mindfulness, a way through depression and anxiety

Anxiety is a disorder of the future.
Depression is a disorder of the past.

Mindfulness brings you into the present {and, plenty of smart science tells us it’s a great treatment for depression and anxiety}.

Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges from paying attention, on purpose and non-judgmentally, to things as they are {instead of how we expect them to be}.

Here’s a roundup of tools and perspectives to calm the jitters of anxiety and lift the veil of depression by using mindfulness.

Be aware.

A wandering mind, autopilot, judging, fixing, unhealthy habits, and multi-tasking are all signs that you’ve lost your connection to the present moment.

Be aware and return to the present. Again. And, again.
Because it will happen … again.

Be grateful.

Genuinely get inside of your gratitude by being specific about what you’re grateful for in the moment.

As I’m writing this, I’m grateful for the smart, engaging, and hilarious Bill Nye video that is teaching my boys about magnetism. I’m grateful because it means I am free to write, while they are learning about something they are interested in. I love listening to them giggling at the crazy antics and signing along to the goofy songs. I’m in awe over how much they pick up from the videos and I am looking forward to how they will proudly tell me everything they’ve learned later today. I feel a deep sense of satisfaction knowing we all get to do what we love – they are feel to learn, I am free to write.

Finding what you are grateful for in the moment drops you right into the present. Being specific about what you are grateful for amps up the appreciative vibes and deepens your commitment to fully being in the now.

Your turn.

Right now, I am grateful for …
I am grateful for this because …

Be responsive.

When you’re fragmented {or triggered} you’re reacting to the present from wounded place in the past or a fearful place in the future.

If you’ve ever found yourself regretting what you’ve said, spilling out hot tears without knowing why, spewing out words you never thought you’d say, distancing or shutting down, feeling ‘insane’ or find yourself circling around a common unhealthy thought like I’m unwanted, I’m unlovable, I’m not good enough, I’m alone you are experiencing fragmentation.

It’s best to work with a therapist to heal the cracks that cause fragmentation because these wounds can mess up life and damage relationships. But, in the meantime, you can work on responding consciously rather than reacting unconsciously.

We can’t change what we can’t change but we can mindfully change our response to every situation.

When you tune into the present and reflect on how you want to respond you create a sweet cushion of thoughtfulness between yourself and the situation.

Be accepting.

Right here, right now, there is nowhere else you need to go, nothing else you need to do, and no one else you need to be.

Work on accepting every single little thing about the present moment.

Be oxygenated.

Breathe into your belly. The big full breaths into your diaphragm send a love note to your nervous system to let it know, in the moment, all is well.

Imagine running away from a sleek black panther chasing you through the jungle. While you are running for your life and swinging like Jane through the vines, you are not breathing into your bellying; you are breathing into your neck and chest all frantic and frenetic.

Your nervous system doesn’t know the difference between the panther, your overwhelming to-do list or your traumatic past. It’s all interpreted as danger in the present. By lean into mindfulness with your belly breathing; suddenly, your nervous system feels safe and soothed.

Victor Frankl, a wise and brave soul who dug psychology said, between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our happiness.

The mindful space between what we are experiencing and ourselves is the sweet spot that Victor is referring to. It is a way through life that can help anxiety melt and depression fade.

8 ways to ways to manage anxiety

Millions of people suffer from anxiety and not nearly enough people get the help they need.

I know.
I was one of them.

I can remember my first experience – ten years old, walking down a road, the world started to spin, and my heart jumped around in my chest. I thought it was normal {even though it was terrifying} so I didn’t tell anyone about it.

As I grew up, panic attacks turned into generalized anxiety. Driving around feeling discombobulated, I knew I should go somewhere or do something to get help but I didn’t know where to go or what to do.

Walking through life with butterflies in my stomach, a fog in my mind and toes always on the edge, I learned to numb out the ever-present anxiety with distractions and addictions.

When workaholism, wine, and ice cream didn’t do the trick, I turned to little white pills.

They helped, but the side effects outweighed the benefits and I decided to wean off the meds and find another way.

I learned that a certain amount of stress is normal, but the level of anxiety I was feeling was not normal. I devoted myself to finding a way to escape the prison of anxiety.

If you are struggling with an anxiety disorder, please make an appointment with your favourite psychologist – these tips are not meant to treat anxiety disorders.

Occasional activation of the anxiety {fight / flight / freeze} response is part of being human; after all, our ancestors needed to be alert to all the dangers when they were living in jungles and caves. But, we’re no longer living with the occasional threat of being chased by a tiger or squeezed by a snake.

Our world is full of chronic stressors that activate the anxiety response – deadlines at work, school shootings on the news, traffic jams, time crunches, a tight economy, outrageous political banter, broken electronics, tragic justice issues, and the constant juggling of too many balls. 

When these danger bulletins flash through our minds we feel stressed, angry, worried, anxious, and afraid.

Our world {and our nervous systems} desperately need us to switch off high alert and find our calm.

Explore these soulful strategies and experiment with what works best for you.

be aware

What does anxiety feel like to you?
What are the sign and symptoms that anxiety has snuck into your world?

When you recognize it, say hello anxiety, I see you there. What do you need?

Tune in, anxiety might have something important to tell you.

be green

People who live in cities are more likely to be haunted by mental illness. If you’re a city dweller, carve out time to bask in the green.

Walk in parks, stare at the trees, get to the mountains, dip your toes in the ocean, float down a river, lay on the grass.

Your brain will reward you with chilled out vibes.

be {anti}social

But, not in the psycho-serial killer kinda way. Instead, take a social media sabbatical.

While social media can be used for the good, it can also causes us to compare, despair, and fear we’re missing out.

By turning off the source you can stop the symptom. 

Be prepared, your social media break may not be easy.  Checking social media gives us a sweet hit of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine. It’s a slippery slope into addiction and it may require a lot of courage to connect in real life and disconnect the digital life. 

be discerning

Avoid news channels that sensationalize fearful stories or use emotional exploitation to hook you.

Reading pixels is less traumatic than watching video. Swap visceral videos for trustworthy text.

If you need to, opt-out of news completely for at least one month to help your nervous system reset.

be relaxed

Find your way into the relaxation response by experimenting with what works for you – yoga, knitting, massage, music, writing, laughter, dance, aromatherapy, hot tubs, meditation, reading, breath work, painting – and do it. Everyday.

be active

Move the stress right out of your body. But, make sure to choose movement you love.

Forcing yourself into strenuous exercise you don’t enjoy will stress you out more.

be nourished

What you put into your body affects your mind.

Put good things in your gut – whole food, clean water, leafy greens, prebiotics, green tea, and dark chocolate have been found to help balance the mind.

be conscious

Dive into your psyche and explore the source of your anxiety.

When did anxiety come into your life?
What does anxiety want you to know?
What are you really anxious about?

Anxiety can be sneaky, it may try to distract you, lie to you, hide from you, or try to control you.

Get support if you need it.
Find your way out.
Be free.

resource

I recently had a conversation with Nicole Moorey about how we can connect with ourselves, others, and nature to live our greatest lives.

You can listen in by heading over here. Expect a steady stream of perspectives, philosophies and practices about how to move through fear, wire your mind for love, learn from nature, disconnect from technology, and turn dreams into reality.

sources

Wondering why I say what I say? In my work I blend strategy and soul. Here’s the science to back it up.

A Meta-Analysis on the Anxiety-Reducing Effects of Acute and Chronic Exercise
Anxiety and Depression Association of America
Nutritional medicine as mainstream in psychiatry
Psychological and immunological correlates of acute overtraining.
Prebiotic intake reduces the waking cortisol response and alters emotional bias in healthy volunteers
Learning to relax: Evaluating four brief interventions for overcoming the negative emotions accompanying math anxiety
Effects of chocolate intake on Perceived Stress; a Controlled Clinical Study
Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Anxiety
The psychological impact of negative TV news bulletins: The catastrophizing of personal worries
Negative psychological effects of watching the news in the television: relaxation or another intervention may be needed to buffer them!
Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation
The benefits of nature experience: Improved affect and cognition
The Human Relation With Nature and Technological Nature
Carpe diem instead of losing your social mind: Beyond digital addiction and why we all suffer from digital overuse
Yoga for anxiety and depression
Clown Doctors as a Treatment for Preoperative Anxiety in Children: A Randomized, Prospective Study
Use of aromatherapy with hospice patients to decrease pain, anxiety, and depression and to promote an increased sense of well-being
A Randomized, Controlled Trial of Meditation for Work Stress, Anxiety and Depressed Mood in Full-Time Workers
Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response
The therapeutic use of the relaxation response in stress-related diseases.
Nutrition Psychiatry: Your Brain on Food

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Posted on Jul 25, 2016 | Posted In: thoughts & musings

what to do with your inner child

Last weekend I had more than the average number of I wish I could redo that parenting moments.

Whether it was one too many cups of matcha or not enough minutes of sleep, my patience went for a walk when I needed her most.

But, even in the teary eyed I-just-want-us-all-to-get-along moments there was also joy.

So much joy.

Like the moment above.
Swinging in the sunbeams, skin to skin, giggling just to giggle.

I generally believe parents do the best they can.

And, no matter how great we are as parents, kids do not escape childhood unscathed.

Our kids will get hurt.
Just like we got hurt.

Trauma is part of growing up – whether from a mama amped up on green tea, a coach who is too attached to being number one, a best friend teasing in a moment of vulnerability, or a burnt out teacher loosing his cool.

When we are little, we are easily fractured and fragmented by little and big things.

Often my clients will discover an early wound and feel confused.

I don’t understand, my childhood wasn’t terrible, this moment isn’t really a big deal.

We are innocent, vulnerable, open-hearted, and open-minded humans when we are tiny. Even the smallest slice of a traumatic moment can leave an impression that lasts a lifetime.

But, it doesn’t have to.

You can parent your inner child through the pain of the past.

It’s not easy work.

The pain is palpable.
But, the power is too.

You can give yourself what you needed then, so you can have what you want now.

Feel lonely now? Bring love to the moments you felt alone then.

Fear rejection now? Bring love to the moments you felt rejected then.

Feel not good enough now? Bring love to the moments you felt not good enough then.

The symptoms reveal the cure.

Whether you were …

… the child that didn’t understand or the child that didn’t feel understood.

… the child whose eyes were never gazed into or the child whose hand was never held.

… the child who never heard I love you or the child who lived in a world of no and don’t.

… the child who came home to no one being home or the child who came home to a full house and still felt alone.

… the child who shattered or the one who didn’t.

… the child who was told she was never enough or the one who was told he was too much.

… the child who felt like he didn’t belong or the one who changed herself so she would.

No matter what your particular brand of trauma was, you can speak lovingly to that small part inside of you that was hurt.

I love and celebrate for who you are, not what you do. I delight in you. I believe in you, I know you have what it takes. You don’t have to feel alone or afraid anymore. I see you, I hear you and you are special to me. I will keep you safe. You are loved and appreciated for all of who you are. You are worthy and deserving of love, care, time, energy, attention, safety, respect, health and happiness. You are loved.

And then, let your actions align with your words.

Don’t abandon your inner child to the desires of others, take a stand for your inner child when you need to, speak to your inner child with patience, be present when your inner child needs you, and make time for your inner child to play.

Great lives are lived when we love all of who we are – the big parts and the little parts.

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Posted on Jul 7, 2016 | Posted In: thoughts & musings

is your ego healthy or unhealthy? here’s how to tell

Ego gets a bad rap.

I’m hearing more and more disparaging chatter about the ego – let go of ego, transcend the ego, fight the ego, destroy the ego, bad ego bad!

We can’t get rid of the ego; it’s as necessary for life as breathe.

The problem is not that we have an ego, it’s that we allow the unhealthy parts of the ego to take over and rule our lives.

We are born without an ego. Being born without an ego allows us to feel oneness with our mamas and allows us to survive during those extremely vulnerable early days.

Over time, we develop a social self {ego}. We develop an ego because we are wired for love – that big mysterious collection of cells in our skulls is an relationship organ.

Ideally, as we grow up we form a healthy secure attachment {bond}. A healthy attachment feels oh so good – like being wrapped up in a safe, secure, warm fuzzy blanket.

If, during our young lives, we develop a secure attachment and we have lots of positive experiences we develop a healthy ego.

A healthy ego allows us to grow up with a loving sense of self, rock solid resiliency, the ability to solve problems creatively, the capacity to develop meaningful relationships, and a sense of meaning.

If, during our young lives, we are slammed into trauma or didn’t get what we needed, our ego can be hurt. If we don’t have the opportunity to heal in a healthy way the wounded ego learns to compensate and protect the painful bits in defensive, reactive, and dysfunctional ways.

An unhealthy ego is like a shield, protecting us from the outside world, but also preventing us from loving ourselves and our lives.

An unhealthy ego will tell you to stick to what’s comfortable, to avoid uncertainty, and to have unrealistic expectations of yourself and others. Unhealthy ego is rooted in fear, anxiety, limiting beliefs, and toxic thinking patterns.

Here’s are a few things an unhealthy ego does,

  • feels not good enough
  • uses anger to control other people
  • uses substances to comfort, avoid, numb, escape or distract from uncomfortable feelings
  • is reactive, dramatic, defensive or easily triggered
  • repeats problematic behaviors that cause suffering
  • fights reality or wishes it away
  • refuses to face fear and challenges
  • believes that happiness only occurs when there’s no emotional pain or fear
  • often feels overwhelmed by emotions
  • expects perfection
  • personalizes what others say and do
  • uses blame, avoidance, criticism or denial to deal with difficult situations
  • feels a sense of entitlement or grandiosity
  • requires a lot of emotional validation and feels angry, anxious or depressed if it’s not available
  • is unable to demonstrate compassion or understanding towards people who hold different opinions or beliefs
  • feels a sense of competition with others
  • feels jealous or judgmental of other people’s success
  • avoids making apologies and taking responsibility
  • needs to be right and feel superior
  • is chameleon-like; changing to fit in or fulfill a role

These are the masks we wear to protect ourselves.
An unhealthy ego may wear some of these masks or all of them.

Before your mind spirals into a pit as you read this list and recognize some of these signs in yourself, or someone your love, let’s wrap you {or them} up in a cocoon of compassion.

I’ve never met anyone with a perfectly healthy ego. Trauma is part of the gig of being human. We can’t escape it, but we can work to heal it.

Now, let’s wander down to the other end of the egoic spectrum and explore the healthy ego.

When we have a healthy ego it’s easier to move through life with a wide-open heart, healthy boundaries and a solid sense of self. A healthy ego is essential for happiness, fulfillment, and resilience.

Here’s how a healthy ego shows up,

  • reflective, responsive, and resourceful
  • thinks in terms of possibilities
  • turns to healthy coping mechanisms during times of stress
  • optimistic and grateful
  • can understand, appreciate, and validate perspectives that are different
  • strong sense of capability and security
  • constantly growing in strength, confidence, and ability to handle triggering situations
  • can tolerate discomfort and regulate emotions
  • curious
  • does not personalize what others say or do; maintains a healthy perspective
  • embraces the imperfections of self, others and life
  • takes ownership of problems; let’s other people be responsible for themselves
  • understands the difference between wants and needs
  • practices acceptance, compassion and cooperation
  • acts with integrity and authenticity
  • can discern between what can be changed and what can’t be
  • has a strong sense of personal power
  • is adaptive and flexible
  • feels worthy and deserving of good things
  • can give and receive love and appreciation
  • is aware of interests, desires, and talents

When our ego is healthy we can navigate challenging moments in life, sit in vulnerability and not be overcome by fear, and develop healthy emotional connections to others.

Healthy ego allows us to genuinely appreciate our strengths, accept our imperfections, and love ourselves unconditionally.

A healthy ego is built on core beliefs that are based in love.
A unhealthy ego is built on core beliefs that are based in fear.

We cannot avoid, escape, destroy or transcend our ego.

We can heal early experiences, change fearful subconscious patterns, and redesign our lives.

Ego is doing its best to help us be whole and healthy humans.
It’s up to us to give ego what it needs in order to do its job in a loving way.

 

Photo : LOVE installation by Alexandr Milov, Burning Man 2015. This sculpture depicts the conflict between the physical bodies of man and woman while their inner children reach out to touch.

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Posted on May 26, 2016 | Posted In: thoughts & musings

9 strategies for surviving the holidays with an open heart

The holiday season can be a mixed bag – joy, laughter, generosity, drama, triggers, conflict.

For some it’s a season to look forward to; for others it’s a season to dread. No matter how you feel about the holiday season there are practices you can engage in to survive the holiday season with an open heart.

burn your to-do list

You know the list that has been running your life for the last month, year, decade? Burn it along with your Yule log. It has no business following you into the holidays, they are stressful enough.

If it’s really important you will remember it.
It will get done.

When the holiday spirit moves you into action, let yourself be moved. Until then, watch the fire burn.

schedule what matters

Over the holidays, schedule days to be completely off – nothing wiggles into your day{s} off except for what opens your heart.

It’s a day to spend time in nature, read the book you’ve been wanting to read, make green smoothies, call someone you want to call, sip herbal tea sweetened with raw honey, feel what you are feeling, write gratitude cards, do some belly breathing, share a meal with a person who opens your heart, go for a run, lay in Savasana.

If you don’t schedule what matters, the holiday stress may swallow you up and spit you out in the New Year.

sleep

Block off time in your schedule for extra sleep so your mind and body can recharge and recover.

When you block it off, schedule it in and make space for it, it’s much easier to stick to it. Putting it in your schedule makes it official and gives you permission to keep your commitment to yourself.

indulge

Indulge in things that nourish your soul – soaking in a bubble bath, creating a rockin’ playlist, throwing paint on a canvas, making snow angels.

When your soul is full, it’s easier to not fill up on things that make you feel gross {one more Nanaimo bar will compliment this bottle of Merlo perfectly!}

return to your roots, with love

When you spend time with family consciously choose to share happy stories, fond memories, and good times. No matter how small or fleeting those things were, they were there.

Often we’re so caught up in the drama we forget the peace.
Pay attention to the peace and it will grow.

Listen to positive songs from your past, reminisce over delightful photos, bring out the childhood book you loved and read it again.

gratitude

Make gratitude a daily practice – cards, text messages, phone calls, flowers, thoughtful gifts you can afford.

Think of all the awesome things in your life.
These things didn’t happen without the love and support of others.
Acknowledge and appreciate the good.
examine expectations

Expectations of how we should be, our family should be, the holidays should be are crazy-making.

When we expect to give the perfect gift, get the perfect gift, cook the perfect turkey, or have the perfect conversation we miss the messy, beautiful, imperfection of life.

It’s the imperfection that makes life real and interesting.
Honor it.
slooooooow down and tune in

You have a reliable internal guidance system. How is your body feeling when you say yes to making 6 dozen squares, hosting a 30-person dinner party and providing gifts for everyone? Are you light and energized? Are you heavy and exhausted?

Say yes to what you want to say yes to.
Say no to what you want to say no to.
Invite the people you want to invite.
Bake what you want to bake.
 
If you don’t want to buy presents, try giving the gift of your presence instead.
hire a pro

Holidays can be a rough time — emotions run high, triggers are flying, people are crying, drama is soaring.

You may be able to manage it and you may not.

If you can’t manage it on your own there are professionals who can help you. Reach out to your favorite psychologist or local distress center. You are not alone.

For better or for worse, the holidays only come once a year.
Follow your heart, do what matters, remember to love.

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