How To Talk To Your Parents about Racism

Over the last few weeks, many of us have had to face a pretty ugly realization: Some of the people we love the most and who’ve cared for us throughout our lives are also people who harbor racist beliefs.

Hearing our parents make racist comments can be particularly upsetting, especially if you’re close to them and talk to them regularly. But the good news is, our family members are the people we’re likely to have the biggest effect on because of our close personal relationships with them.

Addressing racism in your parents—or any loved one, for that matter—can feel daunting, but it’s not impossible. We reached out to three therapists for advice on the best ways to open the conversation and actually help our parents overcome their prejudices:

1. Understand where your parents are coming from.

Try to have a mindset of understanding about your parents’experiences that may have led them to have these beliefs, says therapist Alyssa Mancao, LCSW.

“Keep in mind the generational differences and the conditioning that was bestowed onto them. Remind yourself that you have more access to information that they may not have had access to growing up, due to the whitewashing of history books and absence of social media and internet use during their times,” she explains. “Approach your parents with compassion and understanding. It is also important to note that your parents have had these views and beliefs for their entire lives.”

Understanding your parents background will help you meet them where they’re at and help them unpack prejudices that may be a product of their generation, culture, or upbringing.

2. Avoid using blame statements.

People rarely respond well when they feel like they’re being blamed or attacked, licensed psychologist Ebony Butler, Ph.D., points out. You want to avoid putting your parents on the defensive from the start of the conversation.

“The thing to remember in these types of cases is that you want to be heard and want to feel listened to,” she explains. “Leading with statements that accuse or place blame increases people’s defensiveness and decreases their ability to hear with the intent of understanding. Instead, they listen with the intent to defend.”

Butler recommends leaning on factual information and your trusty “I” statements, rather than “you” statements. Approach with a spirit of warmth and love.

3. Provide them with information and resources.

It can be hard to find the right words, especially when we ourselves are still learning and educating ourselves. In such cases, it can be helpful to offer up links and resources that you’ve found helpful that you think might also be helpful for your parents.

Mancao explains:
“Oftentimes, when parents hold racist sentiments, their sentiments stem from distortion thinking (overgeneralization) and skewed media perspectives, and therefore it is highly important to approach them with factual information regarding institutional racism, systemic inequality, and social stratification. This is a lot to learn and unload, and therefore, when approaching your parents, coming in informed will be helpful. I would also recommend looking for infographics that break down information, offering to watch an educational documentary together, and finding information in their primary language if English is not their first language.”

It can also be helpful to watch movies or podcasts about racism together, she adds, or you can host a book club about race as a family.

4. Remember that helping someone recognize their mistakes and grow from them is a way of showing love.

It’s not your responsibility to “fix” your parents, Mancao says. They are responsible for themselves.

But she notes, “This does not mean be complacent, throw up your hands, and say ‘it is what it is.’ No, we do have a responsibility to share education with them, continually challenge, point out errors in their thinking, and be steady with our approach.”

And as humans who care about justice and equity, she adds, we all have a responsibility to educate each other and to question beliefs that uphold systemic oppression.

5. Know when it’s time to establish boundaries.

As important as it may feel to you to change your parents’ minds about racism at all costs, remember that your time and energy are limited—and there may be better uses of your resources than getting into huge arguments with your parents every time you see them.

“Instead of focusing on changing your parents’ mind to make you feel at ease, use that motivation to motivate others around you to change their viewpoints and hold others accountable,” therapist Patrice Douglas, LMFT, recommends.

If your parents have persistently racist beliefs, Douglas adds that you may need to establish boundaries with them. Unless you’re experiencing significant harm from interacting with them, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to cut your parents off entirely.

“Changing your parent’s mind may never happen, but it’s important to understand where you stand and how you want to move forward in your own life,” she explains. “Instead of your parents having a major role in your life, you may decide to decrease contact and only check in when necessary or have surface conversations with them.”

6. Take care of yourself throughout this process.

“Addressing racism and a person’s anti-blackness can provoke feelings of anger, rage, and helplessness, especially when you feel like your conversation is falling on deaf ears,” Mancao notes. “Learn when to take a pause from the conversation.”

Reach out to loved ones or a mental health professional who can help you cope with the understandably jarring experience of feeling so alienated from a parent.

“This level of rupture can feel like high-level betrayal and might be difficult to recover from,” Butler adds. “In such instances, it can be really beneficial to enlist the help of someone trained in healing and working through interpersonal betrayal and trauma.”

7. Be patient.

“You won’t change a person’s entire belief system in one conversation,” Mancao reminds. “Be steady, persistent, and patient with the process while you keep in mind that these are tightly held beliefs, and it can be quite common for a person to get defensive when their belief systems are being challenged. The conversations you are having with your parents are planting seeds. It’s important to have realistic expectations of how quickly your parents digest and process information.”

Change takes time. Be patient.

Article by: Kelly Gonsalves of Mind,Body Green

How To Be Happy

Behavioral scientists have spent a lot of time studying what makes us happy (and what doesn’t). We know happiness can predict health and longevity, and happiness scales can be used to measure social progress and the success of public policies. But happiness isn’t something that just happens to you. Everyone has the power to make small changes in our behavior, our surroundings and our relationships that can help set us on course for a happier life.

Happiness often comes from within. Learn how to tame negative thoughts and approach every day with optimism.

Conquer Negative Thinking
All humans have a tendency to be a bit more like Eeyore than Tigger, to ruminate more on bad experiences than positive ones. It’s an evolutionary adaptation — over-learning from the dangerous or hurtful situations we encounter through life (bullying, trauma, betrayal) helps us avoid them in the future and react quickly in a crisis.

But that means you have to work a little harder to train your brain to conquer negative thoughts. Here’s how:

Don’t try to stop negative thoughts. Telling yourself “I have to stop thinking about this,” only makes you think about it more. Instead, own your worries. When you are in a negative cycle, acknowledge it. “I’m worrying about money.” “I’m obsessing about problems at work.”

Treat yourself like a friend. When you are feeling negative about yourself, ask yourself what advice would you give a friend who was down on herself. Now try to apply that advice to you.

Challenge your negative thoughts. Socratic questioning is the process of challenging and changing irrational thoughts. Studies show that this method can reduce depression symptoms. The goal is to get you from a negative mindset (“I’m a failure.”) to a more positive one (“I’ve had a lot of success in my career. This is just one setback that doesn’t reflect on me. I can learn from it and be better.”) Here are some examples of questions you can ask yourself to challenge negative thinking.

First, write down your negative thought, such as “I’m having problems at work and am questioning my abilities.”

Then ask yourself: “What is the evidence for this thought?”
“Am I basing this on facts? Or feelings?”
“Could I be misinterpreting the situation?”
“How might other people view the situation differently?
“How might I view this situation if it happened to someone else?”

The bottom line: Negative thinking happens to all of us, but if we recognize it and challenge that thinking, we are taking a big step toward a happier life.

Controlled Breathing
Science is just beginning to provide evidence that the benefits of this ancient practice are real. Studies have found, for example, that breathing practices can help reduce symptoms associated with anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and attention deficit disorder. For centuries yogis have used breath control, or pranayama, to promote concentration and improve vitality. Buddha advocated breath-meditation as a way to reach enlightenment.

Try it.

Rewrite Your Story
Writing about oneself and personal experiences — and then rewriting your story — can lead to behavioral changes and improve happiness. (We already know that expressive writing can improve mood disorders and help reduce symptoms among cancer patients, among other health benefits.)

Some research suggests that writing in a personal journal for 15 minutes a day can lead to a boost in overall happiness and well-being, in part because it allows us to express our emotions, be mindful of our circumstances and resolve inner conflicts.Or you can take the next step and focus on one particular challenge you face, and write and rewrite that story.

We all have a personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves.But sometimes our inner voice doesn’t get it right. By writing and then editing our own stories, we can change our perceptions of ourselves and identify obstacles that stand in the way of our personal well-being. The process is similar to Socratic questioning (referenced above). Here’s a writing exercise:

1. Write a brief story about your struggle. I’m having money problems. I am having a hard time making friends in a new city. I’m never going to find love. I’m fighting with my spouse.

2. Now write a new story from the viewpoint of a neutral observer, or with the kind of encouragement you’d give a friend.

-Money is a challenge but you can take steps to get yourself into financial shape.
-Everyone struggles in their first year in a new city. Give it some time. Join some groups.
-Don’t focus on finding love. Focus on meeting new people and having fun. The rest will follow.
-Couples argue. Here’s what your situation looks like to a neutral observer.

Numerous studies show that writing and rewriting your story can move you out of your negative mindset and into a more positive view of life. “The idea here is getting people to come to terms with who they are, where they want to go,” said James Pennebaker, a psychology professor at the University of Texas who has pioneered much of the research on expressive writing. “I think of expressive writing as a life course correction.”

Get Moving
When people get up and move, even a little, they tend to be happier than when they are still. A study that tracked the movement and moods of cellphone users found that people reported the most happiness if they had been moving in the past 15 minutes than when they had been sitting or lying down. Most of the time it wasn’t rigorous activity but just gentle walking that left them in a good mood. Of course, we don’t know if moving makes you happy or if happy people just move more, but we do know that more activity goes hand-in-hand with better health and greater happiness.

Practice Optimism
Optimism is part genetic, part learned. Even if you were born into a family of gloomy Guses, you can still find your inner ray of sunshine. Optimism doesn’t mean ignoring the reality of a dire situation. After a job loss, for instance, many people may feel defeated and think, “I’ll never recover from this.” An optimist would acknowledge the challenge in a more hopeful way, saying, “This is going to be difficult, but it’s a chance to rethink my life goals and find work that truly makes me happy.”

And thinking positive thoughts and surrounding yourself with positive people really does help. Optimism, like pessimism, can be infectious. So make a point to hang out with optimistic people.

Article by: Tara Parker Pope, New York Times

Cabin Fever for Couples…Here’s How to Make the Most of It

If you live…anywhere in the world, you’re probably practicing social distancing. If you live with your partner, you might be craving a little social distance from them.

Around the world couples are being kept in a pressure cooker called… our homes.

Depending on your dynamic, it might be a little harder than you thought to keep things sailing smoothly.

It’s perfectly normal to experience a little cabin fever at this point, but don’t let isolation turn you and your beloved against one another. Like a research team on Antarctica, you’re going to have to work together to get through the winter til the snow thaws. No matter how annoying your teammates snoring gets.

Here are some key points to battling cabin fever as a cohabitating, quarantined couple.

COMMUNICATE

Now, more than ever, it’s important for you and your beloved to find ways to communicate clearly and respectfully. If you were the last two people on earth, would you passive aggressively complain about the dishes while your teammate is working? Probably not. So why try the same in your own home? You need to think of your household like a team in this time of crisis, and with any team you’re only as strong as your weakest link.

Finding constructive ways to communicate any problems you come across are incredibly important for keeping your team strong and stave off cabin fever. When in doubt, take a deep breath, and remember that your sweetie loves you before spilling any harsh truths about the bad breath that’s been driving a wedge between you for days.

KEEP IN TOUCH WITH THE OUTSIDE WORLD

Just because we’re being asked to stay in our homes, doesn’t mean that the outside world has disappeared! It’s important for you and your partner to keep up contact outside of your apartment bubble. Whether it’s solo calls with your family, or a group hang with other couples, connecting with others can help brighten your mood and give perspective on your current situation. And please, don’t be afraid to have fun with your friends!

Those of us who are healthy need to take every scrap of love that we can right now. So help the greater good and have a Zoom happy hour or play some games with your loved ones on House Party. There are so many great apps to help you stay connected and refreshed for the coming weeks of being cooped up with your honey.

GET SOME AIR

When things are feeling overwhelming or stagnant at home, there’s no harm in blowing off steam by going on a walk by yourself. As long as you can maintain social distancing that is! Go on off-peak hours or to a remote location so that you can skip the weekend bustle of most city parks. Do your part, but also, look after yourself. If going outside is going to help your mental health, and keep cabin fever at bay, then please do it! In a safe way.

If you can’t safely go outside, open up a window! Light some incense! Play some tunes! Anything to get the energy flowing and the mood lifted is a good idea right now. Your sweetie will thank you later. Also: If you and your partner were stranded on the international space station, you’d be isolated for a year AND you couldn’t even open a window! So, you know….be thankful!

MAKE A SCHEDULE

Speaking of space stations, Scott Kelly was isolated on the international space station for an entire year, and his biggest advice for isolating with one other person? Make a schedule. “My wife and I have been making a schedule like we were in space because if you keep to that schedule and it has variety, I think what people will find are the days go by much quicker. ” Keeping a schedule for you and your cutie is a great way to maintain productivity while also spending quality time together. While we’re stuck in the same place, every day doesn’t have to be the same! And scheduling can help achieve that.

CHANGE THINGS UP

After you’ve made that schedule, remember to add in time for whatever the hell you want. Embrace the chaos of the world right now and do what feels good! Have sex, draw a couples bath, take up a new hobby, or hop on the bandwagon and bake a loaf of bread. Doing something outside of your normal routine has the potential to brighten your day and bring you closer as a couple.

Doing something productive together can be fun, but making impromptu margaritas on a Tuesday night is even funner. Embrace your inner child and remember that we’re in uncharted territory right now. That means there’s no rules for what’s normal behavior, so drink that drink, make love in the middle of the day, and do what makes you happy right now. Within reason of course.

REMEMBER YOU’RE IN THIS TOGETHER

More than ever, COVID-19 has made us realize exactly how connected we all are. Globally, nationally, and as a household. Whatever problems you and your sweetie might encounter, remember that while you’re living together. You’re each other’s lifelines. Look out for one another and know who your sweetie wants you to call if things get bad. You can get through cabin fever, but only together. Winter will pass, and spring will come. Try to have as much fun as you can while we wait for the thaw.

Resources to Help Get You Through COVID-19

In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity. –Sun Tsu

The past month has made it clear to us how serious the escalating coronavirus pandemic is for many people in the United States. Schools and workplaces across the country are closed, major events have been canceled, we are having to practice “social distancing” and wear masks in public. With so much going on, and so much uncertainty, it’s no wonder many of us are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and anxious in these rapidly changing times. We want to provide you with some resources to help you cope during this time of uncertainty.

Stress & Anxiety Management:

The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety, A Guide to Breaking Free from Anxiety, Phobias, and Worry Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) put together by John P. Forsyth, Ph.D and Georg H. Eifert, Ph.D

Show Anxiety Who’s Boss, A Three-Step CBT Program to Help You Reduce Anxious Thoughts and Worry by Joel Minden, Ph.D

The Anxiety Skills Workbook, Simple CBT and Mindfulness Strategies for Overcoming Anxiety, Fear, and Worry by Stefan Hoffman, Ph.D

Living With Worry And Anxiety Amidst Global Uncertainty, This guide includes a mixture of psychoeducation about normal and excessive worry, and a selection of practical exercises that you can use to manage worry.

The Calm App, The number one app for Sleep, Meditation and Relaxation

 

Mindfulness/Meditation:

Meditation For A Healthy Immune System, A guided meditation designed to boost your immune system and fend off unwanted health problems.

21 Day Meditation Challenge, 21 Days worth of short, guided meditations

Free 30-Day Online Mindfulness Course 30-days, Self-paced, online program featuring today’s leading mindfulness teachers, helping you support the habits that foster ease and well-being.

Accessing inner calm amidst the Coronavirus, Targeted and brief guided meditations by clinical psychologist and meditation teacher Kelly Werner, PhD

 

For College Students:

53 Virtual Activities to Keep College Students Engaged Includes a list of everything from TikTok videos to online painting classes

Coursera Together Free online learning and classes to help you explore a new career path, learn a new language, or pursue a new hobby

 

For Kids:

Covibook, Free downloadable book about COVID-19 for kids (versions available in multiple languages)

Free information book, For kids explaining coronavirus with

Managing Stress and Worry, (ages 5 – 15) GoZen is a site that creates online social and emotional learning programs for kids ages 5-15.

Yoga Ed, Youtube Channel – Yoga for Children

Fun Ed, A site full of educational games, books and videos, grades pre-school through eight. Read favorites like Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Judy Moody or have your child sort through a plethora of fun but informative games.

Imagination Tree Blog, Resources and Activities for Fun at Home

Scholastic Learn at Home: Day to Day Projects to Keep Kids Growing

PBS Kids Learn and Grow, Age by Age Tips & Activities for Social Emotional Learning, Literacy, Arts and More!

Mindful Schools, Free Online Mindfulness Classes for Kids

 

For Parents:

“I feel like I have 5 jobs: Moms navigate the pandemic”, New York Times article

Special Audio Series, Simplicity Parenting Podcast episodes all about parenting through COVID-19

 

Things To Do From Home:

Have A Virtual Netflix Watch Party This Google Chrome extension lets you stay in sync with friends while watching Netflix

12 Famous Museums Offering Virtual Tours Take virtual tours of famous art exhibits

Virtual Disney Rides That will make your couch the Happiest place on earth

Virtual National Park Tours 5 National Parks offer online tours from home

Free At-Home Fitness Classes With Planet Fitness Planet Fitness is offering free group fitness class

Do Yoga With Me Free Online Yoga Classes, choose from a variety of styles, levels, durations and teachers

7 Online Workouts That Are FREE (for now)

 

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

Eight Nutritional Deficiencies That Can Cause Depression & Anxiety

Depression and anxiety disorders are seemingly increasing on a global level and impacting the overall health and well-being of people’s everyday functioning.

Typically, when one goes to the doctor to alleviate these problems, a doctor will ask a few questions about your overall mental functioning, and more often than not, hand you a prescription for some expensive anti-depressant or anxiety reducer.

While medications are beneficial for short-term relief, they provide a dependency and, most importantly, are treating the symptoms and not the root of the problem. What many doctors neglect to look at is a person’s metabolic or nutritional deficiencies, which may be greatly impacting their mental health.

From a holistic vantage point, our gut is known as the “second brain,” and there are structural/anatomical reasons for this reference. The “second brain,” known scientifically as the enteric nervous system, consists of sheaths of neurons located in the walls of our gut and make up the vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve runs from a person’s esophagus to their anus, roughly nine meters long. Due to the interconnectedness of our gut and enteric nervous system, once our gut bacteria is out of balance, we become susceptible to emotional disturbances most commonly manifested as depression or anxiety. The following are eight nutritional deficiencies that might be impacting your mood.

1. Health Food Deficiency?

Do you simply have an unhealthy diet? Is your diet filled with sugar? Junk foods? Sodas? Processed foods? If you answered yes, then chances are your diet is having an impact on your mood and overall health. Nowadays, people are busier than they have ever been before, and when this happens, diet and exercise are one of the first things to be neglected. Fast food restaurants, TV dinners, and general stores like 7-Eleven, make a huge profit on our busy lifestyles. Obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and depression are just a few of the harmful health impacts diets lacking in nutrients can cause.

2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids Deficiency.

A deficiency in Omega-3 fatty acids, or an imbalance between Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, may effect one’s mood. Omega-3s are important for brain functioning and positive mental outlook. Research has shown that a diet lacking or having an imbalance between an Omega-3 and Omega-6 can negatively impact one’s mental health in the following ways: ADHD, depression, Schizophrenia, and Borderline Personality Disorder. Omega-3s also help people who suffer from inflammation and pain problems. Foods that are rich in Omega-3s are Flax seeds, Chia seeds, hemp seeds, leafy greens, beans, and seaweed.

3. Vitamin D Deficiency.

Vitamin D helps your bones and teeth, and they are necessary for absorbing phosphorus into the blood stream, which helps your mental and physical health. Have you heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)? Symptoms of SAD look just like depression, expressing themselves during the winter months due to lack of sunlight. A study analyzed more than 1,200 individuals for vitamin D deficiency and associated mental disorders. The study found that deficiency in vitamin D was present in people with depression and panic disorders.  Sunlight is the best source of vitamin D. Just going for a walk or spending some time outside is beneficial. Other great sources of Vitamin D are spirulina, choral, bee pollen, wild mushrooms, and fortified nut milk.

4. B-Complex Vitamin Deficiency.

The B vitamins convert food into fuel that allows us to stay energized throughout the day. While the B vitamins work in conjunction together to provide energy and cellular repair, and even can produce stress relief, each B vitamin (nine in total) have their own specific benefits, from promoting healthy skin and hair to preventing memory loss and migraines. New research is emerging in the field of Neuropsychiatry that shows a link between B vitamin deficiencies and mood disorders, including depression. Foods that are rich in B vitamins include: seeds, nuts, leafy green plants, beets, and other root vegetables.

5.  Zinc, Folate, Chromium, and Iron Deficiencies.

Minerals originate from soil, but unlike vitamins, they cannot be made by people, animals, or other living systems. Minerals in the soil are absorbed by plants and then get passed to humans and other animals who eat such plants. Research has shown that minerals like Zinc, Folate, lithium, Iron, and chromium help those suffering from depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, eating disorders, and subsets of alcoholism. Since minerals are considered trace elements, one only needs a small amount of them to benefit. Some foods that contain essential minerals include whole-grain breads, fresh fruits, and deeply colored vegetables.

Article By: Naomi Zellin of Elephant Journal

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

20 Ways To Be A Happier Person in 2020, According To Therapists

Looking to make 2020 your happiest, most fulfilling year yet?

If your mental and emotional wellness took a backseat in 2019, there’s no better time than right now to prioritize it. (If anything, it’ll make the election year just mildly more bearable.) Your mood affects everything in your life ― your relationships, your work, your self-care ― so improving it should be at the top of your goal list.

That might feel like a huge and lofty task, but small, actionable habits can help you get there, according to experts. Below are the most common happiness tips therapists recommend. Maybe they’ll sound challenging or unrealistic (more on that later), but maybe they just might change your life.

1. Conquer one anxiety

Give yourself a motivational benchmark to start conquering your biggest fears this year.

“Single out the goal of selecting an anxiety that is holding you back, and thoroughly commit yourself to obliterating that fear,” said Forrest Talley, a clinical psychologist. “Hold nothing back in your assault; treat that fear as though it is enemy number one.”

Perhaps you’ve been worried about signing up for a half marathon. Maybe you’re afraid to reach out to book agents because you don’t want to be rejected. Perhaps you’re fearful of having a difficult conversation with a toxic friend or family member and you’re putting it off. Set the goal, pick a reward you’ll get when you complete it, then get to it.

“The thing to keep in mind is that very often happiness is found just on the other side of a doorway guarded by our anxieties,” Talley said. “And the new year is a great time to start kicking down some doors.”

2. Lock down a sleep schedule that works for you

You may think you’re doing OK on sleep, but take a closer look at your schedule. Are you really getting optimal hours? Are you maintaining relatively the same bed time every night?

“Getting a [consistent] good night’s sleep is vital; chronic sleep deprivation is a huge problem, especially for those who work late or are extremely busy,” said Joanna Konstantopoulou, a psychologist and founder of the Health Psychology Clinic.  “It’s not just the 40-hour marathons without sleep which can be detrimental to your psychological health, but simply losing an hour or two on a regular basis can have a significant impact on your mind and well-being.”

That last bit is important. If you’re constantly shaving off an hour here or there ― thinking you can get by on five hours a night ― it’s time to reevaluate that sleep schedule.

“Start with small steps by giving yourself a sensible and realistic bedtime,” Konstantopoulou said. “Try to go to bed half an hour before your usual bedtime and stick to it. Evaluate this new habit every day by having a journal and writing down your progress.”

She noted that this new routine will improve your memory, reduce anxiety, and “transport toxins out of the brain” to potentially prevent chronic illnesses.

3. Find one small self-care act that works for you and prioritize it

Pick a you-centric activity and engage in it regularly, said Elena Touroni, co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic.

“The most impactful mental health goal a person can set is the commitment to balance workload and responsibilities alongside activities that bring them a sense of well-being and enjoyment,” she said. “When there is an imbalance in what we’re giving out to the world, and what we’re taking for ourselves, that’s when our psychological resources get depleted.”

Her suggestions to get you started? Try beginning each day with a five-minute mindfulness meditation session. Want to go further? “Go to therapy to unravel a lifelong pattern, get a personal trainer, or make time for reading,” she said. “This commitment can be broken down into specific and concrete goals, depending on your personal preferences, but it all comes down to making self-care a priority.”

4. Spend 10 minutes a day outside

Go for a walk during your lunch break, spend a few minutes drinking your morning coffee outside or pick up running. It doesn’t even have to be for a long period of time.

“This year, resolve to spend less time inside and more time outdoors in natural settings,” said Michael Brodsky, a psychiatrist. “Research in multiple countries show that spending time in green spaces can lift your mood and relieve anxiety in as little as 10 minutes.”

5. Regularly practice a simple mindfulness exercise

“Many of us spend our days worrying about the future or ruminating about the past, thus, missing a great deal of what is happening in the here-and-now,” said Anna Prudovski, the clinical director of Turning Point Psychological Stress.

Making an effort to be more present “increases the sense of well-being, promotes vitality, heightens our awareness, helps train our attention, improves the quality of our work, and enhances interpersonal relationships,” she said. Sounds pretty nice, right? “Be more present” can feel a little vague, so here’s how you can get started:

Each day, spend five minutes noticing your surroundings and how you feel. Do this by naming five things you see, four things you can physically feel, three different sounds you hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. It’s OK if you point out something far away from you. Then take a second to label how you’re feeling in the moment (like, “I’m frustrated,” “I’m bored,” or “I’m excited”). This is known as a grounding exercise, which experts say help with anxiety.

6. Say nice things about yourself

Roseanna Capenna-Hodge, pediatric mental health expert and psychologist, suggested an adjustment to your everyday vocabulary, both in your thoughts and out loud.

“Instead of always focusing on the negative, flip your dialogue to only positive outcomes. For example, instead of saying, ‘If I get that job,’ switch it to, ‘When I get that job.’ Those subtle changes in using positive language helps to change your mindset to a glass half full instead of a glass half empty.”

You can also increase your positive thoughts by stating one thing you like about yourself when you look in the mirror each morning. Cheesy, but worth a shot.

7. Give up or cut back on one unhealthy habit

We know when things are bad for us, which can cause stress. You can curb that by reducing them or giving them up entirely, said Sarah C. McEwen, a cognitive psychologist. Think activities like high alcohol consumption or excessive caffeine consumption.

Getting those things in check “will all help to manage stress levels,” McEwen said.

Getting those things in check “will all help to manage stress levels,” McEwen said.

8. Find a physical activity you love

“Exercise plays a large role in mental health,” said physician Jena Sussex-Pizula. “While studies are ongoing, a review article found consistent benefits to regular exercise across multiple studies.”

How often? McEwen suggests 30 minutes a day if you can. “This [amount] has been shown to produce the most benefit for improving mood and reducing stress levels,” she said.

The most important part is finding something you enjoy. It doesn’t matter if it’s pilates, martial arts, spinning, running, dancing or lifting weights ― just make sure the activity is something that excites you.

9. Try meditation

Haven’t jumped on the bandwagon just yet? Now is as good a time as ever. McEwen suggests meditation for those who want to improve their level of stress resilience.

“A mindfulness meditation practice will have a tremendous positive effect longterm,” she said. “I recommend allocating at least 30 minutes daily, which can be divided into morning and evening.”

Feeling intimidated by the concept? McEwen suggested trying a local class or an app like Headspace, Waking Up or Insight Timer.

“Research has shown that the regular practice of meditation can actually improve your health because it lowers the negative effects of not only high cortisol, but also high cholesterol and high blood pressure,” she said. “Other great benefits of regular meditation include mental clarity and focus, improvement of memory and overall higher level of mental performance.”

10. Stop negative thoughts in their tracks

“Our thoughts are not always reality,” said Judy Ho, a clinical and forensic neuropsychologist and author of “Stop Self-Sabotage.” “And we need to get into the routine of challenging them and changing our relationships to our thoughts.”

You can do this by asking yourself a simple question when you’re beating yourself up. Next time you have a negative thought, ask yourself: Does this completely and accurately capture what’s going on?”

Ho said from there, you can transform the thought using one of two tactics. One is called “yes, but” and one is called “labeling.”

“‘Yes, but’ involves recognizing a not so great thing, and [adding] something that is positive or shows progress,” she said. “Example: I did eat three cupcakes while trying to cut down on sugar, but I have been doing a great job with healthy eating and can start fresh tomorrow.”

And as for labeling, try mentally recognizing or acknowledging that the thought you’re having is toxic. According to Ho, this “takes the wind out of the sails of a negative thought and reminds you that a thought is just a mental event, and nothing more.”

11. Invest in a quality relationship

“If you want to have good long-term mental and physical health, you need to first see if you have meaningful, loving relationships,” said clinical psychologist Kevin Gilliland. “Who knows you better than anyone and who do you know better than anyone? Have you invested in that relationship by staying in touch and talking on the phone (not just texting)? And when was the last time you got together?”

Gilliland suggests picking one person close to you this year, and planning to spend quality time together.

“If we’re not careful, we will end up giving our best in places that aren’t good for our mental health,” he said. “Study after study finds that loving meaningful relationships are good for our mental and physical health.”

12. Read self-development books

“Read at least one book on someone you admire, and how they have dealt with the struggles in their life,” Gilliland said. “There are a lot of ways to learn about your mental health, from therapy to self-help to the lives of other people.”

You can pick up many tips and find a lot of inspiration in these motivational books, whether they’re memoirs or expert-backed advice. Need a specific suggestion?

“I have so enjoyed Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography and recent album ‘Western Stars’ where he talks about his struggle with depression and family issues,” Gilliland said. “It’s powerful and encouraging … You can’t help but see yourself in some of his stories, he can paint with words like very few people can. It’s a wonderful way to learn about your mental health without feeling like its work.”

13. Cut back on your social media use

So often we view people’s highlight reels on social media. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy in our own lives, according to experts. And given that research shows spending too much time online is linked to poor mental health, now’s the perfect time to cut back.

“External validation is temporary; it’s difficult to maintain the pressure to chase ‘likes,’” said therapist Jennifer Musselman. “Build your self esteem from competence of something important to you, and by being of service to others.”

14. Set better boundaries

Did you find yourself feeling chronically overwhelmed and stretched thin in 2019? Time to reel that in and make more space for you by setting boundaries.

“This one is more important than people realize, and they have way more control than they realize,” Gilliland said. “If you don’t want to go, then don’t go!”

Consider: Is it something you think you “should” do? If so, then why? In the words of a popular therapist joke, stop should-ing yourself. Set those boundaries to thrive in 2020.

15. Make a progress list each week

Expecting perfection guarantees you’ll feel like a failure at least part of the time, and can lead to serious anxiety.

“Learn the art of progress, not perfection,” Musselman said. “We are setting ourselves up for failure from the get-go [when we expect] to ‘have it all’ perfectly balanced. In other words, we will always feel like we are failing.”

From “doing it all” as a mom to building your entrepreneurial business to perfecting your talent, it’s time to let go of that expectation that things are always going to be perfect. Instead, try writing down the incremental improvements you made each week. Celebrate small successes that eventually will lead to big ones.

16. Allow yourself to be sad

We experience a range of emotions for a reason: They’re necessary to our overall well-being. Research even shows that crying can feel incredibly therapeutic.

Musselman said in order to truly feel happy, you need to “stop chasing happiness.” That can lead to more feelings of inner peace and calm, which of course, can lead to a more improved mood.

So embrace times when you feel disappointed, angry or sad instead of trying to rush through them.

17. Get a therapist if you’re able to do it

If you were trying to get in physical shape and had no idea where to start, you might turn to a coach or personal trainer. Mental health works the same way.

There are so, so many benefits to seeing a therapist. A therapist can help you identify obstacles that may be holding you back from achieving your goals.  A therapist can act like a guide, mentor and coach to help you talk through struggles, difficult emotions or ideas for self-improvement, in addition to helping you brainstorm ways to cope along the way.

“Getting a therapist in 2020 would be a good goal if you need a therapist and have been putting it off,” Talley said.

18. Write in a gratitude journal

Practicing gratitude “is so essential for a full and happy life,” Talley said.

Instead of allowing your brain to go to a place of anxiety and stress, Talley says to arm yourself with grateful thoughts. Writing them down helps.

“If you wake up and focus on that which you have to be grateful for, your brain becomes better at finding even more [gratitude],” Talley said.

19. Turn your phone off

It’s been shown in many studies that too much tech time can impact mental health.

Become less available via text and email so you don’t feel emotionally tethered to your phone, and spend more time off your devices. Opt for screen-free activities ― especially at night ― that help you disconnect from certain social and work stressors.

“While it’s unclear if sedentary screen time is a marker for or risk factor for depression (as all that has been shown in correlation), there appears to be a consistent correlation with increased screen time in patients with depression and anxiety,” Sussex-Pizula said.

20. Reduce food shame and stress through mindful eating

Have thoughts around food, calories, dieting, etc. been weighing on you in 2019? Lisa Hayim, a registered dietitian and founder of food therapy program Fork the Noise, said it’s time to kick this to the curb.

“When we feel nervous, scared, anxious, or even unsure of what to eat or how much, our stress hormones begin to fire,” she said. “Our sympathetic nervous system becomes activated, and we’re no longer making empowered decisions.”

Does this sound like you? Are you constantly thinking about what a food choice might “do” to your body?

“Breathe. Your body knows what it wants and how much it wants, when it wants it,” she said. Listening to it is called intuitive or mindful eating: enjoying whatever you want and taking cues from your body when it’s hungry and full.

“Decreasing stress around food choices is not just good for the body, it’s good for the mind and the soul,” Hayim said.

Article by: Dominque Astorino of Huffington Post