Ever noticed that you feel different after eating different foods? In the past the links between food and mood may have been considered pseudoscience as food is just fuel, right? Not anymore. In today’s world we know the quality of that fuel (food) matters.
Over a decade ago Wallin and Rissanen (1994) were discussing the impacts of food and food cravings on psychiatric diagnoses. Today we are studying how the gut microbiota are impacted by diet choices and influence behavior (Jørgensen, 2014). There is lots of research linking how well children do in the classroom to meals eaten throughout the day, how strong our workouts will be to when and how we eat, and shows us how our focus and concentration fluctuate with what additives and ingredients were packaged in that meal you ate. Today, consider how you are eating for your brain.
For many of us we eat a routine set of items. In these items we often find the same things we ate and were exposed to as children. As a result we are fueling similar to our biology and culture. This used to be a good thing, as more research is showing us how ethnicity impacts ability to digest particular food items. However, with such diversity in our food system, easy access to all sorts of new foods, and things like GMOs, additives, colors, and preservatives many of us do not feel as good as we used to when we eat the same foods from our past. We have moved away from those family, cultural, and ethically focused meal plans and begun to source our food miles and miles from our homes.
As you eat this week, notice how you feel before you eat. What is your emotional state? Are you really hungry? Are you just bored? Do you feel sad, happy, angry? How did you feel yesterday? Many times our food choices are based on energy levels from yesterday. Then notice the same about how you feel when you get done eating. Did that meal satisfy you? If not why not? What is the emotion set you are feeling as you finish eating?
Next notice your thoughts. As a personal trainer and former fitness center owner, people around me often say things like: “I know I shouldn’t eat this … but” as they take a huge bite of something. This is not the way to help your mind create an experience of health or your body feel good about what you are eating. If you want that piece of cake, eat it, but be careful how you think about it. If you are saying “I shouldn’t” then have a smaller piece and say “I am so grateful I have the opportunity to sample this sweetness, I am also grateful that I only need a little to feel satisfied”. Then eat the item mindfully and enjoy it fully. As you swallow tell your belly, “We are enjoying the sweetness of life in this moment”. Do the same when you eat salad and fruit and vegetables, and drink water. As you eat, tell yourself how great these items are for your cells, your gut flora, and your brain.
The connection between what we think and what we manifest is well known. You will cultivate what you what you put your attention on. Use the power of your attention to focus on what you want, not what you don’t. As you tell yourself you are making healthy choices and you are caring for your body well, you begin to manifest increased healthy behaviors. Don’t believe me? Begin to think about something you like, focus on it, Just do not think about pink elephants. How many of you saw a pink elephant in your mind?
The subconscious works in pictures. When you give it a subject, like pink elephants, “bad” food, things you hate, it puts resources toward creating the experience of noticing pink elephants (or other items). If it is this easy to see pink elephants in your mind, imagine how easy it will be to see your body working exactly as it should, humming along, doing just what is needed in each moment to fully function. Think about how easy it will be to take a food, tell yourself the food is helping your body, and create a healthy pattern of engagement between food that is good for you, feeding yourself well, and generating positive moods as a result.
As you increase the healthy foods, your mood improves, your sleep gets better, and it’s easier to manage stress in your life. Your body has the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals it needs to make the neurotransmitters you need to feel happy, content, and connected. All of which help you feel regulated and grounded. Want more ideas to help yourself stay on track? Check out an easier post: Eat Well, Feel Well
As you feed yourself today, say something positive and thankful over your food. You will be surprised how that shifts your focus and brings a different experience to your eating … Here’s to happy eating, enjoy!
Jørgensen, B.P., Hansen, J. T., Krych, L., Larsen, C., Klein, A.B., Nielsen, D. S., Josefsen, K., Hansen, A. K., Sørensen, D. B. (2014). A possible link between food and mood: Dietary impact on gut microbiota and behavior in BALB/c mice. PLOS ONE, 9(8), e103398 1-15.
Wallin M.S., Rissanen A.M. (1994). Food and mood: relationship between food, serotonin and affective disorders. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 377, 36-40.
Feel like you struggle to regulate yourself? Can’t seem to find a way to calm down when things are tough. Just Breathe … and here’s why.
Take 5 long breaths in and slow your exhale. Begin your count on the exhale and it will automatically slow your inhale. This equals about 30 seconds of deep breathing, which engages the relaxation response through your endocrine system. This response counteracts the stress response and they cannot exist at the same time.
Your breath controls your mind. It does this by impacting your heart rate, known as heart rate variability. As you breathe you are changing and shifting your nervous system between parasympathetic (rest/digest) and sympathetic (fight/flight) all day long. By taking control of your breath, you take control of your heart rate, when you do this your brain gets the signal that things are ok.
This builds self confidence by allowing you choices in each moment. Over time you learn that you have skills to figure things out, even when you do not like any of the choices in front of you.
Choices allow you to respond rather than react, thus you are more regulated in every interaction throughout your day, doing just what is needed in each moment. No more, no less.
Want 2019 to be the best ever? Then you have to self-regulate and take responsibility for your experiences. So many of us want to have wonderful times, yet are not proactive in our daily routines. As a result, we are not ready for whatever life has in store for us. We are tired, feel “heavy” and lethargic, put ourselves and others down with negative comments/thoughts, and feel bored in our life. We call it stress or overwhelm, because we can not seem to check everything off our to do list or accomplish all we are dreaming of after getting lost in the daily grind of getting through the day. Instead just floating from event to event as though we have no control in the process of creating our life.
To be successful in life we have to stop playing the victim of our circumstances and instead play the master. We have to become self regulated, taking full responsibility for the activities that help us maintain that balance. People who learn to self regulate are more successful in many areas of their lives – from work to relationships to feeling more happy everyday.
Self regulation is the ability to stay connected to your experience giving just what is needed in each moment while meeting the moment accurately. We do this by practicing activities that help us stay focused on healthy relationships and interactions.
“Self–regulation can be defined in various ways. In the most basic sense, it involves controlling one’s behavior, emotions, and thoughts in the pursuit of long-term goals. More specifically, emotional self–regulation refers to the ability to manage disruptive emotions and impulses”.
In order to create the best interactions possible in any given situation you have to be able to think. This means your brain (notably the pre-frontal cortex) has to stay fully online. You need the centers of the brain known as executive functioning to help you plan, predict, and respond appropriately. However they will go offline if your emotions are too strong. Emotions are just information and intelligence telling you about your environment and how to respond to it. They are quicker than cognitions and therefore the brain uses them to inform your thinking. When your emotions are overwhelming your brain cannot regulate well and you’ll react rather than respond to what is going on around you. Often the responses are based on old patterns of learning and may not be appropriate in the current relationship, be it with your partner or the customer service rep on the phone. When we do not handle situations well in the moment we often feel shame and guilt, which contribute to a cycle of self destructive behaviors and actions that blow up the very relationships we want/need to be supportive. We have to keep ourselves in check if we are going to have healthy relationships.
When you think about creating healthy relationships it starts with a healthy relationship with yourself. Taking care of others includes taking care of yourself first. I cannot engage well with you if I cannot engage well with me. To do this begin by determining what you need to feel you best.
How much sleep do you need?
What foods give you the most energy?
How much and what kinds of exercise leave you feeling blissed out and ready for anything?
As you determine what you need to be your best self, you begin to meet the needs of others too. You become better at noticing where they are and what they truly want and need in the present moment. You become better at reflecting those needs back to them and this helps you create stronger more authentic connections.
These deeper connections are something we all crave. They actually help us build our brain structures, increase our immune response, and live longer. These brain structures help us engage more thoroughly in everything from learning to experiences to rest thus creating a more vibrant and full life. As we create a more rich daily experience we create more authentic interaction with any given experience.
I know this video looks at teaching children in the classroom … but it’s good for all of us
As we deepen our practices of what keeps us well, we meet the challenges of our life with grace. For example if I have taken care of myself and I am feeling grounded – no physical illness, I am not hungry, I am well rested, I have energy, and feel physically strong – I will be able to handle more of life’s little stressors. As I competently deal with the little stressors I am “clearing my plate” so things do not pile up and become “big fucking deals”.
At this level of engagement, things flow and relationships grow deeper. I am taking care of me so my health is better and I am stronger for everything I need and want. Everyday.
Fall is here! Beautiful weather, gorgeous trees, crisp clean air – at least for most of us. Many of us love it. Some of us hate it. Many of us use it as a signal to turn inward, to slow down, to hibernate. For others it means dark, cold, lonely days. As a psychologist, I tend to see the latter this time of year.
No matter which camp you are in, here are 13 things you can do to keep your spirits up this winter:
Accept your feelings about winter coming. Acceptance of our current predicament allows us space for choice about it, no matter what it is, even if I hate my current predicament. Acceptance of it will get me out of it a lot faster. Acceptance doesn’t mean you agree, condone, or want the current reality. All it means is you acknowledge this is what is truly going on in this moment.
Make a pros and cons list – what do you like and not like about the season? From here you can build up thing you like and work with what you do not like.
Take stock of your Pros & Cons list. What can you use to help you? Even if you have nothing good to say about winter, we can reframe what you wrote. Trapped inside can become: trying new indoor spaces, time to rearrange your furniture, or making small steps to get outside a little bit at a time.
Make a plan to tackle dark days and loneliness now. Find out what local organizations offer for connection and outings during the winter. As you collect these items, put them on your calendar so you have things to look forward to moving into winter AND commit to going to them no matter what.
Get moving. As an exercise scientist who turned psychologist, I am amazed at how many people do not use their body to treat their moods. You were born into a body to move it. When we don’t move, our energy gets low and we tend to try using calories to increase it. Hello weight gain – see #8 below. Instead move. I don’t care if your pushups are against the wall and your squats land you on the couch, just start moving. This is another great place to try a new activity in the winter – check out the Rec center in your area – being in a warm pool is pretty nice when it’s snowing outside. See #3.
Find some beach oriented guided meditations. For those of you longing for a cabin fever get away – you don’t have to spend a dime. Take a mental vacation. The power of the mind is great. Just think about a succulent, bright yellow, juicy, aromatic, zesty, lemon. How many of you salivated? Do not underestimate your mind’s ability to transport you and create a different experience once you decide to focus. Next blizzard, cozy up, plug your earphones in, close your eyes and take a 20 minute beach vacation in the comfort of your own home.
Get a new blanket (try a weighted one), sweater, bathrobe, slippers, hat, or scarf. If you’re like me, you get cold easy and being cold is not fun. If it’s cold you hate, make sure you have gear. I’m known for wearing long johns and hats in my house all winter long. Make sure you have items so you can be cozy and warm. Layer it up. Get a fake fire app on your phone, TV, computer if you don’t have the option for a fireplace in your home. Why you ask? See #6 above … fake fire or not, you’ll be surprised at your mind’s abilities to create an experience for you if you let it.
Take a look at your diet. Many of us do not eat for mental health. We eat foods that actually leave us feeling depleted, low in energy and overall SAD (standard American diet). Eating for mental health includes eating a variety of foods, especially leafy greens. This gives the body the base nutrients it needs to start making the neurotransmitters you need to enjoy contentment, joy, pleasure, and ease. Look at your diet now, get to the farmers market and see what folks have preserved that you can take home and enjoy all winter long. Get with a nutritionist to review your diet and make sure you are getting what you need. In the winter we tend to want heavier foods. Look through cookbooks and find some items that look appealing to you and commit to making a new recipe every week or so. Again, this helps you be proactive and plan for things you are looking forward to. If you don’t like to cook, enlist someone to do it for you, take a class, or find a few local restaurants to sample over the season. See #’s 9 & 10 below.
Connect with friends and family now. Let them know winter is hard for you and you need some extra support getting and staying in touch during the long dark days. Set up reoccurring dates: game nights, lunch, and movie time. See #4 to remind yourself why you want to start scheduling now.
Some of you are saying what if I don’t have family or friends I can connect with? Again, see #4 above. Look around your community for options that interest you, even if you don’t know anyone yet, which I know is hard. Some of you may need to take an additional step, get into therapy, join a group around a task or activity you think you might like, reach out to an online community. Be open to trying and give it a real shot. Many give new groups one or two times and quit because it’s uncomfortable. It will be uncomfortable at first. I do not mean to be flippant about the difficulties that surround finding and making friends, however we have to start somewhere. Although many of us feel alone, if we are willing to be gentle with ourselves and open to trying new things we can make some sort of connection to help hold us through. Some of us need to be kind to ourselves and others. Work to have compassion for the humanness in all. People will say things you don’t like, do things you may think are weird, and may struggle to connect with you the same way you struggle to connect with them. Give them a break, remember you are there to connect and ask yourself how can you show up to support this person? When you shift the focus from yourself you’ll be surprised at how different your experience is. Again, it may be time for some therapy if you are overwhelmed and confused by this concept. If people aren’t your thing look into volunteering with animals. You will get the benefit of needing be outside a bit – see #3.
Take up a new hobby. Find something that’s healthy for you and commit to learning. Get curious and stay open, even if it’s a bit difficult or boring at first. By staying curious you access your pre-frontal cortex, this part of you, helps you stay in the moment, judge, plan, and respond rather than react. By committing and giving it a real shot, you teach yourself about perseverance and grit. When you have grit you increase confidence. When you increase confidence in yourself, things get a little brighter.
Take stock of your thoughts. Do not underestimate your ability to change your mind and impact your environment. Remember that lemon? Did you salivate again? If lemons don’t do it for you, how about a crunchy pickle? You can hate winter all you want, but the more you tell yourself you hate it, the more you will. If moving to “I love winter” is too much just go neutral in your comments “it is winter” without the heavy judgment and anger that accompanies hate and dislike. Move away from the emotional content of your statements and just be objective about your situation. So many of us remain trapped in the prison of our minds (about all sorts of things) because we refuse to give up our story about it. We refuse to look at it from a different perspective and change our mind about it. Doesn’t mean you have to like it, agree with it, or want it, just means you have to accept as it is, see #1. Acceptance gives you power back. Acceptance allows you to truly examine and decide what you want to do about it. Hard part of changing your mind … you have to be the one to do the work and be uncomfortable. No one can fix the way you think about things for you. You have to do the work.
Commit to yourself! No one else can fix this for you. Living in Durango we cannot, not have winter at your house. By being proactive and putting a few things in place ahead of time you can have a different experience this winter. By noticing the way you talk to yourself and if you set yourself up to learn how to shift your focus and manipulate your perception of your environment you stand a better chance at tolerating what you don’t like.
To be effective with ourselves and our teams we must recognize that motivation comes from within, but is first inspired. So rather than chase motivation we must find inspiration. If we are leading a team of people we must look to inspire rather than motivate. If we are working with ourselves we have to figure out what inspires us today. Inspiration is more powerful because once inspired the motivation wells up inside and spills out in joy as we complete the goal, even when the task is difficult.
It was years ago that I learned this distinction. I had a client who was motivated to let go of heroine, however that is a difficult task. He was intelligent, energetic, and had supportive resources available to him, and he still could not let the drug go. One day he looked at me exasperated and said “I need to be inspired. I need to feel inspiration about living this life and I don’t. I am motivated to quit using, but without inspiration I cannot find the missing piece”. We started discussing motivation and inspiration differently that day. I have carried that discussion with me since. I started looking at inspiration in my own life and noticing when motivation felt easy and when it felt forced. When it was easy, it was always inspired.
Now the trick is to find inspiration … and then stay inspired. I can be inspired by lots of things, but they will not sustain me because inspiration moves. Thus, I must work to build inspiration everyday. I must cultivate the practices that build inspiration and I must practice them regularly. This is where people get tripped up. They get inspired in short bursts, do not have a plan or practices to sustain, then get discouraged. So what are the practices that sustain and cultivate inspiration? Well, that depends.
We are each unique and individual. Stop right now and look around your environment. What do your senses land on that draws your attention? Is is a sound, color, breeze, smell, taste, something you are touching? Our senses lead the way and draw us to what we find interesting.
As we begin the practice of cultivating our awareness we become more sensitive to what we enjoy. So many are too busy to notice. We are distracted. We rush from point A to point B and do not notice the way the sun glints off the roof of our neighbor’s house in the frosted morning. We spend time in our own head, with our to do list running fast and furious, and do not hear the new indie music in the back ground at the coffee shop with the unique sound. We sit down to rest, but use substances to finish the relaxation piece we can’t seem to figure out on our own. Instead of finding peace in the quiet we listen to the judgmental commentary lashing out in our heads. To find inspiration we can act on, we must slow down and notice. Follow the practice below to begin the process of noticing, slowing down, and engaging with your environment to find what inspires you.
Take a deep breath
Take another one
Notice the feeling of your feet on the ground …
The other points of contact your body has …
Take another deep breath
Close your eyes and listen …
Keep them closed and feel – what does your skin pick up? …
Open your eyes and notice what draws your attention …
Refrain from judgment, just notice
See if you can find something beautiful in your surroundings …
Then get curious about it, look, listen, feel deeper into the experience of noticing it …
Breathe and repeat
When you feel complete, breathe and wiggle your fingers and your toes. Begin to bring your awareness to your outer body and allow information to come to you, just being aware of your surroundings. Determine if you need to journal about what you found, what inspired you, where your attention was drawn. Maybe you need to draw, move, make a sound. Do whatever feels right to solidify your learning. When you feel ready move on, do the next step of your day.
Do this everyday, more than a few times. Take 2 minutes and notice what is around you. You’ll start to see patterns in what you like, what inspires you, and what brings peace to your moment. Notice why that item draws your attention, is it brighter, more colorful, more lyrical? What does your body feel like when you notice it? Breathe and pay deep attention to it.
From here, you can fill your surroundings with music, art, tactile items, that you find beautiful. Find Pinterest boards and blogs to check in with when you need a little inspiration. Then begin to build items, spaces, places that fit your goals. For example, if I need early morning motivation to workout, I am going to look at my Pinterest workout board to find inspiration. Suddenly my 5:45am spin class seems like a gift, not an interruption to my sleep, for I found inspiration and it created authentic motivation. Now I want to do the things I know help me be my best self. String enough of these moments together and your life becomes embodied inspiration.
And as always, if you are struggling you can schedule a 15 min Q&A appointment to see if it’s time to give yourself the gift of therapy. When else can you talk about yourself for an hour with someone trained to deeply listen to your core, not just the story you tell yourself.
I'm currently living in an area impacted by a large wildfire. Although I used my personal impact for the topic, this was written for anyone who is living through stress and overwhelm regardless of the cause.
Every year fire season rolls around and we talk about it. We talk about how dry or not dry it is, how much snow we did or didn’t get. We talk about the trees, the heat, the lightening potentials. We try to predict where and when we’ll come around the corner and see the plume of smoke we know is not a cloud. We desperately hope it won’t be in our backyard.
And then it happens. Somewhere, somehow a fire starts, we come around the corner and we see it, we can smell it, we hear the people on the street, the radio, and at work or play talking about it.
We all stop and look, pointing while trying to determine how much space is between us and it, where’s it’s located, and is it affecting spaces I know. At first there is usually a lot of chatter, energy, maybe even excitement that parts of the forest may become more healthy, yet over time our endurance wanes and our hearts become heavier.
We run out of “fuel” to stay positive about the impacts of such a natural event. At these times it is important to take care of ourselves because the effects do not go away easy.Caring for our mental health is as important as caring for our physical health during forest fires (or any other disaster in our lives).
First, lets talk about physical health and mental health intersections. With an event like a fire we have a strong response in our bodies. We feel the primal nature of the event and register the lack of control. These add stress to the body and mind. Mind and body are not separate entities to be regulated to sections of your physical frame. In fact, if I want to know your serotonin levels (a marker for depression) I would take your blood or look at your gut health where the majority of it is made.
If I want to know how stressed you are, I’ll take a saliva sample to check your cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone that impacts inflammation. Inflammation impacts joint pain, brain efficiency, heart health, and obesity to name a few mental to physical health connections.
Your breathing rate is tied to your heart rate, and both are tied into your nervous system. When breathing or heart rate run too fast or too slow, your brain registers danger. When you feel like you can’t breathe it’s a big deal. Breathing is necessary for survival and your brain’s ultimate goal is to keep you alive.This lack of oxygen (or the perception of it) shifts the brain into a hyper-vigilant state because it needs to find the danger. This elevates your nervous system and impacts items like digestion, rest, inflammation rates, and positive social connections.
Sleep is a huge piece of physical and mental health. When we can’t sleep all sorts of things happen to the body and mind. The body goes through a number of important cycles during sleep. When we miss these cycles – guess what happens … the brain registers the lack of these important steps as a problem, it’s stressed because it’s running on lower than normal / needed systems. It’s like taking your car out but forgetting to top off the oil and then wondering why things don’t run smoothly.
Here’s a concrete example of how the body and mind interplay on our health during an event like forest fire:
On a concrete level we have to deal with lots of smoke. This smoke makes it hard to breathe – stress response in the body – and may have a direct or indirect response getting enough sleep. So much smoke, gotta close my windows, now I can’t sleep because it’s hot or I’m so worried or sad for those effected. I can’t sleep because my mind is playing images over and over, or I’ve been evacuated and now I can’t sleep with all these people around me in the center. Soon our ability to mange regular daily stressors wanes and we have a harder and harder time being present to our life routines and relationships. Bottom line, because our physical systems are impacted – our mental health will be too.
Here’s how to help make sure you are as physically strong as you can be during a stressful event. Get enough rest, good foods – these help make sure the body has what it needs to make the right neurotransmitters. Engage in healthy social contact. Being with people who help us feel safe and connected tells the brain that we are ok and the environment is ok, we have support. Move everyday. Moving gets things flowing through the system and allows your body to help you metabolize stress hormones and other emotion traces. It also helps you be grounded in the moment. This is important because all we have is this moment. Exercise helps us learn to be present to the current experience through physical sensations and teaches us that our behavior matters. Practice breathing with control. Do your best to slow down your breathing rate. When you slow the breath it slows the heart rate, when you slow the heart rate the brain registers that you are safe. This allows your body to help calm your mind. In as little as 3 deep breathes your body will begin to shift from stress responses to the relaxation response and re-set your nervous system, even when mind is trying hard to throw you off with all her chatter.
Second, let’s talk about mind. One of my favorite things is the mind. Mind is so creative and interesting. Sometimes mind drives us bonkers with it’s constant flow of ideas, thoughts, and review of our life. As noted above mind is influenced by the body and that means body is influenced by the mind.
We are just chemical-electrical little beings. Every thought we have produces a chemical and electrical pattern we can map using fancy machines to look at live brains in action. When you have a negative thought it increase stress in the body by changing the balance of chemistry in your body. As your cortisol and adrenaline rise these influence and impact things like heart rate and inflammation levels. As noted above, these have physical health complications over time.
In situations like a fire our mind runs rampant with worry and fear, which raise our stress hormone levels. We watch the news feed and look at the pictures. We talk to our neighbors and friends and strangers and repeat the same stories. All these actions create an electrical – chemical pattern in our brains.
As humans we are very, very adaptable. We are made to adapt. When we follow a thought pattern over and over we create a neurological change to make it easier to access information “if we are repeating it we must need it”, says the brain.
When something is continuing to happen repeatedly our brains figure we need it for survival, so it better adapt. It does this by changing it’s wiring. We call this neuroplasticity. Great when we learn to drive a car, not so great when we adapt toward more fear and worry. During an event like a forest fire, it is hard not to feed the fear, worry, grief, anger, and sadness.
To maintain health we must work with our minds and shift our focus from what is not working to what is. Look for positive things in your life, even small things make big gains. Find a flower, the way the aspen leaves move, the fact that the smoke gets easier during the day, that you like the meal you are eating, or the book you are reading. It doesn’t matter what you shift to, as long as it’s something you like, even for a moment. Those small shifts break the cycle of negative thinking patterns.
We must take responsibility for the thoughts we think and the direction we allow our focus to take. If we let mind run rampant, it will. Those repetitive thoughts feed themselves, creating more negative thinking. Remember, if we feed it fear and worry, we’ll have more fear and worry. Due to adaptation, we’ll focus on and find more negativity all around us. If we honor the fear and worry, then shift our focus to something more positive we are able to control the effects on our body for the better.
Now, some of you may be thinking, “you just don’t understand, I can’t turn my mind off” or “this is so horrible it won’t get better, this is a very bad thing” or some other version of the negative story. Switching your focus to something positive, does not mean you are ignoring the negative. It just means you are in control of your thought focus and you are managing what you pay attention to, thus what you experience in the moment.
Happy people do not experience less negative things, they control their focus and perception. They find the positive or neutral pieces of those experiences better than less happy people. They also do a better job of accepting what is in the moment which gives them more control over their experiences and options for changing it. Happier people know they always have choices (hint: we all do) and they know how to manipulate their choices for the best outcome in the moment.
Acceptance doesn’t mean you like the experiences, want it, or agree with it. It just means you acknowledge what is happening in this moment – not the one you want, not the one you wish you were in, not the one that would be easier. From the place of acceptance, it is easier to see what small step you can take in the direction of positive experience right now. A string of positive experiences creates a different neurological footprint and focus point. From here you have more control of your focus and thus the perception of the event.
Life happens to us all the time. I can’t control most of it. What I can control is how I perceive it. This makes all the difference in the world when in comes to living under negativity or positive experiences. Acceptance isn’t just about the mind, it’s also about accepting your emotional state.
Onto the third element of mental health, emotions. Emotions are a method of intelligence. Although many do not like feeling emotions or are confused by them, they are important pieces to understanding our experiences. Emotions help us know what we need to do with the experience we are having. During a fire we can feel lots of different emotions from fear, anger, sadness to guilt, despair, and even shame to excitement and happiness.
When we first hear the news, we often feel fear right off the bat. Where is the fire, who is effected, where will it spread, how will it move, will I be effected? The unknown is scary. It’s hard to feel safe when we aren’t sure of what’s going to happen. This creates fear.
Fear doesn’t live well when we take control of the moment by being present to what we can control and practicing acceptance. Fear is helped by asking for help and support when needed, too. Seek out information that helps you feel supported and safe.
Many feel anger. Anger is a normal emotion when we feel something is unjust or that someone / something we care about has been hurt somehow. Anger is a healthy response that helps us do something with our emotional energy by making changes. This shift helps us feel empowered and more in control of our world, which decreases our level of fear and changes our perception of experience.
For those of us taught to ignore our anger or those who fear their behavior when angry, it can be hard to honor and express it. It is important to express your emotions in healthy ways to help process and move beyond them. If you are feeling angry it can be helpful to get engaged with an organization we believe in making change in the area of concern, or talking with a trusted friend about your feelings and options for making change.
It is not helpful to repetitively vent, blame others, use violent language or physicality, or ignore your anger completely. It can also be helpful to do the exact opposite of your anger impulse. Anger wants you to yell, honor it and talk softly, anger wants you to hide, find a friend to talk with, anger wants to stew on the topic, do something completely different, go volunteer to distract yourself.
Sadness is often a large component of forest fires. As humans we are biological creatures and connected to nature thus we feel loss at the loss of natural life. It is sad and sadness is all about loss. For some of us we have lost our routines, sleeping in our own beds, or habitats we love. For some we’ve lost freedom of being outside and being comfortable. There are lots of things we’ve lost as the fires continue.
Honor the sadness as it shows us what’s important and helps us create a life worth living around things that matter to us. If you feel your sadness, you know what you care about losing. Then you can make sure to build life experiences that allow you to engage with items most important to you, while honoring change.
Guilt may arise as we find ourselves in conversation with others who are having a harder experience or we may be feeling a different emotion than others. Shame could also arise. Simply put, shame is about feeling like “I’m a bad person” where guilt is more about “I’ve done something bad”. It can be difficult to pick apart these emotions and deal with them. We often want to push them away and hide from them, however as with all emotions it’s more important to acknowledge them and make your choice to act on them from a place of authenticity. Both want you to hide and neither survive well when you are in connection with an empathic and supportive friend. Tell someone you trust what you are feeling to help mitigate these two.
Despair can also arise, especially because this is a repetitive cycle. We hope and pray for snow and water, yet experience drought, we have a good year or two, followed by some bad years. Maybe we are engaged in the conversations about human impact on the climate.All of these create situations where we feel helpless and small, we feel struggle not ease, and we feel as though the problems are so big we cannot solve them. As with anger, it is important to work toward small changes you can feel competent making in your own life. As one person we work in our individual environments to make change, then connect with others making small changes to make a larger impact on the world. Despair results when our sense of helplessness becomes so great that we see no way out. The way out is making small changes we feel good about it.
Happiness, excitement, or joy could also be part of our experience. For many we understand the transformative power of fire and may feel an excitement at the change fire brings. For some we feel excitement or joy knowing fire is natural part of nature and part of healthy forest development. For some we recognize fire is about creating a new beginning and we enjoy seeing the resiliency of the forest as it returns, reminding us all that we, too are resilient beings.
The bottom line on emotions is: whatever you are feeling know it’s normal and it is ok. As humans we can feel a lot of emotions all at once and that is ok. When we work to honor our current experience through emotions, we use them to form actions in healthy outlets. As a result our life becomes more vibrant and rich.
Final Thoughts On Dealing with Difficult Life Events:
If you feel overwhelmed by your experiences seek extra help from a professional. Therapy is great, when else can you sit with someone trained to actively listen to you talk about you for an hour with no bias in your situation. We need other humans to build our brains and make sense of our experiences. Seek out help if you need it.
Finally, perception is everything. Life happens, and it happens to all of us. We have little control in what is going on around us, however we have much control in how we respond to it. The way you manage your physical environment and body, pay attention to your thoughts and focus, and allow yourself to gather information from your emotions and make informed healthy action choices as a result, keep us regulated. This regulation is important as we continue to be stressed by disruptions and as we continue to move through this year’s fire season and beyond.
Have you ever felt you wouldn’t be able to figure things out, that you weren’t responsible for your successes, terrified of making mistakes because people would “find out” you really didn’t know what you were doing. Plus, working hard to make sure you looked like you knew what was going on, even while feeling not good enough? Maybe even a little frozen because it feels so fake to claim your knowledge, space, and hope?
This is called the imposter phenomenon and afflicts a number of us at some point in our lives. Especially, those of us who have been given subtle messages about our being, such as, we can do it all without much effort or in contrast that we are not as smart as we really are (Clance & Imes, 1978). According to Bernard, Dollinger, & Ramaniah (2002) “The IP has been defined as an internal experience of intellectual phoniness in high achievers who are unable to internalize their successful experiences” pg 321.
As a result we find ourselves in situations where we feel we are not responsible for our success. Yet our age, experience, education, etc may be telling the world something different. There is incongruence between what the world sees and expects of us and what we believe about ourselves. This creates a sense of falseness or feeling like a fake on the inside.
When we find ourselves in these situations many of us turn up the charm, work harder, and end up in the double bind of proving and dis-proving our worth and brilliance at the same time. This proving/disproving becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy we struggle hard to break free from (Clance & Imes, 1978). Instead of continuing the cycle, there are ways to move beyond our sense of “falseness” and own our competence.
According to Bernard, Dollinger, & Ramaniah (2002), there are two personality traits that interact with feeling like an imposter. One is what’s known as the big five personality trait of neuroticism and the other also a big five trait, conscientiousness.
People with high neuroticism are defined in personality psychology as folks who are more moody and prone to judge situations as negative. They tend to have higher experiences of emotions like sadness, envy, fear, guilt, etc.
This trait combined with feelings of being an imposter are similar to well known dispositions of depression, like attributing success to external sources (i.e. I passed the test because it was easy) but attributing failures to the individual self (i.e. I failed the test because I am stupid).
To work with this trait and increase competence, one must begin to shift personal perception of self and the world. This is not easy. However, by seeking out experiences and opportunities for accurate praise and recognition the person can begin to recognize the truth of their competence. Along the way, it is important to deal with negative emotional states such as depression or anxiety to reap the larger benefits of embracing your true intelligence and brilliance.
Conscientious people tend to be organized, efficient, dependable, and aim for achievement. They like to plan things and have a lot of self-discipline. People scoring low on this scale tend to like spontaneity and sometimes are labeled as unreliable. When it comes to feeling like an imposter, there is negative a correlation with a lack of self-discipline seen in people who score lower on the conscientiousness scale and higher on rates of feeling like a phony. Bernard, Dollinger, and Ramaniah (2002) give a couple of possible reasons. First, it might be that those who lack self-discipline were told and/or expected to achieve with little effort (Clance & Imes, 1978). It might be the case that not only were these people told they were intelligent, bright, talented, and could do or become anything they choose, they also might have experienced ease in achievement especially in earlier life situations (i.e. high school).
Due to these experiences, this group may not have created behavioral patterns that offered structure or opportunities for the positive feelings associated with working hard to reach a goal. As a result, they do not gain a sense of mastery over their personal situations and tend to rely more on environmental factors for success. Others may be working from the notion that effort could equal failure so why try too hard. Which becomes the mantra driving lack of engagement, procrastination, and offering a self fulfilling cycle of self doubt and underachievement.
This leads many people to shrivel and remain small – to risk embarrassment, vulnerability, or judgment of “not knowing enough” is too much, way too costly. So we stay small and stay contained in our “normal” cultural living patterns. We stay complacent rather than push for change in situations we don’t like, and we settle. Then we feel fake, unsuccessful, and limited in our potential. Coupled with the internal feeling like there should be something more, we feel stunted and less than. To break this pattern we need to set goals and follow through, even when it’s hard.
If the concepts above sound like you:
Are you negating the reality of others’ opinions telling yourself “if they only knew …” and diminishing their ability to accurately judge the situation?
Telling yourself I am not responsible for great ideas, only for great failures.
Or are you stuck in the conundrum between I can and should achieve it all with little to no effort and to show effort would be weak?
Stuck believing that if I work hard and fail the cards all come tumbling down and I’ll be found out, so it’s better to self sabotage and let people think “if I would only try I’d be off the charts” rather than try and fail?
Go out into the world today and actively look for ways you can find honest feedback about your behaviors?
Take the challenge of absorbing the compliments of others as truth AND believe them?
Recognize that you did contribute to the success of a project or goal attainment, and honestly evaluate where you contributed to the failure without taking all the blame. Allow others to own their portion of the failure, too (and you know how to do this if you’ve been letting others own the success)
Commit to working hard for the sense of personal accomplishment regardless of the outcome?
Come to believe that showing effort and trying are not signs of being weak or stupid.
Let us know if you are up for the challenge of owning your competence and success in the comments below.
Bernard, N. S., Dollinger, S. J., and Ramaniah, N. V. (2002). Applying the big five personality factors to the imposter phenomenon. Journal of personality assessment, 78(2), 321-333.
Clance, P.R. & Imes, S. (1978). The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. Psychotherapy Theory, Research, and Practice, 15(3), 1-8.
Ok, it’s getting to be crunch time and you are bored with the same ole same ole workout. You hit the trail and see kids playing by the park. They look excited, engaged, and exhausted at the same time. You think to yourself … “if only I had their energy”.
Well, some of their energy comes from being in the moment, happy, and focused. Research as shown people who are focused tend to feel more fulfilled and less overwhelmed with daily life. So if you are feeling a bit burnt out – find a way to play.
Engage your whole body, all your senses in something fun and silly. Who cares if you look a little funny chasing your kids around the playground or laughing hysterically with your head thrown back and feet out riding your bike down the hill. Just trust that if you love what you are doing in the moment and all will fall into place.
There is more and more research coming out about meditation on the benefits on mood, emotional regulation, ability to concentrate and focus, as well as, brain development and changes in those who meditate … for the better even as we age.
If your idea of meditation is sitting quietly, legs crossed, eyes closed, with a weird hand position – think again. There are lots of ways to mediate. One popular way is to move. During mindful movement you pay close attention to all the sensations of the body, the way your body moves in space, your breathing, and your muscles. Begin right now. Notice how your body is being held in space. Do you feel places of tension? Ease? Move your arms up, and then return to your starting position. Turn your hands over and back. Walk forward, sit, stand, turn.
As you perform these movements move slowly and pay attention. What does the area around your body feel like? What’s the sensation of the air on your skin? Notice if your body feels like it is pulsing? How far does that pulsing move away from your physical self? Where does your breath go in the body? Can you move it into places you have not paid attention to yet? Places you feel “stuck” or places of tension?
Spend 1-5min noticing these items then return to whatever activity you were doing. Notice how you have changed by taking a short break. How is your concentration, focus, mood? Make a note – mental or physical and plan to repeat maybe today, maybe tomorrow. Just know you are going to continue to practice this mindful movement.