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

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

How Unhealed Childhood Wounds Wreak Havoc in Our Adult Lives

“The emotional wounds and negative patterns of childhood often manifest as mental conflicts, emotional drama, and unexplained pains in adulthood.” ~Unknown

I am a firm believer in making the unconscious conscious. We cannot influence what we don’t know about. We cannot fix when we don’t know what’s wrong.

I made many choices in my life that I wouldn’t have made had I recognized the unconscious motivation behind them, based on my childhood conditioning.

In the past, I beat myself up over my decisions countless times. Now I feel that I needed to make these choices and have these experiences so that the consequences would help me become aware of what I wasn’t aware of. Maybe, after all, that was the exact way it had to be.

In any case, I am now hugely aware of how we, unbeknownst to us, negatively impact our own lives.

As children, we form unconscious beliefs that motivate our choices, and come up with strategies for keeping ourselves safe. They’re usually effective for us as children; as adults, however, applying our childhood strategies can cause drama, distress, and damage. They simply no longer work. Instead, they wreak havoc in our lives.

One of my particular childhood wounds was that I felt alone. I felt too scared to talk to anyone in my family about my fears or my feelings. It didn’t seem like that was something anyone else did, and so I stayed quiet. There were times I feared I could no longer bear the crushing loneliness and would just die without anyone noticing.

Sometimes the feeling of loneliness would strangle and threaten to suffocate me. I remember trying to hide my fear and panic. I remember screaming into my pillow late at night trying not to wake anyone. It was then that I decided that I never wanted anyone else to feel like me. This pain, I decided, was too much to bear, and I did not wish it on anyone.

As an adult, I sought out, whom I perceived as, people in need. When I saw someone being excluded, I’d be by their side even if it meant that I would miss out in some way. I’d sit with them, talk to them, be with them. I knew nothing about rescuing in those days. It just felt like the right thing to do: see someone alone and be with them so they wouldn’t feel lonely or excluded.

Looking back now, I was clearly trying to heal my childhood wound through other people. I tried to give them what I wish I’d had when I was younger: someone kind, encouraging, and supportive by my side. I tried to prevent them from feeling lonely. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—it’s kind to recognize others in pain and try to be there for them.

The problem with my strategy was that I chose people who were alone for a reason: they behaved badly and no one wanted to be around them. I chose people healthy people would not choose to be with. People who treated others poorly and did not respect themselves, or anyone else for that matter. That included me.

And so I suffered. I suffered because I chose badly for myself. And I chose badly for myself because I followed unconscious motivations. I obediently followed my conditioning. I followed the rules I came up with as a child, but playing by those rules doesn’t work out very well in adulthood.

I never understood why I suffered. I couldn’t see that I had actively welcomed people into my life who simply were not good for me. It didn’t matter where I went or what I changed; for one reason or another, I’d always end up in the same kind of cycle, the same difficult situation.

At one point I realized that I was the common denominator. It then still took me years to figure out what was going on.

Eventually, my increasing self-awareness moved me from my passive victim position into a proactive role of empowered creator. Life has never been the same since. Thankfully. But it wasn’t easy.

I had to look deep within and see truths about myself that were, at first, difficult to bear. But once I was willing to face them and feel the harshness of the reality, the truth set me free. It no longer made sense to play by rules I had long outgrown. I didn’t realize that I had become the adult I had always craved as a child. But I was not responsible for rescuing other adults—that was their job.

I have since witnessed the same issue with everyone I meet and work with. One particular person, who had endured terrible abuse growing up, was constantly giving people the protection he had craved but never received as a child. He gave what he did not receive. And yet, in his adult life it caused nothing but heartache for him.

When he saw, what he perceived as, an injustice like someone being rude to someone else or a driver driving without consideration for others, he intervened. Unfortunately, he often got it wrong and most people didn’t want his input, which left him feeling rejected and led to him becoming verbally aggressive. Eventually, his ‘helping’—his anger and boundary crossing—landed him in prison.

He was not a bad person—far from it. He was simply run by his unconscious motivation to save his younger self. He projected and displaced this onto other people who did not need saving and never asked for his help. But his conditioning won every time and in the process wrecked his life.

What ends this cycle is awareness, understanding, and compassion.

We must learn to look at the consequences of our actions or inactions and then dig deep. We must ask ourselves: What patterns do I keep repeating? What must I believe about myself, others, and life in order to act this way? Why do I want what I want and why do I do what I do? And what would I do differently if I stopped acting on my childhood conditioning?

Beliefs fuel all of our choices. When we don’t like the consequences of our actions, we must turn inward to shine a light onto the unhelpful unconscious beliefs we formed as children. Only awareness can help us find and soothe them. Only understanding can help us make sense of them. And only compassion can help us forgive ourselves for the patterns we unknowingly perpetuated.

We didn’t know what we didn’t know. We couldn’t have made any different choices. But once we begin to see and understand how our minds work and how our conditioning drives everything we do, we grow more powerful than we ever thought possible.

It is then that we are able to make healthier, wiser, and more life-enhancing choices for ourselves. We can then break the cycles that previously kept us stuck in unfulfilling and often harmful situations and relationships.

There is always a different choice. We just have to begin to see it.

Article by: Marlena Tillhon-Haslam of Tiny Buddha

101 Positive Body Affirmations

Affirmations are statements that you repeat over and over in attempt to change your unconscious beliefs. Pick a few that you like and look in the mirror and repeat several times each day! If you can find some of these positive body affirmations that resonate for you and really allow yourself to see them, hear them and feel them, you might find some shifts in the way you think about yourself and your body.

1. My body deserves love.

2. I am perfect, whole, and complete just the way I am.

3. I feed my body healthy nourishing food and give it healthy nourishing exercise because it deserves to be taken care of.

4. I love and respect myself.

5. It’s okay to love myself now as I continue to evolve.

6. My body is a temple. I want to treat it with love and respect.

7. My body is a gift.

8. Food doesn’t have to be the enemy, it can be nurturing and healing.

9. Life is too short and too precious to waste time obsessing about my body. I am going to take care of it to the best of my ability and get out of my head and into the world.

10. I will not give in to the voices of my eating disorder that tell me I’m not okay. I will listen to the healthy voices that I do have, even if they are very quiet so that I can understand that I am fine. I am fine.

11. Food doesn’t make me feel better, it just temporarily stops me from feeling what I’m feeling.

12. I have everything inside of me that I need to take care of myself without using food.

13. A goal weight is an arbitrary number, how I feel is what’s important.

14. I am worthy of love

15. As long as I am good, kind, and hold myself with integrity, it doesn’t matter what other people think of me.

16. Other people are too busy thinking about themselves to care what my weight is

17. When I compare myself to others, I destroy myself, I don’t want to destroy myself so I’ll just continue on my journey, not worrying about other people’s journeys.

18. I am blessed to be aging. The only alternative to aging is death.

19. It’s okay for me to like myself. It’s okay for me to love myself.

20. I have to be an advocate for me. I can’t rely on anyone else to do that for me.

21. A “perfect” body is one that works, no matter what that means for you personally.

22. It’s okay for me to trust the wisdom of my body.

23. Just because someone looks perfect on the outside, doesn’t mean they have a perfect life. No one has a perfect life, we all struggle. That’s just what being human is.

24. If I spend too much time trying to be and look like someone else, I cease to pay attention to myself, my virtues, my path, and my journey.

25. When I look to others to dictate who I should be or how I should look, I reject who I am.

26. The last thing I should be doing is rejecting myself. Accepting myself as I am right now is the first step in changing, growing and evolving. When I reject myself, I cannot grow.

27. Self respect is underrated.

28. I can only go forward, so although I can learn from it, I refuse to dwell on the past.

29. ALL images in magazines are airbrushed, photoshopped, and distorted.

30. If people actively judge or insult me, it’s because they feel badly about themselves. No one who feels good about themselves has the need to put someone down to elevate themselves- they have better things to do with their time.

31. I have no need to put someone down to elevate myself.

32. I can be a good person if I choose to be.

33. It’s my life, I can choose the way I want to live it.

34. When I smile, I actually make other people happy.

35. Balance is the most important.

36. If I binge today, I can still love and accept myself, I don’t have to beat, berate and starve myself right afterwards, and I still have the very next moment to jump right back into recovery.

37. Recovery is an ongoing process that is not linear in fashion. If I slip up, I’ll take the opportunity as a learning experience and get right back to my recovery goals/program.

38. Progress is not linear. It’s normal for me to go forward and then backward, and then forward again.

39. I enjoy feeling good. It’s okay for me to feel good.

40. Having an eating disorder is not my identity.

41. Being skinny or fat is not my identity. I am identified by who I am on the inside, a loving, wonderful person.

42. I choose health and healing over diets and punishing myself.

43. My opinion of myself is the only one I truly know and it’s the only one that counts. I can choose my opinion of myself.

44. When I am in my head too much, I can return to my breath, just breath and be okay. There is only this moment.

45. It’s okay to let others love me, why wouldn’t they?

46. I am good stuff.

47. I am compassionate and warm. My presence is delightful to people.

48. My very existence makes the world a better place.

49. It’s okay to pay someone to rub my feet every once in a while.

50. If I am hungry, I am supposed to let myself eat. Food is what keeps me alive.

51. Getting older makes me smarter.

52. It’s okay not to be the best all the time.

53. My well-being is the most important thing to me. I am responsible for taking care of me. We are each responsible for ourselves.

54. No one has the power to make me feel bad about myself without my permission.

55. My feet are cute. Even if they’re ugly.

56. I eat for energy and nourishment.

57. Chocolate is not the enemy. It’s not my friend either. It’s just chocolate, it has no power over me.

58. I can be conscious in my choices.

59. I am stronger than the urge to binge.

60. I am healthier than the urge to purge.

61. Restricting my food doesn’t make me a better person, being kind to myself and to others makes me a better person.

62. Being skinny doesn’t make me good. Being fat doesn’t make me bad.

63. I can be healthy at any size.

64. Life doesn’t start 10 pounds from now, it’s already started. I can make the choice to include myself in it.

65. Food, drugs, and alcohol are not the solution. But they might seem like it at times, but using these things can make more problems. I have what I need inside of me as the solution.

66. There is a guide inside of me who is wise and will always be there to help me on my journey.

67. Sometimes sitting around and doing nothing is just what the doctor ordered. It’s okay to let myself relax.

68. I am a human being, not a human doing. It’s okay to just be sometimes. I don’t always have to be doing.

69. My brain is my sexiest body part.

70. Looks last about five minutes– or until someone opens their mouth.

71. My life is what I make of it. I have all the power here.

72. My body is a vessel for my awesomeness.

73. My body can do awesome things.

74. If I am healthy, I am so very blessed.

75. I won’t let magazines or the media tell me what I should look like. I look exactly the way I’m supposed to. I know because this is the way god made me!

76. What is supposedly pleasing to the eye is not always what is pleasing to the touch. Cuddly is good!

77. I can trust my intuition. It’s here to guide me.

78. Just because I am taking care of myself and being an advocate for myself doesn’t mean I’m selfish.

79. Not everyone has to like me. I just have to like me.

80. It’s not about working on myself it’s about being okay with who I already am.

81. My needs are just as important as anyone else.

82. Body, if you can love me for who I am, I promise to love you for who you are– no one is responsible for changing anyone else.

83. I will make peace with my body, it doesn’t do anything but keep me alive and all I do is insult it and hurt it. I’m sorry body, you’ve tried to be good to me and care for me, it’s time for me to try to be good back.

84. Thighs, thank you for carrying me.

85. Belly, thank you for holding in all my organs and helping me digest.

86. Skin, thank you for shielding and protecting me.

87. Other people don’t dictate my choices for me, I know what’s best for myself.

88. I feed my body life affirming foods so that I can be healthy and vital.

89. Taking care of myself feels good.

90. I can eat a variety of foods for health and wellness without bingeing.

91. There is more to life that losing weight. I’m ready to experience it.

92. If I let go of my obsession with food and my body weight, there is a whole world waiting for me to explore.

93. The numbers on the scale are irrelevant to who I am as a human.

94. Food is not good or bad. It has no moral significance. I can choose to be good or bad and it has nothing to do with the amount of calories or carbohydrates I eat.

95. I am still beautiful when I’m having a bad hair day.

96. My nose gives me the ability to breathe. Breath gives me the ability to be an amazingly grounded, solid person.

97. Being grounded and whole is what makes me beautiful. If I don’t feel grounded and whole, I can get there just by being still, breathing, listening to my intuition, and doing what I can to be kind to myself and others.

98. I am not bad and I don’t deserve to be punished, not by myself and not by others.

99. I deserve to be treated with love and respect and so do you. I choose to do and say kind things for and about myself and for and about others.

100. Even if I don’t see how pretty I am, there is someone who does. I am loved and admired. REALLY!

101. Beauty?… To me it is a word without sense because I do not know where its meaning comes from nor where it leads to. ~Pablo Picasso

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 of Tiny Buddha

This post was republished with permission from tinybuddha.com. You can find the original post at https://tinybuddha.com.

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 of Psychology Today

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

This post was republished with permission from tinybuddha.com. You can find the original post at https://tinybuddha.com.