Tag Archives: gratitude

Mindfulness Meditation

 

Fantastic article that highlights the benefits of mindfulness meditation:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2017/01/26/mindfulness-meditation-may-help-treat-anxiety-disorders/#79a4a16c111d

Mindfulness Meditation May Help Treat Anxiety Disorders

I cover health, medicine, psychology and neuroscience.

Our understanding of the ways in which meditation works in the body and brain is becoming more and more nuanced with every study that comes out. Not only does a meditation practice seem to change the structure of the brain in certain ways, but it also seems to affect the way it functions. One way researchers can track this is by measuring the levels of neurotransmitters, hormones and biomarkers. A new study finds that eight weeks of meditation can significantly alter the stress response in people with generalized anxiety disorder, and this is evident in the levels of stress hormones and inflammatory markers.

The study will be published in the journal Psychiatry Research.

The researchers recruited for the study 89 people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). According to the NIMH, over 10 million people will be affected by GAD within a given year; nearly 20 million will have it at some point in their lifetimes.

The team randomly assigned the participants to an eight-week MBSR program or to a Stress Management Education course. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical School by Jon Kabat-Zinn. It’s generally an eight-week program, with weekly meetings, and instructions for home practice. (Mindfulness teaches one to be more in the present moment, and to pay attention to one’s thoughts with curiosity, and nonjudgmentally.) A lot of previous research on meditation has compared a group doing the practice to a control or wait-list group, rather than to a group undergoing another active treatment. So, since there’s probably some placebo effect at play in that kind of study, the researchers wanted to reduce this possibility in the current study and get closer to a randomized clinical trial.

To test the participants’ stress responses before and after the intervention, the team had the them do an old lab standard, the Trier Social Stress Test, where a person has to give a little lecture in front of a panel of researchers and then do some mental math. The participants’ blood is drawn to take measurements of stress hormones, in this case cortisol and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), and inflammatory proteins (IL-6 and TNF-α).

At the end of the eight-week period in which participants took their respective courses, those in the MBSR group had significantly reduced levels of ACTH, IL-6 and TNF-α (cortisol reduction didn’t differ significantly between the groups). Those in the education course, however, had increased in these measures slightly, perhaps from having to be subjected to a second episode of the stress test, where they knew what was coming.

“Mindfulness meditation training is a relatively inexpensive and low-stigma treatment approach, and these findings strengthen the case that it can improve resilience to stress,” said lead author Elizabeth A. Hoge, who’s studied the connection between MBSR and anxiety reduction in the past.

Plenty of previous research has found that meditation can reduce both physiological stress—measured by brain activity, structure and stress hormones—and people’s perceived reaction to stress. For example, a study from Harvard in 2009 found that after an eight-week course of MBSR people had significant reduction in volume in the amygdala, the part of the brain that governs stress. And these reductions were correlated to the subjective feeling that one’s stress levels were lower. A meta-analysis from Johns Hopkins in 2013 found that meditation was linked to significantly reduced anxiety (and depression and insomnia). Other studies have linked meditation to reduced levels of stress hormones and inflammatory proteins, so it’s very likely that this new study is accurate, even though it’s fairly small.

Given how unpleasant life with an anxiety disorder can be, it’s probably not a bad idea to try MBSR, or another form of meditation. (It’s generally best to do it under the instruction of a meditation teacher or mental health professional.) The research so far shows that it has some significant benefits, on several levels, and might be used as an alternative or addition to other types of treatment. But more research will be needed to suss out all the circumstances in which it’s most effective.

Intrusive Thoughts

 

We have all on occasion experienced an involuntary disturbing thought or violent image which leaves us upset and confused — these are called “intrusive thoughts.” Aaron Harvey, who battled these on his own for over 20 years, has launched an intrusive thoughts website to help people with OCD. According to the website, as many as four out of five people experience such thoughts. However, for some, the repetitive nature of these troubling thoughts may be a symptom of certain forms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Many try to ignore these thoughts and push them out of their head, but that can make them even worse and more frequent. Attempting to repress the thoughts instead of addressing them can lead to heightened anxiety and depression, questioning of one’s character and abilities, creating isolating behavior. Often, those who are tormented by intrusive thoughts are too embarrassed or ashamed to share them or seek help. Intrusivethoughts.org delivers, through a stylish website, carefully curated facts and statistics, videos, information on different types of OCD symptoms and personal stories. It also elaborates on treatment through counseling, yoga, mindfulness and healthy eating techniques. Here, Aaron Harvey seeks to fill the void for an online community forum, which will help educate and provide support and treatment.

Aaron Harvey, a creative marketing entrepreneur, wrestled with these thoughts for over 20 years before being diagnosed. He began having intrusive thoughts when he was 13. “I started to have a lot of graphic violent images in my head that I couldn’t understand. It produced a lot of anxiety and led to panic attacks and constantly questioning my character,” he told Refinery 29. “Any time I would try to escape them, they would get more violent and more graphic.” This vicious cycle is common of many types of OCD. As it says on the website, “for 1 in 50 the fear becomes much harder to dismiss… These thoughts repeat over and over, faster and faster, making the fear we might act more real.”

Aaron Harvey credits the essay “Pure OCD: a rude awakening” by Rose Bretécher with finally providing him with some relief and hope. His suicidal thoughts and anxiety had become unbearable, leading him to search for help online. After wading through immense amounts of psychological studies and treatments, Bretécher’s article published in The Guardian was a breath of fresh air. It addressing the issue head on and with humor, “She forever changed, if not saved, my life,” Harvey told Market Wired.

Harvey saw the need for more approachable information on the disorder, and founded the not-for-profit Intrusive Thoughts, Inc. which launched the website as an “educational hub.” The site is essentially built to appeal to his younger self. “My goal is to capture me when I was 13 and I started to experience this,” he described to Refinery 29, “so that next 13-year-old doesn’t have to spend the next 20 years figuring out what the hell is going on and thinking that they’re a bad person.”

There was a clear opportunity to use my professional skills to create a resource with a youthful look and tone of voice that also humanized the experience of living with intrusive thoughts, promoted a holistic treatment plan and elevated conversations about mental health in the media,” Harvey said, commenting on the approachable and smart design of the website.

This important tool will provide relief to the many who suffer, and help them feel part of a greater community. Harvey hopes to create similar websites for all mental illnesses in the future.

Images: OscarKeyes/Unsplash, ChristopherSardegna/Unsplash, JayWennington/Unsplash, JenelleBall/Unsplash

Non-Judgement

Dealing with the discomfort of anxiety is a daily struggle. Sometimes it can feel like you are in control and other times it can feel completely unmanageable. When anxiety surfaces getting up to even carryout essential activities can be extremely challenging such as bathing, eating and sleeping. Anxiety feeds off of the fear of its victims, and wants to be noticed. It will try extremely hard to gain recognition making each thought worse then the next until it can hijack the spotlight.

How to practice non-judgment?

In conjunction to practicing being mindful and an observer of your thoughts, adding non-judgment to the equation can help a lot with diffusing anxiety. For example,

Anxiety provoking thought – “I am 40 and am still single, I will never meet anyone and will die alone”

If we look at this thought as just a thought, with no emotional response we now have shifted the paradigm to that of an observer. As an observer it is clear that there is a lot of personal judgment happening here, being hard on ones self and jumping to extremes of a bleak and lonely future. Instead of allowing the thought to consume you, try and welcome its presence maybe even if possible try and not judge the thought “I am aware of the presence of the thoughts, and do not have any opinion good/bad” or “Its okay that I had this thought, it does not mean anything”.

It can seem discouraging when anxiety seems to settle down for a bit and suddenly rears its ugly head again. The key is to not identify with the thoughts, no matter how extreme and fear provoking they become. By practicing non-judgment anxiety can no longer get your attention. Try and also remember that it is okay to have a day where you are not able to control your anxiety do not judge yourself or feel discouraged. It takes a lot of courage to not judge our fears and stressors.

Here are some great diffusion techniques that can really help:

http://www.dbtselfhelp.com/Defusing_Exercises

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Art Therapy

World of Psychology

3 Art Therapy Techniques to Deal with Anxiety

Art therapy can be valuable in navigating anxiety. It can become another healthy tool in our collection whether your anxiety is occasional or chronic. One big benefit of art therapy is its ability to calm the nervous system: When we’re focused on creating, our attention shifts away from worrisome ruminations.

“When our attention has shifted, our nervous system can begin to regulate. And we can have more access to the rest of our brains, thoughts, emotions, empathy and compassion,” said Doreen Meister, MA, MFT, a mindfulness-based, expressive art and depth psychotherapist in Oakland, Calif. This lets us process more difficult experiences, she said.

Art therapy also lets us express ourselves nonverbally, which helps us move away from our thoughts to see a visual expression of a situation, Meister said. This “can provide more distance from the situation; it can be containing and allow for a different perspective.”

Plus, “the simple act of creative expression connects us with an inner sense of vitality,” which can be invigorating, she said.

Below, Meister shared three activities from art therapy to help us explore our anxiety and access calm.

Anxiety Expressing Itself

This is one of Meister’s favorite techniques because it combines paying mindful attention to your body while drawing intuitively. She suggested doing this exercise when you’re feeling anxious.

First, gather the following: blank paper of any size; drawing materials (Meister likes to use oil pastels); tape; and any favorite materials. Tape the paper to your surface. Close your eyes. Check in with yourself, and notice how anxiety feels in your body. Notice where in your body you feel anxiety and how you know it is anxiety.

Next, open your eyes, and pick a color pastel (or whatever drawing utensils you’re using). Close your eyes again and draw a continuous squiggle without lifting the utensil from the paper. Do this “as if anxiety is expressing itself on the page. Stop when the movement [or] expression feels complete,” Meister said.

If your mind tends toward judgment or control, use your non-dominant hand. Now look at the squiggle you made. Turn the paper from side to side until you see an image emerge. “It might not make sense [but] try not to think too much about it.”

Using other colors or materials, develop the image. Then free-write for five minutes. You might write about the process of drawing your anxiety or the image. Or you might ask the image these questions: “What do you want me to know? Why are you here?”

According to Meister, anxiety often acts as our protector, so your responses might be: “I’m keeping you safe;” “I’m keeping you safe from difficult feelings;” “I’m making sure you do the right thing;” “I’m making sure you don’t end up on the streets;” “I’m making sure you won’t get hurt.”

A Collage of Calm and Safety

This exercise is about “creating a visual reminder of a safe place,” Meister said. “It’s helpful to soothe fear and vigilance.”

Gather blank paper, magazines, old photos, markers and a glue stick. Take several deep breaths. “Let yourself take a trip down memory lane, remembering any times that you felt ease, safe or pleasant.” This might be a location or with a person. If you can’t recall a memory, “imagine a location or person that would be relaxing and pleasant.”

Begin looking through your magazines. Cut out images that capture your attention and remind you of the memory or feeling of ease or pleasure. “Try to let the images choose you rather than seeking out the ‘right’ image,” Meister said.

That is, pick images that you’re drawn to even if they don’t make sense or fit in with what you’re thinking. Maybe you have “an inner feeling of like or attraction.” Maybe you linger longer on this image, whereas you move on quickly with others.

Once you have a collection of images, arrange them to create an overall image or metaphor, which speaks to what it’s like to feel safe or at ease.

After you’re done, you can use the image as a reminder of safety and serenity. “See if you can imagine yourself in that safe or pleasant place and what it feels like in your body; evoke all your senses to really embody the feeling.”

What Anxiety Looks Like

For this exercise use any materials or art-making techniques you like. You might paint or draw your responses. Or you might create a collage. Meister suggested considering these questions:

  • If anxiety had a body [and] personality, how would it look? How would it talk? What would it say? What does it care about?
  • What does your body [or] life look like under the grip of anxiety? How would it look if anxiety was no longer present?

It can sometimes seem like anxiety is the ultimate enemy. It just feels so uncomfortable, maybe even terrifying. Plus, it might prevent us from doing things we really want to do. Art therapy can help us get curious about our anxiety and better understand its motives. It can help us access calm, reminding us that ease is actually within us.

I also recommend the Color me calm books!

Color Me Calm: 100 Coloring Templates for Meditation and Relaxation

by Lacy Mucklow, Angela Porter (Illustrator)

Tips for Anxiety…

A great article by the Huffington Post about Anxiety Tips!

People with anxiety disorders often face a sense of worry or dread and spend hours ruminating over worst case scenarios, which can get in the way of professional goals, personal relationships and a good quality of life. But there are ways to cope.

Here, experts offer their best techniques to work through situations that might drum up anxiety, which may help you or someone you know keep worry or fear at bay:

1. Put your worrisome thoughts on a schedule.

If you are going about your day and notice anxious thoughts, identify the thought stream and then postpone thinking about it until later, Ricks Warren, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, told The Huffington Post. Warren calls this technique “worry postponement” or a “worry scheduling” skill, which can be very effective.

For example, you might be at a movie and find yourself becoming anxious about an upcoming work presentation. To postpone and schedule, pause and metaphorically put that whole worry on a shelf. Say to yourself, “I’m not at work right now. I will think about this tomorrow at the office.”

Later on, when it is time to consider what was making you feel anxious, you might consider discussing the issue with someone you trust.

MONICA RODRIGUEZ VIA GETTY IMAGES

2. Develop a “catastrophe scale.”

Draw a line on a piece of paper. Write the number zero at the beginning of the line, 50 in the middle and 100 at the end. This is what Warren calls a “catastrophe scale.” Then ask yourself, “What are the worst possible things that could happen?” Write those things down on the side with the highest values.

“When you think about a child dying, or a terrible accident, it helps people put things in perspective,” Warren said. “Not everything gets a 100.”

Being late for a job interview or a blunder at a party are unfortunate events. But, as Warren hopes you’ll come to believe, they’re not scenarios you should be terribly hard on yourself about in the scheme of things.

The goal for the rating system is that you eventually break down what you’d need to do in order to cope with it. This could be rallying a supportive group of friends, making a phone call or simply working out to reduce your stress and let it go.

3. Break big projects into small tasks.

Worry and anxiety can find their way into the workplace, showing up in the form of procrastination, says Keith Humphreys, professor of psychiatry at Stanford University.

“[People with anxiety] often want to show up on time, wanting to complete the work. Anxiety is what paralyzes them,” Humphreys told HuffPost.

Humphreys suggests breaking down overwhelming projects into the smallest possible task.

Small goals are effective for those dealing with social anxiety as well. If going to a party feels overwhelming, don’t worry about becoming the life of the party. Just set one small goal such as greeting the host, or talking to one person you do not know.

SHANNON FAGAN VIA GETTY IMAGES

4. Prove your anxiety wrong.

Research from the University of California, Los Angeles’ Anxiety and Depression Research Center found that when people with anxiety expose themselves to their anxiety trigger, it actually helps them cope better. By showing yourself that the worst didn’t happen, you’ll minimize the fear you experience.

For example, say you are afraid of riding the subway and your worst fear is that you’ll get stuck for ages without help. Head underground with your worst fears in tow. After you ride the subway, without getting stuck, you successfully disprove your worst hypothesis. This can be an empowering exercise, Warren says.

5. Force your body into a state of calm.

Your body already has a built-in stress reliever, it’s just a matter of tapping into it.

“Focus on your breathing, put your feet flat on the floor. Smile even if you don’t feel like smiling,” Humphreys advised. “Tense your muscles then let them go, then tense them again and repeat. Relax your body and a lot of people will find your emotions will follow.”

ASCENT/PKS MEDIA INC. VIA GETTY IMAGES

6. Cultivate acceptance about your anxiety.

According to Warren, there’s a big difference between accepting your anxiety and accepting yourself as someone who experiences anxiety.

“People put themselves down for being anxious,” he explained. “Accept yourself with anxiety and notice that you’re not alone.”

And it’s true: An anxiety disorder is the most common mental health condition in the country, with nearly 40 million American adults experiencing it over their lifetime. It’s critical to cultivate self compassion about your condition.

“Support yourself with anxiety, just as if a friend was there supporting you,” Warren said.

7. Remember that anxiety disorders are highly treatable.

“If it’s serious and you’re paralyzed with anxiety everyday, there are mental health treatments that really work,” Humphreys said.

And if you are not experiencing this condition, but know someone who is, try to be as empathetic as possible to what he or she is going through. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 25 percent of people with a mental health disorder feel like others are understanding about their experience.

Above all, it’s important to remember that you deserve to feel calm and healthy. Despite what your anxious thoughts might lead you to believe, the stakes are a lot lower than you think.

“We would worry a lot less what other people thought of us if we knew how rarely they did,” Humphreys said.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/7-tips-to-actually-manage-anxiety-on-a-regular-basis_us_5862b420e4b0de3a08f640e8?ir=Canada&

Gratitude Journal

A wonderful idea from Intelligent Change:

https://www.intelligentchange.com/blogs/news/the-ultimate-guide-to-keeping-a-gratitude-journal

Imagine how it would feel starting every day in a positive mood, energized, ready to take on the world. Instead of mentally replaying all your life’s problems and pulling the covers over your head, you chose to take control of your mind and focus on the good.

Day by day you appreciate life more and find yourself feeling happier. Stop rolling your eyes. It is not that crazy of a concept. Today, we will show you how using a gratitude journal.
If you ever considered keeping a gratitude journal or currently keep one, we’ve compiled the Ultimate Gratitude Journal Guide based upon our years of research, from thousands of customers, from our very own gratitude journal, The Five Minute Journal.

What exactly is a Gratitude Journal?

On a very basic level, gratitude journaling involves writing about things for which you are grateful.

grateful jessica

On a deeper level, gratitude journaling helps unwire any negative patterns you may have. By keeping a journal, you develop a practice that keeps you accountable to getting the results you want while developing appreciation and enjoying happier days.

How CBT impacted me…

Cognitive behavioral therapy is structured around the idea that our thoughts influence our feelings and behavior. The idea being that if we can change our  reaction to the thoughts we can in turn change our behavior. Over time something that used to be triggering no longer is, and something that usually would become trigger no longer has the same hold on an individual.

When my anxiety got really bad, I started searching the web for answers on how to cope with anxiety provoking thoughts. I ended up finding lots of information on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I started to look for a CBT trained therapist and ended up finding one who uses CBT and Mindfulness. The process was not easy at all, but definitely worth it.  I was able through working hard and being guided by my therapist to challenge my thoughts and ultimately change my perspective.

For example, the idea that I was inadequate would before evoke a response of “I feel inadequate so it must be true” after cognitive behavioral therapy the response changed to “ I accept the presence of this thought, and I know it is just a thought”. The most gratifying experience of cognitive behavioral therapy is when I was able to recognize that I not only had a pattern of negative and self-consuming thoughts, but I had thousands of thoughts. When I was able to observe the other thoughts, I then was able to push the self-consuming thoughts in the same backdrop. I had no response to them, they were just the same as the thousands of other thoughts I had. I started to view my thoughts differently, and was able to watch them come and go with no judgment and no attachment.

I also learned that my thoughts were not connected to the core of who I am as a person. And that the “What if…” is not something that can ever be answered no matter how long and how much time I spent ruminating about the thoughts.

I still have moments of anxiety, but I now have the tools and resources to tackle it much more effectively. My anxiety is no longer crippling, and I am able to live a much more healthier and fulfilling life.

“You are not your mind.”
– Eckhart Tolle