Self-Talk: A Powerful Self-Help Tool

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Each day tens of thousands of thoughts stream through our brain. Some of them deliberate, some automatic, and many completely random. However, many of the thoughts we have act as a running dialogue, which we call self-talk. When this self-talk contains negative of self-deprecating messages, it can have a big impact on how we feel about ourselves. For example, if our self-talk is telling us “I’m not good enough” or “I’m incapable”, it can result in self-doubt and leave us feeling depressed, anxious, and defeated. These messages often can start to play on repeat and get stronger the more that we say them, a process called rumination. Our brain may also seek out information in our current or past experiences that provide evidence to support.

So, what can we do to reduce the impact of negative self-talk?  The good news is there isdont_believe_everything_you_think_1 plenty we can do to intervene with the negative messages we are relaying to ourselves.  One of the most powerful way to do this is to re-shape and replace our self-talk through a process called thought restructuring.

Steps for Shifting Self-Talk:

  • The first step in the process is to recognize our negative self-talk in the first place. Often our negative self-talk happens quite automatically, so it can be helpful to pay attention to the dialogue running through our mind. Journaling our thoughts is a powerful way of doing this.
  • Next, we want to take those thoughts we identified and start to dispute ones that are not fair, balanced or realistic. We often assume our thoughts are facts. However, if we dig a bit into the evidence that is supporting them, we sometimes find that we are basing the thought on limited or skewed evidence.
  • Finally, we want to replace our initial thought with a more positive, self-compassionate, or realistic thought. This can be a completely new thought or a reframe our initial thought. Our initial thoughts that “I’m not good enough” and “I’m incapable” could now look like “I am good enough” and “I have many ways that I am capable”.

These new thoughts may seem strange or have limited buy-in at first. But often the more we practice restructuring our thoughts, the more it allows us to experience shifts in our patterns of thinking and feeling. These shifts can ultimately lead to meaningful changes in our perceptions and experiences over time!

By Rose Record Lemon, Counsellor at the Counselling and Wellness Centre at MDABC

http://www.mdabc.net/counselling-and-wellness-centre-mdabc 

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

 How to be a Compassionate Friend (to yourself!)

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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

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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

Laughter Yoga, Very good, very good, yay!

laughter-yogaLaughter yoga.  An oxymoron, I thought, when I had first heard these two words out loud.  A few years ago, as I was still re-building my self-care regime from scratch, I was willing to grasp at anything that would assist me in finding new ways to care for myself, which included maintaining a good balance in my life through emotional, physical, spiritual, and environmental ways. Laughter yoga literally fell into my lap one day as I was perusing my local Community Centre Guide. “Why not?”,  I thought to myself.  So I joined. I showed up expecting a traditional yoga class, so I was decked out in my “gym clothes” with my yoga mat under one arm.

Traditional, though, is not what I experienced.  For the one full hour of class we laughed, joked, made funny eye contact, and allowed ourselves to genuinely embrace silliness.  We moved through guided laughter yoga poses, which ended in shouting jubilantly “very good, very good, yay!”  Close to the end of the hour, we joined together at the end to thank each other for sharing our laughter and vulnerability with one another. Gosh, I was amazed at how relaxed, thankful, and cared for I felt!

If you’re keen to learn more, Jeannie Magenta’s website is a great place to start as is The Laughter Yoga University website.

Have fun and don’t forget to laugh!

By Anisa M.

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

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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

Try this Wellness Journalling Writing Prompt and Discover the Power of Now

Writing workshop exercise: “Write about what you really want right now. Prose. You have two minutes. Go.”

Below is the beautifully written response to this prompt from  Toronto-based writer Wendy Sinclair.

wendy's poem

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

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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

 

When was the last time you really cried?

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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