How Restrictive Diets Mess with Our Brain and Lead to Bingeing

“Your body is precious. It is your vehicle for awakening. Treat it with care.” ~Buddha

When I went on my first diet in my teens (low-carb, it was back in the Atkins days), I wasn’t even overweight. I weighed less than 120 pounds, but my jeans had started to get a little tight, so I thought I needed to lose five pounds or so. At the time, I didn’t have a bad relationship with food; I just ate like a typical teenager—not the best choices.

About two hours in, I remember starting to obsess over the things I couldn’t eat and being desperate to be skinny ASAP so I could eat them again.

By mid day, I “failed.”

I caved and ate…. *gasp, shock, horror*… carbs.

And something weird happened. Instantly, I felt like I was bad.

It’s not just that I thought I had made a bad choice.

I thought, “You idiot, you can’t do anything right. Look at you, one meal in and you screwed up already. You may as well just eat whatever you want the rest of the day and start again tomorrow.”

I think I gained about five pounds from that attempt.

And I continued slowly gaining more and more weight every year after that—and feeling guiltier and guiltier every time I ate something “bad.”

Atkins low-carb miracle cure had failed me horribly and began a decades-long battle with food and my weight.

See, it wasn’t that I thought my choice was bad and then I just made a better choice next time; it was that I felt like I, as a person, was bad.

And what happens when we’re bad?

We get punished.

I didn’t realize until many years later, but those degrading thoughts and overeating the rest of the day were, in part, my way of punishing myself for being bad and eating the bad things.

The harder I tried to control what was going in, the worse it got and the more out of control I felt.

In my thirties I hit bottom, as they say, as a result of trying to follow a “clean eating meal plan.”

Four days into my first attempt to “eat clean” and strictly adhere to what someone else told me I should eat, I had my first-ever binge.

Prior to that, I had some minor food issues. I ate kind of crummy, had slowly been gaining weight, and felt guilty when I ate carbs (thanks, Atkins).

But a few days into “clean eating,” I was in the middle of a full-blown eating disorder.

The clean eating miracle craze may have made me look and feel amazing, but emotionally, it failed me horribly and began my years-long battle to recover from bulimia and binge eating.

But I thought it was just me. I was such a screw up, why couldn’t I just eat like a normal person?

I saw how much better I looked and felt when I was managing to “be good” and “eat clean,” but within a few days or weeks of “being good,” no matter how great I felt from eating that way, I always caved and ended up bingeing again.

And every time, I thought it was me. I told myself I was broken and weak and pathetic.

Even later, when I started training other people, my message was “If it’s not on your plan, it doesn’t go in your mouth” and “You can’t expect to get the body you want by eating the things that gave you the body you have.”

I wanted clients to feel amazing and get the best results possible, so I gave them what I knew would accomplish those two things.

But, at the time, I didn’t know that it was actually those messages and rules that had created all my own issues with food, and I most definitely didn’t know they would have that affect on anyone else.

I thought everyone else was “normal.” I was just broken and weak and stupid—that’s why I struggled so hard to just “be good” and “stop screwing up.” Normal people would see how much better they felt when they ate that way, and they’d automatically change and live happily ever after.

Ha. No.

The more people I trained, the more I became acutely aware that food is the thing most people struggle with the most, and I started recognizing the exact same thoughts and behaviors I’d experienced, in the majority of my clients.

And almost every single one of them also had a looong history of failed diets.

Hmmm. Maybe it wasn’t just me.

Not everyone goes to the extreme of bulimia, but the more I spoke with other people about their struggles with food and shared my own with them, the more I realized how shockingly pervasive disordered eating and eating disorders have become.

Binge eating is an eating disorder—one that more people struggle with than I ever imagined. Though, most people are horrified to admit it, and many may not even be willing to admit to themselves that they do.

I get that because it’s associated with lack of self-control and gluttony, and there’s a great deal of shame related to both of those things. But it actually has little to do with either, and you can’t change anything until you admit you’re struggling.

And disordered eating in general is even more pervasive.

Feeling guilt after eating is not normal. That’s disordered eating.

Restricting entire food groups is not normal. That’s disordered eating.

Severely restricting food in general in not normal. That’s disordered eating.

Beating yourself up for eating something “bad” is not normal. That’s disordered eating.

Starting and stopping a new diet every few weeks or months is not normal. That’s disordered eating.

Diet culture has us so screwed up that we spend most of our lives doing these things without ever realizing they’re not normal. And they’re negatively affecting our whole lives.

As I was working on my own recovery, I dove into hundreds of hours of research into dieting, habits, motivation, and disordered eating—anything I could get my hands on to help not only myself but my clients better stick to their plans.

It’s so easy, I used to think; there must be some trick to make us just eat what we’re supposed to eat!

But I learned the exact opposite.

I learned that trying to “stick to the plan” was actually the problem.

The solution wasn’t in finding some magic trick to help people follow their meal plans; the solution lay in not telling people what to eat in the first place.

There are many reasons behind why we eat what we eat, when we eat, and even the quantities we choose to eat; it just doesn’t work to tell someone to stop everything they know and just eat this much of this at this time of day, because at some later date it’ll make them skinny and happy.

Our brains don’t work that way.

Our brains actually work exactly the opposite.

As soon as we place restrictions on what we’re allowed or not allowed to eat, our brains start creating compulsions and obsessive thoughts that drive us to “cave.”

Have you ever noticed that as soon as you “can’t” have something, you automatically want it even more?

That’s a survival instinct that’s literally been hard-wired into our brains since the beginning of time.

In November 1944, post-WW II, physiologist Ancel Keys, PhD and psychologist Josef Brozek PhD began a nearly yearlong experiment on the psychological and physiological effects of starvation on thirty-six mentally and physically healthy young men.

The men were expected to lose one-quarter of their body weight. They spent the first three months eating a normal diet of 3,200 calories a day followed by six months of semi-starvation. The semi-starvation period was followed by three months of rehabilitation calories (3,200) and finally an eight-week period of unrestricted rehabilitation, during which time there was no limitations on caloric intake.

Researchers closely monitored the physiological and psychological changes brought on by calorie restriction.

During the most restricted phase the changes were dramatic. Physically, the men became gaunt in appearance, and there were significant decreases in their strength, stamina, body temperature, heart rate, and even sex drive.

Psychologically, the effects were even more dramatic and mirror those almost anyone with any history of dieting can relate to.

They became obsessed with food. Any chance they had to get access to more food resulted in the men binge eating thousands of calories in a sitting.

Before the restriction period, the men were a lively bunch, discussing politics, current events, and more. During the restriction period, this quickly changed. They dreamt, read, fantasized, and talked about food all the time.

They became withdrawn, irritable, fatigued, and apathic. Depression, anxiety, and obsessive thinking (especially about food) were also observed.

For some men, the study proved too difficult—they were excluded as a result of breaking the diet or not meeting their weight loss goals.

We don’t struggle to follow diets and food rules because we lack willpower. It’s literally the way our brains are wired.

Why? Because from an evolutionary standpoint, we’re not designed to restrict food. Coded into our DNA is the overwhelming urge to survive, so when food (either over-all calories or food groups) is restricted, our brains begin to create urgency, compulsions, and strong desires that force us to fill its needs—and often, even more than its needs (binges).

We cave because our brains are hardwired to. Then the act of caving actually gets wired into our brains as a habit that we continue to repeat on autopilot every time we restrict food or food groups.

And it triggers the punish mode that I spoke of earlier, which only compounds the problem and slowly degrades our self-worth.

So every year millions of people are spending tens of billions of dollars on diets that are making the majority of us heavier, depressed, anxious, food-obsessed binge eaters, and destroying our self-worth.

Now I know all that sounds pretty bleak, but there is a way out. I know because I’ve found it.

It sounds like the opposite of what we should do, but it saved my life.

I gave myself permission to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and stopped trying to restrict. The scarier that sounds, the more you need to do it.

As soon as nothing is off limits, we can begin to slowly move away from the scarcity mindset and break the habits and obsessions created by dieting.

When we give ourselves unconditional permission to eat whatever we want, without guilt or judgment, we give ourselves the space to get mindful about our choices.

We give ourselves the opportunity to explore why we’re making the choices we’re making and the power to freely make different ones because we begin to value ourselves again.

When we remove the guilt and judgment, start to value ourselves again, and work on being mindful, we can begin to notice how the foods we’re eating make us feel and make choices from a place of love and kindness rather than fear, guilt, and punishment.

It sounds too simple to work, but it saved my life.

Rather than telling people what they should and shouldn’t eat, or trying to listen to someone who’s telling us what we should or shouldn’t eat, we have to build a connection with our bodies.

We have to learn to listen to them, to learn to distinguish the difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger. To stop eating when we’re not physically hungry, and to start feeling emotions instead of feeding them.

We have to break the habits that drive autopilot eating. We have to be mindful, trust the wisdom of our own bodies, and make choices based on how they make our bodies feel rather than what some diet tells us is the answer to happiness and being skinny.

Article by: Roni Davis

This Is Your Brain on High Sensitivity

Do you notice every little emotion of the people around you — and feel them deeply yourself? Do you get highly stressed when your to-do list is long, or when you spend a lot of time in a loud, busy place? If so, you might be a highly sensitive person (HSP). Highly sensitive people are the 20 percent of the population who process things more deeply than others, so it’s no surprise that the brain of an HSP works differently than the brains of others, too.

Partly, this is genetic. There are a number of genes that determine whether someone is highly sensitive, and all of them have to do with neurotransmitters and the brain, emotions, and mood.

But the highly sensitive brain is also a product of nurture. In fact, the main gene that makes you highly sensitive also makes you far more receptive to environmental influences — especially as a child. In other words, nurture plays an even bigger role in shaping highly sensitive people than it does for most others.

So what exactly makes the brain and nervous system of an HSP different? Recent research has answers — lots of them. Let’s take a look at the biggest differences.

1. Your brain responds to dopamine differently.

Dopamine is the brain’s reward chemical. It’s what makes you “want” to do certain things, and then feel a sense of victory or happiness when you do them. But many of the genes involved in high sensitivity affect how your body uses dopamine, in ways we don’t fully understand. It’s likely that HSPs are less driven by external rewards, which is part of what allows them to hold back and be thoughtful and observant while they process information. That would also help prevent HSPs from being drawn to the same highly stimulating situations that end up overwhelming them.

If you’re an HSP, and you just don’t find yourself all that interested in a super loud party, you have your dopamine system to thank — it’s helping you avoid overstimulation and burnout.

2. Your mirror neurons are more active than those of others.

Mirror neurons help you understand what another person is doing, or what they’re experiencing, based on their actions. They do that by comparing the other person’s behavior with times when you yourself have behaved that way — effectively “mirroring” the other person to figure out what’s going on for them.

That’s an important job for a lot of reasons, but one of the things it does in humans is allow us to feel empathy and compassion for others. When we recognize the pain (or joy) that someone is going through and relate to it, it’s because of this system. More mirror neuron activity means a more empathetic person — like an HSP.

HSPs don’t necessarily have “more” mirror neurons than others. It’s that their mirror neuron systems are more active. In 2014, functional brain imaging research found that HSPs had consistently higher levels of activity in key parts of the brain related to social and emotional processing. This higher level of activity kicked in even in tests involving strangers, showcasing HSPs’ ability to extend compassion to people they don’t personally know. (The effect was still highest with loved ones, however).

As a highly sensitive person, these mirror neurons are both your superpower and, at times, more than a little inconvenient — like when you can’t watch the same TV show as everyone else, because it’s too violent. But it’s also what makes you warm, caring, and incredibly insightful about what other people are going through.

3. You really do experience emotions more vividly than others.

Hidden away in the front of the brain is a fascinating area called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). This area is hooked in to several systems involving your emotions, your values, and processing sensory data. When we say that highly sensitive people “process things more deeply than others,” there’s a good chance it happens right here.

While not all of the jobs the vmPFC does are well understood, it’s definitely associated with emotional regulation — and it enhances the things we experience with a certain emotional “vividness.” Everyone experiences life more vividly during emotional moments, not just HSPs. But high sensitivity is linked to a gene that increases this vividness, essentially “turning up the dial.” That gene allows emotional enhancement to have a much greater effect on the vmPFC as it processes experiences.

What does this mean for HSPs? Unlike mirror neurons, this emotional vividness isn’t necessarily social in nature. It’s all about how vividly you feel emotions inside yourself in response to what’s happening around you. So, if you seem to feel things more strongly than other people do, it’s probably not just in your head. HSPs are finely tuned to pick up even subtle emotional cues and react to them.

4. Other people are the brightest thing on your radar.

For some less sensitive people, it’s easy to tune out other people. But for an HSP, almost everything about the brain is wired around noticing and interpreting others.

This is clear from the many, many other parts of the brain that get extra-active for HSPs in a social context. For example, the brain imaging study mentioned above didn’t just show greater activity in areas associated with empathy. It also showed increased activity in the cingulate area and the insula — two areas that, together, form the “seat of consciousness” and moment-to-moment awareness. For HSPs, these areas become far more active in response to images of other people, especially those exhibiting a relevant social or emotional cue.

In other words, highly sensitive people actually become more alert, almost “more conscious,” in a social context. If you’re an HSP, other people are the brightest thing on your radar.

The Gift of the Highly Sensitive Brain

There’s a lot that can be said about the gifts of the highly sensitive brain. It processes information on a deeper level, sees more connections, and cares and relates to others in a profound way. If you’re a highly sensitive person, it’s not an exaggeration to say that your brain is among the most powerful social machines in the known universe.

But perhaps your most important gift as an HSP is the one designed to protect you: Your brain is fine-tuned to notice and interpret the behavior of everyone around you. If someone is bad news, you know it. If someone is not going to treat you right, you see it coming. And if a situation isn’t right for you, you know that, too.

That’s vital, because a highly sensitive person needs a healthy environment and supportive loved ones in order to thrive — perhaps even more so than others.

If you’re a highly sensitive person, trust your intuition about people. Your brain is on your side, and it’s rooting for you.

Article by: Andre Solo

How Mindfulness Is Saving My Relationship

“Mindfulness is about love and loving life. When you cultivate this love, it gives you clarity and compassion for life, and your actions happen in accordance with that.” ~Jon Kabat-Zinn

I started meditating and practicing mindfulness more seriously several years ago incorporating it in to my daily routine, initially to help with my anxiety. My practice certainly helped me by leaps and bounds in overcoming my anxiety, but an unexpected side effect has been the impact it’s having on my marriage.

We’ve not been married long, and as many couples before us have experienced, getting accustomed to this new dynamic can be at times… difficult.

Learning to communicate and compromise isn’t always a smooth ride. He cares about being on time (or early), I care about not being rushed. I like the kitchen cleaned after dinner, he couldn’t care less. He gets stressed when he doesn’t know the schedule in advance, I feel stressed when I feel boxed into a plan.

So we argued. And got mad at each other. And created these expectations for each other that we definitely didn’t always meet.

But slowly I started to notice a change. It began with a change in me, my stress level, my tendency to blame, my expectations of him. I found myself more understanding, better able to let go of things that didn’t go my way, and better at communicating when an argument bubbled up between us.

Then my husband started to change too. He’d noticed the changes in me and saw how much better I felt and how much easier communication was with me, and he started mimicking what he saw me do.

He wasn’t letting things bother him as much. In a situation where we would have had an ugly argument, he was now starting the conversation from a place of curiosity instead of finger pointing. But the biggest thing that I noticed from him was how he was willing and able to reflect on how he was feeling and dig into why he felt the way he did whereas in the past he would have become angry at me for making him feel that way.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment on purpose and without judgment. This can be done in day-to-day activities like driving, eating, and in conversation. It can also be practiced as formal meditation.

This simple practice can transform our relationship with our thoughts, give us new perspectives on life and even our own behaviors, and free us from the hold that our emotions can have on us when we identify with them.

Here are changes I’ve seen in myself from practicing mindfulness that have led to improving my marriage.

I’m happier.

Stress is a salty mistress with eight in ten adults suffering daily. And anxiety is pervasive in our society, affecting roughly forty million Americans (including me for thirty-ish years). Practicing mindfulness is a time-tested and scientifically proven method of dealing with and overcoming the hold of stress and anxiety.

When we’re stressed, feeling down or angry, we’re on the lookout for anything to prove that life is stressful or crappy, or that we’re right and others are wrong. We notice the things that bother us like dishes left on the counter, a car driving too slowly in traffic, or the way your spouse asks what’s for dinner.

And when we’re happy, we do the same—look for things to prove why life is great. You notice the nice things, the birds chirping, that your spouse gets up without complaint on Tuesday mornings to take out the trash. It’s also easier to be more compassionate and forgiving from a happy place.

The less-stressed and no longer anxiety-ridden me is a much better wife and partner. From a happier place, I’m not only much more pleasant to be around, but things don’t tend to bother me as much.

I’m a better listener.

As a person with ADD, I’ve always found listening intently in conversations to be a difficult task. The mind wanders to other topics making it difficult to be fully present, take in what the other person is saying, and retain the information for later.

My mindfulness practice has drastically improved my ability to pay attention. It’s like brain training, building the ‘muscle’ that helps direct our attention at will.

I’m better able to fully listen to my husband when he’s sharing with me without always thinking of what I’m going to say next or what I need to do later. He feels heard, and we feel more connected to each other as a result.

I’m much more aware of how I’m feeling.

Not to say that I’m happy 24/7—I don’t think that’s possible, nor would I want that. We have a rainbow of emotions, and there are good reasons to feel them even for a brief moment.

The act of paying attention on purpose trains the brain to notice what we’re feeling. We’re so used to just feeling our feelings, and if they’re not pleasant we either try to run from them, numb them, or lash out.

It’s more productive and much less stressful to look at our emotions with curiosity. Label them. Then ask questions. “Ah, I’m feeling irritated. What’s that about? What’s another way of looking at this? How can I change this situation or cope with it?”

I’m also better able to catch myself before emotions spike high. Once emotions hit their peak in an argument, the horse had already left the stable. It’s tough, if not damn near impossible to reel it back in once you’ve reached the crest of pissed off-ness.

At this point, your brain and body are in fight-or-flight mode where it’s impossible to access critical thinking skills and takes about twenty minutes to calm enough to think clearly to make sound, logical decisions.

Granted, those high negative emotions are drastically fewer and further between for me now with years of mindfulness practice under my belt. However, I’m only human and once in a great while I can feel those emotions rising.

Being more aware of how I feel has helped me resolve difficult or frustrating feelings internally and avoid arguments with my husband.

I’m much more aware of how my husband is feeling.

Mindfulness practice increases your ability to be present, and thus not be distracted by thoughts. As a result, you become more insightful, a better listener, and more observant.

This results in higher levels of emotional intelligence because you are able to see things from another person’s point of view to facilitate better communication. It becomes a powerful tool that makes you more effective in understanding other people, as well as contexts and situations.

When my husband seems upset, I’m better now at putting his behavior into context and empathizing with his emotions. For example, an angry outburst from him directed at me because we should have left five minutes ago, I can see is actually his frustration stemming from a lack of control over something he values—which is punctuality.

I don’t get upset in return anymore. Instead, I empathize with him because I better understand what is causing his emotions and don’t take them personally.

I’m able to forgive more quickly.

Pobody’s nerfect. Mindfulness teaches us to forgive ourselves and others as we are paying attention to the present moment non-judgmentally.

Using mindfulness techniques, a person is able to let go of or forget about the past and not dwell on what the future can be.

Mindfulness can be highly beneficial because we are able to let go of unrealistic or materialistic thoughts and just exist in the moment.

It can be used to accept the feelings of sadness, anger, irritation, or betrayal that you have and to move on from them. Your path to a freer you, begins with knowing what is hurting you the most.

Cultivating a greater capacity for forgiveness has brought me to a place in my relationships where I don’t hold grudges or dig up the past in arguments.

I’m aware of the stories I’m telling myself.

When something doesn’t go our way, it’s so easy to identify with the story we’re telling ourselves and label it as the whole truth.

Mindfulness has shown me the difference between me and my thoughts. They are not one in the same. Thoughts are ideas passing through our minds like clouds in the sky. They are fleeting. They change with context.

Because of mindfulness, when I’m upset I can more easily identify the story I’m telling myself that is making me upset.

For example, I was hurt after my husband didn’t get up and greet me enthusiastically when I came home from a week-long business trip. He stayed sitting on the couch absorbed with what he was doing.

I was upset and went upstairs to fume. Then I realized I was telling myself a story that my husband doesn’t care about me or love me enough. I know that isn’t true. There are a number of reasons why he didn’t get up.

When I came back downstairs he could tell I was still a bit upset, so he asked me about it. I said, “The story I’m telling myself is that you didn’t miss me because you didn’t get up when I came home. I know it’s not true, but I’m still feeling a little upset because I would have liked it if you gave me a big hug.”

He apologized and said he’d wanted to wait until I was settled to love on me. He was much more receptive to “the story I’m telling myself” than he would have been had I started in on him about what he’d done wrong. And I felt better when I stopped jumping to the wrong conclusion and allowed him to share his side while avoiding confrontation.

A few weeks later he calmly told me he was upset about something and started the conversation with “the story I’m telling myself is…”

That’s when I knew our relationship was improving because of mindfulness.

Being able to objectively look at my thoughts and feelings allows me to reframe any situation and gives me the space to respond thoughtfully instead of reacting impulsively.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this experience it’s that self-love and striving for self-improvement can have a ripple effect through your life affecting those around you for the better. The better me I can become—less stressed, more compassionate, healthier, happier—the better wife, friend, daughter, and coach I can be.

Article by: Sandy Wosnicki of Tiny Buddha

How to Tackle Fear and Anxiety Cognitively, Behaviorally, and Spiritually

“The beautiful thing about fear is that when you run to it, it runs away.” ~Robin Sharma

During my first-grade choir concert, my classmate, Meg, fainted from the top row of the bleachers, and in a subconscious gesture of empathy, I went down right after her, breaking my glasses and flailing on the gymnasium floor.

It’s possible that this triggered some kind of coping mechanism in my brain, because I started fainting again and again.

One time I fainted at the dentist’s office—immediately after the dentist injected me with my first round of Novocain—then months later in a hospital parking lot after a small medical procedure.

I also fainted a few days after getting my ears pierced. I was showing my grandmother my new gold studs, and I happened to look toward the TV just as Nellie Olsen fainted during a Little House on the Prairie rerun, and that was enough, over I went.

What affected me the most during those early years of growing up was not the tangible act of fainting, but my anxiety anticipating when and where I would faint next. Whenever I wasn’t moving, whenever I tried to be still, my thoughts traveled to the fear of fainting. And because of that, I tried to keep my mind constantly active.

I had several tests, and the doctors found nothing medically wrong with me. I literally scared myself to the point of fainting. Though I never let fear prevent me from doing things, inner struggles and cautious dread were always present. It made living in the moment very difficult.

Going to church became a major source of stress for me. I had time to think, worry, and become anxious. These were ideal fainting conditions for me.

I’d have panic attacks during Sunday mass without anyone knowing. Moments of pulling my hair, pinching my skin, feeling my heart pounding out of my chest were common, all while trying to will myself from fainting.

This continued for years.

I seemed to outgrow my anxiety attacks after high school, and I continued through college and beyond, without thinking much about my prior angst. I got married and had three children. Then, during my late thirties, my anxiety returned with a vengeance, escalating to a fear of driving on the highway.

Things got worse in my early forties when I developed major health concerns. Again, there was nothing physically wrong with me; I was purely manifesting physical symptoms from worrying about a certain disease or medical condition. It was quite a skill—one that I was not proud of, but one that certainly awakened me to the power of my mind.

My fear ran deep and was so powerful that it physically controlled me.

The more I tried to ignore my anxiety, the more it escalated until it gradually controlled the person I was becoming. I didn’t like “me” anymore.

I was afraid of everything. I talked to my doctor, read every Louise Hay book, went to biofeedback, performed EFT, and saw a few therapists. I would do anything to remember who I was before the fear of living got in my way.

The funny thing was, no one else noticed because this overwhelming anxiety never stopped me from doing anything. It just sucked the spirit out of me. No one knew that, to me, life felt really scary.

I wanted to crawl up in a ball with my kids. I wanted to control every waking move I made and make sure we were all safe.

I remember a profound moment one fall day after finishing a run. Out of breath and standing there with my hands on my knees, I looked up at the trees and saw a leaf floating from a tree. I stood and prayed that I’d learn how to let go and release my inner struggles and be as light and free as that leaf.

That was when I decided I would not consume my every waking moment with this fear. I would be the person who chose to live life fully.

So this is what I know now.

To let go of something, you need to lean in.

This is counterintuitive. We all have a built-in “fight, flight or freeze” response to stress, which is a physiological reaction that occurs in the presence of fear and is exhibited by the urge to flee, run, or freeze and do nothing.

In many ways, anxiety can protect us from harmful situations. In other ways, when the threat is not harmful, it can prevent us from functioning at our fullest capacity and experiencing all that life has to offer.

I spent many years of my life trying to push fear away and running as fast as I could from it. But what I needed to do was to allow myself to lean into fear, to work through it, to face it head on. I needed to show my anxiety and fear that I wasn’t afraid anymore.

This was a frightening act. But the alternative was to continue to run—and this was even more terrifying.

So I began to allow, to surrender, to trust. I stopped fighting and made a conscious choice to choose love over fear—again and again. Battling and rejecting a part of myself had only caused feelings of isolation and anguish.

I searched to understand the power of my subconscious and began to process fainting as my defense mechanism. I realized that if I was going to move through this fear, I’d have to love and accept myself, including the anxiety within me.

I stood firmly anchored in the ground of acceptance. Of all of me. And the result was a newer, more powerful version of myself—one that no longer was afraid to live.

If you’re struggling with anxiety and/or fear, here are eight ways to move forward. In more severe instances, you may need the help of a medical professional.

Cognitively

Acknowledge your fear.

This is a major first step. We often ignore our fears and anxiety for so long that they progress into a part of us.

Compartmentalize your fear, separating it from yourself. Then peel back the layers and find out what it is that you fear. Is it disappointing others? Rejection? Failing? Something else? Recognize that it’s holding you back from becoming your true self.

Fear is sneaky. It can be quite obvious, presenting as physiological symptoms, or it can be much more obscure. Procrastination, perfectionism, and overwhelm can all be forms of fear.

Explore if any of these are showing up for you and consider how they may be contributing to your lack of progress.  When you pinpoint the underlying fear and how it is presenting itself, you diminish the power it has over you.

Initially, I believed I was afraid of fainting. After much reflection with my coach and therapist, and as my thoughts evolved, I was able to identify my underlying fear—the fear of dying. Every time I fainted, my blood pressure would drop and I’d lose consciousness, essentially looking death in the eyes over and over again.

Once I recognized this, even though it was still scary, the awareness allowed me to use coping skills to move forward.

Lean into your fear.

When you feel like running or fleeing, it’s time to face your fear with courage. Although our automatic response is often to run away, numb our feelings, or somehow distract ourselves, escaping only temporarily relieves anxiety. Fear will return, possibly in a different form, until you choose to confront it with kindness.

Bring yourself into the present moment by noticing the sensations in your body. Where Is fear showing up as discomfort for you? In your chest? Your stomach? Your throat? Fully experience it.

Befriend your fear.

Let fear know that you’re not afraid of it. Ask it: What are you trying to tell me? What do you want me to know?

What I learned from asking these questions was that fear was trying to keep me safe from harm. A part of my past needed to be acknowledged and fear was whispering, “You can’t move on and become your most powerful self until you work through this, my friend.”

Then thank it for trying to protect you in the only way it knew how.

Behaviorally

Exercise.

For me, running has always been a huge stress reliever. Whether it’s running or yoga or something in between, movement calms you down by releasing chemicals called endorphins.

Make healthy choices.

When I feel stressed, I limit my sugar and caffeine intake, since sugar crashes can cause irritability and tension, and stimulants like caffeine can worsen anxiety and even trigger panic attacks. A well-balanced diet full of healthy, whole foods will help also alleviate anxiety. Be sure to eat breakfast to keep your blood sugar steady, and stay hydrated to help your mind and body perform at their best.

Breathe.

Since I have made yoga and meditation a part of my daily routine, I’ve noticed a difference in how I react to stressful situations. Slotting this time into my morning ensures I get it done before the day gets busy. When you’re in the middle of a panic attack, it’s harder to move into meditation and deep breathing, so it’s helpful to make this an everyday practice.

Spiritually

Trust.

Fear and anxiety can stem from self-doubt and insecurities. If you regularly work on accessing your inner wisdom, and acting on what you learn, you’ll develop more trust in your ability to do what’s best for you and handle whatever comes at you. You can begin to strengthen your relationship to your inner wisdom by journaling, meditating, and sitting in silence. This is an ongoing process that requires exploration.

One of the most effective ways to build self-trust is to take small steps forward. Know that it can (and most likely will) be scary, but once you step out of your comfort zone, you’ll see that much of what you were afraid of was in your imagination. To make this easier, I often recall a time when I trusted myself, despite my self-doubt, and things turned out positively.

Surrender

When you have done all you can, let go. Discern what is outside of your control and find the courage to release all expectations of it. You may just find a sense of relief in allowing life to unfold naturally.

I still have moments when I get anxious and overly worried. In these moments, I think about the influence my mind has over my body. Perhaps it’s not about resisting my mind’s ability to control me, but rather redirecting its incredible power to work in my favor.

And with that, I can move mountains.

Article By: Carly Hamilton-Jones of Tiny Buddha

How to Live an Extraordinary Life, Starting Right Where You Are

“Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” ~Rumi

“Isn’t this a miracle?” I asked myself in the milk aisle at Whole Foods.

It was a Wednesday night after work, and I was buying a few staples to get us through the week. It was a completely ordinary moment in a completely ordinary day, and it was miraculous.

Rewind a few years, same Whole Foods, same shopping list, and you’d find me absentmindedly wandering the aisles, lost in a head full of worries. I couldn’t tell you now what I was worried about then—the house, the kids, money, probably.

My body would be tense, with a hint of tears right behind my eyes.

“Isn’t this supposed to be a miracle?” I might have asked if I had the words to describe that feeling.

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be one of those interesting people who did interesting things like paint murals or write books. I wanted to see every continent and learn as many languages as my brain could hold. I wanted to feel excited by my life.

As a child, I had no doubt that this is what growing up would be like.

But, for just as long as I can remember, I also lived under the assumption that I had something to prove. My intelligence, my worth, my place in this world.

Somehow, these two ideas became intertwined.

That part of me that felt so certain that her life would be extraordinary started to have doubts.

Could I really pull it off?

Had I really earned it?

Was I being completely delusional?

Over time, that vision of an extraordinary life felt like a silly childhood dream, and I stopped myself from following it. I worked hard and earned a good reputation, but that excitement, that fulfillmentwas always just out of my reach.

I would let it go saying, it’ll come later, but as I checked off the boxes of life’s to-do list—degree, job, marriage, kids—I wasn’t feeling anything like I thought I would.

The feeling that something was off fueled a restlessness that I mistook for motivation. I poured myself into school and then work, but not necessarily out of excitement. I think a part of me still believed that if you weren’t happy, you just weren’t working hard enough at it.

What confused me about it all was that my life was good. I had a beautiful, growing family, a stable job, and a safe, comfortable house. I mean, I was buying organic milk to pour on my cereal. That’s a privilege.

So, if nothing was “wrong,” why didn’t it feel right?

I’d scold myself for not being more grateful, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I didn’t feel the way I wanted.

Then, one ordinary day, while squeezing in another email during my lunch hour, a little thought snapped me out of it.

“You’re missing the point, Leslie.”

Time stopped just long enough for me to notice my racing heart.

Maybe you’ve had these epiphanies, where you’re amazed by your own wisdom and you feel so incredibly clear and awake. Maybe it was during a life-changing event, or maybe, like me, it was during an everyday moment, like buying toothpaste or feeding the cats.

The immediate effect wasn’t anything extreme. There was no out of body experience, no inexplicable knowledge of the universe. Just an ordinary little thought that led to another ordinary little thought.

What if living an extraordinary life isn’t about the details?

Every now and then, I’d pull out a list I made that day and add a thought or two to it.

The point is…

Overflowing.

Seeing more magic.

Doing what you love.

Being happy.

Being present.

Feeling bright, brave, and brilliant.

Waking up and appreciating the mountains.

My children knowing how much they are loved.

Gratefully receiving everything I have.

Letting myself unfold.

Alignment, not approval.

Trusting the wisdom of my own heart.

A hundred percent up to me.

And in a gradual, ordinary kind of way, I figured it out. That feeling I wanted wasn’t an outcome. It wasn’t something that would happen “when.” It wasn’t in the details at all. It’s your feelings, moment to moment, that make your life extraordinary.

There is no committee keeping score and waiting to grant permission to begin. There’s just us, the people we care about, our corner of the world, and those little moments. And we have a choice in what we do with them.

That feeling that something was wrong wasn’t about my reputation or my checklist. It was about my awareness of the miracles right in front of me and my willingness to take conscious, meaningful steps that felt extraordinary to take.

Since that day, my life has changed dramatically.

We live in the same house, we shop at the same store, I have the same job, but now, I’m also one of those people who is curious about everything. Who loses themselves in creative projects just because. Who creates art, writes poetry, and self-publishes books. I’ve become one of those people who sees even the most ordinary moment at Whole Foods on a Wednesday afternoon as extraordinary.

How did I do it? I simply let myself begin right where I was.

You may have a completely different version of extraordinary, and that’s what’s so perfect. How to live an extraordinary life entirely up to you—it’s your life, after all. The action itself isn’t as important as the intent behind it.

As long as your intent is to make something in your world just a little better, to learn something just a little deeper, to try something you’re just a little curious about, it’s foolproof. You could institute pizza Saturdays or travel the world, saving endangered species. Both are extraordinary.

If you’re not sure where to begin, here are a few things to try. They changed the world for me.

1. Be tenacious in your appreciation and optimism.

First, slow down and look around. Then, appreciate anything and everything you possibly can. Thank the sun, thank the water, thank the air you breathe. Look out for the funny thing that happened on your way to work, beautiful sunsets, and acts of human kindness. Even when everyone around you wants to complain about the boss, be the one who notices that it’s such a nice day.

When I talked about my day, I used to begin with something that went wrong. Then, I gave myself one tiny challenge: lead with gratitude. I made a point of starting conversations with something positive as often as I could, which meant I had to start looking for those positive things and remembering to bring them up. I discovered so much beauty around me with this one simple switch.

2. Define your extraordinary.

What do you want to see in this lifetime? What do you want to learn? How do you want to feel while you’re living your life?

I’d thought about these things before, of course, but they would quickly get taken over by something more serious. I didn’t want to waste time. My attitude changed when I decided that feeling curious, engaged, and alive was more important than being productive.

I began setting intentions for the week. I’d write down an idea that excited me, a feeling I wanted to nurture, and something I wanted to learn or create. Then, I gave myself small, meaningful challenges that fit with those intentions. Carrying a composition book with me quickly led to filling that composition book, and then another and another.

3. Make friends with your body.

Your body was made for living, so live in it. Use it in a life-affirming way. Don’t just feed it, nourish it. Let it move, let it sweat, let it pump its blood, laugh, cry, and feel. Stretch into it and savor its senses. Rest it when it’s tired, heal it when it’s hurting, love it even when you want to change it, and thank it. And when it has something to tell you, lean in and really listen.

I used to treat my body like it had no purpose. I didn’t nourish it, I overworked its muscles, and I constantly tried to remodel it.

It wasn’t until I started paying attention to how I feel now that I asked myself, is this how you would treat a child or an animal in your care?

My answer was an emphatic, NO.

4. Lose yourself in curiosity and creativity.

Follow the fun and let yourself overflow. Take on a ridiculous project just because it lights you up, even if it’s silly, you’re “too old,” or it’s “wasting time.” Let it be messy. Let it change directions. And let it fail spectacularly. The outcome isn’t as important as the process of it.

I practice this by painting with my children. They are experts at following curiosity and creativity. While I’m painstakingly sketching a dog or a flower, they’re creating imaginary animals in underwater kingdoms and then covering the entire thing in handprints when the inspiration strikes.

Every time, I shake my head with a smile—this is supposed to be fun, remember?

5. Be of service in a way that’s meaningful to you.

Share something. Create something. Teach something. Go where you are masterful and add value to the world in any way that’s accessible to you. Feed the hummingbirds, pick up litter, volunteer in your community. Big or small, it doesn’t matter; it’s the meaning behind it that makes all the difference.

I started by cultivating the kind of presence I wanted to have in my own life. I wanted to feel presentat home, for one, so I reduced the expectations I put on myself. The house may be messier, but our weekend adventures at the park are nothing short of extraordinary.

If you’ve ever wanted to feel differently in your life, take one little, ordinary step. And then another. Let your feelings guide you. Your extraordinary life is waiting for you on the other side.

Article by:  Leslie Ralph of Tiny Buddha

Eating Disorders and Holidays

For many people the holidays are a time of joy and celebration. It is a time to gather with family and friends, catch up on each other’s lives, and share a few laughs. For most people, highlights of the holiday season includes the food and sitting down to enjoy a traditional holiday meal. For people with eating disorders, however, the holidays are often not quite so enjoyable. In fact, they can be the ultimate nightmare. For many sufferers, the holidays bring tremendous stress, anxiety, and fear.

It is common for people who suffer from eating disorders to experience an increase in symptoms of their illness as the holiday season approaches. This may be due to stress over the impending festivities and/or anticipation of the presence of challenging (often high calorie) food in the weeks to come. Many sufferers tell themselves that if they lose a few pounds prior to the holidays, they will be able to allow themselves to eat like everyone else. In reality, this approach rarely works and the eating disorder reasserts itself during the family time.

The following is an account of the holidays as written by Colleen Thompson:

“Whether it was Christmas, Easter or any other holiday, I could never relax and enjoy the day because I knew the moment would arrive when I would have to sit down at the table and face all that food. Usually with my in-laws I could get away with not eating very much. I especially liked having people over to my house, because I could keep busy in the kitchen and spend less time at the table. When I was with my own family, I would sit and eat with everyone else, but the meal was never enjoyed because I was always too busy adding up all the calories in my head and the fear of getting fat would grow stronger with each bite of food. I always looked forward to the moment I could leave, so that I could rush home and purge. The days following the holidays were just as bad. The guilt I would feel was enormous and I would feel desperate to try and make up for all the calories I had consumed. I would really restrict my intake and I would exercise more. Holidays were a time that I just never looked forward to.”

Holidays and intense periods of time spent with family can be stressful for all people, not just those who suffer from eating disorders. Holidays often place pressure on families and this pressure can result in frayed tempers. For families who have a member who is affected by an eating disorder, the pressure and resulting stress can be even greater. It is important for family members to remember that food-related situations are stressful for sufferers of eating disorders and to try above all else to remain calm and loving during fraught times.

It is an unfortunate reality that many eating disorder sufferers dread the holiday season. Fortunately, this can be improved with proper treatment. After recovery, sufferers can progress to a stage in which they enjoy and look forward to holidays once again.

Planning Ahead

In the midst of the problem however, good planning will help make the holidays a little easier. Below is a list of suggestions to help cope with the holidays:

  • Talk to your treatment team and help identify what difficulties you may expect and problem-solve some strategies for dealing with them.
  • If you are following a meal plan try to stick to it over the holidays. Try to anticipate some of the situations that will make following it harder, such as time in transit, time changes, and not having access to your usual foods. If you are traveling, plan how or where you will get the food you need.
  • If you are traveling, it is wise to pack some snack foods both for the time in transit and to have upon arrival at the destination until you can go shopping.
  • Make a list of things you can do to help relax and distract yourself from the feelings of fullness after a big meal. e.g. go for a walk, take a bath, read, visit a friend, go for a drive, etc. If you are traveling be sure to bring some of your distraction activities.
  • Have the phone numbers of your treatment team and friends available to you.
  • If you need to be at a function with certain people who make you uncomfortable, plan some ways to excuse yourself from their immediate presence. Put your own health above anything else at all times.
  • Try not to count calories and try to avoid the scale.
  • If you feel yourself starting to panic because you are feeling too full or if you allowed yourself to eat foods that you consider to be forbidden, remind yourself it is okay to eat what you did, that food will not make you fat, and it is normal to eat more during the holidays. Most people do and it really is okay.
  • If you end up bingeing or purging, do not beat yourself up over it. Just put it behind you and move forward. Try to get back on track at the next meal.
  • Prepare responses to people who may say something to you that would make you uncomfortable.
  • If you feel you need to, set some boundaries for yourself by telling people ahead of time that you do not want anyone to comment on your appearance or your eating.
  • Be sure to plan some time for yourself to do something that you enjoy. It is very important to take special care of yourself during the holidays. Holidays are a very stressful time for people with eating disorders and it is important that you do whatever you need to do in order to make them easier on yourself.

    As you progress in recovery there will come a time when food will no longer prevent you from enjoying the holidays. You will be able to think of them as a time to gather with loved ones. You can make your own special memories, and you may even be able to start looking forward to them.

    HAPPY HOLIDAYS

    (What if:)

    H unger means you eat when physically hungry instead of emotionally hungry.

    A ttitudes about your size has to with the size of your heart instead of the size of your body.

    P eople accept and value you for who you are, not according to how you look.

    P roblems are resolved in ways other than stuffing your feelings with food.

    Y ou spend as much time and energy on helping others, as you do on how you look.

     

    H appiness comes from within rather than from expectations of others.

    O ccasions for the holidays emphasize relating to others instead of emphasizing food.

    L ove of self means you deserve to treat yourself in the best humanly possible way.

    I dentity of self involves more than how you look.

    D isapproval of self is changed to approval of who you are.

    A cceptance of what one can not change includes your body features.

    Y ou treat yourself as you treat your best friend.

    S ociety values you for being you without emphasis to your weight or size.

    Written by:
    Sharon Sward, Past President of Eating Disorder Professionals of Colorado
    Author of You Are More Than What You Weigh

How To Stop Binge Eating…What Actually Worked For Me

Can’t stop binge eating? I’ve been there. Once, I ate an entire 1/2 gallon of cookies and cream ice cream in one sitting. For real.

There was a time in my life when episodes like this (though maybe not quite so bad) were not uncommon. And by “not uncommon” I mean weekly – sometimes twice a week.

It’s not something I ever talked about much. After all, what girl in her right mind would brag about downing almost 2,000 calories of ice cream all by herself… all in one sitting?

There’s a ton of shame surrounding binge eating. It’s shameful because deep down we all feel like we should be able to willpower our way through it. And shameful because society says being a “good” woman means eating light salads and being happy about it.

And boy was I ashamed. I’ll be the first to admit, it’s much easier to talk about this because I was able to stop binge eating. It’s much harder when you’re right in the thick of it. At the time, there was nothing more I wanted to learn than how to stop binge eating. But I was too ashamed to talk about it.

But I’m here to say, if you’re still stuck between restriction and binging – you’re not alone. You’re just human, and it’s okay. The shame we feel about binge eating actually just keeps us trapped in the vicious cycle, so one of the most important things you can do is give yourself a little slack.

Not because binging is a healthy behavior – it honestly isn’t – but because shaming yourself isn’t healthy either. And two wrongs don’t make a right.

So, yes, for a long time I hid my binge eating from the outside world. For all the general public knew, I was a salad-loving, tofu-eating health nut.

I wouldn’t dare let on that every day I non-stop thought about all the food I shouldn’t be eating. It was a constant obsession. And at the end of the week, I would helplessly succumb to four slices of bacon pizza with extra cheese, followed by a generous slice (…or two) of cheesecake with raspberry sauce.

For a long time, I thought something was seriously wrong with me. After all, normal people didn’t do this.

Funny enough, it’s when I stopped obsessing about my eating habits that I stumbled across a real (though perhaps boring) solution for how to stop binge eating.

HOW I STOPPED BINGE EATING FOREVER

As far as I was concerned, I had no power to prevent binge eating. In those moments when my stomach felt like a bottomless pit (even when I technically felt full), willpower wasn’t even a word in my vocabulary. And I didn’t learn to stop binge eating by getting more willpower, believe me.

I also didn’t do it by distracting myself (Hungry? Go paint your fingernails! Then you can’t eat the cookies because your nails will be wet. Yeah, well, tell that to the cookie crumbs lacquered into my hot pink nails…).

Nor did I learn to stop binge eating by instead eating a piece of fruit or cheese or a raw carrot or whatever. If I wanted to binge on brownies, a carrot wasn’t going to stop me. Best case scenario? I end up eating the carrot and then the brownies. There was never once an occurrence when I ate the carrot instead of the brownies.

To be truthful, binge eating was the least of my problems a few years ago. I had acne worse than I did as a teenager. I had crazy (i.e. scary) mood swings, I couldn’t handle stress worth a hoot, and I had insomnia that left me crippled with zombie-like fatigue during the day.

There came a point when I decided enough was enough. I needed some serious health intervention and I needed it yesterday.

That’s when I changed my approach to getting healthy. I bucked against mainstream advice (because all that salad and tofu didn’t seem to be helping much). And in exploring alternative ideas to what constitutes “healthy” I also flushed out the source of my binges.

HOW TO STOP BINGE EATING… THE BORING WAY

So if you can’t stop binge eating, what is my crazy solution? Eat!

Yes, eat. Mostly real food and enough to sustain your body and your activities. And don’t exercise more than you can support with good food and good sleep.

That’s just way too simple, right?

Since back in my binge eating days, I’ve learned that the biggest key to health is… balance. I know, it’s not as exciting as an ancient berry from South America, but it’s the real thing.

I also learned that when I jumped to extremes, my health (mental and physical) suffered for it. And I learned to listen to my body, because not everything they say is “healthy” was the right choice for me.

Did you know… girls who diet are 12x more likely to binge eat? This is not a coincidence!

So I quit dieting and overexercising. I quit restricting food groups and going on restrictive diets. I quit labeling food (and by extension myself) as good or bad. And I quit working out to “work off” last night’s fettuccine alfredo.

All this did not happen overnight. It was a slow (sometimes painful) dance of two steps forward and one step back. But eventually, I was able to strike a pretty comfortable balance of eating well, enjoying a wide variety of foods in moderation, and being active in a way I really enjoy (and not overdoing it).

I knew I was on the right track because I experienced a lot of health benefits in the process.

And something else happened during this time. Without even trying – without even thinking about it – I stopped binge eating.

It didn’t happen all at once. At first, my binge eating episodes just occurred less frequently (like maybe 3-4 times per month instead of twice a week). Then a few weeks would go by without a real binge. Then a couple of months. Pretty soon my all-out binges were few and far between.

Now? I can’t even remember the last time I really binged on something. It’s been that long.

Why? Because I was finally listening to my body and giving it what it needed: plenty of quality food, good rest, and the right amount of exercise. I found my balance.

I really like the motto of Amber Rogers from Go Kaleo: “Eat the food.” I find it funny that the more I tried to control and restrict my eating, the more often I would end up binge eating and feeling out of control.

And the more I paid attention and ate what my body needed to thrive (when it comes to both nutrients and energy), the more binge eating became a thing of the past for me.

BINGE VS. SPLURGE

When someone says to me, “I can’t stop binge eating!” I always want to clarify what a binge really is. Eating a bowl of ice cream (even a big one) is not a binge. Neither is eating a couple pieces of pizza. These are splurges, not binges.

Splurges are totally normal and can be part of eating healthy. I still splurge on a hefty slice of cake or a couple slices of bacon pizza sometimes. (I just don’t eat the whole pizza or cake anymore.)

So remember not to sweat the small stuff and just enjoy your food!

Article By: Elizabeth Walling

How to Get in Touch with Your Emotions

We’re not always encouraged to get in touch with our emotions. We strive to turn a happy face to the world, keeping up the facade displayed on our social media pages. We often feel pressure to put on a front for “likes” so we show people the fun vacations and the pretty food, not the crying baby or the embarrassing work meeting. It’s seems important to show our best selves to others and to appear strong, independent, and upbeat.

We then fall into the trap of comparing our real lives with “highlight reels” of others on social media all while feeling pressure to keep up our own “everything is great” exterior. Sometimes though, these images we portray to others don’t show the whole picture. We might be depressed or have a bad day or lose a job. This all leads to us to potentially feel isolated from other people. So what is the importance of both understanding and sharing our emotions?

How To Get In Touch With Your Feelings
You may be thinking, “OK that’s great, emotional awareness matters, but how do I become more aware?” The following are some suggestions for learning more about your feelings and how to talk about them in helpful ways.

Name The Emotions You Experience.
Often we think of the easy ones, such as anger, happiness, sadness, fear, but as we become adults, our emotions become more nuanced. Learn to identify less commonly named ones, including shock, shame, anxiety, disgust, boredom, amusement, desperation, doubt, etc. Use a thesaurus or search for a mood chart online to give you new ideas.

Learn To Identify Your Feelings Correctly.
We may automatically assume that we are angry if we yell, but it’s possible to cover up feelings of sadness or embarrassment with things that look like anger to make us feel less vulnerable. Take the time to look below the surface symptoms and see what’s really going on underneath.

Track A Particular Emotion Throughout The Day.
Pick a feeling and follow it. Let’s say “joyfulness.” Jot down how many times you feel joyful throughout the day. Write notes about who you’re with, what time it is, where you are, what you’re doing, and how intense the emotion is. This can be a helpful exercise in learning what to embrace or avoid in your daily life to help manage your feelings better.

Push Through And Seek Support When It Seems Difficult.
If we’ve buried our emotions for a long time, it can be very painful to face them. Often it can seem like things are getting worse before we learn to deal with how we feel. Don’t give up before you receive the healing benefits of getting more in tune with yourself! Seek help from trusted friends, counselors, religious organizations, and support groups if it seems too difficult to do alone.

Express Emotions In Healthy Ways.
Once we’ve learned to name and track emotions, we need to learn what to do with them. Understanding our emotions may lead us to have healthy conversations with loved ones. We can share what we’ve learned about ourselves to others, receiving support and providing empathy for one another. Other ways that people deal with emotions include exercising, meditating, prayer, creating or listening to music, writing poetry, painting, or journaling. Find out what helps you to process your emotions, and be as creative as you want!

Pay Attention To Your Body.
Take a moment to pause right now. Take a deep breathe. What does your body feel like right this moment? Often we experience physical sensations that are associated with emotions, and we can learn to recognize our feelings based on our physical symptoms. For example, anger is often felt between the chest and head, while fear is usually felt between the stomach and chest. These sensations can include tightness, numbness, agitation, and nausea. Different people will have different physical sensations so learn what your body is telling you about your emotions.

Is Emotional Awareness Important?
Emotional awareness is an often neglected skill. Some studies show that only 1 in 3 of us has the ability to correctly assess our feelings. This is significant because our emotions usually point towards important truths about ourselves. Our feelings come from our deepest desires, hopes, needs, and goals. If we don’t know what we’re feeling and why, we risk leaving crucial needs and longings unmet, potentially perpetuating a cycle of anger or unhappiness. Keeping feelings hidden can also lead to emotional breakdowns. Imagine a pipe that is blocked, emotions building up like water, trying to get through to the other side. Eventually the pipe will burst, causing chaos. Lack of emotional awareness can also lead to unhealthy ways of coping, such as addiction, overeating, negative relationships, and angry outbursts.

The Myth Of Negative Emotions
A lot of people believe that it’s only healthy to have positive emotions, such as happiness, joy, and contentment, but that negative emotions like fear, anxiety, or sadness are inappropriate. We need to dispel this myth if we are going to get in touch with our feelings. Anger, for example, is not inherently negative. It can show us when we have an unfulfilled need or a frustration with crossed boundaries. A person that feels angry should examine where the anger is coming from so he or she can resolve the issue. Anger becomes a problem only when it is exhibited un-checked, hurting us and those around us. If you’ve watched the Pixar movie Inside Out, you’ll have learned that sadness isn’t always negative either. It can help us be more empathetic, more sensitive to the needs of others. It’s not the emotions that cause problems for us, but the way they fester and burst if we ignore them.

How Can Teenagers Deal With Emotions?
When we’re children, we experience very basic emotions, without many words to express ourselves. The older we get, the more complicated our emotions become. We are eventually able to have multiple feelings at the same time and have a wider spectrum of emotion words to use. When we are teenagers, we are learning how to deal with these new moods. It’s important to remember that our peers are experiencing these same changes. We’re not crazy because we don’t always immediately know why we’re crying or becoming angry. It can help to use some of the above tips, to journal our thoughts, and to talk to a trusted adult who has gone through this before.

How Can Being In Tune With My Feelings Help My Relationships?
Talking to your partner about how each of you expresses different emotions can help you learn to recognize feelings in each other. A person could assume that his partner is happy when she talks a lot because this is how he behaves, but she may actually talk more when she is nervous and uncomfortable. Conversations about emotions can teach people to care better for each other.

We all have emotions every day, even when we do not realize it. They are powerful indicators of our needs, goals, longings, and desires. When we are in tune with them, they can point us in directions of growth so we can reach our full potentials and receive the support we need. Ignoring these feelings may be easy in the moment but can have serious repercussions for our relationships and our mental health. Learning about our emotions can help us be more empathetic people, know our strengths and weaknesses, make better choices, and ask for what we need.

Article by: Jeremy Bergen

What My Dog Taught Me About Self-Acceptance

“Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.” ~Lao Tzu

We all have recorded messages playing in our heads, from long ago.

Listen to parents talking to young children. Often the message is less than approving.

“Don’t put that in your mouth!”

“Go wash your face right now.”

“If you keep acting like that nobody will like you.”

“Look at Cindy, how well she’s doing. If you worked harder you could do as well as her.”

Those examples are kind compared to what many people will have heard growing up.

Many of these messages enter our brains before our conscious memories are fully formed. They may be buried somewhere in our minds, but they are real.

Of course, parents have to train young children. That’s part of their job. But not all parents balance their criticism with approval.

So, we often grow up anxious for approval, uncertain of our own worth, always feeling that there’s something fundamentally wrong with us, perhaps feeling more or less unlovable.

This self-critical stance interferes with the warm, loving, mutually accepting, and deeply satisfying relationships we crave all through life.

Are relationships really that important? The Harvard Study of Adult Development followed people for as long as seventy years. Some thrived, some sank.

What was the common factor among those who flourished for decades, in every way? Warm, supportive relationships.

I sucked at relationships as a child. I don’t mean romantic relationships, just friendships. I was the awkward kid who got left out of playground games.

Yet, there was a part of my life that was quite different. It was full of love and joy.

Let me tell you about Jolly.

Jolly was about two feet tall, hairy, with patches of brown, black, and white. For me, it was love at first sight. He was bouncing around frantically, his tail wagging so furiously that it might have fallen off.

I pestered my parents until they agreed to get him for me.

In no time at all, I was experiencing why dogs are called our best friends. Jolly was completely in love with me, judging by his behavior.

If the day had been particularly frustrating for me, Jolly didn’t care. He’d jump on me as soon as I came in the door, tail wagging at dangerous speeds, squealing with delight, trying to lick my face, running up and down the room before repeating the performance, barking with joy, inviting me to play with him.

Sometimes a teacher would tell me off in school.

Jolly didn’t care. To him, I was still the most wonderful person in the world. He would still burst with joy when I got home, bury me in licks, desperate for me to play with him.

Sometimes I would return feeling really low because other kids had been particularly nasty to me.

Jolly would still jump on me when I opened the door. He would still wag that tail dangerously fast. If he could talk, I believe he would be spewing out love poetry to rival Shakespeare.

I didn’t even have to go out of the house for him to find me fascinating and totally lovable. It was enough if I went to the next room and came back. He would still be almost bursting out of his skin with joy at seeing me again.

It was as if he could see something in me that I could not see for myself.

However, it took me decades to digest and fully accept the lesson that Jolly was teaching me.

Medical school taught me the neurological pathways and brain areas that are active during criticism, but I didn’t fully embrace Jolly’s message until some decades later.

For many parents, and for the world, success in life is something that happens in the future of a child. The child grinds out one day after another, chasing that distant glimmer of success.

The child becomes a young adult, and still they’re chasing that distant success. Work hours are long, relationships suffer, tempers are short, nerves are frayed, emotions run high. Still, success remains like a finishing line that’s continually moving away.

The young adult grows toward middle age, perhaps with children by now, and still they’re chasing success. For themselves and now for their children too.

No matter how much they’ve accumulated, there’s always the possibility of accumulating more. Keeping up with the Joneses is an endless game. At the root of it all is the little child’s longing for approval.

“They’ll discover I’m a fraud.”

“If they really knew me they wouldn’t like me.”

“If only I could get that next promotion or close that big sale, people would start respecting me more.”

“If only I did better, I would become truly lovable.”

Scratch under the surface, and there might well be a self-critical little child longing for acceptance.

We experience the stresses and strains of life as burdens that drag us down.

We get annoyed at ourselves for not doing better.

We beat ourselves up for experiencing difficult or unpleasant emotions.

We’re hooked on self-help books and programs because we’re anxious about our flaws.

We long to be rid of our flaws and imperfections, because we believe that will make us more lovable.

What would Jolly say?

“I don’t care. Yes, you need to lose thirty pounds, but right now I love you and want you to know that you are completely worthy of my love.”

“Yes, you could do with twice as much money and a much bigger house, but right now you are already totally lovable.”

“Yes, you could do with fewer of those low moods, less anxiety and less anger, but right now you are already worthy of honor and respect.”

“Yes, you’ve had some messy relationships and screwed up in many ways but right now you are totally worthy of love.”

The more I learned to accept myself with all my flaws and imperfections, the more relaxed I became about difficult emotions and setbacks in life.

The more accepting I became of my own imperfections, the more accepting and loving I became toward others.

The more accepting and loving I became toward others, the more they responded with warmth.

The child that was left out on the playground is now a much more self-accepting person despite his flaws, often a source of love, comfort, laughter, and joy to others. That is fertile soil for warm, supportive relationships.

Supportive relationships, as research has found, are the key to wellbeing now and for decades to come. They help keep your body and brain working well for longer.

At our core, we’re a mess and we’re always falling short of our aspirations. That’s part of being human. It’s okay.

Jolly would want you to know that you are totally lovable, regardless.

Article by: Joe Almeida of Tiny Buddha

How Forgiving Yourself and Others Changes Your Brain

“Be quick to forgive, because we’re all walking wounded.” ~Anonymous

People often behave in ways that we find irritating, annoying, or worse. This can happen especially with people close to us.

They can speak with little consideration for the impact of their words. They can criticize us and pounce on our mistakes. Sometimes they do unfair things that seriously disadvantage or damage us. Or they let us down when we’re counting on them.

All these behaviors can lead to us feeling wounded. The scars can persist for years or even decades. The closer the offenders are to us, the greater the impact tends to be.

Most of us would like others to understand us, to act reliably, and to be approachable when things go wrong. We’d like them to be kind in dealing with our mistakes or offences. We’d like them to understand that we aren’t set in stone, that we aren’t just the sum total of our mistakes.

We deserve a chance to recover and show our better side. We’d like them to be more understanding and put a more favorable interpretation on what we did or failed to do.

However, it can be different when others behave badly. Often, we spend a lot of time and energy going over the way we were wronged, mistreated, disappointed, disrespected, or disregarded.

Dwelling on the perceived wrong kindles the fire of a grudge. The more we dwell on it, the bigger this fire grows.

Can this fire burn us?

When I was in high school, some of the coolest kids formed a band. Everyone wanted to be in that band. I played the piano, so I too wanted to be in it.

One of my closest friends also played the piano, but not as well. It became a bit of a tussle between us. I was chosen, to my delight.

When we started playing gigs, a piano was not always available. So I took to the melodica, a little instrument into which you blow. It has a keyboard.

We started playing gigs, with quite a good response from audiences. Everything was going well, until we were invited to play a gig in a venue right near my home.

The melodica was at the band leader’s house, because we rehearsed there. I asked for it to be brought to the gig.

On the evening of the gig, my bandmates turned up. Unfortunately, the melodica could not be found. Apparently, it had been brought to the venue by the band leader but had disappeared.

This was a bitter blow. I had so looked forward to strutting my stuff before a home crowd. I rushed around to various people who might have a melodica, but could not find one.

The gig happened without me. I was downcast.

Eventually, the real story came out.

The melodica had been brought to the venue. The close friend I mentioned, who also played the piano, had simply taken it away and hidden it.

I was outraged. I felt betrayed, violated, and angry. I felt ready to run my friend over with a large truck.

We didn’t speak for a couple of years. Then I got an apology of sorts. Somehow, things were never the same between us.

I went off to medical school and our paths have never crossed since.

What happens to your brain when you cling to a grudge?

The parts of your brain that specialize in criticism grow more active. They feed on your thoughts about the grudge. The neurons involved lay down more connections, strengthening this response.

The next time someone behaves in a way that you disapprove of, your brain more readily jumps to criticism and judgment.

All that is understandable, you’re not alone in practicing criticism. But there’s a price to pay for this practice.

The same parts of your brain that criticize others also criticize you. You tend to become more unforgiving about your own mistakes. Self-acceptance recedes. It becomes harder for you to like yourself.

Further, this can lead to a cycle of mutual criticism between you and people who matter to you. It tends to weaken the supportive relationships we all need.

A recent study among 5,475 men and 4,580 women aged over 50 showed that a single point increase in negative social support score resulted in a 31 percent rise in the risk of eventual dementia. Negative social support is where you experience a lot of critical, unreliable and annoying behaviors from others, especially people close to you.

What can you do to start breaking this downward spiral of mutual criticism and self-criticism?

First, ask what stresses or problems may have led to the undesirable behavior. Try to find explanations that weaken the impact of the “bad” behavior on your mind. This is as true for self-criticism as for criticizing others.

Perhaps there were circumstances that led to you acting in regrettable ways. If you regret it, don’t wallow in the regret. Find explanations to understand why you did what you did.

Give yourself the gift of forgiveness, strengthen your resolve to do what is good and important going forward, then move on. This same gift of forgiveness may be given to others, recognizing that all human beings are vulnerable to errors or even terrible behavior.

Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation with the offender. Reconciliation is the re-establishment of mutual trust. That requires a further step as part of negotiation.

But forgiveness can proceed regardless of reconciliation and mutual trust.

The more you practice understanding and forgiveness, starting with yourself, the more you strengthen the self-reassuring parts of your brain. These are the same parts that show empathy and compassion to others. They make you more accepting of yourself, with all your flaws and stumbles.

We all have flaws and stumbles. That’s okay. It’s part of being human.

If I could go back to my youth and replay my friend’s apology, I hope I would respond with more understanding. After all, if our positions had been reversed and I’d been blinded by envy, who knows what I might have done.

For a better quality of life right now, with more self-acceptance, and for a lower risk of cognitive decline, try loosening your grip on grudges. And be gentle with yourself when you slip up in this effort. The steering wheel of your life often requires a little time, patience and practice before you can turn it reliably.

I’m still practicing. That’s okay.

Article by: Joel Almeida