Month: October 2015

close up picture of anxious woman holding clenched hands to her mouth with black backdrop

Five Techniques to Manage Anxious Thinking

Many of us experience worrisome or anxious thoughts from time to time. Worry is a natural emotion which reminds us to be cautious when making decisions and embarking on new experiences. Worry can also be a sign of consideration or concern, like when we worry over a loved one. Additionally, worry can help us be productive. For example, a student who worries about their grades may be more motivated to study, or a person who worries about their health may monitor their eating habits and exercise often. However, like any potentially overwhelming emotion, worry is best experienced in moderation. Excessive worry goes beyond cautiousness and begins to cross over into anxiety. Anxiety, as defined by the American Psychological Association, or APA, is “ an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.” Those who have anxiety disorders usually experience recurring, intrusive thoughts or concerns. This can lead to avoiding certain situations out of worry, even if that avoidance is ultimately detrimental to their quality of life. Excessive worry can also make us less productive and even interfere with our sleeping patterns, making us more tired and irritable.

If you happen to be experiencing anxiety or worrying too much to the point where it takes away from your enjoyment of your day-to-day life, there are a number of ways to calm your worries and relax both your body and mind.

5 Methods to Quell Anxious Thoughts

1. Acknowledge Your Fear

Initially when we are confronted with a distressing thought or one that makes us uncomfortable, it might be tempting to just ignore it. However, ignoring problems seldom ever helps, in fact, it could actually make those problems worse. Instead, it’s better to acknowledge why you feel anxious and accept it. That will allow you to be able to move on.

2. Engage in Problem-Solving

An important step in dealing with anxious thoughts is learning to separate the things we can control from the things we can’t. Rather than expending our energies on trying to fix the things we can’t control, our efforts would be better focused on trying to fix the things we can. For example, if you’re worried about looking unprofessional at a job interview, take time to dress properly, or if you’re worried about debt, create budgets. There are solutions we can take to many problems, and it’s important to remember to turn anxious or worrisome thoughts into productive behavior whenever possible.

3. Reframe Unrealistic Thoughts

It’s not uncommon for anxiety to lead us to think of the worst possible outcomes. However, these catastrophic predictions are seldom reflective of reality. One bad grade will not ruin one’s future, nor will one small mistake lead to the loss of one’s possessions and loved ones. Instead, it’s better to replace our exaggerated, negative thoughts with more realistic ideas. In the event of having to give a speech, rather than thinking “I’m going to mess up and look stupid”, instead think “I have important things to communicate and if I mess up a few words it won’t be a big deal.” Such thinking puts anxious thoughts in better perspective so that they have less power to overwhelm us.

4. Practice Mindfulness

We can’t live in the past nor can we predict the future. Therefore we should practice living in the present. Practicing mindfulness can allow us to become more in tune with our surroundings. By doing this, we can reduce anxious thoughts as well as reduce feelings of stress and tension in our bodies.

5. Calm Your Body

Building on the previous strategy, it’s important to remember that our bodies and minds are intricately connected, so a calm body can help maintain a calm mind. Anxiety can often bring with it unwelcomed physical symptoms like increased heart rate, sweaty palms, dry mouth, and upset stomach. When we experience anxiety we may have trouble sleeping or have difficulty sitting still. Unfortunately it’s a vicious cycle, as these symptoms can then fuel our anxious feelings and upsetting thoughts, making our anxiety seem worse. There are several ways we can try to calm our bodies and, in turn, calm our minds. Good methods of redirecting our energies include practicing deep breathing, or even simply exercising by going for a jog or performing some yoga. A healthy body is key to a healthy and balanced mind.

Practicing these strategies can help us overcome worry and anxious thoughts to allow ourselves to remain happy and productive, unhindered by our troubled minds.

woman hugging her self

The Importance of Understanding Self Love

In our efforts to be selfless and care for others, particularly our loved ones, it’s not uncommon for many of us to forget to love ourselves. But 9After all, all good things come from within. But what exactly does it mean to love ourselves? How can we? Self-love, just like any other love, can be subjective, thus,  how we define self-love and how we practice it is unique to ourselves. For some of us, we might practice self-love by treating ourselves or pampering. While these gestures are kind and good to indulge in from time to time, true self-love is something deeper. In this instance, think of gifting and the importance of meaning. We might give someone a gift, but what truly makes the gift special is the meaning behind it – what significance the gift has. While it is nice to give to others, a gift without meaning is hollow and lacks the special quality that it would otherwise have if it did mean something. Self-love operates along the same lines. While it is good to treat ourselves, it does not necessarily mean that we truly love ourselves, just as we may not truly love someone whom we gift. Kindness is an aspect of love but it does not fill in for love in its entirety.

What is Self-Love?

So what is self-love? Dr. John Amodeo, a licensed marriage and family therapist and adjunct faculty member of Meridian University, describes true self-love as being: “finding peace within ourselves – resting comfortably within the depths of our being.” As such, he believes that the act of “doing” for ourselves may offer a temporary respite, but won’t cultivate the deeper, inner peace that we crave. The develop this, we must practice a certain way of being with ourselves: “a warm and nurturing attitude toward what we experience inside.”

In essence, to love ourselves we must learn to practice self-empathy, positivity, warm, and nurturing to ourselves. We must demonstrate the same patience, kindness, and mindfulness towards ourselves as we would to others.

Remember to be Gentle on Yourself

To begin with, it’s important to remember to be gentle with ourselves. While it’s not necessarily bad to have an awareness of one’s flaws, it can be very detrimental to focus solely on what one perceives as “problems”, or worse, exacerbate those flaws and neglect our positive attributes. Unfortunately, this is all too common, and this can lead to the development of insecurity and low self-esteem. Many of us may find that it’s easier to be kind and gentle to others than it is to practice those same traits with ourselves. In some cases, this may be due to toxic influences from our past and even our present who may have taught us to be judgmental towards ourselves and drown out our feelings with harsh criticism rather than honoring our emotions and giving ourselves the same respect we’d give to those we care about. Dr. Amodeo notes: “An attitude of gentleness toward our feelings is one way to have more spaciousness around them. We can “be with” our emotions rather than be overwhelmed by them.” Developing a sense of friendliness with our emotional selves helps us not only better understand that aspect of ourselves but also makes us more willing to be open and honest with ourselves and others about how we’re feeling at any given moment. This can be incredibly beneficial to both our physical and mental wellbeing.

Don’t Feel Compelled to Change Experiences

Another important characteristic of true self-love is that we can allow ourselves to experience things as they are without feeling compelled to change or suppress our experiences. This can mean having to confront negative emotions and experience them rather than pushing them away because we’re either too afraid to face how we feel or because we believe that pushing negative experiences away will somehow protect us from them. Dr. Amodeo explains that “Oftentime, we try to push away unpleasant experiences and cling to pleasant ones.” But, as Buddhist psychology suggests, “we create more suffering for ourselves by clinging to pleasant things and having an aversion toward painful feelings.”

Oftentimes we find ourselves hiding from our emotions not only because we are afraid of how they might impact us but also because we are afraid of how others might perceive us. Emotions are frequently, and wrongly, associated with weakness, when, in reality, it takes a lot of strength to come to terms with how one feels openly and honestly. Rather than letting the judgments of others shape how we perceive and, consequently, how we treat ourselves, we should remember that our emotions are a valuable part of who we are and therefore should be treated with kindness and respect, just as we should. After all, if a friend was confiding their sadness to you, you likely wouldn’t react harshly as you might towards yourself for experiencing those same emotions. At times like these, we must remember that we are our own best friends and therefore deserve the same amount of respect and consideration we would show our loved ones.

Embrace the Unknown

Finally, true-self love also means embracing ambiguity. We might not always know exactly what we’re feeling, especially in the heat of the moment, and that’s ok. Emotions can be difficult to decipher without hindsight, but, as Dr. Amodeo states: “If we can allow ourselves to pause and make room for ambiguity and patiently welcome and explore our blurry, vague feelings, they may gradually come into clearer focus.” This all boils down to being patient with ourselves rather than growing frustrated, or worse, hostile. As Dr. Amodeo puts it: “Human feelings are gifts to be welcomed. But we need to find a way to be with them so that they become allies, not enemies.” Thus we must remember that what we feel is part of who we are and therefore embracing our emotions is a necessary aspect of practicing self-love.

Conclusion

By learning to truly understand and accept our experiences as a part of who we are, we are better able to love ourselves and develop a true sense of self-love that goes beyond actions or superficiality. Self-love isn’t just about treating ourselves every now and then but is actually about learning to be at peace with who we are so that we might not only feel better about ourselves but also be able to achieve our true potentials.

woman smiling with eyes closed, laying in green grass

Five Common Myths about Emotional Health

Often disregarded because they’re assumed to be irrational and thus not worthy of attention, many of us may find ourselves withholding and even denying our emotional selves. There are many reasons why this happens, but at least some of it can be attributed to either a reluctance or a fear of truly getting to know who we are emotionally. The famous philosopher Frederick Nietzsche believed that people were often clueless about things that were closest to us.

There are several common misunderstandings that we tend to have about emotions:

1. Emotions Can’t Be Expressed Verbally

Many of us may struggle when it comes to being able to express our feelings through language. It’s true that many languages are not necessarily built for acutely describing our “inner experiences”, including the nuances of our emotional states. However, this doesn’t render our emotions completely indescribable with words. Emotions are connected to our sense of judgment, therefore they can be both described and analyzed in detail. Learning how to express ourselves verbally is not only good for learning how to communicate to others how we feel, but is also incredibly important to establishing a sense of self-control. By learning how to process feeling into language, we are transposing our more irrational senses into a rational, understandable format, allowing us to diminish overreactions and process our feelings more constructively rather than destructively, as the case may be.

2. Emotions Are Just Feelings

Although I used the words emotion and feeling seemingly interchangeably above, as many of us do, emotions are much more than feelings. The relationship between the two denotes a link between our psychological and physical responses, which is why many of us tend to think that emotions and feelings are one and the same. However, this is not the case. To feel, which is a bodily sensation, we must first have some element of awareness of our conscious state. What does this mean? Think of what it means to feel sad. For many of us, we experience the emotion of sadness, which is psychological and triggers the subsequent feeling of being sad. This may include bodily responses such as potentially feeling as though our heart hurts or perhaps as though we’re heavy with the weight of our emotion. Thus, while feeling and emotion do indeed have a connection, one does not necessarily define the other.

3. We Can’t Control How We Feel

As mentioned before, emotions are essentially judgments. They are psychological responses to a given thought, situation, or stimuli, which then trigger the physical response we come to call “feeling”. Dr. Shahram Heshmat, an associate professor emeritus of the University of Illinois in Springfield, describes the experience thusly: “A person’s emotional experience typically results from a subjective interpretation (appraisal) of an event rather than the event itself, even though the appraisal (beliefs) involved may not be accurate. Different individuals can interpret the same event differently.” Think about jokes, for example. In order for an individual to find a certain joke funny, the subject of the joke, the delivery, and all other variables must be such that the individual perceives it to be so. Everyone has a different sense of humor, therefore we each find different things funny. Thus, even emotions have a sense of rationality. The basis of cognitive therapy is that much of the emotional pain we experience is simply caused by distorted or “irrational” thinking. But this doesn’t render our psychological judgments inherently irrational as a whole.

4. Emotions are Stupid

Because of the common misbelief that emotions are irrational and therefore not to be taken seriously, it follows that many of us may develop the belief that emotions are somehow “stupid”. Dr. Heshmat explains that “Emotion and reason are not competing forces but complementary processes that interact and influence each other.” As an aspect of judgment, emotion is part of our mechanisms for reasoning. Lacking emotion can be very detrimental to decision making. In this instance, consider those who are described as “emotionless”; has this ever been used in a positive context, particularly with acts of alleged reason? Emotional reactions act as summaries for our past experiences with certain situations. We “feel” this summary when we experience what is commonly referred to as “gut” feelings, or intuition. Sometimes in the absence of fully knowing what should be done, going by feeling or instinct can help fill in any blanks to make our decision-making process more efficient.

5. Emotions “Happen” To Us

The notion that emotions are things that simply happen to us implies that emotions are beyond our control. However, this isn’t really true. Emotions are seldom unprovoked or random, rather they are patterns of behavior that are chosen and practiced over time. We cultivate our emotions based on our life experiences by observing what impact our expressions have on ourselves and others. For example, if a person knows that their anger can be used to intimidate others, then perhaps they might learn to become angry at the slightest provocation. In this case, anger becomes cultivated based on an experience. There are many examples like this, but in essence, our emotional selves are developed based on experience, not random happenstance.

Try to Remain Aware of Emotional Misconceptions

Dispelling these myths surrounding emotions can not only lead to a better understanding of our emotional selves but can enable us to develop a better overall sense of mental and physical wellbeing. So don’t be afraid of emotions, they are a natural and healthy part of human expression and experience.

Positive Thinking and Good Health

Perhaps you’ve heard the old adage: “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”, but in truth the key to good health and vitality may be be simpler than we realized. As it turns out, happiness can be the best supplement for one’s wellbeing, especially when it comes to heart health. Research at Penn State University have been investigating the effects of positive thinking on one’s behavior and whether or not it can lead to the development of good habits which can lead to better health outcomes, particularly in patients with heart disease.

Is Positive Thinking the Key to Good Health?

Their findings, published in the journal Psychomatic Medicine, build on the popular, if not controversial field of “positive psychology”. This mode of thinking is based on research which claims that positive thinking can potentially increase longevity. There have been links observed between positive thinking and the improved outcomes in patients with breast cancer and human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. Moreover, positive thinking has been shown to improve rates of recovery and survival following heart bypass surgery.

Conversely, negative emotions, such as those associated with depression, have been shown to have adverse and harmful effects on one’s health.

The Realities of Depression

According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: “Major depressive disorder affects approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older, in a given year.” The DBSA reveals that depression can make individuals 4 times more likely to develop a heart attack than those without a history of the illness. They also note that individuals who experienced one heart attack and suffer from depression are more likely to also experience a second or even die.

A notable symptom of depression is overwhelming and recurring negative thoughts or feelings which can correlate to feelings of low self esteem or a lack of motivation to engage in day-to-day activities. For many adults, a combination of medication and psychiatric treatment is effective in helping them combat depression or depressive symptoms. However, increased interest in the scientific community has fallen on the latter treatment option, especially when focusing on the individual patient’s own agency in their health and wellbeing, even psychologically.

Positive Thinking: Idealistic or Effective?

While the idea that happiness can heal is an idealistic and, on the surface, a possibly naive notion, the increased interest in the notion of the potency of positivity has motivated scientist to take a closer look at why we feel happy and what effects that happiness has on us physically and mentally. Seeking to investigate such claims, the researchers from the Center for Healthy Aging and the Department of Biobehavioral Health in Penn State, lead by Dr. Nancy Sin, conducted a study which followed more than 1,000 patients diagnosed with coronary heart disease to see how maintaining positive emotions might benefit their health.

The researchers assessed the psychological well-being of the participants at baseline and again after 5 years. Participants were asked to rate the extent that they had felt 10 specified positive emotions which included “interested”, “proud”, “inspired”, and “enthusiasm”. Additional measurements include cigarette usage, sleep quality, medication adherence, physical activity, and alcohol consumption, were taken at baseline and again 5 years later. Demographic factors like depressive symptoms and the severity of the individual’s heart condition were also taken into account.

Researchers found was that patients who reported higher positive psychological states were more likely to be physically active, sleep better, and take their heart medications. They were also less likely to smoke, when compared with other patients who demonstrated lower levels of positive states. Interestingly, however, the researchers found that there was no correlation between positive emotions and alcohol use.

Positive Thinking Can Lead to Better Health Habits

What they did find was that positive emotions are associated with number of long-term health habits, which are ultimately important for reducing the risk of future heart problems and even death. That being said, positive emotions at baseline did not predict changes in health behaviors of the patients 5 years later, increases in positive emotions were related to improvements in physical activity, sleep quality, and medication adherence.

The researchers believe that there are a number of reasons why positive emotions are linked to optimal health habits and, consequently, improvements in their overall health. Most obviously, perhaps, is that people with a more positive mindset may be more motivated and persistent when it comes to pursuing healthy behaviors. Furthermore, positive emotions help people better adjust their health goals and be more proactive in coping with stress and setbacks.

Use With Caution

It’s worth noting that some researchers have urged caution in promoting positive thinking, suggesting that negative thinking can sometimes be used as a part of positive psychology when it motivates people to perform better and grow personally. In addition, they worry that fear of recognizing or expressing negative feelings can also have undesirable consequences.

But the researchers at Penn State believe that if efforts to sustain or enhance positive emotions can promote better health behaviors, the application of positive thinking to this end can be useful for people with a number of long-term health behaviors. As such, Dr. Sin hopes that this research can pave the way for future work on interventions to improve patient health habits. She hopes to conduct future research with other chronic disease populations utilizing electronic tracking of health behaviors to determine the true extent of the effects of positive thinking on an individual’s health and vitality. Currently, results seem promising.

a woman looking stressed out with her hand on her head

Depression in the Later Years of Life

Unfortunately, it’s an all too common belief that depression is a more or less natural part of aging. After all, as we get older, we must face an increasing number of problems. Health problems, reduced income, and the death of a partner or loved one are just some of the tragedies and difficulties often faced among those who are older in age. Because of this, it may not be surprising that so many older adults suffer from depression. Medical News Today reports that: “around 7 million American adults aged 65 and older experience some form of depression.” However, even more surprising is that depression among seniors often goes overlooked and untreated.

Depression is Not a “Normal Part” of Aging

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, depression is frequently considered to be a normal part of aging, particularly for older adults. Stephen Bartels, director of the Centers for Health and Aging at Dartmouth College at Hanover, NH, explains to The Washington Post: “The public thinks, ‘Well, if I was losing my ability to walk or losing my vision or hearing or people that I love, that it’s normal to be depressed when you get older,’ and that’s just not true.”

In fact, a Mental Health America survey of adults aged 65 and older revealed that only 38% of seniors believe depression is a health problem, while the remaining 58% believe that it is normal to become depressed in old age. Because of this, the majority of older adults with depression do not seek nor receive treatment for the condition.

It’s worth noting that left untreated, depression can raise the risk of other health conditions and severely impact the quality of life. Certain depressive symptoms can also put individuals at increased risk of suicide. Considering this, it becomes even more alarming to realize that suicide rates in the US are highest among adults aged 75 and older. To put things in perspective, this accounts for 16.3 per 100,000 people when compared with 11.3 suicides per 100,000 people in the general US population.

The Real Causes of Later Life Depression

Stressful and emotional situations experienced later in life can take an enormous toll on one’s mental health. Widowhood is most common in older age, and a third of widows meet the criteria for clinical depression within a month of their spouse’s death. Of this number, 50% of these widows remain clinically depressed a year later. In addition to this, health problems common in older age such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and Parkinson’s, can also increase the risk for depression later in life.

Changes in daily life and environment can also be difficult, like the experience of retirement. Retirement activist Robert Laura explained to Forbes last year: “Work creates self-worth, physical and mental exercise, friendship, and sense of belonging.” The absence of this can lead to the development of depression, as well as the loss of the relationships established within the professional setting, since many adults do not translate their friendships within the workplace to personal ones, thus losing valuable social interaction once they retire.

It is well established that adults who lose social interaction are more likely to develop depression. A study published by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, led by Dr. Alan Teo, assistant professor of psychiatry at Oregon Health & Science University, discovered that older adults who rarely see their family and friends are almost twice as likely to develop depression. This risk remains even when seniors have contact with friends and relatives over the phone or through written communication.

However, as Medical News Today reports: “The risk of depression in later life, however, is not solely dependent on life changes and stressful situations. People who have immediate family members with depression may be at greater risk for developing the condition themselves, and certain medications – such as drugs to treat hypertension – can raise depression risk.” Moreover, if an individual has experienced depression earlier in life they are at increased risk to experience it again, later in life.

Depression is Treatable Even with Aging

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC: “Depression is a true and treatable medical condition, not a normal part of aging.” As such, both the CDC and the National Institute on Aging recommend that older individuals experiencing symptoms of depression seek treatment immediately. They state: “Don’t ignore the warning signs. If left untreated, serious depression may lead to suicide. Listen carefully if someone of any age complains about being depressed or says people don’t care. That person may really be asking for help.”

If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of depression it is important to seek help. When treated, depression can become manageable. However, it should not be assumed to be simply a “natural” part of aging any more than it can be assumed that it is a natural part of life. Preparing for later life changes and maintaining regular in-person contact helps reduce the risk of depression as one gets older, in addition to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and regular exercise. Of the possibility of overcoming depression, the NIA state: “Remember, with treatment, most people will begin to feel better. Expect your mood to improve slowly. Feeling better takes time. But, it can happen.”

Six Benefits of Practicing More Self-Compassion

It can be very tempting at times to fall into a spiral of self-doubt, especially when we find ourselves faced with making a number of important decisions. As we transition from adolescence to adulthood, this number greatly increases, and many of us find ourselves overwhelmed with the demands and expectations of our day-to-day lives. Because of this, it can be easy to learn to second-guess every choice we make, which can result in  being more likely to  underestimate our own intelligence and capability, and even worse, lower our overall sense of self-esteem. While many of us are readily compassionate and understanding to our friends and loved ones, sometimes we forget to turn this compassion inwards to ourselves as well. Being too tough on ourselves can actually hinder our performance and keep us from achieving the most out of life. A little self-compassion goes a long way. In fact, here are 6 benefits of treating oneself with the same kindness we might show unto others.

1. Boosts Happiness

First and foremost, self-compassion can boost our overall happiness. This is because self-compassion is associated with better moods and positive characteristics. More specifically, a 2007 study published in the Journal of Research in Personality links self-compassion with one’s overall happiness, optimism, personal initiative, wisdom, and greater appreciation towards oneself and one’s body.

2. Increases Motivation

Self-compassion can make us want to take initiative. After all, we are more likely to make good choices and act positively if we feel good about ourselves and receive positive reinforcement rather than if we adopt a more negative perspective. A 2011 study conducted by the University of California showed that participants spent more time studying for a test after a previous failure if they demonstrated self-compassion. Moreover, said participants also reported feeling a greater motivation to change their weaknesses when they practiced self-acceptance than those who did not. In other words, we respond better to feeling better than feeling worse. Sounds obvious, right? Practicing self-compassion can motivate us to achieve the goals we set rather than if we hold ourselves back out of fear of failure.

3. Makes Us More Resilient to Adversity

More than just motivating us to take risks and do better, self-kindness and compassion can also help us get through the tougher times in our lives. Challenges are a necessary stepping-stone to success, but some challenges prove to be more difficult than others and some obstacles are more difficult to traverse. In these instances, treating ourselves negatively would be the equivalent of wearing lead shoes whilst trying to climb a wall – making the task far more difficult for ourselves than the wall is alone. Self-compassion is a key component to overcoming adversity in our lives. Another 2011 study published in Psychological Science, shows that people who report higher levels of self-compassion have also shown to have improved emotional recovery following events such as marital separation and divorce. We all need support through difficult times in our lives, however a crucial measure of that support must come from ourselves in addition to expecting it from others.

4. Improves Body Image

When we learn to be compassionate with ourselves, we are essentially learning to love ourselves. This love is not just mental, but physical as well. Multiple studies have linked higher self-compassion to healthier body image and decreased body shame. In fact, a 2012 study published in the journal Body Image, found that those who frequently practiced self-compassion tended to be less preoccupied with their body image, have fewer concerns about their weight, and show a greater appreciation overall towards their bodies than those who did not demonstrate the same kindness.

5. Reduces Psychological Distress

As previously mentioned, practicing self-compassion benefits us both mentally and physically. Recent studies have shown that self-compassion can actually decrease mental health problems. In another study published in 2012 in Clinical Psychology Review, it was revealed that self-compassion reduces psychological distress such as anxiety and depression, and reduces some of the harmful effects of stress. When we tell ourselves that we can accomplish things, it is more likely that we will, and when we tell ourselves the we love ourselves no matter what, then we can more easily overcome negative psychological experiences like anxiety, depression, and related disorders.

6. Enhances Self Worth

Most of us may think that in order to maintain high self esteem we must rely on external circumstances and social comparisons to make us feel valued. However, self-compassion can help enhance our self-esteem and our feelings of self-worth, enabling us to maintain our own self esteem from within. A study released in 2009 in the Journal of Personality reported that self-compassion allows us to feel good even after experiencing failures, perceived inadequacy, imperfections, and personal set-backs.

Start Practicing Self-Compassion

So why practice self-compassion? The reasons are obvious. We will need plenty of support in our lives through our various trials and tribulations, however, that support needs to come from within and not just be dependent on others. After all, there’s no shame in being our own best friends, because we deserve just as much love as we’d give to anyone else.

silhouette of woman practicing mindfulness therapy on beach

The Sustainability of Mindfulness Therapy

In previous articles we’ve discussed the benefits of mindfulness therapy with regards to treating depressive disorders and addictive behaviors. For many years, this form of therapy has been the go-to for many patients to seek to overcome what is ultimately a psychological impasse by teaching them to take control of their own thoughts and feelings. However, surprisingly little focus has been placed on whether or not mindfulness therapy can actually assist us in the long-term by making us more resilient. Dr. Michael Ungar is an executive board member of the American Family Therapy Academy and he questions whether or not mindfulness therapy and its related practices are actually sustainable.

Is Mindfulness Therapy Sustainable?

Addressing the various studies which point to the success of mindfulness therapy and meditation on the human mind, Dr. Ungar states that “At the core of all these experiments are emotional regulation (e.g., the ability to not eat a marshmallow when it is delectably place in front of us) and focused attention on what really matters (rather than being distracted by our fears and obsessions).” He admits that  “Both strategies can improve our lives.” But he questions the undisputed nature of many of these large claims. While there is nothing inherently wrong in this pattern of thinking, which essentially follows the same thought path as “mind over matter”, he raises concerns that “None of those studies have told us much about whether mindfulness practices are sustainable and improve mental health outcomes for people who are actually struggling with severe mental illness or chronically toxic environments.”

The Mythology of Infallibility

A favorite subject of motivational speakers, mindfulness therapy has become surrounded by a sort of mythology of infallibility. In other words, often times when mindfulness practices are discussed, they are talked about in such a way as they provide a more or less permanent solution to an ongoing problem. For many people, depression is not a one-time occurrence, and for others struggling with addiction, the desire to use is not singular and non-recurring. For those who step up on platforms to discuss their seemingly permanent success with these treatments, Dr. Ungar notes that: “you’ll notice a curious thing is missing. Context. They never mention that all their wonderfully illustrative examples come from motivated people who got the very best support available and that the changes they made were seldom sustained.”

Dr. Ungar is not necessarily attempting to discredit the practice of mindfulness therapy as a whole, but rather is trying to extract the truth about the treatment’s sustainability for those who may not have the same access to the same privileges that may have been enjoyed by someone who is able to travel and discuss their success story with others. However, the reality of resilience, Dr. Ungar explains, is that: “it is not something we build alone in the dark. It is a facilitated process of engagement with an environment that makes it possible for us to fully realize our capacity.” As such, he believes: “Mindfulness is a shallow description of a much larger process that makes us resilient when bad things happen.”

Environment Makes a Difference

In essence, Dr. Ungar encourages us to adopt a more realistic perspective on the effectiveness of mindfulness and related therapies, seeing them not necessarily as an answer to all one’s problems, but rather a helpful tool that assist how we perceive things, but not necessarily powerful enough to change the reality of our situations. According to him, “we are so enamoured thinking about how mindfulness changes our susceptibility and make us better able to exploit our environments, that we forget at our peril that environments are more important than the brains themselves.” Consider, for example, a person living in an abusive environment. While therapy can potentially train that person to better deal with the effects of the abuse psychologically, it is not until that person is removed from that environment that they can be truly freed from the abuse. Dr. Ungar points to a more extreme example of the Syrian refugees, arguing that “Positive thinking may help keep them moving forward, and being able to regulate one’s emotions may help an individual refugee tolerate the endless lines to cross borders, but all the hope in the world will not keep someone alive when a barrel bomb is dropped on them by their government.”

While that example may seem harsh, it carries with it an important truth, that a person’s surroundings can be just as influential to their safety and health as their perspective, if not more so. To ensure the resilience of treatments such as mindfulness therapy, we must consider the influence of extraneous variables within a person’s life which may inhibit their healing. Dr. Ungar asks us to question the role of privilege and accessibility in the mainstream purported success of mindfulness treatments and meditation, raising awareness that taking the time to engage in these practices, to some, may be more of a luxury than a reality. He explains: “The originators of mindfulness practices, Tibetan monks and Christian aesthetics, understood that their contemplative practices required near complete devotion and the benevolence of a community to clothe, feed and house them while they ascended the spiritual ladder. In other words, even in their bare bones world the founders of mindfulness knew that their path to brain plasticity was facilitated by the privileges of their status as their community’s spiritual guides.”

The True Potential for Mindfulness Therapy

So is mindfulness therapy useless as a practice? Not exactly. Dr. Ungar believes that mindfulness therapy and related practices can potentially be liberating and help in making us better people. After all, mindfulness therapy can help us appreciate life and control minor stresses in our day-to-day lives. Furthermore, it can help us maintain focus but in order to accomplish all of this mindfulness therapy requires that we sustain the practice daily.

To this, Dr. Ungar responds: “But it does all this much better when we have a job and a place to come home to. First things first, I say. To be resilient we must experience security, social justice, a powerful identity, personal power, and positive relationships. Psychological enlightenment is a luxury enjoyed by those whose basic needs have already been met.” In saying this, he hopes to raise awareness about the influence of privilege in certain therapeutic practices which thrive on an individual having the free time to regularly sustain them.

A male and female interlocking hands in what appears to be a strong, happy relationship.

Building Communication with Relationship Therapy

Most couples will argue from time to time. For the most part, this is normal behavior, because loving someone doesn’t necessarily …

Man sitting on couch holding hands over his face as his partner walks away angrily.

The Five Stages of Ending a Long-Term Relationship

Sometimes relationships just aren’t meant to be. Love has plenty of ups and downs, but increasing negativity can be a sign …

Vintage photo of a peaceful, beautiful nature scene with river and trees.

Smell The Roses: The Benefits of Nature Therapy

With the hustle and bustle of our daily lives and responsibilities, it can be hard to remember to take time to “stop and …