Sunday, 20 October 2019

Acceptance does not mean approval!

Image result for accept does not mean approvalWe have discussed what it means to accept something - to accept something means to acknowledge that it 'is what it is'. It does not necessarily involve LIKING what is happening...and I think this is where many of us struggle.

For example, imagine a tough day: you are late for work, you got into an argument with a friend or loved one, you spilled coffee on your shirt...oh, man. What a day! To top it all of, you are stuck in traffic on your way home, and you remember that you have an assignment due tomorrow. Or an overdue bill. And burst. This. is. too. much.

You feel tired, angry, frustrated, and 'up to your limit'. You feel the tension and fatigue in your muscles, the strain in your neck and back, and the ache in your heart. You have every feeling to just scream. Or cry. Or both. Actually - you don't even know WHAT you need. You just feel...awful.

The hardest thing to do in these times is to just...accept. Yup, you heard me. Accept that it is what it is. You might not be able to change what is happening in your life now. You might not be able to control the circumstances, people, events, etc. What CAN you control? You can control how you deal with the situation. You might not APPROVE of what is happening. But you can ACCEPT it. You can accept that what is happening now, to be blunt, sucks. And you can notice, observe, and accept that you feel terrible, irritated, sad, lonely, etc.

Image result for common humanity self compassionDoes that mean you are happy with what is going on? Does it mean that feeling this way is easy and that it will pass immediately? Definitely NOT! The difficult moments, emotions, and thoughts may very well continue for a while. And this is something you cannot necessarily change. So, instead of fighting it, instead of asking 'why', instead of blaming yourself for your emotions - just accept them. 

You will start to notice that the less you judge yourself for having tough/sad/frustrated feelings and thoughts, the faster they pass. This is because you allow yourself to be HUMAN - to feel things. To go through the waves of ups and downs in life - which we all experience. This is the principle of 'common humanity' - see this site for more information on this (by the way, Kristen Neff's work on self-compassion is WONDERFUL! We will talk about this in future posts).

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What is the take-away? Emotions and thoughts - even when they are very uncomfortable, terrifying, and hurtful - will pass. In these times, don't try to push them away. Don't judge yourself. Don't think too much about it. Instead, let things be. You don't have to approve of how you feel. You don't have to approve (or believe) your thoughts at the time, especially if they are of despair, hopelessness, etc. But you CAN accept them. You can let them play their role, and pass, like a train on a track. A cloud in the sky. Are these metaphors overused? Possibly. But it is only when you TRULY practice these principles of acceptance that you can grasp just how powerful this is.

The more you practice non-judgmental acceptance of what you are going through, the easier it will be for you to recuperate, to overcome the challenges in life, and to make a plan to face whatever it is you are dealing with.

Image result for acceptance quotesRepeat to yourself: I might not like what is happening. I might hate the fact that I cannot control this, and that I feel awful, uncomfortable, worried, scared....etc. But it is what it is. Rather than trying to deny my emotions, to resist my emotions, or to struggle with them, I will let them be. I will honor that I am having a tough moment now, but I also know that it will pass. Everyone experiences moments like this - I am not alone in this. It will pass - I have 100% record of all my previous days and moments passing.

This, too, shall pass. I may not approve or like what is happening, but I can accept it.

Saturday, 21 September 2019

What happens if I turn back to a habit I've been trying to break?

We have talked a lot about how to break habits that have been annoying or bothering us in our daily lives. Now, let's say that you have done an outstanding job of breaking a habit. You are exhausted and anxious, but you did it! happens.

What does that mean? You get stressed. You hear bad news. You are simply having a tough day and the last thing you want to do is continue fighting your battles. The 'easy' option is to fall back into the habit that was routine, that brought you comfort. This could be anything from using substances, to eating too much/too little, to neglecting to do your work, to isolating yourself, to not taking care of yourself or others, etc.

But then deep inside, you KNOW that this is not what you want. You don't want to go 'back' into using the habit that - although was momentarily helpful - brought you long-term pain, distress, and consequences. But right now, you are tired and every inch of you can't fight. You simply don't have the strength or peace of mind to challenge yourself. And before you know it, you have 'went back' into your old habit (that you tried so hard to break before).

Image result for you have shoes in your feetWhat now? You might feel relieved short-term, but after a while, you will be angry at yourself. You might feel guilty, or blame yourself for 'giving up' or 'messing up'. You might even think that you 'broke your record or streak' and that you are a failure. You might feel hopeless that you will never change.

Well, I'm here to tell you that these thoughts are NOT TRUE! We all have moments when we are tired of fighting, when things are 'too much'. And during these times, the last thing you need is to be telling yourself negative statements about your worth or ability to succeed. Instead, although this is extremely hard in the moment - you ought to practice compassion for yourself.

Yes, you might not be able to pat yourself on the back for going back to your 'bad' habits. But you CAN acknowledge that today was a tough day. And you were stressed, so you inevitably went back to your old ways of doing things. BUT this does not mean you are a failure. It doesn't mean you need to 'start all over', nor does it mean you are weak. Instead, take it as a chance to learn something and grow. What triggered you? What were you thinking or feeling at that time? Instead of using an old habit to cope, what could you have done instead? How can you make a 'safety plan' for the future to avoid this from happening again?

Image result for you can learn new habitsRemember this in times of 'relapses' or 'slips'. You are not defined by these moments. You are defined by your strength, your worth, and your uniqueness. One tough moment, or one break into your old ways of coping, is not a sign that you 'need to start all over again'. It is a lesson to be learned. It is an opportunity for growth. Learn, and move on. Continue to look into the future, and keep making progress. It is in these times when you will truly learn your strength. You can destroy what destroys you. You can do hard things. You can learn new ways of seeing, thinking, and doing. You are not your habits or thoughts. You are YOU, and I believe in YOU.

'No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it'. (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Saturday, 24 August 2019

If you're in need of some strength today....

Related imageMy faith plays a major role in my life. God's love for us is truly never-ending. The Bible is a wonderful place to turn to when you feel down or need encouragement. Even if you are not Christian, I can assure you that these verses will make you feel at peace and comforted.

The Bible is FULL of amazing things....but I can only type so many here. For now, let's start's with some of my favourites.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5)

-how beautiful is this? When you are feeling like you don't know what's going on in your life...TRUST. Let go and realize that God - who knows all and sees all - has your back. He will never leave you. Don't hurt your head or heart wondering...just leave it to Him.

Image result for you can do hard things“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, shall guide your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ” (Philippians 4:6-7)

-WOW! Don't worry about anything - just give it to the Lord. He will not leave you in a phase of uncertainty. His peace is all we need. All you have to do is ASK Him to take over, to give you guidance and comfort - and He will do just that.

“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6)

-this verse is amazing! It reminds us that God has a plan for us, even when we don't see it or understand why things are happening the way they are. Remember that you have a God who holds you in His hands. One day, it will make sense.

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13)

Image result for give it to god-if you needed some strength it is! We often rely on our own strength, and we fail to realize that God alone can do ALL things. It is He who can truly overcome anything, and this is why we ought to reach out to Him. Don't depend on yourself - give it to Him, and watch His glory work in your life.

..And there are SO many more wonderful verses in the Bible that I will be sharing over the next few posts. Even if you are not religious, having these verses on your mind helps you feel comfortable and at peace. Know that you are NOT alone. Know that you will get through this struggle, this challenging time, and this difficult situation. I pray that you find peace, strength, joy, and perseverance in these verses...always remember that when life knocks you down on your knees, you are in the perfect position to pray!

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Self-care - an important part of life!

Related imageI used to laugh when I heard people saying that self care is important. I mean, sure, taking care of ourselves sounded important. But society makes it sound like self-care requires you to get a manicure, plan a vacation, buy expensive products, eat meals out, etc.

And to be honest, this sounded EXHAUSTING. Think about it: you get home from work after a long day. Do you have the energy to go to the gym? Maybe not. Do you have the money at this moment to purchase a spa package every weekend? Maybe not. Those were my thoughts exactly. So, was I a failure at self-care? Was there something wrong with me?

After speaking with a few role models, mentors, and close loved ones, I began to learn something critical: self-care doesn't have to be expensive or time-consuming. Self-care can mean simply taking the time to close your eyes and be thankful for the day passing in peace. Self-care can mean soaking your feet in water after a long day at work. Self-care can mean turning your phone off and chatting with a loved one or friend for 15 minutes, rather than checking emails.

Another thing that I learned is how important self-care really is. When I get caught up in work and life - as I'm sure we all do - the last thing on my mind is self-care. I focus on what I need to get done, and I plan on how I will do it. But soon enough, this led to burning out. I felt tired. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. I didn't feel the 'spark' that I once felt about work, studying, relationships, myself, and life. It was only when I started to FORCE myself to engage in self-care did I realize how necessary it was.
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At first, I did not want to stop working at night - there was simply too much to do, and I would fall behind if I took a break. But the only way out of this messiness was to slow down. So, I scheduled in 'me time'. I forced myself, each week, to set a self-care goal. One week, it was turning my computer off from work 10 minutes early so that I could play a puzzle. The other week, it was coming home from work and writing about my feelings and my day. Another time, it was planning one fun thing to do with my family during the weekend.

Of course, this was very much forced at the beginning. I did not like feeling that I was 'wasting time' not working. But after forcing myself to do it for a few months, I realized that if I did not take time 'out' to do these things, I would have been miserable - at work, at home, and within my soul. Starting to take time for myself, away from the hustle and bustle of life, allowed me to rejuvenate. It helped me see that while life was busy and crazy, I could only fulfill my responsibilities, goals, and dreams if I took care of myself first.

Image result for self care tipsAnd to different people, self-care means different things. Think of strategies that serve you, things that brighten up your mood, strengthen your body, fuel your spark, and engage you. It does not have to be timely, expensive, or effortful. Whatever you choose to do to take care of yourself, simply ensure that you do it. And don't expect it to come easy at first. Yes, you may have to force yourself to do some self-care at the start. And maybe some days, you won't feel like taking a break because life will be too busy. But if you stick with it, if you insist within yourself that you will take the time 'out' to nagged in self-care, you will soon reap the benefits. You will feel stronger, brighter, and happier - physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.

Think of it this way - would you tell your friend to work all-day, everyday, without resting? Would you allow your car to go without cleaning, filling up on gas, fixing the tires, etc? Would you allow your pet to run around all day without eating, playing, getting a bath and haircut, etc? Likely not. Sometimes, when self-care is too hard or life is too busy - or I simply feel 'icky and don't want to do it', I remind myself that if I am not feeling my best, I cannot do the rest.

Life is tough, but so are you. 

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Thursday, 20 June 2019

Breaking Habits Part Eight - Radical Acceptance

Image result for radical acceptance quotesWelcome to part eight of our series on breaking habits. If you've missed the previous parts of this series, or need a refresher, it'll be a good idea to review what we've talked about in terms of how to get started in making changes in your life, how to persevere through challenging moments, and tolerating distress associated with these situations. The first post can be found here, and you can continue to read the following posts.

Today, we are going to discuss the concept of 'radical acceptance'. What does acceptance mean? To accept something means to 'take it as it is', and to realize that you might not be able to change things. For example, when we accept our loved ones as they are, we recognize that although we might not like everything about them, although there are things we wish we could change about them, we love them regardless.

What role does acceptance play in our lives when trying to break habits, or make changes in our ways of acting and thinking? Think of a challenging time in your life where you were forced to deal with something distressing or frustrating. For example, let's imagine that your boss has given you a tight deadline for a work project, and you don't think you can get it done on time. You spend hours crying and over-thinking: 'how can I get this done? This is impossible. I will get intro trouble. I won't succeed. I'll be a failure. I won't get the promotion...' and so forth.

Image result for radical acceptance quotesLook back at that last paragraph and notice how feeling frustrated about the situation led to a spiral of thoughts. Not only are you sad and worried about not making the deadline, but now you are also doubting your abilities, and feeling low about your self-worth and value. This is common - in times of distress, our thoughts often spiral from one negative thought to another. 

Rather than this, let's consider what would happen if we ACCEPTED the situation. You have a tight deadline - AND IT IS WHAT IT IS. You feel frustrated, scared, and angry because you don't think you can get it done. But, rather than going down the road of self-doubt and anger, you think 'well, this is unfortunate. I feel scared that I cannot get this project done on time, and really, it is a short time period. It feels impossible. And I don't like the way I am feeling now. But all I can do is accept this situation right now, and do the next right thing. That means getting started on the project, and hoping that I finish it on time. I can only do my best, because I cannot change the situation. Rather than doubting my abilities and calling myself negative names, I will get to work. This feeling and time will pass, so I might as well make the most of it'.

Of course, like any skill, this sounds a lot easier (and pleasant!) than it really is. Practicing acceptance is extremely hard. You have to identify the situation, realize that it is out of your control, feel the challenging and distressing feelings you may have, and continue to practice self-compassion. Acceptance, however, is very freeing. Once you realize that you cannot control the situation, and you refuse to enter into the battle of self-destructive thoughts and behaviours, you can use your wise-mind to do the next right thing. Life will pass by anyways - so you may as well allow it to pass with acceptance and joy, rather than distress and agony.

Image result for radical acceptance quotesThe beauty of acceptance is that once you tell yourself 'it is what it is', you can truly free yourself of shame, guilt, and anger. You can acknowledge your feelings, and move on with what you need to do next. Personally, when I encounter a situation that forces me to accept it, I repeat to myself 'it is what it is. Feel the emotion, deal with the emotions/thoughts, and heal myself of this. I may not like what I am going through right now, and I certainly don't like how this is making me feel. But this is okay. I am okay. This will pass. What can I do now? What would help in this moment?'
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I encourage you to try practicing radical acceptance for a situation you encounter today. Perhaps you are faced with stressors at work, or maybe you are trying to break free from an addiction. Maybe you are ailing from a physical condition, or perhaps money is tight and you are struggling to make ends meet. Whatever the situation is - try accepting it. It is what it is. Acknowledge your feelings, and recognize that you alone have the power to silence the negative thoughts and stop any associated harmful behaviours. You can choose to do the next right thing in this moment. You can - and will - get through this. Practicing acceptance is often the first and most-freeing step in doing hard things!

Monday, 20 May 2019

Breaking Habits Part Seven - Be a Scientist and Experiment!

Image result for negative automatic thoughtsContinuing in our discussion on how to break habits. We've covered quite a few topics - please take a look at the past posts for more goodies on how to break our habits!

Today, I'd like to discuss a critical part of breaking habits, one that often scares many of us. The idea of actually breaking habits - whether that be physical behaviours or mental/emotional thoughts - is that we have to DO/THINK THE OPPOSITE. This post talks a bit about how to start changing our thinking and actions.

In short, need to learn new ways of thinking, feeling, and doing. And this, as we all know, is hard work. This post will review one way to go about doing this - I challenge you to become a scientist and conduct an experiment.

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What does this mean? I want you to think about a behaviour you are doing. Of course, if it did not serve a purpose in your life, you would not be doing it. But at the same time, this behaviour or action might cause you distress, fear, anger, or frustration. For example, let's say you have a habit of drinking alcohol when you are stressed. At the time, this is soothing to you because it calms you down. But deep down, you are frustrated with yourself because you know that alcohol is not good for your health, you know that you spend too much money on it, you dislike how it makes you feel and act afterwards, etc. You want to STOP drinking alcohol, but you are scared to even try to decrease your drinking because you are scared of what will happen if you do. Perhaps you are worried that without alcohol, you will not be able to cope with your emotions or stress. Or you fear that you will end up feeling MORE miserable without it, that you will not be able to socialize with others, etc.

To be a scientist means that you need to challenge yourself on that thought/worry. Which, as scary as it sounds, means you need to do what are you afraid of. WHY, you may ask? Well, the only way to see what will happen is to actually stop the habit, or do the opposite. So, for example, if you are scared that if you skip a drink tonight, you will be miserable tomorrow, try it out. Skip the drink today. And see what happens tomorrow. Are you miserable? You may find that you aren't! And - important to remember here - is that you might actually still be miserable. But check-in with yourself: are you really as miserable as you thought you would be? Is it intolerable? 

Image result for feel the fear and do it anyway quotesAnd don't forget this - you just proved to yourself that you are NOT stuck in the habit. You DID IT - you were able to break a habit, even if just for a day. Or ten minutes. So, you proved to yourself that 1) You can do hard things; 2) You can change if you want to and if you try; 3) The worst outcome is not going to happen; and/or 4) If the worst DOES happen, it is not as bad as you thought it would be OR you are able to cope with the distress/challenges that arise.

This is definitely easier said than done. Being a scientist and conducting this mini-experiment is stressful, uncomfortable, and produces anxiety. But really, the only other alternative is to stay the same, and stuck in these habits. To change means you need to challenge yourself. You need to break the cycle by engaging in opposite actions, by conducting an experiment, and by proving to yourself that you can do hard things.

Image result for feel the fear and do it anyway quotesIt is hard. But you can do it. Choose one habit. Challenge it today. Break the cycle. Do the opposite. Expect anxiety and discomfort, but do it anyways. And then, feel proud of yourself for what you accomplished. Know that for every opposite action you take, and for every habit that you break (even if for a few minutes!), you are showing  brain and yourself that you can change. You can - and you will - get through this!

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Breaking Habits Part Six: Talking to Yourself!

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We previously discussed coping statements that we can use to help get us through difficult times. The way we talk to ourselves is incredibly important. Our brains internalize what we say - and think. This is how habits in thinking and behaviour are created. Our neurons form connections - 'neurons that fire together, wire together. 

From one perspective, this is why the more negative things you say to yourself or about yourself, the more you believe them. And the harder it is to think differently. BUT, the opposite is true: if you consistently say positive things to yourself, you will internalize them.

It is critical to remember that you might not necessarily 'believe' what you are saying. For example, we know that in tough times, it will pass. No feeling lasts forever. But in the moment, this certainly doesn't feel true! In times of distress, pain, sadness, etc., it feels like it will always be this way. There is no ONE way to fix this. I have learned, in my own experience, that fighting the negative emotions or thoughts DOES NOT work. If I constantly tell myself, 'I should not feel this way. I cannot feel sad. I cannot be angry. This is wrong', and so forth, I will only get MORE frustrated.

Instead, what if we allow ourselves to feel our feelings, and then practice some positive coping tools or say affirmations? For example - let's say you are feeling anxious about an upcoming deadline. You are tense, and your bopdy is tired. You are irritable, and you just want to cry or scream. If you tell yourself that feeling this way is wrong, you will likely only feel worse. But what if you....

Image result for you have power over your mind1) Acknowledge the feeling: I feel anxious now. I AM NOT my anxiety. This is a feeling. And this feeling is bringing up thoughts that I am going to fail, that things will turn out bad, etc.

2) Focus on your values: I value health and happiness. In ten years, will this situation matter? Will I remember how anxious I was now and be thankful for it? What am I missing out on in this moment by remaining anxious and frustrated?

3) Do something else - and say and think something else: I am able to deal with this. It is OKAY to FEEL anxious. But I don't need to act or react to my feelings or thoughts. I know that they will pass, even though I feel awful right now. Instead, I know that practicing gratitude at this time, tolerating the discomfort, and doing something kind to myself will allow me to cope with this.

Image result for self compassion quotes....And soon enough, the feelings will dissipate. The thoughts and feelings might not completely disappear - but they WILL pass and wane over time if you choose to rewire your brain. Over time, your brain will respond to this by making new connections. Sure, it feels terrible and weird to do this during tough times, especially since it is much easier to just feel anxious and NOT challenge the thoughts or choose to do otherwise. But remember: rewiring your brain takes time. It is uncomfortable. But it is so possible. And incredibly worth it.

You can do hard things. Trust that this temporary discomfort, anxious, and pain will pass if you acknowledge it, accept it, and use positive statements instead. Your brain will learn new patterns. You will heal. You will make it through. YOU GOT THIS!