Friday, 27 July 2018

Living According to Your Values - Part Two

Image result for life align values Last time, we talked about why and how our values influence our decisions and choices. We know that our values - what is really important to us - shape our priorities. This helps us make decisions for ourselves.

But sometimes, we are unable to live according to our values fully. This can happen for many reasons: life may not give us many choices, we might feel unwell or stressed, we have conflicting thoughts and emotions, etc.

For example, let's say you value spending time with friends and family. But life is really busy with constant work duties, long hours, and things to do. You begin feeling stressed, you are not relaxing or sleeping enough, and you feel 'down'. Because you have so much to do - and the fact that you feel kind of 'down in the dumps', makes you either go to work, or come home and 'crash'. As a result, you have not spent much time with your loved ones, nor have you relaxed in a while.

Of course, this makes you feel frustrated and even more stressed. You are unable to do other things that are meaningful to you. Your values of family-time and relaxation are being bypassed. This is a terrible feeling! Being unable to live out these values produces anger, resentment, and sadness.

Now, how do we change this? How do we help make your life more aligned with your values? Of course, you might not be able to take time away from work to be with your family. You cannot simply 'not work' because you don't feel like it. But that is not what I am implying.

Image result for life align valuesTo truly align your life with your values, you need to be creative. You might not be able to skip work, but can you, for example, take 2 hours one night a week to be with your loved ones? Can you get extra work done in the office so that you need not bring it home? Perhaps you can schedule a weekend to relax, away from work? Or maybe you can talk to your boss and ask for an extension?

We know that life doesn't always work our way. And that is what makes it challenging. To live according to your values requires us to focus on what is meaningful, edifying, and satisfying to us. It means understanding that we don't always 'get our way' in life, but regardless, we can do our best to prioritize our values.

It is helpful, in difficult moments, to consider your values, why they are important to you (ex. why is XXX valuable? What does it do for you in life? For your mood, health, etc?), and what you can do to make them an active part of your experiences. The more you practice this, the more you will notice yourself becoming more resilient, happy, patient, and calm.
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Friday, 29 June 2018

Living According to Your Values - Part One

Image result for live to your valuesA value is something - a concept - that is important to us. Many of us value our friends, family members, etc. But we also value things like honesty, respect, professionalism, love, relaxation, and so forth. This is Part One in a series about VALUES.

Why are values important, and how do they impact the lives we lead? Simply put, we organize our priorities and activities around our values. For example, if you value working and feeling as though you are contributing to society, you will try very hard to land a job that allows you to do so. Similarly, if you value spirituality, you will make efforts to seek out experiences that bring you closer to God.

When we don't live our lives in keeping with our values, we become distressed, dissatisfied, and feel unfulfilled. This is because we realize that things we cherish or enjoy are not being projected and enhanced in our daily experiences.
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This article talks about how we can use our values to focus or redirect our lives. I recommend you take a read of it!

The first step is to identify a few of your values. Make a list! I value....
-God and spirituality
-mental, emotional, and physical wellness
-friends and family
-my work and studies
-positive thinking
-enjoyable hobbies (reading, colouring, sports, etc)

...And so forth. Making a list like this is super helpful, as it allows us reflect on the things we like - and want - out of our lives.

In order to align our lives with our values, we need to try to seek out activities and experiences that allow us to live out these concepts. Of course, this is not always 100% possible. For example, I may value - or prefer - a job that allows me to sleep in every morning. But this may not be feasible. As well, it is important to separate preferences from values. I would LOVE to sleep in each day, but this not a value. A value could be relaxation and balance. To align this, I can try to get a job that allows me to work and help others, but also has somewhat flexible times that permits me to relax and take breaks.

Image result for live your values quoteSomething else to remember is that life does not always allow us to 100% get our way. For example, you might value mental health, but situations occur that make you feel depressed, anxious, frustrated. etc. This can cause you to feel even more distressed, as something you value is not being realized in your life. What do you do then? Remember: you cannot always control situations around you. When this happens, it is important to reflect on how you can use your values to cope with life. For example, if you value mental wellness and you feel distressed, think about how you can enhance or live your values out - despite the situation. Perhaps you can take a walk, call a friend, make your favourite food, etc. Does living out your value in this can change your situation? No - you are still dealing with a stressful time. BUT choosing actions and experiences (within your control) permits you to navigate the ups and downs life throws at you.

I encourage you to take time to reflect on what you truly value in life. Next time, we'll discuss what happens when your values are not reflected in your life - and how to handle those situations. Stay tuned for Part Two!

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.