Stressed and Anxious? Here’s How to Stay Emotionally Healthy

“Health is not just about what you’re eating. It’s also about what you’re thinking and saying.”

A virus is spreading across the globe. Schools are shut down. People are out of work. Grocery stores are empty.

Weddings, graduations, vacations, a day in court—canceled.

This is the ultimate test in emotional resilience.

Uncertainty is one of the main reasons we stress, along with a lack of control, and right now we’ve got it in truckloads. I’ve spent the last decade building my mental and emotional resilience to stress and adversity, and yet fighting off the anxiety is still a challenge.

I’m putting all the tools in my toolbox to good use.

And they are working. So I want to share these tools with you.

1. Talk to someone, but limit the bitching.

It can be cathartic to share with others the fear, panic, and challenges we’re experiencing. It makes us feel not alone. It validates our feelings and makes us feel connected. So talk to someone about what is stressing you out right now.

But set a time limit to focus on the negative. Maybe ten or twenty minutes each to share. Then it’s time to change the conversation.

Here are some cues:

What is going right?
What are you proud of yourself for?
What are you grateful for?
What are you looking forward to?
Despite the hardships, how are you coping?
How can you encourage and praise your friend?
When we only focus on the negative, we forget what is going well and then all we can see is the bad.

I also find it incredibly helpful to notice how differently my body feels when I’m complaining, angry, and blaming than it does when I’m grateful and optimistic. One feels tight, hot, and heavy. The other feels lighter, looser, and freer.

And as I listen to my husband, mother, or friends share their pain with me, I always make it a point when they are done to change the conversation and ask them what’s going good. I can hear the tone in their voice change as they bring their thoughts to the positive.

2. Be generous.

This doesn’t need to be a gift of money!

It can be a roll of toilet paper. It can be an hour Facetiming your grandmother who is held up in her nursing home with no visitors right now. It can be offering to pick up and drop off groceries for a neighbor or making them a plate of enchiladas.

I have a three-month-old and am blessed with an ample supply of breastmilk, so donating some of my freezer stash costs me nothing, but can mean so much for a needy mother and child right now.

Generosity can even come in the form of well wishes or prayers for others dealing with difficult times.

Giving is scientifically proven to be good for your emotional health.

It activates regions of the brain “associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a ‘warm glow’ effect. It releases endorphins in the brain, producing the positive feeling known as the ‘helper’s high.’”

Giving has been linked to the release of oxytocin, a hormone that induces feelings of warmth, euphoria, and connection to others.

It’s been shown to decrease stress, which not only feels better, but lowers your blood pressure and other health problems caused by stress.

What can you give right now?

3. Take a mental break.

It’s so easy to get stuck in mental go-mode all our waking hours. Especially since our brains crave being busy or entertained.

Even when we rest, we flip through Facebook, watch TV, or daydream.

These past few weeks I haven’t been making the time to take my mental breaks. I usually meditate daily, but with a baby who doesn’t yet have an eating and sleeping schedule, plus with all the extra stresses right now, I’ve not given my mind a break!

So I could feel the anxiety creeping in. It started in the body. I felt the tension in my muscles. My jaw was tight. Breathing was shallow. And I was irritable!

I know it’s time for a mental break when something as simple as my husband leaving another towel on the banister makes me want to file for divorce. (Or end up on an episode of Dateline!)

So I put my husband on baby duty, ran on the treadmill trying to focus on my breath and not my to-do list, took a shower, and brought my attention to the warm water instead of worry over how I will get clients. Then I meditated for fifteen minutes zoning in on my breath every time my thoughts turned to worry over daycare and the coronavirus.

I felt like I’d washed my brain. The tension was gone, my mind was clear, and I no longer wanted to strangle my husband.

From our anxious place, we catastrophize as we spin out in our negativity bias. All we can see is the negative.

We need these mental breaks to create space from these ruminating thoughts. We need to hit the reset button.

A mental break is taking anywhere from thirty seconds to thirty minutes to consciously turn our attention inward, away from outside influence, as well as our flow of thoughts.

We can’t stop the flow of thoughts, but we can notice when they’ve taken our attention, and purposefully redirect that attention to something in the present moment like the breath, a mantra or sound, or a visualization.

Here are a few ways to take that mental break:

Breathwork
Meditation
Time in nature
Walking, exercise, or dancing
Practicing mindfulness
Listening to music
Simple mental break breathing:

Start with a re-calibrating big, big inhale, hold it, and breathe out all the way.
Now breathe in slowly to the count of four, then hold for a second.
When you hold, hear the silence between the breaths.
Then breathe out to the count of four and hold for a second at the bottom.
When you hold, feel your mind clearing as you listen for the space between inhale and exhale.
Repeat until you feel relaxed.

4. Allow all the feels.

This stress and anxiety feel terrible. And it can be hard to muster up the strength and will to try out some of the items on this list to make yourself feel better.

That’s okay.

But what tends to happen is we want to run from the discomfort, try to suppress it with distraction like TV or social media, or numb it with wine, food, or drugs.

It’s normal to want to avoid pain. We’re naturally geared to avoid it. However, when we block this pain from flowing, when we don’t allow ourselves to feel our emotions, they get stuck.

Emotions are energy in motion. If you stop it, it just bottles up. It doesn’t disappear.

Try this exercise to allow your emotions to flow:

Take a moment to close your eyes and sit in a quiet space or block out distraction as best you can.
Take a deep breath in and slowly breathe out.
Notice the physical feelings of stress. Where are you holding it in your body? What does it feel like?
On your next exhale, release as much tension as you can.
Repeat:
“I am allowing these feelings to be present.”
“I let these feelings flow through me.”
“These feelings are causing me no harm.”
Now scan your body starting from your head, jaw and neck. Shoulders and hips. Down your legs and feet. Release any tension you find along the way.
Once you’ve allowed these feelings to exist and flow, the following tool is a fantastic next step toward emotional health.

5. Express gratitude.

We humans have a natural negativity bias. It’s a mechanism in place designed with the intention of keeping us safe.

Being on the lookout for danger, in theory, might be a better tactic to keep us alive than ignoring any signs of danger for the sake of focusing on pleasantries. Like being on alert for a mountain lion instead of enjoying a bed of flowers.

But 99 percent of the time, or more, our lives are not in imminent danger. Yet the negativity bias remains.

As it turns out, much like generosity, gratitude is also scientifically proven to be good for our emotional health.

It’s shown that people who express gratitude are more optimistic and feel better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercise more and have fewer visits to physicians than those who focus on sources of aggravation.

In some studies, it’s also shown people immediately exhibiting a huge increase in happiness scores, as well as improved relationships.

Here are some ways to express gratitude:

Write a thank-you note or email
Thank someone mentally
Try a gratitude journal
Pray or meditate on something you are grateful for

6. Ask for help if you need it.

I am so proud of our communities coming together, staying home, helping each other out. If there is something you need, there are whole groups of people ready and willing to help a stranger out. I see it all day on my Facebook feed, people offering up formula or diapers, services to drop off food, or offering homeschooling tools and advice.

Thankfully, this pandemic has come during a time of advanced technological capabilities, allowing us all to connect digitally.

Doctors, teachers and coaches are now available online. From the comfort of your socially distant home, you can find help right at your fingertips.

Ask. It doesn’t make you look weak. You aren’t impositioning anyone. People inherently like to be helpful.

Especially if you need help dealing with the anxiety of our current situation. We don’t make good decisions coming from a place of fear. Now more than ever it is essential to have emotional resiliency to get through this tough time and come out the other end whole and ready to move forward.

We’ll get through this. Together, even though we’re physically apart. Wishing you much love, luck, and light on your journey.

Article By: Sandy Wosnicki of Tiny Buddha

How to Cope with the Mental Health Impacts of COVID-19

In just a few weeks, the world has changed dramatically for many people. Even if COVID-19 hasn’t yet reached your area, you’ve likely heard of the new coronavirus and its widespread impact. If you follow current events, this new concern may seem overwhelming on top of the already high tensions of another contentious election season, threats to the climate, and other worries.

You’ve probably seen several handwashing reminders on social media, and your store shelves may currently lack essentials like toilet paper, soap, paper towels, and shelf-stable foods. Your school, or your children’s schools, may be closed. If you go out—carefully maintaining a distance of six feet—you might notice this new, deadly virus pops up in every conversation.

If you live with anxiety, or any other mental or physical health issue, you might feel more stressed and anxious each day. And while preventing loss of life is a key priority in the management of any disaster, the significant impact of a pandemic on mental health cannot be denied.

COVID-19 FACTS
If you have some doubts about the reality of this pandemic, you’re not alone. After all, news and information about this virus vary—even elected officials disagree. Some people don’t consider it much of a concern at all, while others might seem ready for an apocalypse scenario.

It’s often difficult to know whom to trust in turbulent times, but try to set those doubts aside. COVID-19 isn’t a hoax, and this virus isn’t going to disappear. Medical professionals around the world emphasize that its spread will likely continue. To mitigate risk and keep yourself and others safe, it’s important to make sure you’re getting accurate information about this virus and the ways it can spread.

If you live in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website is an excellent choice for accurate, up-to-date information. Your local hospital’s website may also have current information.

COVID-19 causes the following main symptoms:
Fever
Cough
Shortness of breath
Fatigue and other flu-like symptoms
If you or someone you love has a confirmed or even possible case, you may feel terrified, but keep in mind that although the virus can cause serious symptoms, even death, many people have mild cases.

The current mortality rate is between 3 and 4 percent. However, this rate doesn’t provide an accurate picture of COVID-19’s actual mortality rate. The pandemic is still progressing, and experts don’t yet have full knowledge of how many people have the virus.

MENTAL HEALTH IMPACTS OF COVID-19
There’s no denying the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on emotional well-being. Dr. Fabiana Franco, GoodTherapy Topic Expert, explains: “When our daily routines are in turmoil, especially when this turmoil relates to how we interact with others, it can feel quite overwhelming. We should be mindful of the fact that these challenges, understandably, can cause anxiety and fear.”

Symptoms of anxiety and stress may show up in your mood and behavior, whether you recognize them or not. Signs you might notice include:
-Trouble sleeping
-Loss of concentration or focus
-Appetite changes
-Restlessness or jumpiness
-Anxiety-related stomach issues
-Irritability, shorter temper than usual, and other mood changes
-Ever-present feelings of nervousness or worry

ANXIETY AND COVID-19
People living with existing anxiety conditions, such as panic disorder, general anxiety, or obsessions and compulsions (OCD), may notice worsened symptoms or a sense of losing control. Symptoms of these conditions are challenging enough already without the added stress of a serious global pandemic. Increased severity of symptoms could trigger feelings of hopelessness or depression, even thoughts of suicide.

ISOLATION AND OTHER LIFE CHANGES RESULTING FROM COVID-19
If COVID-19 has reached your state, particularly if you live in one of the hardest-hit areas, your lifestyle may be changing in many ways. If you’re currently feeling more worried about how various changes will affect your life than actually getting sick, just know that these feelings are very normal.

It’s understandable to feel frustrated or stressed by this extreme change with regards to having to stay home from work or school and applying social distancing if you must go in public. If you can’t work from home, you’re probably also feeling some concern and stress around losing your job or missing more school than you can make up easily. Remind yourself again that these feelings are very normal.

Many people also feel concerned about a potential scarcity of resources. COVID-19 has already had a significant impact on the American economy, and you might worry what that means for the future—not only the far-reaching impact on the world, but the immediate impact on your life after the pandemic. A scarcity mindset can lead to panic and intense distress.

COVID-19 AND DISCRIMINATION
The population most severely affected by this new coronavirus appears to be older adults, particularly those with underlying health conditions. This fact has led some other populations to avoid older adults or actively discriminate against those most at risk. However, don’t be fooled because younger people are also at risk.

Other vulnerable populations include unsheltered and homeless communities, groups many people lack compassion and respect for even in ordinary times, and people in prisons or detention centers. While you may not be able to do much yourself to help these populations, your words and attitude can have an impact. Spread kindness instead of stigma.

While you may not be able to do much yourself to help these populations, your words and attitude can have an impact. Spread kindness instead of stigma.

You may have heard COVID-19 called “the Chinese coronavirus.” This terminology does nothing to increase awareness and compassion. Rather, it promotes discrimination and xenophobia, both of which can cause a great deal of harm in already tense times. This virus may have originated in China, but that has little to do with Chinese people living in the United States. Avoiding or fearing people of Asian descent is unhelpful. It’s also an action steeped in prejudice.

People of Asian descent living in the United States at the time of the initial outbreak are no more likely to have the virus than anyone else—including yourself.

HOW TO COPE WITH THE MENTAL HEALTH EFFECTS OF COVID-19
As mentioned above, the toll of COVID-19 isn’t entirely physical. But it’s possible to manage this emotional burden in healthy and productive ways.

These tips can help make it easier to cope with this pandemic and the rapid changes it may bring:

Prepare, don’t panic
Making preparations for quarantine or self-isolation may provide a sense of control and relief. While it’s not a bad idea to prepare for this possibility, consider that over-preparing—panic buying, if you will—may prevent other people in your area from accessing needed resources.

Most disaster recommendations encourage stocking up on two weeks’ worth of basic supplies and nonperishable food items. Avoid buying more than that, unless absolutely needed, in order to allow others to make the same preparations. This is particularly important if you live in a small town with few grocery options.

Practice mindful exposure
Keeping yourself informed on facts about the virus and new updates from federal and state governing agencies is recommended. It’s important to know what’s going on, and hearing about relief coming to your area can help relieve some of your stress.

That said, Dr. Franco cautions against “consuming every piece of media on the virus.” Constant exposure to media can increase tension and stress and quickly become overwhelming.

She recommends seeking out trusted sources, like the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO). “Follow their recommended protocols to maintain hygiene and cleanliness,” she says.

Stay social
Large gatherings have been banned in many areas, but that doesn’t mean you have to forego contact entirely. You can use digital platforms like Skype, Messenger, and WhatsApp to keep in touch with friends and family around the globe. Even if you can’t spend time together face-to-face, it’s important to maintain connection with your loved ones. Physical isolation may be necessary, but total isolation is not.

Practice good self-care habits
If you enjoy regular exercise, not being able to get to the gym or your favorite yoga studio for a workout can add to your stress and anxiety. Try getting outside for some fresh air by taking a walk or run and looking into online workout/yoga classes. Exercise helps relieve mental health symptoms for many, so forced idleness can cause a lot of distress.

Feeding your body high-quality, nutritious food (as long as you have access) can also be a proactive measure to take during this time period. Whole foods and fresh produce can help promote wellness in body and mind. If you’re having trouble purchasing food for your family, look into community resources from your local schools. Many affected areas are stepping up nutrition programs to feed families during this time.

You might have trouble sleeping, but try to maintain a normal sleep schedule as much as possible. Avoiding technology, particularly news and other media, for at least an hour before bedtime, can be very helpful.

Dr. Franco also recommends meditation, deep breathing exercises, and other relaxation techniques. These practices can offer relief from stress and help you get better sleep.

Try:
-A warm bath
-Aromatherapy (scented candles, essential oils or relaxing herbs, a bubble bath, or anything else you have on hand that provides a soothing fragrance)
-A calming mantra
-Being outdoors, especially in good weather, can also offer health benefits, so get outside as much as possible, as long as you aren’t sick or potentially sick. Sunlight and fresh air from your own backyard can still boost your mood.

Do things you enjoy
If you’re staying at home, there is a bright side: You may have an abundance of free time. Take advantage of this unexpected gift to enjoy books, movies, board and video games with family, or crafts. Taking time for enjoyable activities can not only offer a distraction, it can help keep your spirits up.

Things to try:
-Learn a new language with apps like Duolingo
-Use YouTube videos to teach yourself a new skill, like knitting, baking, or household repair
-Catch up on spring cleaning or projects you haven’t had time for previously
-Pick up an old hobby, like art, music, or poetry writing

It’s normal to have some anxiety around what could happen. The current situation is unprecedented, and uncertainty can cause a lot of fear. If you’re having trouble staying positive, remember you’re not alone.

If you don’t have a therapist currently, consider reaching out to a telemental health provider who offers HIPAA-compliant support through email, video chat, or text message.

If you do have a therapist and need additional support, it’s worth reaching out to ask if they offer HIPAA-compliant online counseling at this time.

Thoughts of depression, fear, and hopelessness can be difficult to manage. If you’re having thoughts of suicide or feel in crisis, consider reaching out to a national helpline through phone (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255) or text (Crisis Text Line: HOME to 741741). Trained, compassionate counselors offer free support, 24/7.

Article By: Crystal Raypole of GoodTherapy

How to Re-Wire Your Brain for Better Relationships

“For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks; the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.” ~Rainer Maria Rilke

I was eight years old when my father and I somehow ended up in a heated, verbal struggle. I don’t remember what we were fighting about, but I remember that he was yelling at me.

I already knew by then that my father didn’t deal well with anger. It wasn’t uncommon for him to explode into fits of rage. I don’t know what I had done this time that had gotten him so upset, but I must have felt that he was being unfair. As he turned his back on me to walk away, I blurted out, “I hate you!”

It’s not an uncommon thing for a kid to say in the heat of anger, because kids haven’t yet learned how to cope with strong emotions. If you’re a parent, you know what I’m talking about.

My father didn’t respond. In fact, he didn’t say anything to me at all for several days. He gave me the silent treatment. He ignored all of my attempts to get his attention or to try to reconnect with him. He acted as if I didn’t exist.

I felt alone, sad, guilty, and scared. As you can imagine, for a child of eight, it was excruciating to be shut off from him. And that wasn’t the only time my dad punished me with silence.

Obviously, my father wasn’t a good role model for helping me to deal with anger constructively. If he had been, he might have asked me what was upsetting me and would have helped me figure out my feelings. At the very least, he might have apologized for getting so angry.

Instead, he responded in a way that was anxiety-provoking, guilt-inducing, and painful. His tendency to act in this way made an indelible impression on me and my nervous system that I have struggled with for much of my life. The message I got was clear: Anger is bad and dangerous to a relationship; it brings disdain, loss of approval, and abandonment.

It’s not that my father didn’t love me. I know now that he loved me very much. But he had a really hard time managing his emotions. This came from his own early experiences in his family where he learned the very same thing that he ended up teaching me.

During our volatile exchange, I’m sure something deep in his brain had gotten triggered and had gotten the best of him. Some old unprocessed feelings came up, and caused him to withdraw and shut down.

At the time, he didn’t understand what kind of damage his reaction was causing. He was actually doing the best he knew how. Fortunately, he’s grown and changed a lot since then and so have I.

But that kind of treatment affected the way my brain got wired. I grew up feeling anxious about feelings of anger. If I felt angry with someone important to me, I worried that if I spoke up or asserted myself, they would abandon me.

In my adult relationships, any sign of conflict with a partner, friend, or authority figure made me scared that something bad would happen, that I’d be punished in some way, rejected, or abandoned. In romantic relationships, I worried that I would lose our relationship if anything challenging came up.

As soon as anger arose in some way, my nervous system would respond as though I was in danger. I’d feel anxious and panicky. I’d question my feelings and inevitably I’d rationalizing away whatever was bothering me. I avoided the discomfort of honoring my emotions and talking to the other person about how I felt.

My adult relationships followed a typical pattern: They would start out with a lot of happiness and excitement, but as they continued, I’d start to feel anxious, worried, unsure, especially whenever there was any sign of conflict. I felt conflicted about my feelings and had a hard time working with them.

Every relationship has times when partners get angry or upset, and in healthy relationships, the partners can find a way to constructively deal with their emotions and talk it out with one another. But that was not a part of my software. I’d avoid having uncomfortable conversations, I’d repress my feelings, and I’d hide how I really felt.

As a result, I would often wonder why I felt so disconnected to other people. I would keep busy with my work, school, going to the gym and other activities just so I wouldn’t have to slow down and feel my real feelings.

Of course, none of this was apparent to me at the time. It was just how I’d been wired. It took many years before I understood what was going on.

Eventually a skilled and compassionate therapist helped me see how much anxiety was affecting my experience, that I was shutting myself off from my certain feelings because they felt threatening. I had been taught that strong emotions–particularly anger—were dangerous and would result in abandonment and rejection.

Now, many years later, I have a happy twenty-two-year marriage to my husband, Tim, and I’m a therapist, writer, coach, and speaker. Though I still sometimes feel that old wiring trying to take control, I’ve developed some skills to manage the anxiety or fear that can get stirred up when something is off between us or when conflict arises.

I see many clients who struggle with similar issues in their relationships. They feel excited to start out with their new romance, but as the relationship goes on, they start to struggle, they feel disconnected, shut down, or they and their partners fight a lot, or respond in ways that don’t support the health of their relationship.

They often ask me: why is this so hard?

I’ve learned that, while our specific relationship problems may be different, the underlying issue for most of us is the same.

At the core of our struggles, underneath many layers of conflict and complaints, is a fear of being emotionally present and authentic in our relationships. We’re afraid of truly expressing our feelings in a vulnerable way. We worry that the other person won’t like us or want to be with us if we tell them what’s really going on for us.

But why are we afraid of being emotionally present in our relationships?

The short answer is that—as you saw in the story about my dad and me—our adult brains are still operating on wiring that was created in the first few years of our lives. Depending on what our caretakers taught us about how to function in close relationships, we may have learned some unhealthy coping mechanisms.

If you struggle with painful romantic relationships (or even troubled relationships in general) as I have, you may be experiencing the effects of “faulty wiring.” You may have learned ways to cope with your emotions that don’t serve you anymore.

Luckily, there are ways to “re-wire” your brain for better relationships.

The first step is to understand what you learned about expressing your emotions when you were a child. Take some time to respond to these questions (separately for each parent or caregiver):

  • How did your parent(s) respond to your feelings?
  • Were they generally open, attentive, and responsive to your feelings?
  • Did they get uncomfortable or anxious when you expressed your feelings or certain feelings in particular (e.g., anger, sadness, fear, joy, and the like)?
  • Did they get distracted or seem to ignore certain feelings?
  • Were some feelings okay and others not? If so, which feelings were welcomed, and which weren’t?
  • Did they get irritated, frustrated, or angry at times when you expressed certain feelings?
  • Did they apologize when they hurt your feelings or reacted in an unhelpful way?
  • How did they respond when you were afraid or feeling vulnerable?
  • How did they respond when you were angry and asserted yourself?
  • How did they respond when you were affectionate and loving?
  • Could you rely on them to be there for you emotionally when you needed them?
  • Overall, how did it feel for you to share your vulnerable feelings with them?

Now think about whether your answers to these questions reminds you of your romantic relationships in any way. Do you ever see yourself acting in similar ways to one of your parents or caregivers when particular feelings arise in your relationship? Does your partner ever act in similar ways? If you’re in a relationship now and your partner is willing, ask them to answer these questions about their parents as well.

See if you can identify any patterns in how you both share and react to different emotions in one another.

If you’re not currently in a relationship, think about past relationships, especially particularly difficult ones.

After you get a sense of what lessons you may have learned about how to express emotions (or not) with people close to you, you’ll be in a better place to learn new ways of reacting.

Here are some tips for growing your capacity to be emotionally mindful and present when you get triggered by your feelings. .

1. Recognize and name.

When you feel a strong emotion, you may have been triggered by old wiring. You may feel out of control in your response, which is why some people say, “I don’t know what came over me!” when they get really upset.

The first step in regaining control of your emotions is to learn to identify the ones that most often trigger you. Practice observing yourself when you feel those challenging emotions. Name them as they come up. You might even want to write down the emotions that are difficult for you to cope with. This step takes a lot of practice, but it gets easier the more you do it.

2. Stop, drop, and stay.

When we feel triggered, upset, and uncomfortable, we often want to escape that emotion. We may get irritable, yell or criticize, walk away, shut ourselves in our room, or numb ourselves out.

But in order to practice being mindful of your emotions, you’ll need to learn how to stay with them and ride them out. Rather than doing what you normally do when you have those feelings, stop. Pay attention to how the emotion feels in your body. Describe it. Ask it what it’s there to teach you. You may even want to write or draw it so you can become familiar and comfortable with it.

The point is to look at it, stay with, and learn about it.

3. Pause and reflect.

When we’re in a conflict, we often feel like there’s no choice between the time we feel the strong emotion (such as anger, rage, hatred, or fear) and our response to it (yelling, becoming violent, shutting down, or running away).

But in reality, by stretching the space between the feelings arising and responding, we can create some room in which we can chose how best to respond.

So, practice feeling the challenging emotion and not responding right away. If you normally lash out with an angry statement when your partner says or does something you dislike, practice doing something else. Tell your partner you need a moment. Breathe deeply and slowly which will help to calm your nervous system. Go for a walk. Whatever you need to do to calm your distress and choose a more helpful response.

The more often you do this, the easier it will get to make better choices.

In this space that you create, reflect on what you’re feeling underneath the reactivity. If you’re feeling like lashing out, what’s underneath that? If you’re angry that your partner forgot to call you on your birthday, is there more to it? Are you feeling hurt, disappointed, or afraid of losing a sense of connection with them? Does it feel familiar? Might it be linked to feelings you had when you were a child?

Explore the emotion. Give yourself time to figure out what you’re really feeling, what you want, what you desire, and what you’d like to happen in that situation.

4. Mindfully relate your feelings.

Once you know what it is you’re really feeling and what you’d like to happen, try relating that in a calm and open way to your partner. If your partner forgot to call you, rather than yell that she doesn’t really care about you at all, maybe you can say, “I’m realizing that I feel hurt that you didn’t call me. I worry that you don’t really care about me. I would like to understand what happened.”

This will help you and your partner connect with one another, open yourselves up to one another in a more authentic way, and share your true feelings and experiences. This way, you are less likely to fall into old patterns where you may trigger one another and cause each other pain.

By being vulnerable, open, and unafraid to express your true self, you’ll connect better to your romantic partner and you can develop a better understanding of what you want in your relationship.

I speak from experience. Once I learned how to better express my emotions and what they were saying to me, I decided that I wanted a partner who would be willing to do that as well. I made the painful decision to end a 5-year relationship I’d been in which was full of conflict and, on a deep level, I knew wasn’t all that I longed for.

But in doing so, in listening to and trusting my feelings, I was able to move forward and eventually meet my husband, with whom I’ve found the space disentangle myself from my old wiring and have a healthier, satisfying relationship. To love and be loved like I mean it.

Article By: Ron Frederick of Tiny Buddha

How to Recognize Painful Emotional Triggers and Stop Reacting in Anger

“Where there is anger, there is always pain underneath.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

There I was again, regretting the spiteful words that had cascaded out of my mouth during a heated argument with my partner.

I felt that old familiar feeling, the burning in my solar plexus that bubbled up and erupted like a volcano, spilling out expressions of anger, blame, and criticism.

It had been a rocky few months, my partner was struggling to find consistent work, and our credit card debt was on the rise. Suddenly anger kicked in and I lashed out, accusing him of slacking off and guilting him about me being the only one working.

As the words spilled from my mouth, I knew deep down that what I was saying was hurtful and untrue. I could see that my partner was trying his best , but my anger had taken over, causing suffering that I would later regret.

This was a familiar pattern for me. I’ve frequently reacted emotionally, without understanding why, and caused suffering to myself and my partner and chaos in our relationship. I spent the next few days beating myself up about my reaction and wondering, why do I never seem to learn?

Though I wasn’t self-aware in that particular moment, I know that anger is our body’s response to a perceived threat. It triggers the body’s fight-or-flight response. Our heart rate increases, we become tense, and adrenaline, our stress hormone, releases, so we often spiral into reaction mode in order to protect ourselves.

Although we tend to view anger in negative light, I have come to learn that anger itself is a valid emotion, just like happiness or sadness. And it does, in fact, serve a valid purpose. Anger sends a message to our body and brain that something painful within us has been triggered and is asking to be acknowledged. In many cases, it signals that there is something much deeper, a wound that brings up vulnerability and pain.

We need to take a step back, go inward, and begin to explore where the triggers for these behaviors and reactions stem from.

Growing up, we are conditioned to behave in certain ways based on our environment and circumstances.

As children, certain behaviors are ingrained in us from our family and peers. We learn to mimic those around us—for example, how they communicate and respond to one another—and over time we implement those behaviors as our own. Not only do we mimic their behaviors; we also take on their fears and beliefs. Then, when something triggers these fears and beliefs, we react in order to protect ourselves.

When I began delving into the root cause of my reactions around finances, it surprised me to learn of the deep conditioning I had been living through my parents’ stories about money.

When I was growing up, my parents often struggled to make ends meet and were under a lot of financial pressure.

They did their best to protect my brother and me, attempting to not let their financial stress impact our lives. But the truth is, we cannot help but be conditioned by our environment. Unconsciously, we pick up on our parents’ energy and develop certain coping mechanisms and patterns that become deeply ingrained as we continue to carry them through life.

When I was able to look past the anger around my own financial insecurities, I discovered deep fears and vulnerability.

I was living with the painful belief that my partner and I would always struggle financially, that we would not be able to get by and would experience the same hardships that my parents did. This story was interwoven through my family, going back even further to when my grandparents and great grandparents lived through extreme poverty in Eastern Europe. This conditioning was so much deeper than I could ever imagine.

Identifying where these beliefs stemmed from gave me the insight to take a look at the bigger picture and understand the painful stories I had taken on as my own. It allowed me to take responsibility for my own destructive patterns. I was beginning to see how my reactions were triggered by an unconscious fear out of a need for survival.

Your triggers might be completely different, and they may pertain more to pain from your childhood than inherited beliefs and fears. For example, if your parents regularly shamed you for mistakes when you were a kid, you might react defensively whenever someone points out an area where you have room for improvement. Or, if you felt ignored growing up, you may have a knee-jerk reaction whenever someone can’t spend time with you.

The problem is, our conditioning is so deeply ingrained within us that we are not even aware of our reactions most of the time. They just become an automatic response. We cannot always recognize that we are simply replaying old patterns over and over again. We tend to blame external circumstances or others for causing our suffering.

We play the victim without realizing that we ourselves are the ones causing the drama and the pain around us.

I was at a point in my life where I need to make a choice: continue living my old patterns, which were causing negative reactions and suffering, or take responsibility and ask myself, “What is underneath my anger? What is the root cause of my suffering?”

When you look back to your past to understand your triggers, it will feel uncomfortable and challenging at times. But when you are able to sit with your emotions and delve a little deeper, you start breaking through your conditioned patterns and behaviors and set yourself free.

The only way forward is by choosing to do the work to get there.

It’s important to understand that our conditioning came from many years of reinforcing these old beliefs, so it is no surprise that change won’t happen overnight. We need be kind to ourselves through this process instead of judging ourselves and our mistakes, or beating ourselves up if we fall along the way. Each step we take brings us closer to breaking old patterns and forming new, positive ones.

So where to begin?

These are some techniques that have helped me on my journey toward breaking old patterns.

1. Don’t react; pause.

When you experience that old familiar feeling of anger or frustration bubbling up inside you, don’t react. Instead of erupting like a volcano pouring out hurtful words and reactions, try pausing for a moment.

Take some space to reflect and name the emotions that surface—maybe fear, resentment, shame, or desperation—and explore underneath the anger. Ask yourself, “What was triggered for me at this time?”

Don’t try to overanalyze the situation; just sit with the emotions and see what arises. Do you feel vulnerable or powerless, or a sense of sadness, betrayal, or fear?

2. How does it feel in your body?

Ask yourself, “Where do these emotions sit in my body? What are the sensations they present?”

Once again, don’t overanalyze; just sit with the bodily sensations. Maybe you feel heat in your solar plexus or an aching in your heart. These sensations are asking for your acknowledgement; send them love.

3. Identify your go-to response.

Ask yourself, “How would I usually respond in this situation?” Maybe you would react by shouting, trying to push someone’s buttons, or become defensive.

Take the time to recognize your usual response and sit with it for a moment. Identify how this response may cause pain and suffering to yourself and others.

4. Reflect.

Ask yourself, “Am I acting from a place of love and kindness?”

By asking yourself this you take the focus off blaming others or the situation, you take responsibility for your own actions, and you reclaim your personal power.

By taking responsibility you are then able to consciously choose how you respond to any given situation. Remember, you don’t have control over how other people respond, but you do have 100 percent control over your response, and if it causes joy or suffering.

5. Practice awareness.

Remember you are acting out a conditioned behavior; it is your automatic response. When you practice awareness by identifying conditioned behaviors, you begin to take the power away from the old patterns and create space to form new positive ones.

It’s like rewriting your story. You have the power to recreate your story and transform old patterns into ones that serve you and align with your true essence and purpose in life.

6. Be kind to yourself.

Your conditioned responses and behaviors are your defense mechanisms, the coping strategies you learned to protect yourself in the world.

Acknowledge that you’ve always done your best based on what you learned growing up, and you’re now doing your best to change. If you struggle, treat yourself with kindness and compassion. It’s okay to make mistakes, don’t beat yourself up. Remember, every step you take brings you closer to personal freedom.

You may find it helpful to keep a journal to reflect on the above points when your old destructive patterns emerge. Journaling has been my savior during this process.

These techniques empowered me to recognize conditioned patterns and behaviors that were holding me back. They’ve also enabled me to communicate and connect with others positively and effectively. It’s not always easy to identify when you are acting out an old behavior, but the more you practice awareness when situations trigger you, the easier it will become to break these old patterns.

Article by: Erin Grace of Tiny Buddha

Yes, It’s O.K. to Be Sad During the Holidays

Sometimes the holiday spirit just passes us by, and that’s perfectly normal.

All I want for Christmas is a nap.

The more I try to get into the holiday spirit — you know, the way everyone else seems to be — the sadder and more anxious I become.

“Forced happiness makes us feel more sad, upset and lonely because we are faking our feelings,” said Dr. Judith Orloff, author of “Thriving as an Empath.”

“Putting on a false front to impress others or prove to them how fine we really are can make us feel like a total impostor,” he said.

Feeling like a sad sack of coal during the holidays is far from unusual. Between the crowds, dwindling bank accounts and tundralike weather (not to mention the short window of sunlight), it’s a wonder any of us can keep it together.

3 Negative Inner Voices and How To Challenge Them

“Beautify your inner dialogue. Beautify your inner world with love light and compassion. Life will be beautiful.” ~Amit Ray

There is no better way to feel good about yourself than changing your internal dialogue. Yes, you have the power to change your inner voice. You can choose to speak to yourself in a positive way or a negative way.

Stop all activity for a moment.

Be still. Notice what your inner voice is saying. Do you hear anything? If not, ask your inner voice this question: How does it feel to be still?

Listen.

Is your inner voice declaring that you are too busy to be chillin’? Or is it supporting you, happy to be playing this hanging-out-and-noticing game?

Get to know your inner voice.

Over the next few days stop and listen to your inner dialogue. Especially notice what your inner voice says as you are about to make a decision. Does it say, “I think, I can, I think I can” or does it say, “There is no way, I can’t do that, I can’t do that.”

Powerful Lessons from a Little Children’s Book

I hung out with a two-and-a-half-year-old the other day. He wanted to read a book and brought me The Little Engine that Could, by Watty Piper.

This book was read to me as a child, and I heard the voice in my head chant, “I think I can, I think I can” as I opened the book’s cover. The part I didn’t remember was the lessons of the trains.

As I read this little children’s book written way back in the 1930’s I felt the power of the lessons and how they apply to my own self-speak today.

The Little Engine That Could

The story is about a little train who wants to bring presents over the mountain to children who are patiently and excitedly awaiting their gifts.

However, on the way to the town, the little engine breaks down. The toys are very upset, and one of them, a funny little clown, sets off to find another train to help them.

Lessons on Self-Talk from Four Trains

1. The first train has a Shiny New Engine.

The Shiny New Engine didn’t want to help the little toy train because he was too special, too proud. He looked down on the little train and said a resounding “NO.”

I thought of my shiny arrogance that I’d polished for years. I’d told myself I was too special, too important to waste my time and attention on certain tasks and people.

Even though I’ve worked on this character defect, I know I have some of this self-speak going on inside of me. I noticed it the other night when I went out to dinner with a friend who brought along a friend of hers.

The woman appeared to be in her sixties with huge fake boobs. She dressed in a tight, sparkly sundress that emphasized her boobs and wore high heels with gold doodads pasted on. She talked about how her love life was filled with younger men who were her “F–k buddies.”

The moment she said this, I felt superior and stopped listening to what she shared. The next two hours I spent wishing I was at home watching Netflix. My inner voice said she was desperate.

What did I miss out on? She could have been a kindhearted, fascinating person, even if she dressed provocatively and made choices I wouldn’t make. Where was my compassion or at least my curiosity?

2. Next comes a Big Engine.

The Big Engine says he is too important and won’t “pull the likes of you.”

That got me thinking of my judgments. How do I judge others? Have I missed out on opportunities and connections because my over-inflated ego tells me that I’m too important to get involved with that person or situation?

My lesson on this came from an Alanon meeting. Well, actually, two separate meetings.

I rushed into my regular Alanon meeting a bit late and sat down in the only open chair. Once I arranged myself I noticed the man I was sitting next to had a scraggly beard, his clothes looked like they’d been slept in, and he smelled a bit. I scooted as far as I could from him in my chair and held my nose in the air.

When he shared in the meeting I chose not to listen. My inner voice said, “He has nothing to share that could be of value.” I knew that at the end of the meeting I’d have to hold his hand. My inner voice said, “No way.” So I slipped out right before the closing of the meeting.

A week later I arrived at my Alanon meeting on time and sat beside a good-looking man in a neat business suit. He piqued my interest. I’d never seen him at a meeting before, and I always appreciated a good-looking, well-groomed man.

When this good-looking man shared, I listened intently and nodded my head in agreement with much of what he said. My inner voice said “yes” to holding this man’s hand at the end of the meeting. As we grabbed hands, I gave his an extra firm squeeze as my way of saying, “I’m glad you are here.”

As we released our handhold, I turned to the nice-looking man and said, “My name is Michelle, welcome.” I’ll never forget how he looked at me with his deep blue eyes and asked, “You don’t remember me, do you?” I nodded my head “no,” thinking to myself I’d surely remember him if we’d met before.

He said, “I was here last week, a bit disheveled, as my best friend who suffered from alcoholism had killed himself. This Alanon meeting was recommended by my therapist to get help and support. I was so distraught I wasn’t eating, sleeping, or taking care of myself. I noticed you wanted nothing to do with me.”

It dawned on me as he spoke that he was the homeless-looking man from the week before. I turned bright red, mumbled an apology, and ran out of the room.

I never saw the man again, but I do think of him often and consider him an angel sent to stop me from my “I’m better than” inner voice.

3. The Rusty Old Engine comes next.

The Rusty Old Engine sighed and said he could not. He was too tired and weary.

I personally am not familiar with this inner voice. My inner voice tells me I can do anything and handle most things that come my way, to a fault. But I’ve watched others run this internal narrative. One of them is Jean.

Jean was a vibrant, gorgeous woman who owned a successful advertising company. When the advertising business began to shift away from print toward the Internet, I watched as she became defeated. She told me she was too old to make the changes she needed to make.

Her business began to fail, and as it did Jean failed as well. She stopped doing her movement practices, gained weight, and subsequently had two hip replacements. Her financial picture grew dim, and Jean was forced to sell her beautiful condo. She gave up on the life she’d so artfully created for herself over decades.

I saw Jean a couple of years ago. She was a shell of her former self and shared she felt old and tired.

4. Lastly comes the Little Blue Engine.

Chugging merrily along. The dolls and toys didn’t have to ask this train for help. She asks them, “What’s wrong?” As she hears of their plight, she tells them she isn’t very big and has never been over the mountain.

She thought of what the kids would be missing if this little train didn’t bring the gifts to the boys and girls on the other side. So she said, “I think I can, I think I can.” It was a supreme effort, but she hooked up to the train, began chugging along, and kept going all the way over the mountain by saying to herself over and over again, “I think I can.”

I know this voice.

I recently changed my business model from brick and mortar, which I knew I could do, to an online business, which required a supreme effort. I’ve gotten up every morning for over a year chanting, “I think I can.” I’ve put my head down and chugged through twelve-hour days, and you know what? I did it. I made it over that mountain. My online business is going strong.

Inner Voice Lessons from The Little Engine That Could:

Listen for your arrogant inner voice that tells you that you are better than anyone else. Tell yourself to remain curious and compassionate.
Listen for your inner judgments. Say to yourself, “I’m grateful for the people that I meet; they might teach me something.”
Listen to your inner voice of defeat that tells you that you are too tired. Change that voice to “I’m not handed anything I can’t handle.”
Take the next adventure you encounter and say to yourself, “I think I can. I think I can.”

Article by: Michelle Andrie of Tiny Buddha

What I Learned From Rejection

This is one of my favorite videos on how to overcome rejection…

It’s More Important to Be Authentic Than Impressive

“The most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves is to remain ignorant by not having the courage to look at ourselves honestly and gently.” ~Pema Chödrön

All my life I’ve chased after success, as I was encouraged to do from a very young age.

When I was six, my father got me my first proper study desk as a gift for getting into a ‘good’ school. The type of desk that towered over a little six-year-old—complete with bookshelves and an in-built fluorescent light. In the middle of the shelf frame stuck a white sticky label inscribed with my father’s own handwriting in two languages. It read: “Work hard for better progress.”

Little did I know those words would set the tone for me and my work ethic for the next twenty years—until I finally began to question them.

Hard work became my ‘safe space’ whenever I felt insecure. When I struggled to make friends at a new school, felt rejected, or felt like I didn’t belong, I would put my head down and drown out my emotions out by working hard. It became my coping strategy.

My younger self didn’t yet have the emotional resources to deal with moving around, changing schools, and facing social rejection. When it became too painful, it was much easier to stay in my head than to feel vulnerable with my heart.

So, whenever I struggled to fit in at school, I just worked harder with the misguided belief that if I did well, then I would be celebrated. If I became impressive, then people would finally accept and like me.

And of course, my parents encouraged this behavior. I was rewarded for my hard work and I got good results for it too.

But outside of my home, nobody seemed to care about my results. I still wasn’t fitting in at school. I still didn’t have many friends. My strategy didn’t seem to be working.

So I worked even harder.

By the time I graduated from University, I had completely bought into society’s definition of being ‘impressive’ without even questioning it once. If it was a prize everyone wanted, I wanted it too.

My definition of being ‘impressive’ expanded to include looking good, dressing well, staying fit, and making good money in a highly-competitive field, even if I had zero passion for that profession.

By then, I’d long forgotten the reasons why I wanted to work hard to be impressive in the first place, other than “That’s just who I am.”

I was drifting further and further away from my true self, and I didn’t even know it.

For the next ten years, I spent a lot of my waking hours working as a financial analyst, studying for more degrees and certification, and chasing after the next shiny thing so I could sound even more impressive to others. Plus, I was making a decent income while doing so. Tick.

While on the surface I ticked a lot of those “impressive” boxes I had set out for myself, on the inside I felt emptier than ever. On the outside I looked successful, but on the inside, I felt like a complete failure.

What Happens When Your True Self Calls You to Come Back

Cracks started to emerge both in my work and in myself. It became challenging to fully show up for work as I increasingly asked myself: “What am I doing here?”

A soft inner voice whispered, “It’s time to get out of here, you’re not meant to be in finance. What are you doing here?” So I began questioning what I was doing with my life. I mean, if not that, what was I meant to do? I’d invested so much of my time and energy into my profession; I couldn’t just change directions. And who was this voice anyway? Where was it coming from?

My fake enthusiasm became harder and harder to keep up. This sinking feeling became more visceral by the day, and the feeling of not belonging in my workplace became increasingly obvious.

Yet I swallowed those feelings down with gritted teeth and kept pushing. Because what else was I meant to do if not keep persisting?

When I suddenly got fired it was an abrupt wakeup call. I needed to challenge everything I believed in and confront those big questions I’d put off answering for so long: “Who am I really?” and “What am I really about?”

What I Learned Through My Four-Year Journey of Self-Discovery

I spent the next couple of years immersing myself in a whole range of subjects that covered different angles on self-knowledge, in an attempt to answer the question “Who am I?”

For most of my seeking, I was still trying to find answers as if they resided outside of me. I was still trying to find where I belonged professionally.

But what started as a business journey quickly morphed into an inner-transformational journey that became deeply personal.

This deep inner work allowed me to reconnect to my internal guidance system and my true self once more.

Through this process I was able to take a good look at myself, confront my shadow side, heal my wounds of rejection, and forgive everyone involved, including myself.

As I’ve come home to my true self, I’ve realized a few things about the cost of chasing impressiveness:

When we chase after something external, we lose self-connection.

When I heard that soft, loving voice inside my head, it was a small glimpse of spiritual awakening. It was a momentary connection to my inner mentor’s light that seeped through my deep dark fog of disconnection.

We all have our own inner mentor, but we have choose to listen to it instead of trying to be who we think we’re supposed to be.

When we trust others more than we trust ourselves, we can end up giving our personal power away.

If we believe that the answers we seek lie outside of ourselves, we can forget to check in to see what’s true for us each individually. The more weight we put on other people’s opinions, the less we trust our own inner knowing.

People can only speak to what they know based on their own perspective, background, and life experiences. When we allow other people’s opinions to overpower the choices our true selves would otherwise make, we end up giving away our personal power.

I’ve found that it doesn’t matter how many well-meaning opinions we get; we need to find what resonates with us the most by checking in with our inner authority—which means going against what we learned growing up, when we were trained to ignore our inner voice and do what we were told.

The pursuit of ‘impressiveness’ is a hunger that can never be satisfied.

When we keep chasing after ‘impressiveness,’ we are in fact on a hedonic treadmill of always wanting more. As soon as we achieve one thing, we fixate on the next. We keep wanting bigger, better, and more.

As soon as we attain or do something, suddenly what we have isn’t good enough anymore, and so we must now keep up. We fall into the comparison trap. The external goalpost keeps moving. We keep looking over our shoulders to see how we’re tracking against everyone, and it becomes a tireless pursuit of keeping up with the Joneses with no real end in sight.

Every ‘win’ is temporary.

We mistakenly see ‘impressiveness’ as proof that we’re worthy of love.

When we chase after ‘impressiveness’ we’re really chasing after validation, approval, and a sense of belonging. We think, “If I can be impressive then I can be accepted.” We want others to look up to us, praise us, and ultimately, love us.

However, the pursuit gets dangerous when we buy into the false belief that we have to work hard in order to prove we are worthy of love; that we need to become ‘impressive’ through our accomplishments and produce tangible proof of our worthiness.

I’ve noticed that a lot of high achievers, like myself, have bought into this belief, possibly due to the achievement-oriented upbringing we were exposed to from a very young age.

The danger is that it can become an acquisition addiction, and an arms race to get more degrees, more cars, more houses, more shoes, more toys, and so on.

We can become addicted to buying ‘cool’ things to impress other people, or work ourselves to the bone just to get those long lists of accolades instead of recognizing that we are inherently worthy of love. Regardless of what we have or have achieved.

We risk losing our individuality.

When we chase after external validation and approval, we compromise who we really are in exchange for more respect, more likes, more kudos from our peers. We showcase a more curated, ‘acceptable’ version of ourselves to the world, and we hide other parts of ourselves that we think might be rejected by others. Even worse, we end up chasing after things we don’t even really want.

Some of us inherit strong beliefs about what ‘success’ means and some of us strive toward pre-approved categories of impressiveness as defined by society, without checking in once to see whether these pathways to ‘success’ fit in with our true selves.

In the end, we lose our individuality—the essence of who we really are.

It requires self-connection to recognize what is true for us versus what is conditioned into us. It requires even more courage to step outside of these pre-approved paths to ‘impressiveness’ and live a life that aligns with our true selves.

How to Reclaim Your Authentic Self

I’ve discovered that breaking free from the illusion of ‘impressiveness’ and reclaiming your true self is really a constant two-step dance between recognition and courage.

1. Recognition
To reclaim your authentic self you have to recognize that you have disconnected from who you really are in the first place. Your achievements, your accomplishments, all the cool stuff that you own, and even your toned physique—they’re not who you really are.

2. Courage to be your true self
We have to have courage to stand in our truth and be our authentic selves. Recognition alone is not enough. For many of us, it’s the fear of disapproval that holds us back from stepping out of those curated, pre-approved categories that we have created for ourselves, and fully owning who we are, in all our beautiful, strange glory.

My wish is that this becomes your permission slip to fully step into who you really are and own it. Being your true self requires tremendous courage, but it’s worth it. And having the courage to fully embrace your true individuality in all its quirkiness? That’s impressive.

Article By: Clarabel Sage of Tiny Buddha

The Number on The Scale Does Not Dictate Your Value

“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

We try to give our bodies value with numbers. We’re obsessed with the number on the scale and the circumference of our waist.

We also think our value lies in labels. Words like “obese,” “fat,” and “overweight” are triggers for many, and we abhor them like coffee breath, because we’ve been immersed in pocrescophobia (the fear of getting fat) from before we can remember.

But we are more than a category on a pie chart. We are more than our body shape. Magazines tell us we are shaped like a fruit, but we are shaped by the experiences that have made us the people we are today.

Our bodies may not be light, but inside we are shrouded with light. We may be soft where we’ve been told we ought to be hard and toned, but it’s in our softness that others feel comforted in the midst of their problems. We may not have a thigh gap, but there’s space between our arms for those we love to seek shelter.

We are more than just a body.

Our bodies are amazing. They can do so much, for ourselves and for others. We are each beautiful in our own right.

But that’s not all there is to us. We are the imprint we leave on the planet during our short life on Earth. We are the heart that beats within us for the things we are passionate about.

We are the smile that radiates out of our eyes when we experience a moment of pure joy, and the serenity that pervades us when we are content. We are the words we exchange, the words we write down, the words we guard in our minds at all costs. We are the feelings that pass through us, exhilarate us, drive us, guide us.

We are the thoughts and memories and unique set of DNA that set us apart from everyone else. We are special. We are needed. We are designed for a purpose.

We have value that surpasses everything society and the media wants us to obsess over. We have value apart from how we look. We have value apart from our relationship status.

We have value apart from our income. We have value apart from whether we own a house or not, or have kids or not. We. Have. Value. Unchanging, unequivocal, perfect value.

I regret that I wasted this whole weekend feeling depressed about how much I weigh now compared to how much I weighed in my early twenties (I’m approaching thirty). It seems so silly when you think about it, a stone here or there. But I found myself giving in to that black hole, falling-to-the-floor kind of despair.

I should weigh less. I should look slimmer. I should try harder.

I should be something that isn’t me at this moment in time.

It seems like everyone is dissatisfied with the way they look. We will pay money and give up all our free time to try and achieve the illusion of perfection. Snapchat filters, Instagram filters, even paying for apps that will help us to create the perfect selfie, because heaven forbid we look anything less than perfect online!

This, in turn, feeds into other people’s insecurities, spreading the toxic message that our “just as I am” is not enough.

The thing is, weight is just one small way to measure health. My weight suggests I’m quite overweight for my height. But when you look at my waist-to-hip and waist-to-height measurements, I’m in the “healthy” category for both of them, with little-to-no risk of developing heart disease or obesity.

Things just don’t add up. I’m left feeling like something is wrong with me. Am I in the red, or in the green?

Do I need to lose weight, or can I breathe a sigh or relief?

The thing is, it’s these categories and labels that have got it all wrong. Health can’t always be measured by numbers. It’s how you live your life.

Being obsessive isn’t healthy. Talking negatively (even in your mind) about yourself isn’t healthy. Striving for perfection isn’t healthy.

What is healthy? Loving yourself exactly the way you are. Making good choices for your physical and mental health.

Being balanced in everything.

Some days I feel like I’ve come so far, that I truly do love and accept myself as I am, wobbly bits and all. Other days I feel lost in a sea of self-pity and a strong dislike for what I see in the mirror. I compare myself to other girls.

Why can’t I be naturally skinny? Why has nature been so unkind? Then I remember that nature has been kind.

I’m uniquely myself with my own combination of curves and body fat. Why would I want to look like anyone else?

My thoughts go round and round like this. It can be so tiring.

My parents used to tell me I had a “feminine figure.” My partner loves the way I look and never ceases to remind me, even when I’m in one of my funks and in a loop of obsessing over my supposed flaws. If I could only see myself through the eyes of those who love me, my obsessing and self-loathing would all stop in an instant.

The thing is, we have to see ourselves through the eyes of love. We have to accept. We are craving our own love and acceptance.

We need our own kindness. We need to talk about ourselves like we would talk to our best friend. We need to look in the mirror and say, “You are beautiful, just the way you are.”

See your own value. Yes, your body has value. Yes, it is beautiful, exactly as it is.

Shout it out! Proclaim it to the rooftops!

But you are more than that.

You are so much more than a body.

Article by: Nicola Casey

Improving Your Mental Health: A Summer Bucket List

Summer is arguably the best season known to man—for most of us millennials, summer is a time to drink cold, age appropriate beverages, get an occasional sun tan/burn, and maybe work a job or internship if you have the drive to do so. Basically, it’s a time of stress free, care free living. For most of us.

But for those of us that struggle with mental illnesses like anxiety and depression, summer is just another time of the year where we are plagued by impending stress. Here is a bucket list I’ve made for this summer to help you live the happiest (and hopefully sweatiest) summer of your life.

1. Read!

Summer reading was the probably the only negative part about summer for most of us when we were kids, but this is a different kind of reading! This is the mental sweat I’m talking about where you take on a challenge to learn something new during the summer by reading about it—hey, you can learn about the history of shot gunning beers if you’d like.

2. Take up a new adventure hobby, preferably physical.

Never been able to do a handstand before? THIS IS YOUR SUMMER TO LEARN IT! Whether you are trying to perfect an old skill or learn a new one, don’t be afraid to challenge your body to new feats!

3. Eat something new or something old cooked in a new way.

Adventure can be intimidating for sure. But if you can do one new thing a day, even if it’s taking the long way home from work, THEN DO IT.

4. Meditate.

If you struggle often with anxiety and depression (or any other mental illness and would like to try meditation) I say YES. GO YOU. DO IT. Practicing mindfulness and grounding in our daily lives is crucial if we want to be at inner peace with ourselves and everything around us.

5. Host (or attend) a potluck BBQ.

Food is such a great way to bring people together and summer is the perfect time for barbecues and relaxation with those people that make you feel the most comfortable.

6. DO MORE OF WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY.

THIS IS SO IMPORTANT BECAUSE EVERYDAY SHOULD BE THE BEST DAY EVER BUT THAT’S NOT HOW THE WORLD WORKS SO EVEN ON BAD DAYS JUST PROMISE ME AND PROMISE YOURSELF THAT YOU WILL DO SOMETHING THAT MAKES YOU HAPPY FOR AT LEAST ONE HOUR A DAY SO THAT EVERY DAY HAS AT LEAST AN HOUR OF HAPPINESS IN IT.

7. Get lost somewhere (not stranded without food or water, just lost-ish).

Finding your way around a new town or through a bustling city is a great way to not only learn about the world around you, but about yourself and the way in which you have experiences. So take a trip to your nearest big city or a new city you’ve never been to before, and wander about. Take in your surroundings and make sure you eat plenty along the way!

8. Face a fear you have.

Whether you’re afraid of roller coasters or terrified of broccoli, take the beauty of the summer as an opportunity to face your fears in some of the best weather we have!

Article By: Alyssa Villani