Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Distress Tolerance - Not Easy, But Powerful!

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Distress. What does that word mean to you? We may feel distressed when we are overwhelmed, sad, angry, or frustrated. This can be caused by external events, but we can also feel distressed from our emotions or thoughts.

When we are distressed, we find it extremely difficult to think clearly, relax, or calm down. Our thoughts may be racing, and our bodies may get tense. But unfortunately, distress is inevitable. We will all have to deal with distress at some time in our lives.

What is important to realize is that we cannot avoid distress. In fact, trying to do so or denying it will just make us feel worse. What we CAN do is try to learn how to cope with it. This is called 'distress tolerance'. 

This link has a lot of good information on how we can learn to handle distress. One very useful strategy is to remember the ACCEPT acronym. When faced with a difficult emotion, thought, or event, some helpful things to do are to try to engage in activities that you like. Although this is hard to do when you feel down, it can help you get your mind off the situation.

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Something else to try is to push away the thoughts and try to talk yourself into understanding WHY you are distressed - and whether or not your response is 'appropriate' and helpful. For example, you may feel frustrated and angry that you scored poorly on an exam, that you argued with your friend, etc. This may make you feel bad about yourself. You may begin to criticize yourself, feel hopeless, or turn to ineffective coping skills (this can be substances, self-harm, spending excessive money, eating too much/too little, yelling, isolating yourself, etc). Instead of doing this, stop and think: how will using these 'coping skills' help or harm you and the situation? If you use the substance, you may feel temporarily better, but this will not last long. And, you will likely feel guilty afterwards as well. Crying and yelling can help release emotions - and can be normal responses; however, after releasing the emotion, you ought to deep breath, and realize that you can handle this. You have done it before, and you WILL survive.

Image result for distress tolerance quotesDealing with distress is, ironically, distressing. It is not fun or easy to sit through negative emotions, thoughts, or temptations - and actively try to resist them or cope with them. Doing so takes a lot of practice. Being mindful that when we are frustrated and emotional, it is difficult to think clearly is helpful. When we feel distressed and try to tolerate it, we will feel highly uncomfortable. Because trying to handle distress is hard work! However, over time, it does become slightly easier. We each find strategies that work for us. 

Image result for weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morningKeep on practicing how to handle distress - it cultivates inner peace, resilience, and strength. It can help you persevere through challenging times, break ineffective coping activities, and learn to be kind to yourself. Remember: every difficult circumstance, emotion or thought you have will not last forever. You WILL get through this. You alone can choose to use strategies to get through these moments. It will be hard, but you CAN.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Loneliness and Health

Image result for ask for support quotesThere is an innate need for us, as humans, to interact with others. Feeling like we are loved, cared for, and supported is essential. We want - and need- to feel that we belong,

An  article I recently read tries to describe some reasons for why being lonely makes us feel worse. In simple words, feeling lonely induces a 'stress response' in our bodies. Hormones, like cortisol, get released. Cortisol is also known as the 'stress hormone'. It is important for many functions, like lowering inflammation. However, high levels of cortisol are harmful because it weakens our immunity. The theory is this: loneliness activates cortisol release, which dampens our immune response, makes us susceptible to illness, and affects our mood. Put it together, and you have an individual who is not feeling well physically, mentally, or emotionally.

Think about what happens when you feel 'lonely'. You likely feel isolated and alone. You want to feel as though someone is there to listen to you, comfort you, or simply be present. We are social beings. Having someone who cares for us is critical. This is especially important when we are faced with troubles, but we need to feel that we belong even when we are not in distress.  

Related imageOne thing to take away from this is that it is okay to ask others for support. It is normal and healthy to want to have 'alone time' sometimes, but when you are feeling down and need comfort, do not be ashamed or reluctant to ask a loved one to be there with you. They might not solve your problems or remove your pain, but feeling surrounded by love and support can empower you and make you feel safe. 

Remember: you are worthy and deserving of love, respect, and support. Whatever you are going through, you are not alone - and you don't need to be. Find someone who you know genuinely wants and is willing to support you, and take comfort in knowing that this feeling of belonging, of having someone around you, is normal and healthy. Your body, mind, and soul will thank you for it.

P.S. Also remember that God is always there, even if you cannot find a physical being with you! God is watching you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. He will NEVER leave you in isolation or despair, so do not hesitate to call on Him - He is literally a prayer away! Whenever I feel that no one understands or is around to help me, I turn to God. I know that He will always understand what I am going through, and His peace is unlike any other! Turn to the Bible for words of comfort, and ask God in prayer to fill you with peace, love, calmness, and strength. His love never fails!

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Thursday, 11 January 2018

Setting Intentions

Image result for you can always try againHappy New Year! I hope 2018 has been manageable for you thus far!

If you have been following this blog over the years, you will know that I am not big on 'resolutions' for the New Year. Not because I do not think setting goals is important, or because I think we should not strive to do better in the new year. However, my issue with resolutions is that society makes it seem that we need to set one huge big fancy thing that we will work on for the year. And often, these resolutions become redundant - such as weight loss, exercise, healthy eating, etc. And while these are important, I do not think making a resolution is important. It is the ACTION PLAN that is.

This is why I like intentions. I feel that they are more goal-directed and achievable. Allow me to explain. A resolution could be 'this year, I resolve to eat more vegetables and exercise more'. If you try that for a week or two, you may not be able to sustain it.

Meanwhile, an intention could be 'this year, I intend on becoming physically and mentally stronger. To do this, I will eat foods that nourish my body and I will move my body in ways that makes me feel good. I can do this by having an apple each morning with breakfast, and I will take a walk every Sunday evening'.

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See the difference? Intentions allow us to not only think about WHAT we want to do, but HOW we are going to them. When setting intentions, it is helpful to think about whether or not they are doable. For example, we have all heard that goals should be 'SMART - specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-oriented'. But I will be the first to admit that I don't always use this when making my goals. This year, however, I know that if I do not make my intentions SMART, I will not be able to sustain them long-term. I need to challenge myself by making intentions, but if they are not sustainable or something hat I can reasonably do, I will give up after one or two weeks.

And finally, resolutions tend to make us feel hopeless when we are not successful at first. 'Oh no. I did not read my daily meditation for two days, like my resolution was. This sucks. I cannot achieve this resolution. Oh, well. There is always next year. Or maybe I should change my resolution....?'

This sets us up for failure - and makes us feel that we cannot achieve anything. Instead of thinking like this, look at why your goal did not work out. Was it too big of a jump at once? Did you forget to think about how you would actually achieve the goal given your resources and demands? Do you need to look back on your intention and understand WHY it is important to you - and whether or not you REALLY want this? This is the beauty of intentions - it gets us to reflect on our goals, the actions we will take to achieve them, and how we are going to get there. Intentions helps us be present in the moment, and focus on what we CAN do, rather than what we CANNOT do.
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This year, if you are setting a goal or intention, be patient with yourself. Make an action plan, and try your best. And if it does not work out, find out why. Remind yourself of why this intention is important to you. And try your best. It is never ever ever too late to start again, to try something new, and to set another intention.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Reflecting on the past 12 months...

Image result for merry christmas and happy new yearWho would have thought that it would be mid-December already? Time has certainly gone by quickly. I love Christmas, as you all know. Why? Definitely the time with loved ones, music, food, decorations, lights, etc. add to the season. But there is something about Christmas that is truly special to me...remembering how blessings we have encountered during the past year.

As December draws to an end and January approaches, the new year begins. This is a time where I really like looking back and reflecting on the past year. What went well? What was challenging? What have I accomplished? What have I learned about myself, about others, and about life? What do I want to do differently in the next year? How have I grown as a person during these past 12 months?

Looking back at 2017, I can recall many challenges that I have faced. More responsibilities as a medical student, daughter, friend, sister, and human being have all come up. I have struggled to combat negative coping skills that have been comfortable - but not effective - ways of dealing with tribulations. I have been forced out of my comfort zone in many situations, and this has allowed me to learn - the hard way - to try to find new, healthier ways, of dealing with stress. 

Image result for merry christmas and happy new year 2018I have also discovered more about who I am and the kind of person I strive to be. This past year has given me the opportunity to reflect about my strengths and what I am most proud of. I have tried my best to appreciate myself as a sum of characteristics - including what I would like to improve, and what I am doing well. I have acknowledged that I am not perfect, and I don't want to be anymore. Being enough is enough for me. I am tired of trying to achieve a state of absolute perfectionism, as that has only led me to doubt myself and criticize my self-worth. Instead, this year has taught me to look at my struggles and be thankful. To be proud of how I have managed to cope with my obstacles, and to reflect on how my strengths have enabled me to persevere through the toughest of times. To understand that I am human and that I can make mistakes and have my faults. But that does not mean that I am not worthy, strong, or capable. It simply means I am a work in progress, as we all are.

2017 has marked a shift in my thinking about life and about myself. I have learned to treasure my health, relationships, and blessings much more. I have seen that when I am physically and mentally and emotionally well, I can truly contribute to the world. I have enjoyed the bliss of nourishing my mind, body, and soul. I have endured hardships that have taught me valuable lessons about counting my blessings everyday, and trying to be more present in the current moment. 

As 2017 draws to an end and 2018 approaches, I pray and hope that you too, can reflect on the past 12 months. That you can look back and realize that certainly there were difficult moments. But you made it through. And every experience shaped you into the individual you now are. That you have strengths and capabilities beyond what you imagined.
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I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I wish you all peace, love, blessings, and strength. Remember that every obstacle, every mistake, and every experience contributes to the person you are. Be thankful for the tough times, and for the good times. Acknowledge your strengths and blessings, and look forward to another wonderful year. I'll see you all here in 2018!

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Dopamine (DA) and Anxiety in Eating Disorders

Image result for anxiety quotesWe've talked a lot here about weight gain, food, eating disorders, and anxiety - and the connection these have with dopamine (DA), a neurotransmitter in the brain. DA mediates many things in our bodies depending on where it acts. For example, in some areas of the brain, DA produces pleasure in response to things. In other areas, DA produces anxiety.

Interestingly - but not surprisingly - a study revealed that in one aspect of the brain in people with anorexia nervosa, DA produces heightened anxiety in response to various things, including food and weight gain. Patients with ED seem to have anxiety (i.e. increased DA levels in these brain areas) around food, meals, weight gain and body changes.

This is not fully surprising or new to us - after all, individuals suffering from EDs struggle to eat and gain weight because they are fearful of what will happen. Their response to food and weight gain is one of anxiety and fear. I think this study is important because it helps reaffirm to us - and to people with EDs - that the disorder is NOT 'all in their heads'. The fear of weight gain, food, and body changes is REAL. The brain in someone with an ED is working against them to make eating, gaining weight, and recovering that much harder.

Image result for anxiety quotesTherefore, we ought to be gentle and empathetic with these individuals. Sometimes, people with EDs profess that they are worried about the weight gain, scared of body changes, and fearful of when they eat. And this is a TRUE fear. They really are scared and anxious. So, don't blame them. Don't call them silly or irrational. Their fears may not seem validated or real to you - but they are. Their fears may seem strange, especially if they are not overweight and they state that they are scared of gaining weight. But remember - this is an illness. And we now know that this disorder is more that just physical - there are numerous changes that occur in the brain and body that make eating and gaining weight difficult, scary, and traumatic.

On the other hand, I think this can be encouraging to those who are struggling: you are not at fault for your fears and thoughts and feelings around food and weight gain. Your brain is making it much harder for you to accept the process of recovery. This is painful. And scary. And challenging on so many different levels. But it will get easier as you continue along the path. Everyday will not be simple; you may experience bumps along the road. But what matters is that you keep going. Stay strong and keep fighting. Because you are worth it. 
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Monday, 23 October 2017

It's Okay to not be Okay

Image result for it is okay to not be okayWe all struggle with moments and experiences that challenge us. That make us scared. Times when we feel frozen, stuck, and hopeless. We feel lost and confused.

Think about a time when you felt this way. What was going on in your head? What emotions were you feeling?

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has felt this way before. A few days ago, I was feeling sick of everything. There was too much to do. I felt like I was running from one thing to the next - and not just physically, but mentally as well. I felt angry at the circumstances I was in, and I desperately wanted it all to just STOP. I needed quiet, peace, and comfort. But in the hustle and bustle of life, I found none.

I felt anxious. Tired. Scared. Angry. Confused. At one point, I even felt that there was simply no point of doing anything at all. Sleep? No. Eat? No. Play? No. Work? No. On the outside, I am sure I looked okay. I can hold things together quite well in times of stress, you see. And so can many of us. We have trained ourselves to appear well and 'put together' in these moments because we know that despite feeling frustrated and tired, life still moves on. And so, we 'suck it up' and try to carry on.

But inside, I felt awful. I wanted to scream. To tell someone that I was TIRED. I was SAD. I felt so confused at the way I was feeling - I did not want to study or go to work, and yet, I loved these things dearly. I did not want to play or talk to my loved ones or friends, although I knew that these people cared for me. I did not want to sleep, because doing so made me feel like I was running away from my challenges. So, what could I do?

Image result for allow yourself to feel your emotions it is okay to bareAt that moment, I burst. I cried and cried and cried. And you know what? I felt better afterwards. I realized that for so long, I had been holding this pain and stress inside. I was trying so much to show that I was strong, to not let anyone feel my pain. I did not want to hurt my loved ones around me and make them feel sad or worried about me. But crying was immensely therapeutic. I discovered that though I am strong, I am also capable of feeling emotions. I am allowed to release my anger, sadness, and frustrations by crying - and that doesn't make me weak or vulnerable. I am entitled to tell myself when things are tough now, I can still feel worried and scared - and that is normal.

I am learning to let myself feel emotions and express them. This is a big change for me. For so long, I have huddled these feelings inside of me, worried that I will make my family and friends sad. I told myself that I could not cry or be sad because that meant I was weak. But I am learning that all emotions are healthy, as long as I express them in positive and meaningful ways. 

And so after I cried, I felt relieved. Did my problems magically disappear? No. But I felt honest with myself. I realized that I am a strong individual who is not afraid to express sadness, frustration, and fatigue. I am human and I am capable of feeling a range of emotions. That is what makes me in touch with my brain, body, and soul. It is not shameful to cry, just like it is appropriate to laugh. There is a season for all emotions, and expressed appropriately, this can be therapeutic and healthy. And although crying may seem like a 'depressing' activity, it is actually very therapeutic to let yourself feel these emotions and take the time to acknowledge that things are tough right now. One day they will get better - and inside, you know that this is true. Your prior experiences have shown you that you are able to defeat these tribulations, and that you are strong enough to pass through your obstacles. 

Image result for this will passYou are okay, just the way you are. Positive emotions, and difficult emotions. Moments of sadness and frustration, and moments of happiness and laughter. You are human - and you are allowed to feel this way. It is okay to not be okay.

But just remember, after you are not 'okay', think about what makes you OKAY. Think about how strong, beautiful, capable, and amazing you are. Think about the things that make you proud of yourself. Think about the blessings you have, and the talents you own. Think about the beauties you have experienced, the treasures that make you smile, and the warmth that fills your heart.

Image result for weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morningThings will be okay. You will be okay. Keep fighting, dear warrior. Because the battle may be tough, but you are tougher.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Enjoy THIS Moment

Image result for enjoy the moment quotesI was in a store a few days ago and noticed that Halloween costumes and candy filled the isles. Then, I also noticed that some stores also had Christmas supplies and decorations in their isles!

I personally love Christmas, so I was overjoyed at realizing that Christmas is just a few months away. If you've been following my blog for a while, you'll know that Christmas is my favourite holiday!

But something about this bothered me - it being September, and already seeing Christmas things in the store. Don't get me wrong - I love the Christmas spirit! But isn't it strange how we aren't taking the time to enjoy the current moment, and are already jumping three months ahead?

This got me thinking: we live in a world today that runs from one thing to the next. We finish one thing, only to cross it off our list and get to the other things. We anticipate holidays months in advance so much that we might not realize that another holiday - coming sooner - is just as important. We get up and go to work or school and are thinking about next week, before even meeting the events of the day.

Image result for enjoy the moment quotesI will be the first to admit that this is how I operate, too. Life has become a constant shuffle from one thing to the next. It is busy. It is rushed. It is full of obligations, events, responsibilities, etc. Technology has made us have access to things we never thought were possible. Products and services have evolved in incredible ways. And while all of this is fantastic and speaks to the advances we have made, I think it is really important to be more mindful of the current moment.

Being mindful in the current state means trying to enjoy where you are now. Waking up and trying to focus on the day and what you will do today - and not five months in advance. Taking some time to enjoy the beautiful weather today offers, the current powerful relationships you have in your life, the successes you have accomplished, and the goals you have set. Of course, this doesn't mean you shouldn't plan ahead and be organized or prioritize what you will do tomorrow or next week - it simply means not getting so absorbed in the next moment that you forget to enjoy the present.

Related imageIt is definitely not an easy task, given the world we live on and how busy we all become. One helpful tip that I have found works for me is to catch myself in my thoughts. When I start thinking of things months in advance that I need not worry about now, I remind myself of where I am. Today is xxx, and I am doing zzz. I need not think far in advance, because I will miss out on the blessings of today. If I can plan for something in advance, I can do this within reason - but not obsessively. And, by all means, I must not let my plans for tomorrow stop me from enjoying the beauty of today.