Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Feeling 'bad' can be 'good'...?! Part Two

Image result for worrying today robsLast time, we talked about how feeling 'bad' can actually be GOOD for us. If you need a refresher, take a look here.

Feeling our emotions can be challenging, especially in intense moments. We might, for example, feel anxious because we are worried about the results of a test. We might be angry because we have a coworker who is trying to outshine us. We could be frustrated and hopeless because nothing seems to be going right at the present moment.

How on earth can these emotions be useful? What can we gleam from these moments and feelings?

Let's start with feelings in general. Feelings tell you that you are human. You are a living being, capable of emotions! The feelings may not always be comfortable or fully appropriate to the situation, but you should not judge yourself for the way you feel. Rather, take time to explore how and why you are feeling that way.

Image result for you have survivedWhy? When you observe your feelings and tolerate them, you are practicing distress tolerance and acceptance.You might not enjoy feeling worried about the test results, but sitting with the worry is teaching you that you are ABLE to survive this difficult time. It also helps you catch your thoughts - are you telling yourself that something terrible is going to happen? Are you imaging a bad outcome or scenario? If so, think about this: worrying is normal. But jumping ahead to the worst case is not helping you, nor will it change the outcome. Instead, recognize and accept the worry. And then do something else. Yes, the anxiety is there. But you are coping with it. And this situation, although uncomfortable, is showing you how strong you are. You are enduring intense emotions - and you are surviving. This leads to perseverance and resilience! 

The same goes with anger, or frustration.Yes, it is so incredibly difficult when you feel that things are unfair. Or when you truly feel trapped - that life is simply not cooperating with you. Things seem a mess, and you feel caught in it all. You feel hopeless. How can that be useful? Well, consider this: experiencing several mishaps is not fun, so don't deny yourself the opportunity to mourn. However, realize that this period of your life, along with these emotions, shall pass. By embracing your emotions now and being compassionate on yourself, you will notice that the intensity of the feelings will slowly decrease. Today, you are at your end. But you somehow push through because deep inside (really deep down!), you know that you are able to get past this. Things WILL get better. The next day, you still may feel hopeless. But it is less intense as yesterday. And each day, it will be less frustrating. It might not go away completely, but allowing yourself to understand that emotions are healthy - and that you can still have these feelings but function nonetheless - indicates your fighting spirit. You can regulate your feelings, and you can handle these tough circumstances. You are strong. You are capable. You are a fighter.

Image result for don't judge your feelingsPerhaps, then, rather than labeling emotions as 'good or bad', we just take them for what they are - our feelings in response to life events that are shaped by our thoughts, genetics, environment, circumstances, and more. Let's not judge our feelings; instead, let's try to acknowledge them, accept them, and carry on. In doing this, we will stop blaming ourselves for feeling a certain way. We will also train our bodies and brains to tolerate hard emotions, and this will decrease their intensity. We will learn to appreciate how resilient we are, and with each experience, we will become wiser, more resilient, and more confident in our ability to adapt and cope.

This is nor easy, but it comes with practice. Today, focus on one feeling you are experiencing. Don't label it - just accept that you are feeling this way. And know that if it is a challenging time, you are okay. You will be okay. You are not defined by your circumstances - and you will not only thrive, you will survive.

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Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Feeling 'bad' can be 'good'...?! Part One

Image result for negative emotions are key to well-beingI'm sure the title of this post sounds rather contradictory, if not outright 'wrong'. How can feeling BAD possibly be GOOD? Usually, feeling 'bad' means we are frustrated, sad, stressed, angry, lonely, bored, etc. All of these emotions are unpleasant. So, how can this ever be a good thing?

Please note that this is Part One is a series about Negative Emotions. This is a HUGE topic and I would like to try my best to delve a bit deeper into this! Let's start this journey!

This article does a fabulous job of explaining why negative emotions are important for us to experience. Firstly, we need to understand that all feelings - even the 'bad' ones - serve a purpose. We FEEL them because we have experienced some sort of event or trigger that prompted these emotions in us. Now, of course, our emotional responses may not always be appropriate to the situation we are dealing with. For example, one event may be stressful, but for one person, it might be so overwhelming that they completely crash and break down (whereas others might be dismayed but recover quite quickly).

Image result for feel negative feelingsOne important point to remember, however, is that emotions are only ONE part of the picture. That is to say, they cannot be viewed or accepted in isolation. With every emotion comes a thought. These thoughts are also very important. Let's look at an example: your boss yells at you because you have not completed an assignment to his or her standards. You feel hopeless, frustrated, and sad. Then, you begin to think 'oh no. What if I lose my job? I'm no good at anything. I'm a failure. I always try so hard but it never pays off'. See how the emotions led to thoughts of hopelessness, decreased confidence, and self-rejection?

Sometimes, it is rather difficult to stop our thoughts and emotions from expanding this way, especially when we are 'deep' into the tough circumstance and feelings. But, there is another way to look at these 'bad' emotions. What if, instead of judging yourself for feeling sad and hopeless, you acknowledge your emotions? Instead of blaming yourself for feeling sad and trying to 'get over it' (for example, because you need to work on the next assignment), allow yourself a moment to UNDERSTAND that you are feeling this way because xxx happened. This does NOT mean that all of your emotions are appropriate. But it does mean that you are being kind to yourself in the moment.

Then, take a moment to assess the THOUGHTS that are accompanying your negative emotions. You feel sad. You now think that you are a failure. Think about this again. Does not doing so great on one test mean that you never do anything right? No. And if you cannot believe this, ask yourself how you would respond to someone else in your situation, who was saying the same thing about themselves: if my daughter or brother or spouse or best friend did not do well on a test, would I tell them that they are no good? Would I tell them that they always fail and will never be successful at anything? Likely not. So, why are you being so hard on yourself?

Related imagePractice self-compassion and kindness. You are the only one who can truly change your thoughts and accept your emotions. And remember, accepting your emotions DOES NOT mean that they are true. We just saw that in the example of analyzing your emotions and the thoughts they trigger. Accepting your negative emotions means understanding that even if you feel a certain way, this doesn't mean that your subsequent thoughts about yourself are TRUE.

We cannot change our emotions 'right away'. The way you feel is shaped by the situation around you, your development, values, temperament, mindset, environment, and so much more. I think this is really important to understand: you may not be able to alter your emotions to an event. But you CAN evaluate how appropriate your emotions - and the thoughts that come with them - are. If the emotions and thoughts are 'too strong' or 'blown out of proportion' to the situation, it may be time to think about how you can make your views more 'in line' with the facts. This, dear readers, is critical in order to build resilience, patience, self-compassion, and perseverance.

Keep an eye open for Part Two in this series, where we will be looking at some reasons WHY allowing yourself to FEEL negative emotions is important to our growth, mindset, and resilience! 

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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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