Monday, April 27, 2015

Change Your Brain With Kindness, sharing an article from psychologytoday.com

Good afternoon!

Today we are sharing an article with you from psychologytoday.com on how to change your brain with kindness. We all could use more kindness in our lives, right? Take a look and see what you think!

When was the last time you remember giving a stranger, a neighbor, or even a friend, a smile, nod, or greeting? Why is it so surprising to give or receive unexpected gestures of kindness? For many of us living in a hectic city, we have come to expect that we are invisible to each other—tiny ants marching along our own paths with somewhere very important to go, rarely stopping to talk or acknowledge our own and each others' presence.
Cities exhibit varying levels of friendliness. In Conde Nast Traveler’s survey(link is external), Newark, New Jersey topped the list of the unfriendliest cities in the world. Charleston, South Carolina ranked first in friendliest city in the U.S. (fifth friendliest in the world). Fortunately, however, our city rankings don’t have to limit our ability to develop kindness. A simple daily meditation that takes only 10-15 minutes can help open your eyes to compassion and even change your brain.
A loving kindness (metta) meditation practice with Buddhist roots reminds us of a more compassionate way of living. The meditation has been shown to enhance your ability to empathize, increase the presence of positive emotions in your life (decrease the negative), and change brain activity.
Studies have shown that this meditation is associated with changes in neural responses to viewing emotions in others and alters brain activity in areas of emotional processing (Lee, et al. 2012). A recent study found that loving kindness meditation significantly improved the ability to empathize and read other people's emotions on a “Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test” (Mascaro, et al. 2013). A functional brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study found that compassionate training both increased altruistic behavior and altered brain activity in regions associated with social awareness and emotional regulation (Weng, et al, 2013). Metta meditation has also been shown to improve EEG readings (prefrontal alpha-asymmetry, which is associated with withdrawal) in depressed individuals (Barnhofer, et al. 2010).
Repeated practice can change brain connectivity. How you experience, receive, and send kindness can evolve over time. In a recent functional brain MRI study, researchers found significant differences between experienced and novice meditators. Both groups had increased functional connectivity during loving kindness meditation in different areas of the brain. Experienced meditators had less activity in areas related to the self andmind wandering, suggesting that repeated practice may have transformed the meditation experience over time into a focused, selfless kindness (Garrison, et al. 2014). 
Pixabay/Common
Source: Pixabay/Common
You can try the loving kindness meditation by listening to a guided audio meditation (links below) or practice silently on your own. Here is the practice briefly (10-15 minutes, wording of the repeated phrases are from a practice with yoga teacher Dennis Teston(link is external) at Brooklyn Yoga Project(link is external)):
1.  Find a comfortable seated position and close your eyes. Take 2-3 cycles of smooth deep inhalations and exhalations to become comfortable and relaxed.
2. First, extend kindness to yourself. Imagine that you are in a safe, comfortable space. Silently repeat to yourself 2-3 times:
May I have joy.
May I have happiness.
May I be free from suffering.
3. Send kindness to a Beloved person. Next, visualize someone you care about in front of you. Imagine seeing the person under warm sunlight and look into the person’s eyes. Send that person kindness:
May you have joy.
May you have happiness.
May you be free from suffering.
4. Send kindness to a Neutral Person. Visualize someone you feel neutral towards (like an acquaintance, neighbor) in the light and look into their eyes. Send that person kindness:
May you have joy.
May you have happiness.
May you be free from suffering.
5. Send kindness to a Challenging person. Finally, imagine someone that you find challenging—perhaps someone you have had tension with or with whom you associate difficult emotions. Imagine seeing them under the warm sunlight and look into their eyes. Send them the same message of kindness:
May you have joy.
May you have happiness.
May you be free from suffering.
6. Carry this kindness-- the openness of the heart-- with you the rest of the day. Take 4-5 gentle cycles of breaths (inhaling and exhaling smoothly) to end your practice.
Try this meditation at the beginning of each day or when you're wrapping up and winding down a stressful day. You might find yourself a little more kind and open to both yourself and the people around you at work, in the city, or at home.
H

Monday, April 20, 2015

Improving Emotional Health: Strategies and Tips for Good Mental Health

Today we wanted to share an article with you from helpguide.org on tips for improving mental and emotional health. We all know that physical health is just one part of our well-being but it is connected with our mental and emotional health. Take a look at this article and see if you can relate to any of these points and remember, if you need help or want someone to help you develop a well-rounded holistic health plan, contact me today at www.innerpassagestherapy.com 

Improving Emotional Health

Strategies and Tips for Good Mental Health

Improving Emotional Health
People who are emotionally healthy are in control of their emotions and their behavior. They are able to handle life’s challenges, build strong relationships, and recover from setbacks. But just as it requires effort to build or maintain physical health, so it is with mental and emotional health. Improving your emotional health can be a rewarding experience, benefiting all aspects of your life, including boosting your mood, building resilience, and adding to your overall enjoyment of life.

What is mental health or emotional health?

Mental or emotional health refers to your overall psychological well-being. It includes the way you feel about yourself, the quality of your relationships, and your ability to manage your feelings and deal with difficulties.
Good mental health isn't just the absence of mental health problems. Being mentally or emotionally healthy is much more than being free of depression, anxiety, or other psychological issues. Rather than the absence of mental illness, mental and emotional health refers to the presence of positive characteristics. Similarly, not feeling bad is not the same as feeling good. While some people may not have negative feelings, they still need to do things that make them feel positive in order to achieve mental and emotional health.

People who are mentally and emotionally healthy have:

  • A sense of contentment.
  • A zest for living and the ability to laugh and have fun.
  • The ability to deal with stress and bounce back from adversity.
  • A sense of meaning and purpose, in both their activities and their relationships.
  • The flexibility to learn new things and adapt to change.
  • A balance between work and play, rest and activity, etc.
  • The ability to build and maintain fulfilling relationships.
  • Self-confidence and high self-esteem.
These positive characteristics of mental and emotional health allow you to participate in life to the fullest extent possible through productive, meaningful activities and strong relationships. These positive characteristics also help you cope when faced with life's challenges and stresses.

The role of resilience in mental and emotional health

Being emotionally and mentally healthy doesn’t mean never going through bad times or experiencing emotional problems. We all go through disappointments, loss, and change. And while these are normal parts of life, they can still cause sadness, anxiety, and stress.
The difference is that people with good emotional health have an ability to bounce back from adversity, trauma, and stress. This ability is called resilience. People who are emotionally and mentally healthy have the tools for coping with difficult situations and maintaining a positive outlook. They remain focused, flexible, and creative in bad times as well as good.
One of the key factors in resilience is the ability to balance stress and your emotions. The capacity to recognize your emotions and express them appropriately helps you avoid getting stuck in depression, anxiety, or other negative mood states. Another key factor is having a strong support network. Having trusted people you can turn to for encouragement and support will boost your resilience in tough times.

Physical health is connected to mental and emotional health

Ladies working outTaking care of your body is a powerful first step towards mental and emotional health. The mind and the body are linked. When you improve your physical health, you’ll automatically experience greater mental and emotional well-being. For example, exercise not only strengthens our heart and lungs, but also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals that energize us and lift our mood.
The activities you engage in and the daily choices you make affect the way you feel physically and emotionally.
  • Get enough rest. To have good mental and emotional health, it’s important to take care of your body. That includes getting enough sleep. Most people need seven to eight hours of sleep each night in order to function optimally.
  • Learn about good nutrition and practice it. The subject of nutrition is complicated and not always easy to put into practice. But the more you learn about what you eat and how it affects your energy and mood, the better you can feel.
  • Exercise to relieve stress and lift your mood. Exercise is a powerful antidote to stress, anxiety, and depression. Look for small ways to add activity to your day, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or going on a short walk. To get the most mental health benefits, aim for 30 minutes or more of exercise per day.
  • Get a dose of sunlight every day. Sunlight lifts your mood, so try to get at least 10 to 15 minutes of sun per day. This can be done while exercising, gardening, or socializing.
  • Limit alcohol and avoid cigarettes and other drugs. These are stimulants that may unnaturally make you feel good in the short term, but have long-term negative consequences for mood and emotional health.

Improve mental and emotional health by taking care of yourself

In order to maintain and strengthen your mental and emotional health, it’s important to pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Don’t let stress and negative emotions build up. Try to maintain a balance between your daily responsibilities and the things you enjoy. If you take care of yourself, you’ll be better prepared to deal with challenges if and when they arise.
Taking care of yourself includes pursuing activities that naturally release endorphins and contribute to feeling good. In addition to physical exercise, endorphins are also naturally released when we:
  • Do things that positively impact others. Being useful to others and being valued for what you do can help build self-esteem.
  • Practice self-discipline. Self-control naturally leads to a sense of hopefulness and can help you overcome despair, helplessness, and other negative thoughts.
  • Learn or discover new things. Think of it as “intellectual candy.” Try taking an adult education class, join a book club, visit a museum, learn a new language, or simply travel somewhere new.
  • Enjoy the beauty of nature or art. Studies show that simply walking through a garden can lower blood pressure and reduce stress. The same goes for strolling through a park or an art gallery, hiking, admiring architecture, or sitting on a beach.
  • Manage your stress levels. Stress takes a heavy toll on mental and emotional health, so it’s important to keep it under control. While not all stressors can be avoided, stress management strategies can help you bring things back into balance.
  • Limit unhealthy mental habits like worrying. Try to avoid becoming absorbed by repetitive mental habits—negative thoughts about yourself and the world that suck up time, drain your energy, and trigger feelings of anxiety, fear, and depression.
More tips and strategies for taking care of yourself:
  • Appeal to your senses. Stay calm and energized by appealing to the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. Listen to music that lifts your mood, place flowers where you will see and smell them, massage your hands and feet, or sip a warm drink.
  • Engage in meaningful, creative work. Do things that challenge your creativity and make you feel productive, whether or not you get paid for it—things like gardening, drawing, writing, playing an instrument, or building something in your workshop.
  • Get a pet. Yes, pets are a responsibility, but caring for one makes you feel needed and loved. There is no love quite as unconditional as the love a pet can give. Animals can also get you out of the house for exercise and expose you to new people and places.
  • Make leisure time a priority. Do things for no other reason than that it feels good to do them. Go to a funny movie, take a walk on the beach, listen to music, read a good book, or talk to a friend. Doing things just because they are fun is no indulgence. Play is an emotional and mental health necessity.
  • Make time for contemplation and appreciation. Think about the things you’re grateful for. Mediate, pray, enjoy the sunset, or simply take a moment to pay attention to what is good, positive, and beautiful as you go about your day.
Everyone is different; not all things will be equally beneficial to all people. Some people feel better relaxing and slowing down while others need more activity and more excitement or stimulation to feel better. The important thing is to find activities that you enjoy and that give you a boost.

Supportive relationships: The foundation of emotional health

No matter how much time you devote to improving your mental and emotional health, you will still need the company of others to feel and be your best. Humans are social creatures with an emotional need for relationships and positive connections to others. We’re not meant to survive, let alone thrive, in isolation. Our social brains crave companionship—even when experience has made us shy and distrustful of others.
Social interaction—specifically talking to someone else about your problems—can also help to reduce stress. The key is to find a supportive relationship with someone who is a “good listener”—someone you can talk to regularly, preferably face-to-face, who will listen to you without a pre-existing agenda for how you should think or feel. A good listener will listen to the feelings behind your words, and won’t interrupt or judge or criticize you. The best way to find a good listener? Be a good listener yourself. Develop a friendship with someone you can talk to regularly, and then listen and support each other.

Tips and strategies for connecting to others:

  • Get out from behind your TV or computer screen. Screens have their place but they will never have the same effect as an expression of interest or a reassuring touch. Communication is a largely nonverbal experience that requires you to be in direct contact with other people, so don’t neglect your real-world relationships in favor of virtual interaction. 
  • Spend time daily, face-to-face, with people you like. Make spending time with people you enjoy a priority. Choose friends, neighbors, colleagues, and family members who are upbeat, positive, and interested in you. Take time to inquire about people you meet during the day that you like.
  • Volunteer. Doing something that helps others has a beneficial effect on how you feel about yourself. The meaning and purpose you find in helping others will enrich and expand your life. There is no limit to the individual and group volunteer opportunities you can explore. Schools, churches, nonprofits, and charitable organization of all sorts depend on volunteers for their survival.
  • Be a joiner. Join networking, social action, conservation, and special interest groups that meet on a regular basis. These groups offer wonderful opportunities for finding people with common interests—people you like being with who are potential friends.

Risk factors for mental and emotional problems

Your mental and emotional health has been and will continue to be shaped by your experiences. Early childhood experiences are especially significant. Genetic and biological factors can also play a role, but these too can be changed by experience. 

Risk factors that can compromise mental and emotional health:

  • Poor connection or attachment to your primary caretaker early in life. Feeling lonely, isolated, unsafe, confused, or abused as an infant or young child.
  • Traumas or serious losses, especially early in life. Death of a parent or other traumatic experiences such as war or hospitalization.
  • Learned helplessness. Negative experiences that lead to a belief that you’re helpless and that you have little control over the situations in your life.
  • Illness, especially when it’s chronic, disabling, or isolates you from others.
  • Side effects of medications, especially in older people who may be taking a variety of medications.
  • Substance abuse. Alcohol and drug abuse can both cause mental health problems and make preexisting mental or emotional problems worse.
Whatever internal or external factors have shaped your mental and emotional health, it’s never too late to make changes that will improve your psychological well-being. Risk factors can be counteracted with protective factors, like strong relationships, a healthy lifestyle, and coping strategies for managing stress and negative emotions.

When to seek professional help for emotional problems

If you’ve made consistent efforts to improve your mental and emotional health and you still don’t feel good—then it’s time to seek professional help. Because we are so socially attuned, input from a knowledgeable, caring professional can motivate us to do things for ourselves that we were not able to do on our own.

Red flag feelings and behaviors that may require immediate attention

  • Inability to sleep
  • Feeling down, hopeless, or helpless most of the time
  • Concentration problems that are interfering with your work or home life
  • Using nicotine, food, drugs, or alcohol to cope with difficult emotions
  • Negative or self-destructive thoughts or fears that you can’t control
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
If you identify with any of these red flag symptoms, consider making an appointment with a mental health professional.


The Road to Resilience – Guide to resilience, including ten ways to build your resilience, how to learn from your past, and how to stay flexible. (American Psychological Association)
Mind/Body Connection: How Your Emotions Affect Your Health – Learn how emotions affect your health and what you can do to improve your emotional health. (American Academy of Family Physicians)
Mental Health: Keeping Your Emotional Health – Defines good emotional health, describes how stress affects emotions, and offers tips for avoiding problems. (American Academy of Family Physicians)
Making and Keeping Friends: A Self-Help Guide – Offers practical advice and tips on developing supportive friendships. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
What Every Child Needs for Good Mental Health – Parenting advice on how to provide the love, security, and boundaries every child needs for mental and emotional health. (Mental Health America)
Download Meditations – Download or stream a dozen free meditation recordings to help you cope with life's inevitable hurdles. Comes with handouts. (Sitting Together)
Emotional Health – Written for college students, with special sections on adjusting to college life, how relationships factor in, and why it’s important to reduce stress. (Princeton University)
Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., Robert Segal, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last updated: February 2015.

(To view the article at it's original source, click here.) 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Devoted to Distraction: Daydreaming a Vital Part of our Psyche?

Good Morning!

Do you ever find yourself daydreaming or zoning out to different scenarios that play in your head? Although this has been seen as negative in the past, one scientist now believes that daydreaming plays an essential role in developing our psyche- a cauldron of creativity and an arena for rehearsing social skills.

Check out this article below to find out more about how daydreaming can be positive in our lives.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200903/devoted-distraction?collection=1073295


Monday, April 6, 2015

How (And Why) To Stay Positive: An Article from Forbes.com

How (And Why) To Stay Positive
By Travis Bradberry 

When faced with setbacks and challenges, we've all received the well-meaning advice to “stay positive.” The greater the challenge, the more this glass-half-full wisdom can come across as Pollyannaish and unrealistic. It’s hard to find the motivation to focus on the positive when positivity seems like nothing more than wishful thinking.

The real obstacle to positivity is that our brains are hard-wired to look for and focus on threats. This survival mechanism served humankind well back when we were hunters and gatherers, living each day with the very real threat of being killed by someone or something in our immediate surroundings. That was eons ago. Today, this mechanism breeds pessimism and negativity through the mind’s tendency to wander until it finds a threat. These “threats” magnify the perceived likelihood that things are going—and/or are going to go—poorly. When the threat is real and lurking in the bushes down the path, this mechanism serves you well. When the threat is imagined and you spend two months convinced the project you’re working on is going to flop, this mechanism leaves you with a soured view of reality that wreaks havoc in your life.

Positivity and Your Health
Pessimism is trouble because it’s bad for your health. Numerous studies have shown that optimists are physically and psychologically healthier than pessimists. Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania has conducted extensive research on the topic, and often explores an important distinction—whether people consider their failures the product of personal deficits beyond their control or mistakes they can fix with effort. Seligman finds much higher rates of depression in people who pessimistically attribute their failures to personal deficits. Optimists, however, treat failure as a learning experience and believe they can do better in the future.

To examine physical health, Seligman worked with researchers from Dartmouth and the University of Michigan on a study that followed people from age 25 to 65 to see how their levels of pessimism or optimism influenced or correlated with their overall health. The researchers found that pessimists’ health deteriorated far more rapidly as they aged. Seligman’s findings are similar to research conducted by the Mayo Clinic that found optimists have lower levels of cardiovascular disease and longer life-spans. Although the exact mechanism through which pessimism affects health hasn’t been identified, researchers at Yale and the University of Colorado found that pessimism is associated with a weakened immune response to tumors and infection. Researchers from the Universities of Kentucky and Louisville went so far as to inject optimists and pessimists with a virus to measure their immune response. The researchers found optimists had a significantly stronger immune response than pessimists.

Positivity and Performance
Keeping a positive attitude isn’t just good for your health. Martin Seligman has also studied the connection between positivity and performance. In one study in particular, he measured the degree to which insurance salespeople were optimistic or pessimistic in their work, including whether they attributed failed sales to personal deficits beyond their control or circumstances they could improve with effort. Optimistic salespeople sold 37% more policies than pessimists, who were twice as likely to leave the company during their first year of employment.

Seligman has studied positivity more than anyone, and he believes in the ability to turn pessimistic thoughts and tendencies around with simple effort and know-how. But Seligman doesn’t just believe this. His research shows that people can transform a tendency toward pessimistic thinking into positive thinking through simple techniques that create lasting changes in behavior long after they are discovered.

Your brain just needs a little help to defeat its negative inner voice. To that end, I’ve provided two simple steps for you to follow that will begin training your brain to focus on the positive.

Step 1. Separate Fact from Fiction

The first step in learning to focus on the positive requires knowing how to stop negative self-talk in its tracks. The more you ruminate on negative thoughts, the more power you give them. Most of our negative thoughts are just that—thoughts, not facts. When you find yourself believing the negative and pessimistic things your inner voice says, it’s time to stop and write them down. Literally stop what you’re doing and write down what you’re thinking. Once you’ve taken a moment to slow down the negative momentum of your thoughts, you will be more rational and clear-headed in evaluating their veracity. Evaluate these statements to see if they’re factual. You can bet the statements aren’t true any time you see words like never, always, worst, ever, etc. Do you really always lose your keys? Of course not. Perhaps you forget them frequently, but most days you do remember them. Are you never going to find a solution to your problem? If you really are that stuck, maybe you’ve been resisting asking for help. Or if it really is an intractable problem, then why are you wasting your time beating your head against the wall? If your statements still look like facts once they’re on paper, take them to a friend or colleague you can trust, and see if he or she agrees with you. Then the truth will surely come out.

When it feels like something always or never happens, this is just your brain’s natural threat tendency inflating the perceived frequency or severity of an event. Identifying and labeling your thoughts as thoughts by separating them from the facts will help you escape the cycle of negativity and move toward a positive new outlook.


Step 2. Identify a Positive

Now that you have a tool to snap yourself out of self-defeating, negative thoughts, it’s time to help your brain learn what you want it to focus on—the positive. This will come naturally after some practice, but first you have to give your wandering brain a little help by consciously selecting something positive to think about. Any positive thought will do to refocus your brain’s attention. When things are going well, and your mood is good, this is relatively easy. When things are going poorly, and your mind is flooded with negative thoughts, this can be a challenge. In these moments, think about your day and identify one positive thing that happened, no matter how small. If you can’t think of something from the current day, reflect on the previous day or even the previous week. Or perhaps there is an exciting event you are looking forward to that you can focus your attention on.

The point here is you must have something positive that you’re ready to shift your attention to when your thoughts turn negative. In step one, you learned how to strip the power from negative thoughts by separating fact from fiction. Step two is to replace the negative with a positive. Once you have identified a positive thought, draw your attention to that thought each time you find yourself dwelling on the negative. If that proves difficult, you can repeat the process of writing down the negative thoughts to discredit their validity, and then allow yourself to freely enjoy positive thoughts.

I realize these two steps sound incredibly basic, but they have tremendous power because they retrain your brain to have a positive focus. These steps break old habits, if you force yourself to use them. Given the mind’s natural tendency to wander toward negative thoughts, we can all use a little help with staying positive. Put these steps to use, and you’ll reap the physical, mental, and performance benefits that come with a positive frame of mind.


To view the original article click here.