I’m Not Stressed: 10 Effective Stress Coping Techniques

Everyone feels stress daily in multiple ways. Relationships, work, holidays, tragedy, special events, school, housework, and traffic are just some of the many stressors we experience at some point. Stressors may not always be easy to identify, but they are still present.

Luckily we have a choice in how we respond to stress and what responses we use to cope with the stress.

How Do We Cope?

Everyone copes with stress in their own way. While many turn to quick fixes that make the stress go away temporarily, such as drugs, alcohol, gambling, eating, etc., these temporary negative coping strategies can potentially create more stress and problems in the long run.

A more positive way to cope with stress includes:

a) identifying the stressor(s)

b) managing our thinking as we interpret the stressors

c) considering the consequences of our actions

d) changing our thinking to healthy ways of coping.

We can also practice healthy stress management techniques. How individuals apply these techniques may be very different for every person.

Consider implementing some of the following common research-based techniques that have been found helpful when coping and dealing with stress:

1. Breathe deeply

When people are stressed, they sometimes have a tendency to hold their breath or breathe quicker than normal causing their bodies to react and get tense. Taking deep breaths from the diaphragm, rather than the chest, can help calm nerves and anxiety.

2. Visualize calm

Go to a happy place or think of calming scenes such as a warm tropical beach or a cabin in the snowy mountains.

3. Exercise

Physical activity releases the happy positive chemicals that can help fight against illness and help individuals to feel better naturally. When stressed, take a walk, stretch, and focus on having straight posture. It can also be helpful to roll the shoulders backward and forward five to ten times slowly to relax the neck and shoulder muscles.

4. Take up a hobby

Spend some time doing something enjoyable such as knitting, playing a sport, or reading. Taking part in a hobby can help with thinking more clearly and feeling more energized in order to take on daily challenges.

5. Just say no

When individuals realize they can’t do everything, they often feel more at ease and capable to deal with the stress they can control and handle. Research suggests making a list of attainable goals for the week and working toward achieving one goal every day. Crossing off a completed goal on that list can boost self-confidence!

Hint: assign tasks to friends and family who are available to help. If no one is available, prioritize tasks and check each one off as it is completed.

6. Have fun!

Learning to laugh at ourselves and see the humor in any situation can reduce stress. Smiling (even when not feeling happy) and laughing are good for the body because they help generate the positive chemicals in the body and help it to physically relax.

7. Talk or write it out

For many, it helps to talk about what he/she is experiencing with a friend, loved one, or professional who can be trusted and is not involved in the stressful situation. People with little to no social support are more likely to engage in sedentary behavior, alcohol or drug use, and too little or too much sleep, which can often cause more stress. Others who don’t want to talk about issues also find that writing a description of the stressor and feelings in a journal is often helpful in venting intense feelings and thinking more
clearly.

8. Get pampered

On occasion, some individuals find it can be helpful to do something nice for themselves that they normally wouldn’t do, such as getting a massage or buying a treat.

9. Take a time-out

Get away from the stressful situation and play a round of golf or go to a movie. While taking a break will not make the problem go away, having a positive temporary distraction can allow time to calm down and rethink the response to the stressor.

10. Learn to recognize the warning signs

Everyone responds differently to stress but recognizing common stress symptoms such
as headache, insomnia, digestive issues, and anxiety can help individuals to take action to cope with stress earlier rather than later.

 


Research provided by Naomi Brower and Kimberly Stanley

References:

  • Chao, R. (2011). Managing stress and maintaining well-being: Social support, problem-focused coping, and avoidant coping. Journal of Counseling & Development, 89(3), 338-348.
  • Singer, T. (2010). Stress less. New York, NY: Hudson Street Press.
  • Weiss, B. L. (2003). Eliminating stress, finding inner peace. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, Inc.
  • Wheeler, C. M. (2007). 10 Simple solutions to stress: How to tame tension and start enjoying your life. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Emotions and Illness—What’s the Connection?

People with good emotional health are aware of their thoughts, feelings and behaviors. They have learned healthy ways to cope with the stress and problems that are a normal part of life. They feel good about themselves and have healthy relationships.

However, many things that happen in life can disrupt emotional health and lead to strong feelings of sadness, stress or anxiety. Both “bad” and “good” life events can lead to strong emotions. Examples of some of these events may include:

  • Experiencing financial difficulties
  • Getting married or divorced
  • Suffering from an injury or illness
  • Having a child leave or return home
  • Changes in employment
  • Moving to a new home or having a baby

Mind-Body Connection

Our bodies tend to respond to the way that we think, feel and act. This interaction is often called the “mind/body connection.” When we are stressed, anxious or upset, our bodies often try to tell us that something isn’t right by having a physical symptom to get our attention. Some of these symptoms may include:

  • Headache
  • Stomachache
  • Sudden weight gain or loss
  • Insomnia (trouble sleeping)
  • Extreme tiredness

 

In addition, when we are not feeling well emotionally we are often less likely to feel like exercising, eating nutritious foods or maintaining our other general health habits. All of these things may lead to a decrease in our body’s immune system, which in turn often leads to getting a cold or other infection.  

What Can You Do?

First, try to recognize your emotions and understand why you are experiencing them. Sorting out the root of negative emotions in your life can help you know what to do to improve the situation and manage your emotional health. Next, consider some of the following techniques to improve your emotional health:


1. Express your feelings in appropriate ways.

If feelings of stress, sadness or anxiety are causing physical problems, keeping these feelings inside can make you feel worse. It’s ok to let others know when something is bothering you in a respectful way. Keep in mind that your family and friends may not be able to help you deal with your feelings appropriately and it may be helpful to ask for a counselor, religious leader or friend for advice and support.

 

2. Take care of yourself.

 In order to feel your best it is important to take care of your body by having a regular routine for eating healthy meals, getting enough sleep and exercising to relieve pent-up tension. Avoid overeating, using alcohol or drugs, or any other behaviors that assist in “running away” which could cause further problems or possible addiction.

 

4. Calm your body and mind.

Finding activities that help you relax such as deep breathing, meditation, taking a bath or taking a walk in nature. They can help you find a healthy release and bring your emotions into balance.


5. Live a balanced life.

While it is important to deal with these negative feelings rather than just “stuffing them,” it is also important to focus on the positive things in life and make time for things that you enjoy! Consider keeping a journal of things you are grateful for or things that help you feel peaceful or happy. You may also need to find ways to let go of some things in your life that make you feel stressed and overwhelmed.

 


Research provided by Naomi Brower

Essential Patterns for a Resilient Spirit

Dr. Brené Brown is a researcher who, through her work on the topic of shame, has identified key characteristics and patterns of those who practice what she calls “wholehearted living.” Among these are three patterns that help people become resilient and overcome and grow from adversity in their lives. These patterns can help you develop tools, skills, and personal strengths, “adding water” to a reservoir that will keep you safe from rocks of adversity. They are:

1. Cultivating Hope:

Although hope is generally viewed as an emotion, research has shown it is more a way of thinking. We are able to practice hope when we have an idea of where we want to go and how to get there. We set realistic goals, figure out how to reach them, and believe in ourselves. This process takes flexibility – being willing to adjust as needed along the way – and perseverance, as well as hard work and a tolerance for disappointment. Rather than being a passive belief in a better tomorrow, this kind of hope empowers us to effect change in our lives.

Developing a “growth mindset” (understanding that we can change and grow rather than being stuck as we are), practicing realistic optimism, and asking for help are key steps in cultivating hope. Also, when setting goals, keep in mind what is most important to you. Be specific and reasonable, and try to make a good decision, not a perfect one.

2. Practicing Critical Awareness:

This involves becoming aware of the messages and expectations from society, media, and people around us and putting them through a “reality check.” Are they realistic and healthy? How do they make you feel? Practice taking a step back to see the big picture, recognize shame triggers in your life (anything that makes you feel like you’re not good enough) for what they are, and reorient yourself.

When you recognize a shame trigger, watch your self-talk. Acknowledge how you’re feeling, recognize why, and find a way to let it go. For example, practicing empathy and self-compassion might be a helpful way to remind yourself of the strengths and struggles we all have, which can put the situation in a realistic perspective as well as nurture a vital sense of connection and “being enough.”

3. Letting Go of Numbing and Taking the Edge Off of Vulnerability, Discomfort, and Pain:

Most of us try to avoid unpleasant emotions by engaging in numbing behaviors that can look as harmless as staying busy or surfing the Internet, or as extreme doing drugs or having an affair. Research has shown that these practices can not only keep us from facing problems that need to be faced, but also from engaging in positive emotions. If we practice recognizing when we’re trying to “take the edge off” and walk ourselves step by step through our vulnerability, it will allow us to be more authentic, be emotionally honest, and be more connected with our best selves and those around us.

Try to think of ways that you can more intentionally handle emotions you normally would try to hide from. This might include talking things through with a trusted friend, practicing mindfulness to gain a more helpful and proactive perspective, or finding a way to help someone else.

Each of these patterns is built on the belief of benevolent connections with others and
with something greater than ourselves. Resilient people don’t just try to push through and face adversity alone. They find ways to take action, have realistic expectations, and walk through discomfort with the perspective of giving and receiving without judgment from other people. Practicing these three patterns can nourish relationships that can be an important source of strength in good times and bad, and which can help you develop other ingredients that can contribute to your personal reservoir of resilience.

It takes time and practice to have these principles become patterns in our lives. They aren’t all-at-once or all-or-nothing. It’s okay to struggle while you’re developing them. Some of the things that hold us back may be deep-rooted beliefs or habits. But as you are intentional and reach out to those around you when you need help, these patterns, as well as the resilience to not just endure but grow from adversity, can become a part of your daily life.


References:

Brown, B. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Center City, MN: Hazelden Publishing.
Duckworthy, A. (2016). Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Korb, A. (2015). The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Cultivating Resilience: The Basics of “Bouncing Forward”

What is Resilience?

Resilience is the ability to withstand and recover from adversity in our lives.  It involves resistance (standing strong in hardship), recovery (being flexible and getting back up when life knocks you down), and reconfiguration (making positive changes that enable you to better handle future challenges). Resilience protects against the ill-effects of stress and enables us to not only endure hard things but to “bounce forward” and grow from them. We can emerge from challenges with stronger relationships, improved skills and confidence, and a greater sense of meaning and purpose in our lives.

Resilience isn’t a characteristic that some people inherently have and some don’t. It involves processes that can be learned by making use of resources that we already have available or can acquire, and by practicing effective patterns of problem-solving. These help us fill a “reservoir” of positive emotions, optimism, self-control, and other tools that we can draw upon to keep us floating above the rocks of adversity.

Developing Resilience

Research has identified protective factors that help people be resilient. These include social support, resourcefulness, being connected to others, problem-solving skills, and seeking help.  Thus, resilience isn’t about handling hardship alone. In fact, the foundation of these factors is the belief in connection with something greater than ourselves and in interconnections with others based on love and compassion. This perspective helps us cultivate hope, motivates us to act rather than be acted upon, and enables successful coping and solutions. Here are a few ways to cultivate these aspects of resilience:

  • Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a special kind of awareness that comes when you intentionally and non-judgmentally focus on the present moment. This can look like mindful movement (e.g. yoga or walking), informal meditation (e.g. pausing to breathe deeply throughout the day) or formal meditation (e.g. a guided body scan meditation).  Mindfulness can help clear your mind and enable you to better recognize and make use of the resources you already have access to, as well as possible solutions to your problem.
  • Identify Support and Strengths: Make a list of people who have offered you comfort or help in the past. These might be family members who have helped you find temporal resources, trustworthy friends who listen without judgment, or a mentor who has provided important guidance. Reflect on specific situations when you were in distress and these people were there for you; write down your thoughts.* It can also be helpful to list resources such as reliable and relevant organizations, books, or websites, as well as personal characteristics or talents you have that can be a source of strength.
  • Optimistic Thinking: Learn to recognize the thought patterns you have when faced with adversity. When something bad happens, what do you believe about it? What do those beliefs lead you to feel and do? Look for evidence that either supports or challenges your beliefs about the adversity and practice identifying multiple ways of looking at a situation. For example, if you don’t hear from a potential employer after a job interview, you might believe that you’re never going to get a good job and that it’s all your own fault. However, if you broaden your perspective and challenge your negative beliefs, you might be able to recognize what wasn’t in your control, identify strengths you have that would make you a valuable employee, and make necessary changes to find good employment.

Taking care of your body with proper nutrition, exercise, sleep, practicing gratitude, and journaling about adversity can also help you develop protective factors by nourishing mental and emotional health.

Every one of us experiences adversity in our lives, whether it’s a major struggle such as a mental illness or small, daily challenges at work. Fortunately, we’re not doomed to be broken down by it. As we start putting these and other tools to good use, we add water to our reservoirs of resilience and make it so we do more than just survive during periods of adversity we become able to thrive.

 


References:

Akhtar, M. (2018).  Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression.  London, United Kingdom: Watkins Publishing.

Brown, B. (2010).  The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.  Center City, MN: Hazelden Publishing.  

Walsh, F. (2012). Family Resilience: Strengths Forged Through Adversity.  In Walsh, F. (Ed.) Normal Family Processes (483-497).  New York, NY: The Guildford Press.

* Based on the “Feeling Supported” practice found in more detail at: https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/feeling_supported

 

Saying NO to Others and YES to Yourself

Do you often feel stretched to your limits and yet still struggle to say no? You’re not
alone. As you have probably experienced, saying yes when we really want to say no creates stress and frustration. On the other hand, saying no to the things you don’t want to do means saying YES to things YOU choose to do. Consider the following tips to say no in a respectful and assertive way.

1. Take time before responding.

Especially for anything that will take your time, energy or money. This will give you time to consider if fits with your current priorities and
commitments. Out of respect, provide a specific time for when you will give your
decision.

2. Consider your relationship.

How you say no to your boss or family member is going to be very different than how you would say no to a telemarketer.

3. Say no.

The word no has power. Don’t be afraid to use it. If you use phrases such as “I’m not sure” or “I don’t think I can”  they may be interpreted to mean that you might say yes later.

One way to say no, especially to those that you don’t have a close or ongoing relationship
with, is with the broken record technique. In a firm but calm voice say no, without any
excuse or explanation that others may be able to manipulate, and repeat it like a broken
record. This is especially effective with persistent children or people with whom you
don’t have an ongoing relationship.
On the other hand, if the relationship is valuable, after saying no you may want to provide a brief reason or explanation. An explanation is most effective when it is honest and only contains pertinent information, not apologies or long justifications If manipulation begins, use the broken record technique.
Stay strong, and ignore appeals, guilt playing, and button pushing. Remember, if you give
in after several times of saying no it teaches others that you will eventually give in if they
push hard enough.

4. Seek for a win/win.

If you want to say yes, but not to the whole request, you may want to negotiate what you are willing to do or offer a suggestion that will work for both of you. Even though you may be saying no when others would prefer you were saying yes, you can still maintain and build relationships by offering a win/win situation for both parties.

If you aren’t used to saying no, realize that those around you might not like it when you do. Over time, they will likely learn to accept it and may even respect you for it. Also keep in mind that when you expect others to respect you when you say no, you should respect them when they say no as well.


Research provided by Naomi Brower

References:

Luskin, F. & Pelletier, K. R. (2005). Stress-free for good: 10 scientifically proven life skills for health and happiness. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

The Mayo Clinic. (2016, April 23). When to say no. Retrieved from:

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044494?pg=2

The Benefits of “Flow” and How to Make it Part of Your Life in 2019

Most of us would probably like more money, more free time, and fewer problems. However, research says these aren’t necessarily the paths to happiness. Instead, studies have found that challenges can be greatly beneficial and it is how we interpret everyday experiences, rather than circumstances themselves, that has a direct impact on our self-perceptions, our sense of purpose, and how much we enjoy our lives. Fortunately, it is possible to learn some control of our consciousness so we can channel our thoughts and feelings in patterns that will benefit us. One of the best ways to do this is to immerse ourselves in the optimal experience of “flow.” This state/experience is likely to bring satisfaction, allow us to help others more, and improve the quality of our lives.

What is Flow?

Flow is a mental state that requires action and awareness. It occurs when the challenge of a task is in balance with our skills – that is, when it’s neither too easy (which brings boredom) nor too difficult (which triggers anxiety) and helps us develop as a person. During flow, we are so focused on the task at hand that time gets distorted, we aren’t distracted by irrelevant thoughts, and we have such purpose and intention that nothing else seems to matter. We tend to “lose ourselves” in optimal experience because our consciousness is channeled and engaged. When we are finished with the task, we have a sense of satisfaction, maybe even exhilaration.

How Does Flow Happen?

Flow might sound like a rare and idealistic state, but it doesn’t have to be. It is possible to learn to be in flow and find joy in whatever comes into our daily life, even in difficult circumstances. Those who succeed in doing so follow this blueprint:
Pay attention to details of the environment and situation to find hidden opportunities for action that go well with personal qualities, skills, and strengths.
Set goals appropriate to skill level and situation.
Use internal and external feedback to monitor progress.
Stay focused and adjust the approach to challenges as needed.
Increase complexity of challenges as goals are reached to prevent boredom.

You need both opportunities and skills, as well as the ability to control your consciousness to make use of them. Self-consciousness (worrying about what other people think) and self-centeredness get in the way of this process, as can extreme environmental and social conditions.

When Can Flow Happen?

Some activities seem designed for flow, but the optimal experience of flow can be achieved in almost every aspect of our lives. For example:

1. The Body:

One of the best ways to start improving quality of life and combat depression, boredom, and unhappiness, is learning to control the body and its senses. Tune into your senses, pay attention to all that your body experiences and does, and get creative. As you immerse yourself in the moment and set goals that challenge and motivate you, flow can be experienced in sports, fitness, dance, yoga, martial arts, or in simple tasks such as eating.
2. Thought:

The mind is normally chaotic, making random patterns before settling on a painful or disturbing thought. Thus, it’s helpful to have specific information to focus on. Activities such as watching TV will give you a steady stream of information to distract you from your problems, but it’s more beneficial to have mental habits that give you control and induce flow. These might include doing or creating puzzles or riddles; reading, listening to, or writing stories or poetry; and exploring philosophy, science, music, or history. Find something that interests you and engages your mind, and aim for lifelong learning.

3. Work:

Even the most mundane or demanding job can be an opportunity for flow as you find ways to apply your strengths and develop skills as you look at your tasks and environment from different angles, set personal goals, and find strategies that help you be motivated rather than overwhelmed or bored. Focus on what is in your control rather than what is not. Counter to what we might think, jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time because the conditions for flow are more readily available.

4. Relationships:

Optimal experience can be part of relationships with family, friends, and our community. Having a common purpose and open channels of communication, finding new challenges, and investing attention helps induce flow in even routine aspects of family life and relationships. Friendships can provide opportunities to develop expressive skills and feel into touch with our real selves. It is with friends that we often experience excitement, adventure, and discovery. Getting involved in a cause for good and interacting with members of our community beyond family and friends can also bring optimal experience.

Try filling your time rather than killing it by engaging in activities that require focus, increase skills, and develop “self.” Doing so can help you cope with stress, have a healthy relationship with your environment and others, find helpful solutions, and grow in confidence and self-assurance. Pick one aspect of your life in which you’d like to try pursuing optimal experience and go from there. Chances are, over time you’ll be enjoying the sense of purpose, fulfillment, and satisfaction that comes from living with the mental state of flow.


References:

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Forgiveness: Setting Yourself Free

Forgiving those who have hurt us is something we know we probably should do, but few of us are eager to actually put into practice. When someone has hurt us refusing to forgive someone can seem like one of the only ways to get retribution. There is something extremely gratifying in knowing that forgiveness is ours to withhold.

Too often, we see forgiveness solely as an undeserved kindness we extend to an oppressor. But forgiveness is also a gift we give ourselves—a gift that provides considerable physical and psychological benefits to the giver.

Yes, it can be satisfying to clutch our resentments close to our heart, to replay the injustices done to us over and over. But often, the offending party is oblivious to our anger or underestimates the full extent of it. Meanwhile, we become fixated with the wrongs done to us. The constant rehashing of these wrongs in our minds results in our own torment, but does nothing to punish the injuring party.

Holding on to old resentments is not only unhealthy; it can also hamper our ability to have successful relationships. Bitterness toward one person often seeps into other relationships, causing us to project negative attitudes onto those relationships. Over time, refusal to forgive can also lead to mental anguish and even physical suffering.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the benefits of forgiveness include:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Less stress and hostility
  • Fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety, and chronic pain
  • Lower risk of alcohol and substance abuse
  • Greater psychological and spiritual well-being
  • Healthier relationships

Although forgiveness can be difficult, it is possible. Consider some of the following techniques as you seek to find peace with a situation or person in your life.

1. Choose positive thoughts

Negative thoughts generally bring negative feelings. Choose to focus on gratitude, and the positive times you’ve had in your life and enjoy the positive feelings that follow!

2. Take time to breathe

Take a 10-minute break twice a day to breathe slowly while focusing your mind on a positive time, place or person or just being grateful to be alive.

3. Learn to live without perfection

We all make mistakes. Think of times when you have made mistakes and how grateful you were for others’ forgiveness. Forgive yourself and others for being imperfect. Expect some pain in life and expect humans to make mistakes.

4. Focus on your positive traits

Focus on your abilities, achievements, and goals instead of focusing on others. Focusing on others’ accomplishments can lead to jealousy and endless criticism.

5. Learn the art of detachment.

Detach from the issue or problem causing the pain and look at it without emotion or judgment.

6. Develop empathy

Slow down the pace of making judgments about others and speed up the process of walking in their footsteps. Empathy and understanding of another’s history can ward off a great deal of unnecessary, incorrect interpretations.

7. Chose to let it go

When you forgive others you are not condoning their behavior or giving permission for others to treat you poorly, but by choosing to forgive you let go of the negativity that will weigh you down and keep you stuck in unhappiness.

8. Forgiveness is not a one-time event

True forgiveness can take time, because we may need to replace the old habits of thought with new ones. When we truly forgive someone, we may not forget the offense but we no longer hold resentment toward that person.

While forgiving others can be challenging, it is also ultimately your own best shot at happiness. Refusing to forgive can erode your mental and physical health; it can also compromise your ability to have successful relationships with others. Regardless if you ever receive a satisfactory apology from your offender, choosing to forgive them can release you to live a healthier, happier life.


Research provided by Naomi Brower

Adapted from “Why Forgiveness is Good for You” found on twoofus.org

Service: The Gift that Gives Back

The holiday season is full of opportunities to give of ourselves and serve those around us. We see dozens of fundraisers for different organizations, participate in drives of every sort, offer to carol at assisted living facilities, serve meals in soup kitchens, buy secret Santa gifts for needy children, and much more. Obviously, the intent is to help either those we love or even complete strangers. But the incredible part of service is that it gives back. Jill Suttie and Jason Marsh published an article on the benefits of giving in UC Berkeley’s “Greater Good Magazine.” They shared various ways that scientists and researchers have found evidence of benefits to those who serve and give of themselves.

1. Giving increases our happiness

In a study done by Jorge Moll and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health in 2006 found that “when people give to charities, it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a “warm glow” effect.” Many scientists also believe that altruistic behavior releases endorphins in the brain, producing the positive feeling known as the “helper’s high.”

2. Giving is good for our health

In another study done by Rachel Piferi of Johns Hopkins University and Kathleen Lawler of the University of Tennessee in 2006 found that “people who provided social support to others had lower blood pressure than participants who didn’t, suggesting a direct physiological benefit to those who give of themselves.” Other research has been done that shows that service reduces stress and promotes better health.

3. Giving puts our own challenges into perspective

In his book “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years,” Donald Miller tells the story of his friend Jason and how their family was changed by giving. Jason and his wife were concerned about their 13-year old daughter who had recently started dating a boy they didn’t approve of. She never came home on time and was always away with her boyfriend who smelled like smoke and showed little respect for her. They had found drugs hidden in her closet and could see that she was pulling away from their family. They had tried everything they could think of to reach her, but anything they did only pushed her further away. Jason began researching about an organization that builds orphanages in Mexico and decided that he would contact them and see what it would take to raise the money to help build one. When he presented the idea to his family, they were initially upset because it would mean financial sacrifices on their part. However, after a while, they started to get excited about it and soon the family was working together to raise funds for an orphanage and planning to go and help build it together. When recounting the story, Jason shared that the experience truly changed his family. Their relationships improved, and they felt more peace in their home. He also admitted that the most amazing part was seeing the change in his daughter. She broke up with her boyfriend, turned her life around, and got lost in service. He explained, “no girl who plays the role of a hero dates a guy who uses her. She knows who she is. She just forgot for a little while.”

Now most of us probably won’t be able to go out and build orphanages in third world countries, but the principle is still the same. When we focus on serving and giving to others, we can get outside of ourselves and our own problems enough to put them into perspective. We gain confidence and find purpose in lifting and helping those around us. So, this holiday season, let’s focus on taking advantage of the small opportunities to give of ourselves and what we have. Hopefully, it can start a life-long habit that will improve the quality of our own life as well as those around us. For, in the words of Francis of Assisi, “It is in giving that we receive.”


This research and information was provided by Samantha Marshall

References:

Miller, D. (2009). A million miles in a thousand years. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson.

Suttie, J. & Marsh, J. (2010). Five ways giving is good for you. Greater Good Magazine. Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/5_ways_giving_is_ good_for_you

Top Four Tips to Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude

The holidays often encourage many to reflect on what they are most grateful for in life. Cultivating gratitude can lead to amazing benefits, not just during the holiday season but year round. Some of these include:

  • Improved relationships with others. Having an attitude of gratitude makes us nicer, more appreciative, enhances empathy, and reduces aggression. As a result, it can help us deepen our friendships, improve our marriages, and help us develop new positive relationships with others.
  • Improved mental and physical health. Gratitude helps us to better cope with stress, increases self-esteem, and helps in boosting our coping skills when challenges arise. It also boosts our immune system. Research has also shown that gratitude can help individuals have more energy and more and better sleep quality.
  • Career boost. Gratitude can lead to better decision making, people skills, and can help boost productivity and goal achievement.

Gratitude has some amazing benefits! So how does one better cultivate this attitude of gratitude? Consider these four quick tips for increasing gratitude.

1. Keep a gratitude journal

Write down one or two things every day that you are grateful for. Get creative—searching for those small things like having warm water for a shower or a bed to sleep in can help to develop an attitude of gratitude. Reading through past entries can also provide a positive boost when needed.

2. Share your appreciation

Let others know that you appreciate who they are or what they have done. How to best show appreciation will depend on the person (a written note, a small gift, taking someone to lunch, giving a hug, etc.) but a sincere thank you is always appreciated.

3. Look for the positive

How we interpret the situation can impact our future thoughts and feelings. For example, when facing a challenge, look for the potential benefits such as increasing patience or empathy for others. Ask a friend or family member for help when it seems difficult to see any positives from a situation.

4. Create a list 

Some people need a visual reminder to maintain mindfulness of gratitude. For those individuals, it may be helpful to create a list of people or things that they may often take for granted and place it where they will see it often.

If you haven’t already, consider giving yourself the gift of gratitude this holiday season. It is free, doesn’t take much time, and the benefits are enormous, long-lasting, and one of the simplest ways to improve life satisfaction.


This research and information was provided by Naomi Brower

References:

http://www.webmd.com/women/features/gratitute-health-boost

http://happierhuman.com/the-science-of-gratitude/

Mindfulness: How to Exercise a “Muscle” for Emotional Well-Being

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a special kind of awareness – the awareness that comes when we purposefully pay attention to the present moment without judgment. It may look like formal meditation (e.g. a narrated loving-kindness meditation), informal meditation (meaningful pauses throughout the day), or mindful movement (e.g. yoga or stretching).

Mindfulness is the opposite of being disconnected, caught up in the past or afraid of the future, or being on “autopilot.” It isn’t meant to help you avoid, suppress, or distract yourself from emotions, behaviors, or experiences. It isn’t about forcing your thoughts or feelings to change.  Mindfulness is about experiencing emotions, thoughts, and sensations in a way that will allow you to have a healthier relationship with and response to those elements of your everyday life.

 Why Practice Mindfulness?

Practicing mindfulness has been found to have a multitude of physical, mental, and emotional benefits, including improved resilience, self-concept, energy, positive emotions, openness, enthusiasm, self-control, and ability to relax. It has also been associated with decreased depression (including prevention of relapse), anxiety, loneliness, pain, and relationship issues.

Mindfulness helps to rebalance the “thinking” and the “feeling” parts of the brain so you can be problem-solving oriented rather than overwhelmed with anxiety and other negative emotions.  Mindfulness can also help you tap into resources that you already have so you can not only rise to challenges but engage with parts of your everyday life in a more meaningful way.

How Can You Practice Mindfulness?

Mindfulness takes patience, compassion, and courage. If you feel like you don’t have much of those right now, don’t worry. Act on what you do have to start practicing and it will pay off because one of the great things about mindfulness is that it also helps cultivate patience, compassion, and courage. Don’t try to force this new awareness, be careful about having specific expectations, and remember that it’s okay to struggle with it, especially at first.

You can start practicing mindfulness without a formal exercise. As you’re going about daily tasks, just do and focus on one thing at a time whenever you can. It’s natural for thoughts to wander, so when your attention wanders from the present task, gently guide it back. You can also practice “noticing what you notice” throughout the day. This could be your reactions to events, such as getting stuck at a red light. Try to do this without judging the moment or reaction; it’s about becoming aware of what’s already going on, which will help your brain respond in a healthier way.

If you’d like to go further with mindfulness, here are a few practices to try:

1. Mindful Breathing

Get into a comfortable position and close your eyes. Turn your attention to your breath, noticing what it feels like as it flows in and out of your body. Breathe slowly and pay attention to your stomach. Feel it expand and sink with the breath. Let yourself fully experience your breath in this moment and throughout your body. Whenever your mind wanders, acknowledge the distraction and gently guide your thoughts back to the breath. Continue for about ten minutes.

2. The Raisin Exercise

Hold a raisin (a grape or berry will also work) between your finger and thumb and take time to really look at it. Notice its color and texture and the way it interacts with light. Next, notice its scent. Then, without chewing, put the raisin in your mouth. Feel its texture as you move it around. Take one small bite of the raisin, taking in its taste and texture. Maybe there’s a difference between the inside and the outside.  Finally, eat the raisin slowly, noticing all the ways it interacts with your senses.

3. Loving-Kindness Meditation

Find a quiet place and a comfortable position, and approach this exercise with an open heart for yourself and others. Begin with directing kindness and acceptance toward yourself. It’s okay if you resist this idea at first, just breathe and repeat silently: “May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be peaceful and live with ease.

Now turn your thoughts to someone you respect and send this loving-kindness toward them. After a few minutes, think of someone you love unconditionally and silently repeat the mantra. Do the same for an acquaintance you don’t have strong feelings about (positive or negative) and lastly for someone you are struggling with in your life.

  • This particular meditation has been found to lead to an increase in a wide range of positive emotions.

 

Don’t rush these exercises. Let yourself make the most of the moment. For more practices (and extended versions of the ones shared here) to help you cultivate mindfulness, visit berkeley.edu/mindfulness.

Remember, mindfulness is not a quick fix.  It takes time and practice to have this kind of awareness come naturally, but it is worth the effort.  Eventually, you might come to realize that mindfulness is more than a treatment; it can become a way of life.


References

 Akhtar, M. (2018).  Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression.  London, United Kingdom: Watkins Publishing.

Goldin, P. [GoogleTechTalks].  (2008, March 1). Cognitive Neuroscience of Mindfulness Meditation [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sf6Q0G1iHBI&t=2308s

Korb, A. (2015). The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Williams, M., Teasdale, J., Segal, Z., and Kabat-Zinn, J. (2007).  The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness.  New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

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