Anchor Your Day ~ a mental health blog by Counselwise ~

“I Just Want to Be Happy”

Is a statement I hear over and over again in therapy (usually when we get to the goals section of the intake.) Happiness, however is a weighted word, and at times will feel like an unattainable goal; it is at this point where we move to breaking it down to something more tangible, achievable.

Instead, I ask what it would mean to be content. How would you know that you were satisfied with your day? What daily moments bring you peace? If you are struggling to find those instances, what used to bring you feelings of comfort? If our lives have reached a frenetic pace, we have most likely stopped seeking peace to make room to get everything done. (Uh, oh) If we are faced with a challenge, the weight of it often squishes our contentedness right out of us. But that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve to still feel it; in fact, it is in those times that we need it the most. Being proactive to finding space for those times will help us to build the bridges we need. You know, the ones going over to Happiness Island. 🙂

Photo credit: http://Photo by Airstream Inc. on Unsplash

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Depression Fact # 4

Chronic pain can result in depression. Actually, so can having a chronic condition. Sometimes we don’t realize how being in continual discomfort can cause us to become depressed. We may choose to stay home one day due to increased pain levels; heightening the isolation factor. We may have to cancel plans because we are experiencing a flare up; leading to feelings of discouragement and disappointment. Potentially, we become so focused on what our physical bodies are putting us through that we may not realize the toll it is taking on our mental health as well; leading us to find ways to manage our chronic pain/condition that includes our emotional health as well.

A great online course that helps with this very topic is found through Living Healthy Champlain: https://www.livinghealthychamplain.ca/en/betterchoicesbetterhealth

If you would like more information about depression: http://depressionhurts.ca/en/default.aspx

Photo credit:http://Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

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Michael J. Fox and Alan Alda on Acceptance

In a recent Clear and Vivid podcast with Alan Alda, he sits with Michael J. Fox, sharing their experience of living with Parkinson’s disease. Diagnosed with early on-set Parkinson’s in 1991, Michael notes that he spent 7 years with the disease before going public with the news; the sharing of which brought him into a community in which he could draw from their strength. I especially resonated with his words on acceptance: “Acceptance does not mean resignation. When you accept the reality of something, you accept it as tangible………….what I don’t do is project. To project is to think about where its going; you need to understand where it is today but I don’t have to spend a lot of time on where its going to be tomorrow.”

This seems like pretty good advice for any challenge we may have in our life. When we move into the worries of tomorrow, it can throw us into thought loops that keep us anxious and actively fretting; a reactive position. If we concentrate however only on today, on one thing at a time, we can break down our moments into ones that feel proactive, making us feel calmer, more accomplished and more accepting of our situation.

To listen to the full podcast: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/clear-vivid-with-alan-alda/e/57201087?autoplay=true&fbclid=IwAR3UasQtAdT5ns-KLjbkoiYAvijFgwN5TljlAVYo0L3xG5xCneiGYL_tQ3A

Photo credit: http://Photo by Marcus Wallis on Unsplash

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Anxiety Fact #5

Anxiety is mostly anonymous. As much as our anxiety makes us feel exposed and vulnerable, most people (except those closest to you) cannot tell when you are anxious. I can remember how nervous I used to feel when having to present something in front of my peers in graduate school; I would have that sinking feeling in my stomach and it felt as though everyone could see my uneasiness.  It was a physiological reaction and one that felt both out of my control and very obvious. Afterwards, my classmates would complement me on how calm, cool and collected I was. 🙂

“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” – Armit Ray

Information for this post and a great website: https://www.anxietycanada.com/

Photo credit: http://Photo by Matthias Wagner on Unsplash

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The Relaxation Response

Yesterday we talked about how we have a fear response that can trigger the fight-or-flight mechanism in our brain when we are faced with true (or perceived) danger. But what about our relaxation response? Our comfort system? Just as our body is attuned to danger, it is also modulated by safety. When we feel secure, we feel less vulnerable and more capable of handling life’s challenges.

Our comfort system is about a feeling of peace; you may find it outside when the sun is shining warmly on your face or the white snow is gently falling around you. You may find it when you are curled up in your cozy armchair with a good book in your lap and the fireplace on. You may find it sitting across from a good friend, as you laugh and catch up, your hands around a warm cup of tea. You may find it in the top of your child’s head when you kiss them a final goodnight as you head to bed. You may find it in the space of your partner’s hand as you take a walk on a city street to look at shop windows. However you find your peace, it is through those moments that our comfort system is nourished and helps to balance life’s stressors and its subsequent burdens. To nurture and sustain our comfort system is a proactive approach to keeping ourselves both physically and emotionally healthy; take time today to go find your peace 🙂

Photo credit: Me! (and Cricket 🙂 )

Building a Better Boat

Thanks to my partner Kurt for having introduced this song to me; I have come to appreciate Kenny Chesney’s “Better Boat” (feat. Mindy Smith). Although it was written to memorialize the devastation that occurred in the Virgin Islands during the 2017 Hurricane season, it speaks to me of a greater theme. One that touches on the challenges that we face in life; often not in our control, that we must navigate through. It is about allowing ourselves to ride the waves of our emotions, being mindful of the importance of taking some deep breaths in moments that overwhelm us, to lean on others for support, and to have the overall goal that we can rebuild. The main chorus touches on these themes:

I breathe in, I breathe out
Got friends to call who let me talk about
What ain’t working, what’s still hurtin’
All the things I feel like cussing out
Now and then I let it go
I ride the waves I can’t control
I’m learning how to build a better boat

To listen to the audio version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwZfQSLxg3U

To listen to the story behind the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmslqIT68to

Photo credit: http://Photo by David Candreanu on Unsplash

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Defining Moments

We live with defining moments in our lives. The moments that become “before the event and after the event” moments. One such moment in my life was the day that my ex-husband and I had to tell our children that we were separating; without question one of the toughest days of my life and undeniably a defining moment for me. In looking back, I can reflect upon the fact that before the event, it was my time to begin grieving a 23 year relationship. I would cry in the shower, cry when driving, cry before going to sleep but it was only my emotions during that time that I had to worry about. After that day, my emotional energy shifted. Yes, I was still grieving, but I was also very conscious of what the girls were going through and as impossible as it was, I just wanted to shoulder their grief for them.

It has been over five years now and the winds of change have brought me renewed happiness. I suppose it would be easy to look back on that defining moment and wish all the pain and suffering away, but that would not be fair. For during that time, I was also grateful. For the love and laughter of family and friends, the shared grief with my ex, the affectionate support from my girls, the constant and faithful companionship of my dog, and my clients for allowing me to get lost in their stories and distract myself from mine.

Yes, I was encountering grief, sadness and worry, but l also felt love, contentment and acceptance. For it is in our defining moments that we find the whole experience, the tough parts and the joyful parts that bring colour to our stories.

Photo credit: http://Photo by XiaoXiao Sun on Unsplash

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The Value of Looking Up

For the past nine years I have walked my Great Dane in a locally forested area called the Grove. Following the well worn path brings us along a ridge where we walk high above the Ottawa River, winding through the majestic, towering pines, and occasionally glimpse a wandering fox or a foraging raccoon. It is the perfect way for us to not only get our exercise, but to reap in the benefits of fresh air; nature acting as an essential healer. Although I always say that therein lies my best avenue for thinking, it isn’t a meandering stroll; I walk at a good pace, Cricket unleashed, getting my legs moving and my heart rate up.

A friend recently said to me “Isn’t it amazing how many owls you see in the Grove?” What? Owls? Many? How did I miss this? Nine years of walking in the Grove and I have never seen an owl? And then, it dawned on me; I never look up. I am concentrating more on what is straight in front of me, watching the path so as to not trip on a wayward root or half buried rock. The next few times I headed into the Grove, I decided to slow down a little and bring my attention to the upper branches of the trees, and sure enough, as the universe likes to occasionally prove its point, there sat an owl, quietly watching me as I walked under its lofty perch.

It taught me a valuable lesson about how straightforward our lives can sometimes become; how our well worn paths become so familiar we fail to appreciate what is right in front of us. By allowing myself to slow down and look up, I gained a new perspective, and with it, a valued experience.

Photo credit: http://Photo by Tina Rataj-Berard on Unsplash

 

The Value of Self-Compassion

In a Ted Talk featuring Kristen Neff entitled “The Space Between Self-Esteem and Self-Compassion,” Kristen highlights the importance of self-compassion and how it differs from self-esteem. Self-esteem, which is often classified as the confidence one has in their own value, is one in which we tend to place judgement on whether or not we are worthy. According to Kristen, “Self-compassion is not a way of judging ourselves. Self compassion is a way of relating to ourselves kindly; embracing ourselves as we are, flaws and all……When we give ourselves compassion, we actually reduce our cortisol levels and release oxytocin and opiates, which are the feel good hormones.”  She goes on to remark that there are three ways that we can do this:

  1. Self kindness: Am I treating myself as I would a good friend? (Really ask yourself this question; it is a great baseline!)
  2. Common humanity: How am I connected to others? How are our lives or experiences similar?
  3. Mindfulness: Am I trying to be in the moment? Am I focusing on what is happening presently?

By asking ourselves these questions, the way we relate to ourselves becomes more tender, opening up the space to understanding and empathy, not only for ourselves but for others as well.

To listen to the 19 min Ted Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvtZBUSplr4

To visit Kristen Neff’s website: https://self-compassion.org/

Photo credit: http://Photo by Sandrachile . on Unsplash

The Importance of Looking Inside

A little poem  by Krishnamurti that caught my eye:

In oneself lies the whole world

If you know how to look and learn,

The door is there and the key is in your hand. 

In many instances, we can lose the ability to self-reflect. Sometimes it is our emotions that get in the way; we get caught up in feeling sad or angry or guilty, and we lose the ability to access our rational brain. Other times it is our core beliefs that put up road blocks; if we land in an automatic thought about ourselves it can often override our courage. And sometimes the messages that we have internalized from others can lead us away from who we truly are. Perhaps the first step in moving towards greater self-reflection is to simply be curious. To give ourselves pause and ask the question “Wait, does it have to be this way?” The act of being inquisitive, of giving ourselves permission to look inside for the answer, has the potential to bring us towards a new door, one in which we now hold the key.

Photo credit: http://Photo by CMDR Shane on Unsplash