Category: Grief

Laura Baker is my guest Blogger: Seasonal Affective Disorder.

The Best Tips On Dealing With Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder affects about five percent of Americans, leaving them with a feeling of sadness during fall and winter months that won’t abate until the weather gets warm again. The symptoms can be intense; feelings of depression, an increased appetite (which can trigger a loss of self esteem), lowered energy, an inability to think clearly or focus, substance abuse, and a major change in sleep habits; yet many people are unaware of just how much people who live with SAD are affected, shrugging it off as “the blues” or something that can be easily overcome.

For most, it’s not the simple. If you suffer from SAD, it’s important to be familiar with some easy tips on how to cope with it during the hardest weeks of the year. Here’s how to get started.

Modify your home

Your home is where you go to feel safe, comfortable, and stress-free, so it’s important to make sure it works in your favor where Seasonal Affective Disorder is concerned. Paint the walls with bright colors, or decorate with colorful artwork. Use sheer curtains or light-filtering mini blinds to allow as much natural light to come in, especially in the most-used living spaces. On sunny days, try to get outside if possible and soak up the vitamin D.

Practice self-care

Taking good care of yourself is essential when a disorder makes life harder. Do something that makes you feel good, such as indulging in a pedicure or massage, as often as possible. Eat right–dark, leafy greens, nuts, fish, and berries are a great start–and get in daily exercise. It might help to get up a little earlier than normal to take advantage of all the daylight you can, since the days are shorter in colder months.

Get health-conscious

Making your health a priority is always important, but never more so than when you suffer from a disorder that can affect your sleeping and eating habits. Talk to your doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement and make sure you get adequate rest while still leaving several hours in the day to get things done. It’s tempting to go to bed early when it gets dark at six p.m., but that won’t lead to productivity. Build a DIY home gym so you can stay busy, or invest your time in a hobby such as woodworking or crafting.

Spend time with animals

This might seem like an odd way to ward off depression, but animals have actually been proven to significantly benefit our mental health. The unconditional love we get from our pets is especially beneficial. If you have a pet, make a point to spend some extra time playing or cuddling with them when your SAD kicks into high gear. If you don’t have a pet, find other ways to get some quality time with a four-legged friend. For example, you might become a pet sitter or offer to take a friend’s pooch to the dog park.

Get creative

Even if you’ve never felt particularly creative, it’s a good idea to mine those feelings of sadness for a spark of something else. Write in a journal, paint, sing, or play a musical instrument. Think of what makes you the happiest and give it a try; you never know what might come out. In fact, most types of art expression are a very valid form of expression and are used to help individuals with PTSD, disabilities, and depression all the time.

If none of those sounds appealing, try keeping a journal. Writing down your feelings and thoughts every day can be helpful and will allow you to vent.

20101231_0662


Holiday Blues?

20101231_0693It’s not unusual to feel stressed, blue and overwhelmed during the holidays. Ken Duckworth, MD, mental director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness says, “A lot of people would say that the holidays are the worst time of the year. They’re just straight up miserable.”

It’s like Facebook on steroids… reminders of other people’s happiness can be particularly difficult when we are feeling lonely or sad, or if we are dealing with any sort of loss or family conflict. The holidays hold an expectation of joy, from music on the radio, to TV and movies, to decorations everywhere we go. Many people have a fantasy vision of what their holiday ‘should’ look like, and it’s usually doesn’t turn out exactly as they anticipate. Disappointment occurs. Many people feel pressure to be happy and social. Trying to be someone they are not exacerbates the problem as well.

Loneliness and depression can be very painful, and it can help you to realize that you are not alone.

Knowing this brings me to my second point. Helping others is one of the best ways to lift yourself out of the blues. This can be thought of as the giving aspect of the holiday season. There are always folks who could benefit from your assistance and good will. Whether it’s a smile on the other side of a soup kitchen serving station or visiting a senior citizen housing complex, volunteering at an animal shelter, working at a homeless shelter or even just a show of compassion by giving the clerk at Macy’s a bottle of water to recognize that she doesn’t have the easiest job during this time of year, you can change someone else’s day.

What else can we do to help ease us through this holiday season?

  • Lower or better yet, eliminate your expectations
  • Plan ahead… be selective with how you spend your time.
  • Do something every day that you love to do. What makes you happy? Painting, reading, yoga, cooking, Tennis … Nurture that part of you that fuels your spirit.
  • Limit alcohol, sugar and carbohydrates. Too much alcohol can be the catalyst for problems where there might otherwise be none. Sugar, caffeine, and refined carbohydrates elevate cortisol, the stress hormone, leading to feelings of anxiety.
  • Relax … even if it’s 10 minutes a day. Shut your eyes and breathe slowly.

The holiday season seems to accentuate for many people the shortcomings they perceive in their life. Keep in mind that feelings are temporary and they will pass, as will the holidays. Be kind to yourself!

 


How Embracing Uncertainty Can Empower You

change-peaceLike many generations and moments in history, the current times are chock full of uncertainty. Pick up any newspaper with its plethora of articles that can put you in an anxious tailspin. Shifting Teutonic plates in world politics point to the unstable, ever changing world we live in having even less certainties. Human beings are wired for control and predictability. Most of us are uncomfortable with uncertainty. How then do we deal with doubt and the unknown?

Thumb through your personal history of lessons learned and achievements accomplished. Those rites of passage that you completed, leaving home for either college or a job or getting out of an unhealthy relationship. Each of these experiences were shrouded in uncertainty. Much of life can be riddled with thoughts of the unknown. Learning to widen your world and staying centered helps you to be more comfortable with uncertainty.

Taking risks, getting uncomfortable helps you grow. If you never dared to cross into unchartered territory, you would remain sheltered and ultimately your endless potential would be unfulfilled. One way to view uncertainty through a different lens is to sharpen your inner strengths with the knife-edge of change. Seeding your personal or professional potential means stepping into the unknown. Every known was an unknown at some point in life. Julien Smith, CEO and author wrote: “You will never be entirely comfortable. This is the truth behind the champion – he/she is always fighting something. To do otherwise is to settle.” My reiteration of this quote is that by embracing uncertainty you mentally, physically, and spiritually continue to evolve and grow.

When we begin to make positive personal change, just like learning a new instrument, we must practice. Uncertainty puts our steadfastness to the test; it provides a space where you can apply the newfound insight or lesson. For example, if you’re learning to walk through life with less negativity, you’ll relish in the joy of success only after you’ve applied this new habit on an unplanned, unpleasant experience. Once that ability to turn a negative to a positive is implemented time and time again, it becomes easier and is at your disposal during every uncertain turn in life. By growing your inner capabilities, navigating the ever-changing world is less scary. Building on past successes, helps you remember that getting out of your comfort zone keeps you dynamic.

Differentiating between being committed to your inner core values and changing with the times also helps us see uncertainty with steadfast confidence. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Change is imminent, it happens whether we want it to or not. Recognizing those necessary changes that will improve your inner and outer world will allow you to see the future with a sense of excitement. Flexibility in letting go of outdated ways of thinking that keep you stuck, will cultivate windows of opportunity out of those unknown twists and turns.

Being physically and psychologically prepared for the unknown eases the impact of uncertainty. When your body, mind and spirit are agile, you are able to step back and see the potential that lies in the layers and folds of time. Think back to an experience in your life that made you uncomfortable and initially you feared the worst but in the end turned out to be one of those beautiful blessings in disguise. Use these as lessons to keep you moving towards your fullest potential. Begin to see the veils of the unexpected as magical possibilities waiting to appear.
None of us can predict with absolute certainty the outcome of our endeavors but that doesn’t stop us from pursuing our passions. It doesn’t stop us from having children or taking a chance on love. In other words, most of us have lived side-by-side with uncertainty and have carried on with the business of living. Make friends with the unpredictable, it is part of life’s ebb and flow. It is a powerful source of inspiration for growth and despite our trepidations, empowers us.

As December unfolds, see if you can peer into the eyes of uncertainty as if through the eyes of a child; imagine the endless current of change as a river carrying you to new destinations in life, you may have never known existed.


When It’s Over: How to Let Go of a Relationship

couple in fightIn the post, Evaluating Your Relationships, I shared how to determine if a relationship is not working for you. Sometimes, even when we come to the realization a relationship is over, it can be hard to heal and move forward. When we end a relationship, it can be helpful to remember the positive aspects we enjoyed about the relationship. Since Adrenaline and Cortisol are released whenever we are upset, we usually remember the unpleasant incidents more readily. So the unpleasant ones are probably fresher in your mind’s eye. Here are some ways to help you let go of a relationship that has ended, so you may move on in a way that is loving for you.

Think of what you gained from the relationship. Did it teach you something? Did you learn something valuable about yourself or experience personal growth because of your interactions? If you are looking for the meaning and purposes of why the two of you came together, do you now have a better sense of it? Discovering the lessons and positive effects of the relationship can provide a path to growth and successful closure.

Remember the good times. Recall some good moments you shared with that person. Even if the relationship has ended badly, there were times that you were both in harmony and enjoyed each other’s company. Try not to go past the recollection into judgment (for example, I had a good time but if I had known what kind of person s/he was…). Remembering what you liked about the person can help facilitate forgiveness.

Allow forgiveness. This one can be very difficult but most important in letting go and moving on. Here is a blog post that focuses solely on the topic of forgiveness, The Freedom of Forgiveness.

Find closure. Determine what resolution you need in order to move on permanently. When we do not, or cannot, receive closure through the other person, we can come to it on our own. Some ideas on how to do so:

  • Write down any strong feelings, memories, or thoughts about the other person, each entry on a separate notecard or piece of paper. Nothing is too insignificant…if it causes any sort of upset, it is important enough to write down. When you are finished, read each note aloud—allowing its full effect on you—and then destroy the note by using a shredder, scissor, or by simply ripping it up. Take a deep cleansing breath and imagine the weight of that thought leaving you. Continue this process with the remaining notecards or pieces of paper.
  • Write a letter to the person, detailing exactly how you feel. Let out all your lingering frustrations, hurts, betrayals, resentments, etc. You can feel safe in not holding back because you will not mail this letter to them. This letter is a chance for you to acknowledge all of your feelings and allow their release harmlessly. Once you have completed your letter, seal it in an envelope, address it, and “send” it on its way…in the same manner as the notecards and pieces of paper.

Make a supportive choice with mementos and reminders. There most likely will be many reminders of your past relationship, such as a song, favorite dining spot, or item you bought together. Some of these can be painful or not supportive of your desire to move on. You have the choice to either let go of painful reminders—discarding, selling, giving away physical items—or to assign new memories to them. For example, something like a song or location is difficult to remove from your life, but you can choose to replace your associations with positive ones. Perhaps you can think of an important person in your life who ALSO loves that song, so that you will guide your thoughts to them each time you hear that melody. Likewise, take a friend you have fun with to that favorite dining spot and make new memories you can go to from now on.

Honor your process. The way someone else has moved on from a relationship, or how you think you will move on, may end up looking very different from what actually happens. Allow the process of letting go and moving on to unfold in its own way. You are unique and therefore, your journey will also be unique. Be kind to yourself, practice awareness, self-love, and do your best.


The Freedom of Forgiveness

DSCN1463

 

“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
― Nelson Mandela

 

“True forgiveness is when you can say, “Thank you for that experience.”
― Oprah Winfrey

Forgiveness is not about pretending something didn’t happen, surrendering, accepting injustice, or being weak. It is about acknowledging what happened and moving past it, hopefully with more wisdom and enlightenment.

When we hold onto the feelings caused by a wrongdoing—anger, resentment, fear, hurt, shame—we keep ourselves imprisoned in that story. We relive the injustice and its effects on us, which prolongs the pain and can even cause it to grow. Releasing our feelings through forgiveness releases us from the story.

The following are some ways to facilitate the process of forgiveness:

Try to separate the facts from the story. Think of how your situation would be presented in a scientific journal. Only things that could be proven would be included, and anything not directly observed would be considered a hypothesis or prediction. Anything related to emotions, feelings, and hearsay would be useless to a scientist. This exercise can help untangle emotions from events to provide a more objective view of what happened.

Remember that this involves another human being. We all make mistakes. While being human doesn’t excuse us when we do something that is considered “wrong,” it is helpful to remember we all have faults, weaknesses, and errors in judgment.

Examine why you feel the way you do. Perhaps your feelings are tied to a previous betrayal, or the person’s actions brought up issues with which you are struggling but have nothing to do with this person. Knowing specifically what you are upset about and why can shed light on the real issue. It can also allow you to have a clear conversation with the person you want to forgive, if you decide to talk with them about it.

Make a commitment to forgiveness. Sometimes we say we want something, but don’t really want it or aren’t ready for it. To forgive someone and move on, we have to truly want to forgive that person. Give the same kind of focus and energy to forgiveness as you would a meaningful goal or intention. Imagine your desired future relationship with that person, or if dissolution of that relationship is in order, imagine yourself making peace with that decision and moving on in a way that is supportive to you. You may want to try Loving-Kindness Meditation.

Be gentle with yourself. Forgiveness can be difficult when the wounds are fresh. If you do not understand the reasons behind the injustice, or you can’t find any positive light from the experience, you may not be ready or willing to forgive. It often does not happen overnight, and it is also not something you master like a learned skill. Forgiveness is the subject of many spiritual teachings and can be viewed as a daily spiritual practice. Therefore, allow yourself to see forgiveness as a journey, not a destination you must reach. Try to release any self-judgment in the process. Forgiveness starts with you.


A Case for Loving-Kindness Meditation

We’ve all been there—we’re having a conversation that we don’t necessarily want to have and we begin to feel defensive.  Our mind may start racing or our palms may start sweating. Anger starts rising up hot on our necks, and we’ve hit the point of either shutting down and tuning out or getting upset. Usually it’s with someone that we’ve been down this road with before.

It’s true, right? We all find ourselves falling into the cycle of washing and rinsing out one issue, yet, before we’ve even finished ironing it out, we could already be facing more trouble from the same source.  Our immediate response may be to act out of frustration or anger instead of a calm, collected place. That’s were loving kindness-meditation comes in.

As Harvard Business Review explains it:

“To understand why we get clumsy in difficult relationships, consider that habitual patterns of thinking and behavior are like the deep grooves that get carved into a dirt road by the repeated passage of tires. The deeper the grooves, the more likely we are to get stuck in them. This is why we tend to have the same argument repeatedly with certain people, and find ourselves unable to free ourselves from the familiar script. Loving-kindness meditation improves our ability to see those grooves more clearly, to lift ourselves out of them, and to intentionally choose a better, more effective pathway.”

The key is to assuage this issue before it arises internally, and we can only do that by being cool and collected—and most importantly, comfortable within ourselves.  As HBR notes, “without self-compassion it’s hard to find compassion for others.”

Now—start the practice by cultivating someone in your mind that you’re close to. One that loves, honors, and respects you for who you are. They will be the guided thought for your meditation.

Create a mantra based on that idea—and as you’re beginning to feel frustrated with a tough conversation, turn to that to help you make it through. Channel love within your mind and allow it to come through your thoughts and into your words.

Next, set your intentions on the person you’re having the conflict with—Affirmations you can use to assist in setting your intentions into compassion are:

Om, Compassion

You are love, as am I

Compassion is all

The Universe loves you

As you continue this mantra of love for yourself and love for others—you are beginning to set yourself free from the pain of difficult relationships. Changing your heart space to let light in instead of harboring darkness.

Once we find peace in ourselves, the conflicts that we have with others will seem less important to our days, and soon our lives. We learn that through self-control we can create our own existence of harmony instead of discord.

Our lives are short and precious; too short to allow others to negatively impact our days. Give yourself the opportunity to flourish through positive energy; you will change in many incredible ways.


A Spiritual Path of Coping With Addiction

Are you held back by an addiction? If you’re not personally, it’s almost certain that you know someone who is afflicted by an urge of some form that inhibits his or her own life—one that has an incredible impact on their overall well-being and happiness.

These sufferings create an inability for us to grow and flourish personally, as well as in our relationships with others, which, many times, can create an even more difficult struggle or a deeper dependence. As such, the need to escape becomes, as Pema Chodron notes in her book Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, “involuntary”.

She continues, “Addiction and dissociating from painful feelings are two examples. Anyone who has worked with a strong addiction—compulsive eating, compulsive sex, abuse of substances, explosive anger, or any other behavior that’s out of control—knows that when the urge comes on it’s irresistible. The seduction is too strong.”

If the throes of addiction sound inescapable, don’t lose hope yet. How can we cope? Chodron calls this practice ‘The Knack of Refraining’—continually training with a present, but lesser stimuli, that teaches us to rise above the impulse when we’re fixated on our desire.

“By training with everyday irritations, we develop the knack of refraining when the going gets rough. It takes patience and an understanding of how we’re hurting ourselves not to continue taking the same old escape route of speaking or acting out.”

This allows us to begin to become freer, a little lighter each time we succeed in not succumbing—rebuilding a sense of self worth and an appreciation for the beautiful bounty of good the world has to offer us. We begin to lose the tunnel vision, to see beyond the narrow lenses we were looking at the world through before; our minds and hearts become open.

On an arduous journey such as this, be kind to yourself or the one bearing the burden. Encourage the idea of “refraining” as a way to restart—to create a new beginning for a healthier, happier life.

With more confidence and purposeful goals, it begins to feel less like coping and more like strength. Once we’ve developed that core strength over time, our clearer mind allows us to see how our old behaviors were truly doing harm and keeping us from true happiness.

Life is progress, not perfection—the key is to not give into the seduction of temptation.

Meditate on what is good in your life; if only just for a second. When it all feels especially unsettling, find something constructive that makes you feel whole; allow yourself to experience a natural high that brings you back to center and allows you to stay the course without the fear of guilt or shame.

The journey is long and challenging, but it doesn’t have to be dark and daunting—we can all find our peace; it’s already inside of us. It takes courage to unleash its full potential and experience life in a more meaningful way, but it leads us to being truly free.


Prosperity Through Pain

In today’s world, it can become incredibly easy to lose sight of what’s important. By being inundated with everything from constant digital distraction to ultra-hectic work and home lives, we may feel like we’re barely even in control of our own existence and we just become sick and tired, even complacent, with our routine and the way that we feel about ourselves and our world.

When we’re caught in the vicious cycle of self-loathing, frustration or extreme busyness, what can change for the positive? Not much. And not only do we suffer, the ones we love do, and from an even grander perspective the world does too. We shut ourselves off, becoming oblivious to the grander atrocities and improprieties in the universe. Staving them off for fear that we can’t handle any more strife or disappointment.

The key is to experience an awakening. As Lion’s Roar, formerly Shambhala Sun, examines in their article On Awakening Through Race, Sexuality, and Gender. Enlightenment is a deeply personal and sometimes precarious journey. One that takes bravery, patience and belief that change is possible through small accomplishments. The author, Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, notes that when she began her journey to Buddhism she was drawn in from a feeling of great pain—not pain for herself, however, but an underlying heartbreak for the sad state of our world back in 1988—a world that we know has become even more overwhelmingly difficult to understand as nearly 30 more years has passed.

Calling herself “different in appearance,” Manuel explains, The world had structured itself around appearance. The way in which I was perceived and treated depended on a structure of race, sexuality, gender, and class. The perverse power of these structures made my embodiment unacceptable to others and myself. As a result, I was paralyzed by feelings of isolation in my younger days.”

She continues that she had bitten into oppression’s poison apple, falling into the notion that nothing can change. It wasn’t until she found herself introspective enough to examine her “true nature” that she began to understand how to reconnect with the universe and find her spiritual peace with everything around her.  She continues, explaining that we may desire an “out of body or other extreme experience” that will bring us to awakening, but in practice, all we really need is to examine the external struggles of the universe, and let that be our guide to inner peace.  

She astutely points out,  “If we were to simply walk past the fires of racism, sexism, and so on because illusions of separation exist within them, we may well be walking past one of the widest gateways to enlightenment. It is a misinterpretation to suppose that attending to the fires of our existence cannot lead us to experience the waters of peace.

With the anniversary of Selma upon us, we can still see a very clear picture of what we’ve still got to do when it comes to race relations. With National Women’s Day just passing, we’re reminded of what an incredibly integral role women play in the success of our society and our greater world and the respect, equality and dignity with which they should be treated. With the ever-widening socioeconomic gap we see where we’ve got to do better in making sure that everyone has a fair shake.

It is time to take a look—are your eyes open? Are you aware to what’s going on outside of your own 3-foot circle? Let what keeps you from peace and happiness actually bring you to it by sharing a larger concern for us all. If each of us spent a little bit of time taking better care of others, isn’t it quite possible that we may see it returned to us, maybe even exponentially? We’ve heard forever to ‘treat others as we’d wish to be treated;’ we just may not have been aware of what the power of understanding that perception really holds for us. Enlightenment is the bright and shining beacon of hope for equality and attainable prosperity to all—follow that path to light.


Take Responsibility and Let Go

Instead of focusing on how you may have contributed to your relationship ending are you spending hours of your time analyzing why he/she acted the way they did?

Overanalyzing is often bred from avoidance, thinking  about our feelings and/or about understanding ourselves, personally without being self-reflective. How it is that we act in the ways that we do. Usually when we overanalyze it is about what someone else did or did not do, rather than our own thoughts, actions, behaviors and feelings. Does this sound like you?

If it does, than you might be wondering what you can do to feel better, stop going on and on in your mind, over and over what they did or what you could have done. The answer is learning how to be in the moment rather than in the past or your idea of the future. So, how do you do this?

Here is are two easy exercise that you can do anywhere when you find yourself caught in on the merry-go-around of analyzing:

Repeat these steps several times:

  1. Close your eyes and breathe, noticing your body, how the intake of air feels, what sensations you have in your body, what you are smelling, hearing, sensing etc.
  2. Touch your fingers together and feel your hands or touch your arms and feel them

You can also do this with your eyes open. If you do make certain to consciously notice what you are seeing. It is important to use all of your senses.

Another helpful tip:

If you begin to analyze: think (or even say out loud) “STOP”, and replace the analyzing thoughts with a pleasant image: walking on the beach at sunset, relaxing next to a waterfall, watching a butterfly dance in the wind; you can choose your image, whatever allows you to feel calm and peaceful.

Identify your personal pleasant, relaxing image and see it anytime you find yourself analyzing the why/how’s/what’s/whens of another, or yourself excessively.

Analyzing can be a useful tool when used for explorations or options such as looking at our own actions, thoughts, behaviors and feelings. This form of analyzing can help us make great career choices as well as relationship choices. Used in this way what you are actually doing is deciding what is best for you as opposed to over-analyzing and taking no action at all.


Shifting Your View Will Change Your Life

image

Shifting Your View Will Change Your Life

In our culture, we are constantly reminded to set goals in all areas of our lives. In setting goals, we often create artificial deadlines and are encouraged to plan out steps to achieve our goals within the allotted time. Positive things can certainly come from setting goals however far too often, people who set goals feel a heightened sense of urgency and anxiety that becomes a negative force in their lives and minds. Thoughts of self-defeat creep in when deadlines are missed.

The purpose of this blog post is to show you a way in which you can reach for your dreams in a positive, meaningful way that transforms them into goals. What is your dream for yourself?

Whatever your dream or dreams may be, I want to show you a new path for reaching them. This path is not marked by deadlines, nor is it full of rigorous steps; rather it is a path that allows you to embrace the beauty of the daily journey.

The key to changing your dreams into goals is by shifting your mindset. I challenge you to shift yours. Instead of setting rigid deadlines for yourself, I want you to think of your life in a more fluid sense. I want you to look at each day, each moment as a gift – be in present time. What does this look like? It starts with your thoughts. You have to change your thinking from the negative, ‘if I don’t reach my goal, I don’t know what I’ll do,’ to the positive, ‘I have this precious moment, this wonderful day, what will I do with it?’ Choose to see the positive in yourself and in those you encounter. Enjoy the journey. Always live in the present rather than the future or the past.

If your dream is to enjoy a healthier lifestyle, start by envisioning it. What does it feel like to you? What is your role in this? What does your relationship with yourself look like? Think loving thoughts – toward your spirit and your body.

At first, thinking loving thoughts toward yourself and choosing to see the positive will be a conscious decision you make, moment by moment and day by day, but soon this becomes a part of you. You no longer need to consciously choose this mindset; instead, you simply do, as this is who you have become. I can’t wait for you to see what comes your way as you shift and grow. Please remember that you can shift your beliefs and see your dreams come true.