Category Archives: emotional well being

How to take care of your internal world. When we do this, the external world automatically seems brighter.

Past experiences and current triggers

 

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Past experiences and current triggers

Cognitive Behavioural Therapists look for links between past experiences and current triggers of anxiety and depression. We all have thought systems or schemas – these are a set of thoughts that become a habit. We tend to see the world within a frame of reference and that is made up of our past experiences.

For example: depression is characterised by schemas/thought systems  about loss, deprivation and failure. Anxiety is characterised by schemas about threat or fear of failure. Each of us looks at our experiences in terms of these habitual patterns of thinking. One person might focus a lot on issues of achievement (unrelenting standards), another around issues of rejection and someone else on fears of being abandoned. Let’s say that your schema – your particular issue or vulnerability – is related to achievement. Things can be going well for you at work, but then you have a setback that activates your schema about achievement – your personal issue about needing to be very successful so that you will not see yourself as a failure. The setback at work might lead to the schema about being a failure (being seen as a failure) and then you get anxious or depressed. The current trigger would be a setback at work. The intensity of your reaction will, to a large degree, be influenced by your thought system and beliefs about yourself. Positive beliefs about yourself will lead to a less intense emotional response.

 

We often try to compensate for our schemas. For example, if you have a schema about failure or that being average is bad, you might work excessively hard as you are trying to compensate for your perception that you might turn out to be inferior or not live up to your standards of perfection. You might compensate by checking your work over and over again. You might have a hard time relaxing because you are worried that you are not working enough. It might also manifest as a lack of discipline to avoid the possibility of failing if you really do put all your effort into it. With a lack of discipline, it serves as a fallback plan/reason if you aren’t successful and you can then comfort yourself by telling yourself that you would’ve done better if you had put all your effort into it.

Often we engage in behaviour in an attempt to avoid what we fear coming true. If we fear abandonment, we might engage in behaviours that we believe will make it less likely for abandonment to happen. This is false thinking though because, often, our schemas are not based on reality and are more a product of our own thoughts, perceptions and past experiences.

And the most important thing about these compensations is that we never really address our underlying thought system. (ie. I have to keep up standards of perfection so as not to be seen as a ‘failure’). This is a rigid rule which will be tough to live up to in reality. Rigid rules get broken more easily (the key to happiness is psychological flexibility) and this will lead to higher levels of anxiety and/or depression.

How we avoid facing our schemas:

An example to do with failure: If your view is that deep down inside, you might be really incompetent (a thought), one way you might avoid testing out this schema is to never take on challenging tasks or to quit early on tasks. Another way people avoid their schemas is by emotional escape through substance use or through extreme behaviours such as drinking too much, using drugs to dull feelings, binge eating.

Where do schemas come from?

Parents, siblings, peers and partners. Parents might contribute to negative schemas by making you feel that you are not good enough unless you are superior to everyone, comparing you to other children, intruding on you and ordering you around etc

Some examples:

“You could do better – why did you get that B?” schema about the need to be perfect or avoid inferiority

“Your cousin went to Harvard, why can’t you be more like him?” schema about inferiority and incompetence

“Why are you always complaining? Can’t you see that I have problems taking care of you?” schema about the selfishness of needs

We internalise schemas from popular culture, such images of being thin, having the perfect body, “what real men should be like”, perfect sex, lots of money and enormous success. These unrealistic images reinforce schemas about perfection, superiority, inadequacy and defectiveness.

It’s also important to mention the importance of needs in schema formation and perpetuation.  Schemas are formed when needs are not met during childhood and then the schema prevents similar needs from being fulfilled in adulthood.  For instance a child whose need for secure attachments is not fulfilled by his parents may go for many years in later life without secure relationships.

Even though schemas persist once they are formed, they are not always in our awareness. Usually they operate in subtle ways, out of our awareness. However, when a schema erupts or is triggered by events, our thoughts and feelings are dominated by these schemas. It is at these moments that people tend to experience extreme negative emotions and have dysfunctional thoughts.

Schemas are obstacles to reaching goals but they do not tell us what we need to be happy. Develop a set of life goals – develop a strategy to outline where you want to go with your life. The clearer the objectives, the easier it is to define steps to achieve your vision.

Discover your natural inclinations – each person has an innate set of preferences. The best clues are found in our emotions and bodily sensations. Unfortunately, many of us are trained as children to disregard our natural inclinations and to do what is expected of us. We are forced to be tough when by nature we are sensitive, forced to pursue medicine when our natural preference is for outdoor activities…it is important to find a balance between the needs of society and our personal fulfilment.

The areas of change and focus – relationships, autonomy, self esteem, self assertion and self expression, concern for others.

Try having empathy for yourself and remind yourself of the origins of your schemas. Surrender the security of childhood patterns in order to grow into the adult you want to be.

Mandy X

How to value yourself

 

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How to value yourself

If you don’t value yourself, no one else will. Teach others how to treat you by showing them that you respect and value yourself.

Maintain boundaries regarding acceptable behaviour from others

Be clear about what you will and won’t accept from others. I grew up witnessing domestic violence and that is one boundary that is crystal clear to me. If a partner ever hit me I would not stick around a minute longer. I have seen the pattern of violence and then the regrets, apologies and gifts as well as the promises that it will never happen again. And it does happen again. Make sure you know what is acceptable to you and value yourself by sticking to those principles.

Give yourself positive self regard

Self love is just as valid and valuable as love from others. Talk to yourself as you would a best friend. Use positive language and never criticise yourself. “I am useless” is not an option, try this instead, “I may not always feel good about myself but that does not mean I am worthless” or “I have been rejected but that is down to a lack of compatibility, not due to my value as a person”. You owe it to yourself to be your number one fan.

Embrace fear

Fear does not always mean there is danger. Often it is the perception of the threat that causes fear rather than the threat itself. If we fear rejection, we may avoid relationships but the threat never gets challenged and remains ever large and scary. Learn to approach what you fear and discover your capacity to cope. You will do much better than you think you will. We tend to overestimate threat and underestimate out ability to cope. Get out there, feel the fear and do it anyway.

Allow yourself to have fun and be selfish

We are conditioned to say “please” and “thanks you” and to please others and fit in, in society. When we do pamper ourselves, we automatically feel guilty. Give yourself permission to be selfish. Life isn’t all about pleasing others, it’s also about pleasing yourself.

Decide who you are – your definition

No one can make you inferior without your consent. Decide who you are and don’t allow others to define you. They will certainly try but you never ever have to accept another person’s version of you. Stick to the one you have created for yourself. This strong inner sense of self will help you get through life when others try to belittle you or make you feel unworthy.

Keep positive affirmations in your head to remind you of what you stand for. How do you see yourself? This is the most important image, not the one other’s try foist upon you. You are equal to others, no one is superior.

Value yourself, protect yourself and ensure that others treat you well. You deserve love and respect and you also deserve a good quality of life. Don’t give in to the pressure from others to be what they want you to be. Value yourself – this is your choice.

Mandy X

 

Marriage after a baby

 

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How My Marriage Changed After Having a Baby

Guest post written by Jennifer Landis:

Everything changes after you have a baby — you sleep less, you listen for every little sound that happens in your house and you become eminently familiar with the growing bags under your eyes. One thing most people don’t think about is how their relationship with their significant other changes after having a baby. Don’t let yourself be so preoccupied with that new little miracle that you forget there’s another person in the house — your spouse! Here are some things I didn’t expect to happen after a baby.

You’ll Miss Sex — or Maybe You Won’t

Not counting the six weeks of post-partum recovery during which you’re not supposed to get it on, sex may become a myth for the first few months after your baby is born — you’re pretty sure it exists, but you don’t see any evidence of it, except for this crying baby in your arms. It’s hard to get in the mood when you’re exhausted, asleep or listening for the slightest sounds that indicate your little one is stirring. Even when you do get around to doing the dirty, you’ll probably stress about it — do I look as good as I did before I had the baby, is it good for my partner? Just like sex pre-baby, there’s a spectrum of urgency when it comes to getting back to it. Don’t stress about sex if you do get around to it, and don’t stress about it if you don’t — you might not feel up to it for quite a while after you have that little one.

You Sleep in Shifts

Sleep? What is sleep? You may be able to sneak in some shut-eye in the form of small naps between feeding, changing and nurturing this small new life you’ve created. You and your spouse might even end up sleeping in shifts to maximize the amount of shut-eye you both get between diaper changes. This gets especially tough if you’re breastfeeding — if you don’t have any readily available bottles of pumped breast milk, expect to get up every couple of hours because no one else can do what you do — once you get over how amazing it is, you have to come to terms with how exhausting it is. New Parent Sleep Deprivation is a thing — if you feel like you’re getting to a point where you can’t function safely, ask for help. Even having someone take the little one for an hour or two so you can get a good nap is helpful.

Your Partner Can’t Always Help

You may find yourself feeling down after your baby is born — this is totally normal. Your body is relearning how to balance out its hormones. If these baby blues last for more than three to five days, it could be a sign of a more concerning condition known as postpartum depression. It’s a form of clinical depression that occurs exclusively after the birth of a child. No one knows why some women are more prone to PPD than others. While the most common treatment for PPD utilizes traditional antidepressants and therapy, many people are starting to lean toward the use of medical marijuana to treat this form of depression. This treatment might not be compatible with breastfeeding, so be sure to talk to your doctor about all your treatment options if you continue breastfeeding.

You Will Have Arguments

Even if you’ve made it through your entire marriage up to this point without fighting — and if you have, let us know how — you will inevitably fight at some point after your baby is born. It might be about something totally stupid, like who takes the trash to the curb or who slept less last night. It’s no one’s fault — it’s a combination of the stress and sleep deprivation that comes with having a baby. Ride it out, apologize and move on.

Your Relationship Will Take Work

We all know relationships take work, whether you have a baby or not, but after your little one is born, you will need to take the time to actively work on your relationship. This isn’t a one-sided thing — your spouse needs to do the same. If you’re feeling stressed out or overwhelmed, say so. Take some time to talk to your spouse when your baby is napping and just let them know, in calm but confident terms, that you need some help and that you and he need to spend some time focusing on your relationship. Don’t neglect your relationship in favor of your baby, even if that little one is taking up the majority of your time.

Your Relationship and Life Will Get Better

No matter how stressed out you are now, remember — it will get better. Your baby will grow and start sleeping through the night, and your life will get back to some semblance of normalcy. It might not seem like it now, when you’re changing your 50th diaper today and growing jealous of your partner for being able to go to work, but, slowly, you’ll work out a routine that makes it easier to deal with the stress. Your marriage will never be the same after you have a baby — it’ll be better than ever as you learn to develop a new bond both with your significant other and with your new baby. It’s not easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s always, always worth the effort. Take the time to work on your relationship in the minutes you have together while your baby is sleeping. If someone offers to babysit for a couple of hours, take the offer — it might feel weird to be away from your baby, but it will be worth it for the time you can spend with your significant other. Change can be a good thing. Embrace it!

Jennifer Landis is a healthy living blogger, mother, wife, distance runner, yogi, and tea connoisseur. She enjoys clean eating, but also peanut butter ice cream. She writes about mindfulness, parenting, and clean eating on her blog,Mindfulness Mama.
Follow her on twitter @JenniferELandis.

 

8 Tips to increase happiness and optimism

 

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8 Tips to increase happiness and optimism

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”-Eleanor Roosevelt

I love the above quote as it suggests that no matter what negativity is aimed your way, you still get to choose whether to acknowledge the negativity and believe it, take it on board or whether to dismiss it as nonsense. I deal with many teenagers who are bullied at school and the constant daily nitpicking damages self-esteem and confidence. I often tell these clients that no one else can define them, only they get to define themselves. Whilst it is not easy to remain positive when you are bombarded with negative messages, you still get to choose whether to believe these messages or not. Positivity and happiness are within your reach.

1) Freedom to choose

We are born and eventually we die. In between we can choose exactly what we want to believe about ourselves. We can, and have the right, reject pressure from others, media and society and follow our own paths. Tuning into the essential part of ourselves, that person who existed before others tried to shape and mould us into what they wanted us to be is an important step in finding peace and contentment. It is not easy to resist pressure from others but continually ask yourself whether you are doing things for them or for yourself.

2) Be true to yourself

Positivity and happiness begins to emerge when we stop comparing ourselves to others and we honour our own wishes, needs and desires. I always thought that there was something wrong with me because, at school, I resisted the idea of an office job. The thought of being stuck behind a desk for eight hours every day filled me with dread. Instead of accepting the fact that I was a free spirit and working with that, I tried to fit myself into a mould that was of other people’s making. I ended up miserable and eventually realised when I was older, that it was okay to be different and not want what everybody else seemed to want. Only when I honoured my true inclinations did I begin to find my essential self again.

3) Gratitude

We are a planet of anxiety ridden communities. The very nature of our brains allows us to empathise with others as well as anticipate the future, unlike other mammals. If we’re not careful, our thoughts can run riot and create all sorts of catastrophes in our minds that may never happen. When we hone our thinking and start focusing on what is good in our lives, it is almost as if the brain begins to operate on a different wavelength. We start to notice more acts of kindness and begin to see the world in a more positive way. Try writing a gratitude journal every day. This is a simple process of writing down 3 to 5 examples of things that made you happy that day. It could be as simple as the sun shining or a stranger smiling at you. If you find that you are gravitating towards negative thoughts about your spouse or romantic partner, force yourself to think about their positive attributes. This jolts us out of our negative spiral of thoughts and increases positivity and happiness.

4) We receive what we expect

When we sit and fester about all that is wrong in our lives or in the world for that matter, it is like marinating in poison. We begin to only notice the negatives in life and the suffering of others. This serves us well in an ironic way as it confirms our beliefs about the world. When we expect negative things to happen it can become a self fulfilling prophecy. What are your views about your future? Do you anticipate good things happening or are you fearful of the future? Ask yourself how it helps you to maintain a fearful and negative attitude about your future It doesn’t. Make a conscious effort to look for the good in the world and to expect the best for yourself for greater levels of positivity and happiness.

5) Egocentrism

To a degree we are all egocentric. We do not experience the world directly, rather we see the world through our individual filters. This is made up of our past experiences, how our parents treated us and early life lessons. Most of the time we worry far too much about what others might think of us. The funny thing is, that others are  thinking about us far less than we realise. We are all more worried about ourselves than about how others appear. Whilst we are sitting there worrying about whether our bums look big in our outfits or whether we have spinach in our teeth, the people we are with are probably also worrying about their own issues-the cellulite they spotted whilst getting dressed that morning or the argument they had with their partner before leaving the house. I recently visited a friend unexpectedly and found her house to be in disarray. Instead of judging her, I realised that the fact that her house was untidy had served to bolster my view of my own home which was also messy but slightly less messy than hers. What I’m getting at is that I did not judge her for being an untidy slovenly person. Instead I used this experience to feel better about myself. Learn to let go of your fears about what other people think.

6) Reduce rigidity

So often I have clients come to me in great distress. The problems occur when there is a difference between the way life is unfolding and the way they wanted it to, or expected it to unfold. We create endless stress unnecessarily. It is common sense that if you have many rigid rules about life they are more likely to be broken thus causing anxiety. Learn to pick your battles in life and ask yourself how important it is that certain rules are adhered to. The more rules we have, the harder it is to maintain positivity and happiness. The more flexible, tolerant and open minded we are, the happier we tend to be.

A good example of this relates to me and my teenage son who is now 18 years old. I watch parents engaged in daily battles with their teenagers over untidy bedrooms, spending too much time on their computers and not doing as they are told (for example not contributing to household chores). Initially I was like every other parent-trying to do what I thought would make me look like a ‘good’ parent. The emphasis was on me and my expectations rather than on the bigger picture of how this was affecting my son. Parents often mistakenly believe that they can instil their rules on to their children. This is a misconception. The only way a teenager, or adult for that matter, will successfully adopt certain rules is when they consider the rules to be important for themselves. As a result I gave up counting on my son to clean his room constantly and I also let him choose the hours that he would like to spend on his computer and Xbox. Perhaps this may not work with every teenager but in my son’s case it has taught him to self regulate and he is more likely to compromise and negotiate with me rather than display anger or resentment. In fact, he takes responsibility for his own actions as he hasn’t been forced into adopting my priorities. As he matures, he naturally begins to adopt priorities for himself.

If you find that you have black-and-white thinking about life, consider areas where it may benefit you to live life more in the moment and spontaneously. Often rigidity is a “safety behaviour” in that it helps us to falsely believe that we are in control of our lives and acts as a maintaining factor. Take small steps towards reducing the rules that you have in life and you will soon see that you will feel freer.

7) Happiness and Internal Dialogue

Realise that your happiness starts with you. Your happiness is not dependent upon your relationship status, your job, your car, your accommodation or money. Happiness is an inside job. It may sometimes feel impossible to find happiness within yourself but trying to find happiness through external means is definitely impossible. Irrespective of your circumstances, you can still choose your attitude. (Read Viktor Frankl’s book – Man’s Search for Meaning for a good example of what I am referring to). Your thoughts are incredibly powerful and they can make or break your life. Make a habit of choosing thoughts that work for you not against you. You really can choose to believe anything that you want to about yourself and your life. If you really want to, you can think of yourself as a loser. I am not sure how that will benefit you in any way but you are free to do this. You can also choose to see yourself as someone who has good values, who is good to others and who lives a life that they are proud of-this includes making mistakes, feeling stupid and not feeling good enough at times. Don’t be hard on yourself, you are human just like the rest of us.

8) Limiting beliefs

The past does not make you who you are today. You can reinvent yourself at any time. We all have baggage, yes all of us, and this is what makes us part of the human race. No one has all the answers and we are all learning as each day passes. It is time to give up the beliefs and habits that are holding you back. Respect yourself enough to let go of anything that no longer works for you. Listen to your intuition and not your ego. Life is not linear, we can be successful (whatever success means to you personally) and lose it all. At times we can renew that success, at times not. I have also witnessed couples get married in their 20s and divorce in their 30s. I have  had clients come to me in their 20s explaining how they feel inadequate because they are not yet married with children. When we delve a little deeper it often turns out that rigid beliefs and limiting beliefs have choreographed this person’s views. When we let go of preconceived ideas and accept our lives as they are, we often feel as if a huge weight has been lifted off our shoulders. We can be happy with the way our lives are turning out rather than constantly be comparing our lives to something we imagined we would have had. Examine your beliefs and get rid of any that hold you back in anyway. Sometimes it takes a while to even begin to identify these beliefs but when you are aware that you have them they begin to crawl out of the woodwork.

It may seem that there are many things in life that detract from our positivity and happiness. It is okay to have down days, I still have “duvet days” and I’m getting better at enjoying them rather than feeling guilt all day long. Life is odd, life is weird. Never lose your sense of humour and always remember that this world is a crazy tapestry where one size definitely does not fit all.

Mandy X