The miracle is not to fly in the air, or to walk on the water, but to walk on the earth.

~Chinese Proverb~

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The Online Self Improvement and Self Help Encyclopedia

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Our senses are indeed our doors and windows on this world, in a very real sense the key to the unlocking of meaning and the wellspring of creativity.

~ Jean Houston ~

life one step at a time . . .

There are very few human beings who
receive the truth, complete and staggering,
by instant illumination.  Most of them acquire
it fragment by fragment, on a small scale,
by successive developments, cellularly,
like a laborious mosaic.

~Anaïs Nin~

Short Winter Days and Holidays: Six Ways to Sidestep SAD

December 14, 2014

As the Christmas Carol goes, “It’s that time of year when the world falls in love,” but it is also the time of year when daylight savings time is over, daylight hours are shorter, and many people suffer from SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Our body’s circadian rhythm, or its 24 hour internal clock, is by nature in sync with the natural world. When our external clocks are adjusted for daylight savings time - forward or back - it throws our internal clock a space-time curve ball that it may have trouble catching up with. Plus, in many areas of the world winter days are short, limiting our contact with circadian rhythm-regulating sunlight.

When our natural bio-rhythms are off so is our production and release of hormones, and this can affect our energy level, sleep patterns, and mood. Some people will notice symptoms of SAD including irritability, fatigue, feeling “heavy,” sleeping too much, emotional hypersensitivity, appetite changes and weight gain.

Six Ways To Sidestep or Minimize SAD

The best defense against SAD is a good offense, so do the following to ward off SAD, or to keep symptoms at a minimum.

  1. Nutrient Rich Diet, Supplements. Eat a variety of protein foods, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables—plenty of dark-green leafy veggies. Make sure you consume essential fatty acids by eating healthy oils (e.g., olive, coconut), fatty fish (e.g., salmon), nuts and seeds. If you think your diet may be lacking, consult a doctor or qualified herbalist about taking supplements.
  2. Stay Active. Regular exercise benefits everyone, but anything you do that gets your body moving can lift your mood. This includes housework, gardening, dancing, taking the stairs instead of an elevator, and making the bed.
  3. Relax Regularly. Whether it is Tai chi, controlled breathing, listening to relaxing music, organizing a closet, or soaking in the tub, we all need to give our body and mind a break from routine stress. Whatever activity relaxes you will do.This includes engaging in personal interests that stimulate your natural enthusiasm or curiosity.
  4. Enjoy the Sunshine. Take every opportunity to soak up some sunshine. If your sun exposure is very limited, you might consider artificial light stimulation designed to counter symptoms of SAD.
  5. Stay Socially Active. Sometimes to feel better we need to do what we may not feel like doing, such as socialize. Make plans to spend time with friends or family at least once or twice each week.
  6. If Necessary, Get Help. If you are taking care of yourself and still struggling with a depressed mood, irritability, or other symptoms of SAD consider seeing a mental health professional. When someone listens to you with your best interests in mind, positive things can happen. We all need help sometimes.

The holiday season can exacerbate symptoms of clinical depression for some people, too. These six suggestions can also reduce major depression symptoms, or maybe keep them from worsening.

You can also read this at PsyWeb.

Depression, Anxiety, and Overthinking

September 17, 2014

Overthinking is examining and reexamining negative emotions, thoughts, and memories. Both men and women can fall into a pattern of overthinking, although women tend to do it more often.

While standard worrywarts fret about the future, overthinkers circle their negative mental wagons around past occurrences, become preoccupied with them, and may stop moving forward.

The Slippery Slope of Overthinking

According to psychologist Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, Ph.D., the way our human brain is organized makes overthinking an easy habit to fall into. Our memories and thoughts form an intricate web of associations so one idea or remembrance that gets triggered stirs others that are similar.

If we slip into an anxious, stressed, or depressed mood, thoughts that resonate with our mood are aroused. A cascade of mental activity that is mood-compatible is released, and we may end up ruminating about things that have nothing to do with the event that set-off our mood. For instance, we might find ourself dwelling on why our boy or girlfriend broke up with us after getting a poor grade on an exam.

Our amazing neurological network is a blessing that allows us to think creatively, but feels like a curse when it is stuck in negativity. Once our mind starts spinning around negative emotions and memories, it is difficult to stop. The more we engage this type of thinking the more habitual it becomes.

Depression, Anxiety, and Overthinking

Not only does overthinking become a pattern with practice, but the thoughts tend to get darker over time. Negative thoughts about a specific experience can generalize or expand to color other areas of our life, causing us to scrutinize still more troublesome memories—amplifying the negativity.

The amplification of negativity leaves us distressed about the past, troubled about the present, and fearful, or fatalistic about our tomorrows. A mind overwhelmed with these thoughts is naturally going to despair, or panic, or both. It is easy to see how overthinking can lead to, or worsens, depression and anxiety.

Overthinking often encompasses our relationships, body-image, family issues, career, and finances. It can also center on recent events such as an argument with a co-worker or friend. The things we ruminate about may be real problems that beg for solutions, but overthinking has never solved anything.

Help for Overthinking

Thinking and contemplation are both worthy endeavors, but using them beyond the purpose they serve is counter productive, and we get bogged down.

Overthinking is often a process of:

  1. Looking for answers that can only be gotten through action (e.g., talking to someone, checking the facts).
  2. Looking for answers that may never be available or satisfactory (e.g., “Why wasn’t my love enough for him/her?”).

So, the remedy for much of our overthinking is either effective problem-solving, for which we need a clear mind, or acceptance of the past and letting go.

If you catch yourself overthinking, try distracting your mind by engaging in another activity such as watching a movie, calling someone, reading, or playing a video game. It is also helpful to practice meditation—learn to watch your overheated thoughts come and go as an objective observer would. Acquiring this skill makes it easier to disengage from thought.

Many people who have a habit of overthinking need the aid of a counselor to become aware of their thought patterns and begin changing them. Our thoughts are so enmeshed with our emotions it can be difficult to release engrained thought-habits without assistance.

Nolen-Hoeksema, Susan, Women Who Think Too Much, Holt, 2004.

You can also read this article at PsyWeb.

How Music Therapy Relieves Depression

August 4, 2014

We do not hear much about music therapy for depression, although studies showing it effectively relieves depressive symptoms have been done.

Music therapy involves a trained music therapist engaging in improvisational music-making with a client. It seems that the “active doing” of playing musical instruments is healing for aesthetic, physical, and relational reasons.

Aesthetic Engagement

In psychotherapy, the therapist listens to the client’s words and responds verbally. A music therapist listens to the musical sounds made by the client and responds to them musically. It is a conversation in sound and rhythm that may lead to insight and some verbal discussion.

This aesthetic dynamic engages clients at an instinctive level and supports them in taking risks—expressing themselves differently. For instance, the therapist might validate a client’s tentative melody fragment by creating a bass line under it. This may encourage the client to risk developing the melody further.

Physical Response

To facilitate connection and self exploration, music therapy requires purposeful physical movement. It is known that physical activity helps relieve depression, but the therapeutic value of music and movement goes even deeper.

An experience of being drawn in by music, and responding to it with movement, connects us to our physical nature. Even unmotivated people can find themselves tapping a finger or foot to a snappy tune. Music entrains and enlivens us. Moving to it is a natural human phenomenon.

Making music also allows us to experience our physical self with other physical selves. The coordinated motions between two or more music makers creates a meaningful physical encounter in the present moment, and establishes community.

Relational Vocabulary

It is possible we are hard-wired to communicate musically in order to establish community. Think about the earliest interactions between parents and newborns. The combination of gestures and sounds typically used is a musical vocabulary connecting adult and child. An absence of this musical parent-baby speech has a negative developmental impact on children.

In this relational sense, a musical therapist can be viewed in a parental role, nurturing the client’s self discovery and self expression through musical vocabulary—cultivating the experience of pleasure and meaning. However, it is the music itself - melodies, rhythms, and harmonies - that engages people where words might fail.

You can also read this at PsyWeb.

Source: BJPsych

How Our Words and Feelings Influence Each Other

July 6, 2014

Maybe you have noticed that many positively charged words contain the “i” sound (e.g., like, high), while many negatively charged words have an “o” sound (e.g. lonely, low).

Some scientists noticed this is true in many languages, and wondered why. Their research shows that the way our mouth forms vowels as we speak influences our feelings, and our feelings influence our word choices.

So, the link between what we say and how we feel is not just psychological, it is physical as well. Findings such as this are not only interesting, they remind us how integrated our mind-body experience is.

Mouth Muscles and Mood

We each have a major mouth muscle called the zygomaticus. We use this muscle when laughing or smiling. Or, if you hold a pen between your teeth, so each end of the pen is pointing toward an ear, you are exercising your zygomaticus.

The zygomaticus muscle is also used to pronounce the vowel sound “i”.

We have another major mouth muscle called the orbicularis. We use this muscle when we purse our lips. Or, if you hold one end of a pen between your lips, as you would a cigar, you are exercising your orbicularis.

The orbicularis is also used to pronounce the vowel sound “o”.

In the research:

  1. Study subjects influenced to be in a positive mood were asked to make up ten words and say them aloud. They made up words containing significantly more “i” sounds than “o” sounds. Participants influenced to be in a negative mood were asked to make up ten words and say them aloud. They made up words containing many more “o” sounds than “i” sounds.
  2. Study participants exercising their zygomaticus (“i”) muscle by holding a pen between their teeth found a series of cartoons to be more humorous than the participants holding a pen between their lips, stimulating the orbicularis (“o”) muscle.

Words and Feelings

The investigators concluded that as people learn language, forming “i” sounds becomes associated with good feelings that prompt us to use more “i” sounding words. The “o” sound becomes associated with negative feelings and words.

This phenomenon is true in many languages because it is owed to the way humans use their facial muscles as they articulate words. The link between forming vowels, and our emotion and word choices is cross-cultural.

Everyday, and everywhere, the words we use reflect our feelings, and our feelings influence the words we choose. Our individual physical and emotional expressions are intimately connected, and this mind-body unity is universal.

You can also read this article at PsyWeb.

Source: Science Daily

Non-Military Triggers of PTSD

June 18, 2014

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be triggered by various traumatic experiences, but the symptoms are most often recognized in individuals suffering military related trauma.

This is not surprising since military experience and PTSD are frequently linked in TV shows, films, and the news media, and much PTSD research today involves traumatized veterans.

While veterans deserve excellent assessment and treatment for PTSD, the equating of PTSD with military service has been associated with less recognition of the same symptoms when caused by other types of trauma.

“The implications are that many people who develop PTSD following non-military combat traumas - particularly rape - are less likely to have it recognized by those around them, and are also less likely to seek help for their difficulties,” said researcher Dr. Ian Tharp.

Non-Military Related PTSD

Non-military causes of PTSD are more common when you consider the wider population. Symptoms can arise from experiences such as natural disasters, physical or sexual assault, traffic accidents, or industrial accidents. A number of people develop symptoms after spending time in hospital ICUs (intensive care units).

Dr. Tharp points out that the likelihood of having PTSD symptoms is greater after these types of events than after military combat. Yet, without increased awareness of this in communities, non-military PTSD symptoms may be ignored by those who have them and overlooked by family or friends.

So, familiarize yourself with the signs of PTSD and take them seriously no matter what event triggered their development. A person’s symptom intensity and need for help is not determined by the type of trauma gone through.

The Signs of PTSD

If you, or someone you know, persistently experiences some of these symptoms a mental health assessment is recommended.

  • recurring/involuntary/intrusive memories, traumatic nightmares, flashbacks of the trauma, intense/prolonged distress after exposure to traumatic reminders, intense reaction after exposure to a trauma-related stimulus.
  • persistent, effortful avoidance of trauma related thoughts/feelings, or of external reminders of the trauma (e.g., place, objects).
  • amnesia (not owed to injury) around features the trauma, continuous negative expectations/beliefs about the self, persistent trauma-related negative emotions (e.g., anger, guilt, fear)
  • loss of interest in pleasurable activities, feelings of alienation or detachment from others, difficulty expressing positive emotions.
  • irritable/aggressive behavior, self-destructive/reckless behavior, hyper-vigilance, heightened startle response, trouble concentrating, problems sleeping.

Source: Science Daily

You can also read the article at Brain Physics

Why Depressed People Can Often Manage Practicing Yoga

May 6, 2014

There are many scientific reasons why yoga is good exercise choice for people with depression.

Practicing yoga helps us become mindful of the present, reduces stress, and helps balance the body’s hormones. Research suggests yoga increases the release of our feel-good neurotransmitters (e.g., serotonin, GABA, dopamine), and promotes neurological growth.

However, some of the most compelling reasons for doing yoga—from a depressed person’s point of view—are not scientific or noble. They involve the compatibility of yoga with people who feel lethargic, sad, and unmotivated.

Six Reasons Depressed People Can Manage Yoga

  1. Some yoga poses require strength, but many of them are more about relaxing into a stretch, such as doing a seated forward bend. Relaxing into something does not require much energy or motivation. It actually feels a bit as if you are giving up struggle or letting-go which can be a relief if you are depressed.
  2. Going to a yoga class gets you out of the house and around others—something people with depression are often recommended to do. However, you can also do yoga alone, at home. There are YouTube and other free online videos that teach yoga basics if you do not wish to purchase yoga books or DVDs.
  3. If feeling tired or lethargic, you can scatter yoga poses throughout the day instead of going through a series of them. If you are depressed, the thought of practicing a yoga series or routine may be overwhelming, whereas doing one pose every couple hours is doable. Plus, many yoga postures can be done sitting on a chair, or lying down.
  4. When people are depressed they do not always feel like moving. With yoga, you can stay in one pose as long as you like. Some of the postures are comfortable to maintain for several minutes or more—so you can exercise and not move simultaneously.
  5. Yoga postures can be adjusted to suit anyone’s fitness level. You do each pose the best you can and without straining your muscles or joints. Gently does it. However, if you are out of shape or have medical issues, talk to your doctor before starting any type of exercise.
  6. When you are feeling better, you can easily increase your yoga practice to suit a higher energy level. If depressive symptoms recur, it is just as easy to scale the practice back.

Yoga not only keeps the body flexible, but the practice itself is flexible enough to suit anyone, even those struggling with depression. A few poses each day can relax your muscles, quiet the mind, and help you feel connected to your body and yourself.

You can also read it HERE.

The Tragedy of Hiding Individual and Societal Shame

March 31, 2014

The hiding of human emotion is common in modern culture. We become so good at it that we end up hiding our emotions not just from others, but from ourself. We pay a high price for this coverup, individually and as a society.

“Emotions are like breathing—they cause trouble only when obstructed,” says Thomas Scheff, sociology professor at UC Santa Barbara.

In a recently published paper, Scheff examines the emotion shame. In our society that reveres individualism, Scheff finds that shame is the most obstructed emotion. Because it is the most hidden, it is also the most destructive.

Hidden vs. Helpful Shame

This does not mean all shame is bad. If you have ever done or said something hurtful, and then experienced an inner jolt of shame, that is your internal sense of morality or compassion reigning in your behavior. Paying attention to our natural shame reactions helps us cultivate good relationships.

The shame that withers our soul comes from the mouths of others. If we hear, “Shame on you,” often enough, we forget shame is about questionable behavior and begin to think of our self as being shameful. We may react to this shame by fearing to assert ourself, or by becoming aggressive.

Professor Scheff points out that hidden shame, which is prevalent in our culture right now, may be responsible for both individual and societal acts of aggression. There is research supporting the idea that behind violent behavior lies hidden feelings of humiliation.

Societal Shame and Aggression

“Especially for leaders, both shame and anger are carefully hidden behind a veil of rationality,” writes Scheff. For instance, Scheff suggests the U.S. invasion into Iraq after 9/11 may be owed to the Bush administration’s hidden sense of helplessness and shame over the terrorist attack.

People in modern societies learn to be “civic respectable” and hide their anger and shame. Yet, most of us experience both emotions. If they are not expressed effectively, they will be expressed ineffectively or to our detriment.

Resolving Hidden Shame

Shame is epidemic in our society, yet those who feel shame usually feel alone. Know that, except for a few rare individuals, everyone in the modern world—consciously or unconsciously—has issues with shame.

When asked how to resolve hidden shame, Professor Scheff had some excellent advice, use laughter:

“That is, laugh at yourself or at the universe or at your circumstances, but not at other people. Most of the laughing we do in comedy is good. No matter the actors, we are really laughing at our own selves that we see in their foolishness.”

If your sense of shame is deeply ingrained and beyond the effects of laughter, seek out someone you can talk to. You need to express your feelings and have the experience of being accepted as you are.

Source: Science Daily

You can also read the article HERE

Why Self-Compassion Is A Wise and Practical Choice

February 26, 2014

Compassionate action arises when we understand that beneath our different circumstances and appearances lies an essential oneness, a shared human experience.

Though we know this oneness includes our self, many of us have an easier time extending compassion to strangers than to the person reflected in our bathroom mirror. However, by not showing self-compassion we exclude ourself from the human race.

Self-compassion means:

  • Relating to the self with concern and kindness.
  • We see that flaws, failures, and pain are part of the human condition, and that the person we call “I” shares in the human condition.
  • Admitting that we are one of those “other people” who deserve appreciation and respect.

The Power of Warmth

In cold climates, ice often builds up on the sidewalk. Frequently, before trying to remove the ice, people sprinkle salt on it so it begins to melt. This makes breaking the ice up and shoveling it away much easier.

Any problem we may have, such as depression or anxiety, can seem to be a thick, slippery buildup of ice. We may chop away at it with self-criticism until we feel exhausted, or we can soften the ice by treating ourself kindly.

Self-compassion is a gentle warmth that loosens the icy grip of self-condemnation. It is not just a lofty spiritual ideal, but part of the human heart’s practical, healing wisdom.

So, it seems choosing the compassionate way would be a no-brainer, but for many of us it is a tough decision.

Tough Self-Love

What is tough about self-compassion?

  • It takes courage to let go of the habitual self-critical thoughts we have identified with for much of our lives.
  • It takes daring to embrace self-nurturing thoughts that seem foreign and maybe even foolish.
  • It takes determination because you must prove the benefits of self-compassion to yourself (words such as these prove nothing, but may encourage the effort to apply self-compassion and see how it works).

Fortunately, we do not have to embrace self-compassion all at once; the human condition is built into the process. We experiment, succeed one moment, fail the next, doubt, lose hope, get fed-up with our situation, re-contemplate compassion, and try again.

Yet, trying does not mean engaging in a series of grand gestures—compassion is effective when gestures are small.

Three Ways To Build A Self-Compassion Habit

You do not have to feel compassionate to act compassionate. All acts of self-kindness, felt or not, will disrupt established patterns of self-critical thought.

  1. Instead of reacting to self-criticism by refusing to be self-critical or pushing the thoughts away, simply notice the feeling or feelings that come with the criticism. Being aware of how you feel—without trying to escape the feeling—is an act of self-compassion.
  2. Once or twice during the day, lay a gentle hand over your heart (as you would rest a compassionate hand on the shoulder of a friend). Simultaneously send yourself a kind thought such as, “You’re human, I get it. I’m on my side.”
  3. When realizing that you have indulged in some hearty self-criticism give yourself a lighthearted pep talk such as, “Whoa, there I go again, being hard on myself - not helpful.”

You can also read the article HERE.

Meditating on Compassion Builds a Happy Brain

September 27, 2013

When you roll a genetic scientist and monk into one human being, you end up with Matthieu Ricard, a very happy individual with a passion for the perks of meditation.

He wants others to understand that meditation alters the brain just as weight-lifting changes muscle, and that anyone who trains his or her brain can be happy.

The Proof Is in the Brain Pudding

The proof is in Ricard’s own brain. When scientist Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin wired Ricard’s skull with 256 sensors, the scientist discovered something astonishing. Scans revealed that as Ricard meditated on compassion, his brain produced gamma wave levels “never reported before in the neuroscience literature,” said Davidson.

Ricard’s brain also showed intense activity in the left prefrontal cortex, but not in right side, indicating minimal negative thought activity and a hefty capacity for the experience of happiness.

“It’s a wonderful area of research because it shows that meditation is not just blissing out under a mango tree, but it completely changes your brain and therefore changes what you are,” says Ricard.

What’s Great About Gamma Waves?

Of all our brain waves, gammas have the smallest amplitude and the fastest frequency. Neuroscientists believe gamma waves connect information coming from all areas of the brain and are associated with high levels of mental clarity and focus. We all have gamma brainwave activity, but the amount varies. Low gamma activity has been linked to memory and learning problems.

Benefits of Cultivating Gamma Waves

  • Better memory; vivid and rapid recall
  • Heightened sensory perception
  • Increased ability to focus and assimilate whole scenarios
  • The brain processes more information more quickly
  • Happier, calmer disposition

Focusing On Feelings of Compassion

Other studies have validated that meditators, especially when focusing on feelings of compassion, produce gobs of gamma waves while meditating. The left prefrontal cortex activity increases, enhancing self-control, compassion and happiness. Activity in the amygdala, the brain’s fight or flight hub, decreases.

Ricard does not consider living well and showing compassion to be a religious law, but rather a very practical means of happiness. “Try sincerely to check, to investigate,” says Ricard. “That’s what Buddhism has been trying to unravel – the mechanism of happiness and suffering. It is a science of the mind.”

Starting Small

We can all create a habit of meditating by starting small. A minute or two of meditation with a focus on compassion just before rising in the morning, and another minute upon retiring can be the beginning of a powerful practice of gamma wave happiness.

Or, read the article HERE

Sources: thebuddhism.net; omharmonics

Solid, Liquid, Gas: Water Can Teach Us Thought Management

September 3, 2013

We know that water can be a solid, liquid or gas. That makes water an excellent metaphor or illustration for thoughts, which can also be a solid, liquid or gas.

What we feel has much to do with how we think. Knowing the difference between “types” of thoughts can help us manage our depression, anxiety or other mental illness.

Solid Thoughts . . .

Our thoughts become solid when we believe them. Believing a thought makes it a part of our mindset, and our mindset affects our emotions and our body. These solid thoughts provide a framework for our lives, a self-image, so we must choose them wisely.

For instance, if you believe the thought that you are powerless, that thought becomes one of a cluster of thoughts that you call “me.” When you think of “me” or “I,” it will include powerlessness because your belief has made that a reality. Solid ideas create our self-image. If our self-image is peppered with thoughts such as, “I am powerless,” our self-image will contribute to a depressed or anxious mood.

How to Manage Them

Some psychotherapies address the solid thoughts that create a problematic self-image. For instance, cognitive or psycho-dynamic therapies help individuals identify beliefs that have been held for so long they seem like facts. Once we know our negative-effect beliefs, we can melt them with our awareness and choose more effective ones to hold on to.

Liquid Thoughts . . .

Thought has often been compared to a river. The river of thought contains all possible thoughts. This rush of ideas is available to an open and curious mind, an intention to learn or create. As thoughts flow, they help us do work by turning the wheels in our mind. “Liquid” ideas are free to collide and make interesting connections. They inspire and sometimes enlighten us.

How to Use Them

The river of thought is not positive or negative, but work done there will reflect the heart and intentions of the person using it. If we take any of the river’s thoughts and hang on to them tightly, they lose energy and become a solid. This is not necessarily bad. Ice has its uses. However, we need to be aware of how we use thought so that we are not trapped within it.

Gas Thoughts . . .

When we stop working with thoughts and observe them, they become clouds scudding across the sky. If the mind is exceptionally still, thought is as invisible as humidity in the air. Observing without making judgments (thinking) is being mindful.

How to Free Them

When we are mindful, thoughts are wispy things that carry no personal baggage or emotional weight. They are no longer about us. We experience that being, or being alive, does not depend on thinking. If we know moments of mental stillness, it becomes apparent that the drama of our daily thoughts is not life nor who we are.

When we again engage our thoughts, they lose some of their gaseous vibrancy and we find ourselves back in the river of thought, thinking, inventing, collecting, comparing, measuring, making our living and sharing our ideas with others.

Or, read it HERE

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