and point out that we are simply human. It can be gentle and loving with us, praise us for our accomplishments, and make us feel so good about ourselves.

Possibly the most wonderful gift of all is that when we have that voice of compassion inside us it tends to spread to others. The more compassionate I feel towards myself the more compassion I have for other people too. And that feels so good. Physical gestures are helpful too. Many of us like to be touched and held. Sometimes there is no one to do that – except there is. We, ourselves, can do this. We can hug ourselves, touch our cheek, or put a hand on our heart. When I put my hand there I can feel that “aww” moment. It makes me melt with gentleness and kindness. I still need hugs and physical contact from others but my own touch says, in that moment, “I am here for you. I care about you.”

We can act compassionately towards ourselves by practicing the best self-care possible. I teach people in my workshops that sitting down, thinking and planning our self-care has huge benefits in the long run. And I define self-care as taking care of our needs in the healthiest way possible. Figuring out what we need, what we have, and what we are lacking brings attention to the way we live our lives, and the way we care for ourselves.

A last word on self-compassion: it can help us to have more compassion for ourselves, and for others, when we have the understanding that suffering is a part of life for all living things. I don’t mean that we focus on this in a negative way but in a way that sees and understands that we are not alone in our suffering – though we may be physically alone in the moment. It does help to keep that perspective when we are in deep suffering. And it helps to remember that this is simply a human experience that I’m having and that people all over the world experience this every day. It also helps to remember that everyday people work through their suffering, come to a greater understanding of life, and are able to find joy at the end of that painful tunnel. There is always hope in our suffering, if we can remember it.

Self-compassion is about accepting ourselves in this moment exactly who we are, knowing we are okay the way we are. It doesn’t mean we can’t change some of the things we do, it just means we accept and allow ourselves simply to be – in this moment. I speak from experience – it is a wonderful moment.