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

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.

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.

A Healthy ‘We’ Begins with a Healthy ‘Me’

More and more research is coming out about the impact of positive psychology and mindfulness on couple relationships (Khaddouma, 2017). It makes sense, right? If we feel happy about ourselves and our lives, we are much more likely to transfer that to relationships, especially with a significant other. You’ve heard the phrase, “A healthy ‘we’ begins with a healthy ‘me’. But what does that mean exactly? One of the best ways to take care of our relationships is to take care of ourselves as an individual. This means mentally, physically, and emotionally. When we feel stressed, anxious, tired, depressed or overwhelmed it is harder to be patient, understanding, kind, and loving to our partner. This can make small disagreements spiral into larger problems, or just inhibit our ability to feel loved in the relationship. So, focus on maintaining a healthy “you”. Here are just a few suggestions to try:

1. Savoring

  • Go on a walk outside and take in what you see, hear, and smell.
  • Enjoy eating something you love. Try taking slow, small bites and focusing on the sensations in your mouth. What does it taste like? How does it feel on your tongue? What are the sounds you hear while eating it?
  • Slow down and take in the moment. Watch your kids giggle, admire your partner from afar, observe happy interactions between family or friends.

2. Get some exercise

  • Ride bikes to the park.
  • Do some yoga.
  • Go on a run.
  • Work out at the gym.
  • Find what feels best for you!

3. Self-regulate

  • Do some square breathing (breath in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breath out for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, repeat).
  • Play with a stress ball, playdoh, putty or something else you can squeeze to release muscle tension.
  • Do a puzzle, craft, or something else that requires concentration.

4. Treat yourself

  • Sit down and read a book for 20-30 min.
  • Take a power nap.
  • Enjoy a warm bath or shower (use a bath bomb if you’d like).
  • Get a massage (from a professional or from your partner/kids).

5. Focus on the good

  • Make a list of things you’re grateful for in your life. Add to the list throughout the day.
  • Think of your 3 greatest strengths. You may be a great listener, or maybe you have a gift for fixing things around the house. Identify what those strengths are and see how you can use them that day.
  • Find some way to serve someone. Do something out of the ordinary. It doesn’t have to be big, but put some effort into it.

Resources:

Khaddouma, A., Coop Gordon, K., & Strand, E. B. (2017). Mindful Mates: A Pilot Study of the Relational Effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on Participants and Their Partners. Family Process56(3), 636651. https://doiorg.dist.lib.usu.edu/10.1111/famp.12226

 

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