Some People Can Thrive After Depression, Study Finds

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We may think of depression as a recurring condition with a gloomy prognosis, but findings from one study indicate that nearly 10% of adults in the United States with major depression were thriving ten years later. The findings, which appear in Clinical Psychological Science, suggest that some people with depression experience more than a reduction in depressive symptoms over time – they can achieve optimal psychological well-being.

Writing for The Conversation, lead investigator Jonathan Rottenberg, a researcher at the University of South Florida, discusses how clinical scientists often neglect the potential for positive outcomes among individuals with depression.

“Depression can be a lifelong problem. Yet as we dug deeper into the epidemiological findings, we also saw signs of better outcomes – an aspect that we found is rarely investigated,” he says.

Although current clinical practice emphasizes symptom reduction and achieving an absence of stress, evidence indicates that patients prioritize other measures of well-being.

“They want to love and be loved, be engaged in the present moment, extract joy and meaning, and do something that matters – something that makes the pain and setbacks of daily life worthwhile,” says Rottenberg.

Rottenberg and his colleagues found that a substantial percentage of those with depression can achieve just that.

Using data from the Midlife Development in the United Stated (MIDUS) study, the researchers examined outcomes in a nationally representative sample of middle-aged adults. The participants completed phone interviews and questionnaires, including a measure of depression and a battery of nine facets of well-being including autonomy, environmental mastery, personal growth, positive relations with others, purpose in life, self-acceptance, life satisfaction, and negative and positive affect.

A total of 239 participants in the sample met the criteria for depression, meaning that they experienced depressed mood most of the day or every day, as well as additional symptoms, for at least 2 weeks out of the previous 12 months. The researchers reviewed data from the initial screening and a follow-up survey completed 10 years later.

At the 10-year follow-up, half of the participants reported experiencing no major symptoms of depression in the past 12 months, and almost 10% of the participants with a history of depression were thriving. To count as thriving, a participant had to show no evidence of depression and score higher than 75% of nondepressed MIDUS participants on the nine factors of psychological well-being.

Higher well-being at beginning of the study predicted thriving 10 years later, but severity of depression did not. Specifically, depressed adults who reported higher well-being at the beginning of the study had a 30% chance of thriving, compared with a 1% chance for participants who had low well-being when they began the study. Depressed participants with higher well-being at the beginning of the study and who were thriving at the end of the study had larger increases in well-being over time than did other depressed participants.

These findings could influence how mental health professionals think about the prognosis associated with depression, as well as how they communicate this prognosis to patients. The study suggests that treatment could focus on strategies for optimizing well-being optimization that go beyond just managing symptoms.

“The task now for researchers is to follow these encouraging signs with systematic data collection on how people thrive after depression,” says Rottenberg.

Reference

Rottenberg, J., Devendorf, A. R., Panaite, V., Disabato, D. J., & Kashdan, T. B. (2019). Optimal well-being after major depression. Clinical Psychological Science. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F2167702618812708

Healing From A Toxic Relationship Won’t Happen Overnight

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Healing from a toxic relationship takes time. It takes effort. You have to make the conscious decision to change, to better yourself, to put your past in the past.

In order to heal from a toxic relationship, you have to accept your ex is in your past. You have to delete their number from your phone. You have to avoid the urge to reach out to them when you are drunk, when you are lonely, when you are scared you’ve made a mistake by leaving them. You have to remind yourself they are out of your world for a reason. You have to remind yourself you are better off without them weighing you down.

In order to heal from a toxic relationship, you have to forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for accepting such poor treatment. Forgive yourself for staying for such a long time. Forgive yourself for growing distant from family and friends who were only trying to help you. Forgive yourself for ignoring the red flags, ignoring your gut.

In order to heal from a toxic relationship, you have to grow comfortable with the idea of being alone. You have to accept the single life is better than life with an abusive ex. You have to get used to being on your own. You cannot rebound with the first person who treats you better than your ex treated you. You cannot jump into a new relationship without working on ridding yourself of the baggage your last relationship brought you. You cannot assume a brand new relationship is the only thing that will make you feel better. You cannot let yourself believe happiness and relationship status are linked.

In order to heal from a toxic relationship, you have to raise your standards. You have to rediscover your self-worth. You have to practice self-care. You have to treat your mental health as a priority. You have to realize you are someone worthy of love and respect. You have to promise yourself you are not going to take crap from anyone anymore. You have to recognize what you deserve. You have to fight for what you deserve.

In order to heal from a toxic relationship, you have to remain patient. You have to remember results are not going to be seen overnight. It’s going to take a while to trust again. It’s going to take a while to love again. Your struggles are valid and so are your emotions. No matter how long your healing takes, you cannot give up on yourself. You cannot swear off of relationships. You cannot hide yourself away. You cannot assume you are unlovable and will never be happy again.

Even if it’s hard to believe right now, you are going to heal from this heartbreak. You are going to reach a place where you feel confident and strong again. You are going to mean it when you say you are okay. You just have to have faith in yourself. You are more resilient than you think

Rethinking How We Heal from Anxiety and Depression

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The stories we tell ourselves matter, and never more than when we’re dealing with a chronic health condition. I found out for myself just how important the story was when I experienced an ongoing struggle with an array of nonspecific symptoms: bouts of profound fatigue, nightly insomnia, digestive problems, depression, a feeling of wearing lead boots, intolerance to stress, and cold sensitivity, among others.

I saw many specialists, got a brain scan, did countless rounds of lab work, and never really got to the bottom of my illness. Needless to say, I was frustrated by the lack of answers and the persistence of the problems. At times I would feel a lot better, only to experience a return of symptoms. As this pattern dragged on, I often found myself saying, “I can’t believe I’m still sick.”

I didn’t realize at the time how that simple statement shaped the way I experienced my symptoms and how I tried to get well. I was sick, and so I needed to find the right doctor, the right diagnosis, the right treatment, the right foods to eliminate, and then I could get better.

And then one day it hit me: I’m still healing. I don’t know where the realization came from, but this small shift in how I framed my struggles completely changed my relationship to them. It suggested a very different emphasis—not on finally getting the help that eluded me, but on supporting my body and mind in the process of healing.

This experience stuck with me in my work as a psychotherapist. It led me to take a broader view on the “active ingredients” of treatment—not just the usual suspects of therapy and perhaps medication, but all the conditions necessary for health and wholeness. And it led me to see treatment as just one part of a much bigger process, which doesn’t begin or end when a client walks through my door.

For this reason, I was especially struck by the approach of integrative psychiatrist Dr. Omid Naim, who practices in southern California. When I heard that he was an integrative doctor, I thought he probably focused on extensive testing to get to the root cause of conditions like anxiety and depression and emphasized the role of diet in mental health.

I learned something very different—and much more inspiring—in my recent conversation with him on the Think Act Be podcast. Dr. Naim’s approach aligned with my own view of what it means to be well, starting with the fundamental elements of a meaningful and satisfying life. His “ecological model” asks what we need to thrive, just as we’d want to know the best growing conditions for a plant we bought. “There’s a card that tells you the natural conditions it needs,” he said. “How much water, how much sun, what kind of soil.” This made him wonder as a psychiatrist, “Why don’t we do that with medicine?”

In fact, our lives often look like they were designed specifically to create unease and depression, with our disconnection from others, poor diets, sedentary lifestyle, and lack of meaningful work. In this context, treatment often doesn’t stand a chance without the basic nutrients for mental and emotional well-being. It’s like giving fertilizer to a plant that’s struggling but neglecting to water it and give it adequate sunshine.

Thus we often struggle to heal because we’re missing the essential elements of life as we were designed to live it. Unfortunately, these basic needs often don’t announce themselves like physical hunger does—or at least we’re not able to hear them. For example, we might not recognize when we have a hunger for a sense of purpose. So while we can’t imagine starving because we didn’t know we needed to eat, we may be starving our minds and spirits by being out of alignment with our true nature.

The following five principles stood out to me from my conversation with Dr. Naim and also have been a part of my own path to recovery.

1. Remember that healing comes from within.

Dr. Naim argues for teaching people from a young age how to take better care of themselves, instilling the idea of a “user’s manual” for human beings. An essential part of that manual is understanding that healing and resilience are innate to us. “Resilience isn’t something that we apply to ourselves,” he told me. “It’s more a process of uncovering our resilience.” He compared it to the “intelligence that knows how to heal a broken bone.”

In contrast, the dominant medical model in the West takes the view that “there’s something wrong with you, and I’ve got the solution. And it’s outside of you.” Thus depression is often treated as a “chemical imbalance” that requires medication to boost neurotransmitter levels. While many people find drugs like the SSRIs to be very helpful, they are at best a partial fix if there are no accompanying changes in a person’s life.

Dr. Naim also expressed concern about how integrative medicine is evolving. “It’s often functioning in the same spirit of what’s problematic in Western medicine,” he said. “So whether it’s a chemical imbalance or neurotransmitter testing (which a holistic doctor might do), it’s still sending the same message.”

He continued, “But if you look at the resilience research, it’s not that healthy communities are the ones that do a lot of lab tests or take a lot of supplements. They’re not reading self-help books all day and constantly thinking there’s something wrong with them and they’ve got to improve. Medical models that come from wisdom traditions teach about what health looks like,” he said. “The starting point isn’t disease.”

Dr. Naim also noted that “until the 1980s, experiences like anxiety and depression were seen as episodic conditions that went into full remission for the majority of people. But now they’re considered chronic diseases, and people are told, ‘You have to be on medication for life.'”

He does support the use of psychiatric medication in some situations, “in the way an orthopedic doctor views a cast or a crutch. There’s no shame in needing a crutch when you’re wearing a cast. Sometimes there’s something so fractured that you need outside support. If you walk on a broken leg, the fracture will get worse.” As such, he prescribes medication as necessary to support the body’s natural healing processes, and only for as long as necessary.

2. Ground yourself in meaningful connection.

Meaningful connection means making room for the spiritual in our lives, which is the foundation of Dr. Naim’s approach. That doesn’t mean “preaching or prescribing or imposing,” he said, but rather something much more basic. It includes acknowledging that we’re “governed by meaning,” which includes a recognition of the importance of family and community. It also includes a connection to the natural world that we’re a part of and that our lives depend on.

Part of the irony of the age we live in is how easy it is to experience disconnection, despite the availability of more ways than ever to connect. As Dr. Naim pointed out, we were designed to exist in closely connected groups that depended on one another for survival. These groups tended to share deeply held “communal values that governed the group as a whole and that were bigger than your subjective needs.” We were part of a larger whole, and our welfare and that of the group were inextricably linked. Thus our actions had significance beyond our own narrow self-interest.

“Self-help is only temporarily fulfilling,” Dr. Naim said, “if it’s just feeling better about myself.” But when we link our efforts to change with something meaningful—like the well-being of those we care about—our actions take on a deeper sense of purpose. “We’re inspired by things outside of ourselves,” he said. “In the short term, we’re governed by satisfying our impulses, but if you look at people’s long-term behavior, we’re driven by a deep, deep need for connection and feeling purposeful.”

3. Take time to disconnect from doing.

Healing is most likely to happen when we take time to pause in our busy lives, yet our waking hours tend to be saturated with activity and distraction. Many of us are also addicted to being productive—I know I am. We feel a constant need to do more, even in our “leisure” time. “This is our dilemma from the beginning of history,” Dr. Naim said. “If we don’t institute ways to disconnect from productivity and entertainment, our need for creativity and stimulation will take over.”

We need to make room to stop and reconnect—”with ourselves, with each other, and with nature. That’s what the Sabbath is about—to connect with time and space.” It’s also what mindfulness is about as we allow ourselves to enter a mode of being that’s distinct from our compulsive thinking and doing.

There are many ways to create a pause in your life, such as blocking off non-work hours, attending religious services, setting aside time to focus exclusively on the people you’re with, reading scriptures or other meaningful texts, or practicing mind-body activities like yoga or tai chi. Notice what happens to your nervous system when you take time to stop.

4. Immerse yourself in space and time.

On a related note, much of our experience is happening in the “timeless and spaceless realm” of our smartphones and other screens. We spend an average of 10 hours a day in front of a screen, “actually dissociated from time and space,” Dr. Naim explained. “We’re not aware of how radically things are actually changing. It’s very subtle, but it’s profoundly altering how we experience life.”

As more of our activities have become digitized, our experiences have narrowed. No matter what’s on the screen we’re looking at, it’s still a screen, so in a real sense, the scenery never changes when we’re consuming technology.

There’s a whole world to take in when we stop to look. As with pausing from activity, we need to create gaps in our screen time. Consider leaving your phone at home (gasp!) when you run an errand, or in your bag when you’re waiting in line at the store. See what you notice that you would have missed if you’d reflexively taken out your phone to pass the time. See what emerges in your relationships, too, when you’re able to focus on the person in front of you.

We also need to spend time outdoors. That doesn’t have to mean traveling to a national park—it could be simply a walk around the block, feeling our feet on the earth and noticing the sky above us. There’s something undeniably healing about experiencing the natural world.

5. Nourish your body and brain.

More and more evidence is pointing to the important role of nutrition in psychological health. For example, two recent studies found that dietary changes were associated with a significant reduction in depression; other work by Dr. Julia Rucklidge and colleagues has found that micronutrient supplements can be beneficial in decreasing anxiety and promoting resilience to trauma (see Micronutrients in Psychiatry: Sound Science or Just Hype?).

There’s no shortage of diet options now, but Dr. Naim recommends simply eating whole foods—the kinds your distant ancestors would recognize. “These are the natural conditions we evolved to live in,” he said. And in line with his ecological model, the goal is not to “tell the story that there’s something missing in you, or that a specialized diet is going to improve you.” He also doesn’t subscribe to the idea that there’s one best diet for everyone.

What about those who may have food sensitivities? “For some people,” Dr. Naim said, “gluten and dairy and other things can make a difference.” He recommended a trial-and-error approach. But the majority of people will do very well by eating foods that won’t cause inflammation, which means a balanced diet of things like vegetables and fruits, fish, and healthy fats, and one that’s low in refined sugar and other highly processed ingredients.

One final point to consider—keep in mind that going through difficulties is an unavoidable part of existence. As Dr. Naim said, “The norm is to go through acute challenges and have to grow.” I know I often found myself railing against my problems, telling myself “this shouldn’t be happening.” The truth is, there were actual reasons for what I was going through, even if I didn’t fully understand what they were. The symptoms we experience are the language our bodies and minds use to express themselves. By letting go of the fight against reality, we can redirect our energy in more productive ways—like offering ourselves the right conditions to heal.

The full conversation with Dr. Naim is available here: Telling a Better Story about Health and Healing

4 Mental-Health Journaling Prompts For The Reflective Soul Who Doesn’t Know Where To Start

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There’s something so inexplicably satisfying about cracking open a brand-new journal. It’s a blank canvas on which you can record your thoughts, your worries, your dreams, and so much more. But beyond simply being a place to chronicle the events of your life and everything you feel about those goings-on, journaling is a great way to nourish your mental health. I may be going out on a limb here, but I’d venture to say that you’d be hard-pressed to find a mental-health professional who wouldn’t recommend journaling as a tool for general healing, coping with depression, and reducing anxiety.

Still, journaling can seem like a daunting task—especially if you’re not in the habit of writing about your feelings regularly. The good news? According to New York–based holistic psychotherapist Alison Stone, LCSW, there’s no such thing as a right or a wrong way to journal—and there’s not a specific amount you have to do it, either.

“For some people, it might be daily, while for others it might be weekly,” Stone says. “Experiment with not only what gives you the most benefit, but what is realistic for you to commit to on a regular basis.”

“Journaling is great for enhancing self-awareness through helping us detect and track patterns of behavior, thoughts, and feelings.” —Alison Stone, LCSW

In other words, if you want to let your thoughts flow freely every day for an hour, great. If it feels more natural to you to express yourself with a combination of words and pictures, bullet-journal-style, once a week, that’s great, too. Maybe you’re all about going out and buying a gorgeous journal that you feel excited to open all the time. Or maybe the thought of writing your feelings by hand is exhausting to you, and you’d prefer to dump them all in a Google Doc. Great, all-around, because, as is the case with so many things in life, the best thing you can do is listen to your own specific wants and needs to do what is authentically best for you.

And, no matter how or how often you choose to journal, there’s no question that it’s great for mental health. Below are a few of the heavy-hitting reasons why.

1. Journaling enhances self-awareness

Sometimes, it can be hard to pinpoint why we do, think, or feel certain ways about certain things. When you start journaling regularly, all of these things become a lot clearer. “Journaling is great for enhancing self-awareness through helping us detect and track patterns of behavior, thoughts, and feelings,” Stone explains.

For example, say you’re a single person (who doesn’t want to be single) whose anxiety spikes at night when you just happen to be scrolling mindlessly through Instagram, double-tapping photos of happy couples. In this case, a regular journaling habit may help you identify a pattern and lead you to change your behavior around Instagram.

2. Journaling can help alleviate stress

By simply jotting things down on paper, whether it’s feelings of anxiety and stress around a specific situation or just getting out the events of the day, journaling can help you get your thoughts and feelings out of your head. This simple act can make it easier to stop obsessing. “Doing this can help get rid of stress, clarify goals, and reduce symptoms of anxiety,” Stone says.

3. Journaling helps cultivate gratitude

Research has shown that gratitude can do quite a bit for our brains, happiness, and overall mental health. And according to Stone, journaling regularly is an effective means for identifying the things you’re grateful for. “This is an excellent benefit to journaling, because gratitude is a crucial part of overall mental health.”

If gratitude doesn’t flow out of you naturally during your day-to-day journaling habit, no big deal. Hey, a journal full of complaints and stressors is still helpful for identifying the things in your life that aren’t serving you—and that’s certainly productive. Still, try setting aside a few minutes of your journaling time to list out the things you’re grateful for.

Need a few prompts to get started on your healing journaling journey? Here are four that just may do wonders for your mental health.

If you’re anxious…

Anxiety is very, very prevalent in the United States. In fact, the condition impacts a whopping 40 million adults, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. While there are a number of effective ways to treat your anxiety, journaling is a great one to start with. In this case, here are two journaling prompts Stone suggests trying:

“When I’m feeling acutely anxious, three strategies I know work for me are…”

and:

“One example of how I successfully navigated my anxiety in a stressful situation in the past is…”

If you’re struggling with depression…

When you’re in the throes of depression, journaling just may be the last activity you’re jonesing to see out. Sure, zonking out with Netflix buzzing in the background or sleeping the day away may sound more appealing. But if you do have it in you to crack open your journal, doing so can help quite a bit. Here are the two prompts Stone suggests starting with:

“Even though I feel down, two to three things I feel thankful for are…”

and:

“One reasonable goal I have for myself this week is…”

So there you have it: Journaling can be a supplemental tool to help you along on your mental-health journey—so get started today. But if you haven’t already, do first seek the help of a professional to devise a personalized plan to treat your condition.

Journaling call also help you crush your fitness goals, and plan dreamy vacations.

When something scares us but we never get over that fear, we become traumatized. When we’re traumatized, our lives start reflecting that. We begin restricting and isolating. We build our habits around what we think will ensure we avoid any more pain. The traditional teaching is that to heal is to return to what we…

via This Is What It Means To Heal Completely, Because It’s Not About Going Back To The Person You Were — Thought Catalog

4 Ways To Stay Calm In The Face Of Daily Stress

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By LARAE QUY

I had to overcome several obstacles while in the FBI Academy as I trained to become an FBI agent. I needed to learn how to stay calm in the face of daily stress because I found it difficult to pass the physical fitness requirements.

Among the many lessons I learned along the way about how to stay calm is this: it’s important that we understand the obstacles that we face and not run from them. I found a natural ally in the Stoic philosophy.

The dictionary describes a stoic like this: Being Stoic is being calm and almost without any emotion. When you’re Stoic, you don’t show what you’re feeling and you also accept whatever is happening. The noun Stoic is a person who’s not very emotional. The adjective stoic describes any person, action, or thing that seems emotionless and almost blank.

This is misleading because Stoics are very aware of their emotions and go to great lengths to understand them. There’s none of that stiff upper lip nonsense with them; Mr. Spock was not a Stoic.

They feel every emotion as acutely as anyone else. They acknowledge, experience, and then domesticate them in order to achieve inner calm. In other words, they keep control of their emotions so they can stay calm in the face of daily stress. They developed mental toughness to get through hard times.

Stoic philosophy asks us to differentiate between what we can change and what we can’t. We can’t control the weather, stock market, our genetic makeup, or the rudeness of a stranger. We can yell and shout but it won’t make a difference. We can wish and hope but no matter how hard we try, there are many things we can’t change or control.

Since we can’t control external events, we need to focus on the things we can control—ourselves and our response to external events. It’s a philosophy that reminds us that the world can be unpredictable; we need to strive to be steadfast and develop a strong mind so we can be in control of ourselves.

In other words, we need to grow up, stop feeling sorry for ourselves, and take responsibility for our own actions.

The Stoics believed that fulfillment should be based on behavior rather than words, on the things we can control and not those we can’t. They were not idle philosophers who sat on a porch and pontificated; they were people of action who solved their problems on a battlefield, not in a classroom.

Leaders like Marcus Aurelius found a stoic attitude prepared them for failure and guarded them against the arrogance of success.

I know how hard it can be to maintain a positive attitude when you feel you’re in over your head but here is what I learned from the Stoics about how to stay calm in the face of daily stress:

1. Be mindful of your day
When at work, we fantasize about a vacation; on vacation, we worry about the work that’s piled up on our desk. We dwell on intrusive memories from the past and imagine the glory that lies ahead of us. Anywhere but here, our minds pop in and out of the present moment. As a result, our thoughts and emotions control us, something the Stoics warn against.

Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote, “Ordinary thoughts course through our mind like a deafening waterfall. We need to rest in stillness—to stop doing and focus on just being.” Living in the moment is also called mindfulness, and Kabat-Zinn is the biomedical scientist who introduced meditation into mainstream medicine.

When we become mindful, we observe our thoughts from moment to moment but we don’t judge them. Mindfulness requires us to be with our thoughts just as they are, neither good nor bad, and not grasp the positive thoughts or shove away the negative ones.

Acceptance of a negative emotion doesn’t mean you have to like what produced the negativity. It simply means you accept that certain things are beyond your control. The anger, jealousy, or pain is there whether you like it or not. Just embrace the emotion—sadness, stress, pain, or anger is there whether you like it or not.

According to Kabat-Zinn, acceptance of the present moment has nothing to do with resignation. Acceptance doesn’t tell you what to do; what happens next and what you choose to do comes out of your understanding of this moment.

“True fulfillment is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.”—Seneca

How To Make It Work For You: Read “Full Castrophe Living” by Jon Kabat-Zinn. He writes about his medically-proven stress reduction program based on mindfulness. It gave rise to a whole new field in medicine and psychology. He illustrates how mind-body approaches derived from meditation and yoga can help us stay calm in the face of daily stress so we can establish greater balance of body and mind.

2. Select with care
A recent study of 5,000 top performers in business yielded a surprise. The study found that the highest-ranked performers were not those who did the most.

Nor was a better ability to organize or delegate. Instead, top performers accepted fewer tasks and then obsessed over them. Whenever they could, they carefully selected which priorities, tasks, meetings, customers, ideas or steps to undertake and which to let go.

They then applied intense, targeted effort on those few priorities in order to excel. Talent, effort and luck mattered, but not so much.

“You are living as if destined to live forever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don’t notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply — though all the while that very day which you are devoting to somebody or something may be your last.”—Seneca

How To Make It Work For You: Focus is the key when you want to pursue goals with value rather than stick with the status-quo. You do not need to work longer hours to outperform; you need to set your priorities and then pour your blood, sweat, and tears into those areas. It’s easier to stay calm in the face of daily stress once you select the important goals in your life that produce value for you.

3. Quiet the inner nag
Distractions often occur when our inner nag starts to fret about all the things that need to get done. As a result, intrusive thoughts constantly interrupt our productivity, and we end up second-guessing our choices.

Research behind the Zeigarnik Effect proves that the unconscious mind needs the conscious mind to plan how to finish tasks or accomplish goals. That’s why the inner nag keeps fretting about all that needs to be done. When this happens, it’s impossible to stay calm in the face of daily stress.

“Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions — not outside.”—Marcus Aurelius

How To Make It Work For You:

Sit down in a quiet place with a pen and paper and let your thoughts ramble.
Whether it’s small or large, important or not, write down every single thing that either needs a decision or has your attention.
Don’t take the time to prioritize the items on your To-Do list at this point. Just listen to the voice of that inner nag and write down whatever pops up.

4. Identify the steps
FBI firearms training showed me to how to narrow my focus to the one thing that needs attention immediately (front-sight) while at the same time registering awareness of the bigger picture of other things around me (the target).

In the same way, your conscious mind may now be focused on a new goal, but the unconscious mind still sees everything else that needs to get done. It needs closure and it will continue to create intrusive thoughts that won’t go away until you’ve turned your attention back to those other tasks that also need to be addressed.

In his book, Getting Things Done, David Allen talks about the importance of identifying Action Steps after you’ve created your To-Do List. The list by itself doesn’t narrow your focus enough when you have lots of priorities clamoring for your attention. You continue to create anxiety for the unconscious mind because it needs more than a goal—it needs a plan! It needs an action step.

Prioritize the to-do list you created in Step 3. You’ve addressed all the tasks that your unconscious brain is anxious about, but now you need to prioritize each item according to importance.

Beside each item on the prioritized To-Do list, identify the specific next action step to be taken regarding that item. For example, if you need to buy a birthday present, write down “Drive to Nordstrom tomorrow.”

The unconscious mind needs specifics like time, place, and opportunity. Once the plan is formed, the unconscious stops nagging with constant reminders.

If you have a presentation to make at 8:00 am, your unconscious mind wants to know exactly what needs to be done. You may have 100 other items that also need attention, but you can relax and not worry about the inner nag bothering you again about it if you make a plan to review your notes at 7:00 am that morning.

It is human nature to finish what we start, and front-sight focus is how we pay full attention to one goal at a time so we can be successful.

6 Tips to Let Go of a Toxic Relationship and Heal Yourself

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If falling in love is the most wonderful feeling in the world, then letting go of it is the most horrible feeling in the world — even when you know full and well it’s a toxic relationship.

Deciding that it’s time to bite the bullet and figure out how to break up with someone you love because your relationship isn’t healthy doesn’t make the act of letting go any easier.

There is nothing worse than the physical pain of losing a love — even a toxic one. The pit in your stomach, the broken heart, and the feelings of despair and hopelessness.

Signs It’s Time to Let Go…Even if You’re Still in Love

Learning how to let go of someone you love once you realize their presence in your life is truly toxic requires careful thought and commitment.

So if you’re ready to take the plunge, here are 6 ways for how to break up with someone you love when you’re in a toxic relationship that will help you learn how to let go and move on.

1. Ask Yourself If You Are Ready to Really Do This.

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Before you begin any life-changing process, you must ask yourself how determined you are to actually do it. On a scale of 1-10, how close to a 10 are you? Without steadfast determination, you will not be able to accomplish something as challenging as getting past a lost love.

So, are you ready to do this? Is there any part of you that is holding on to the possibility that things could work out? Do you feel like you aren’t strong enough to do this yet?

If the answer to any of these questions is a “yes”, then perhaps you should wait a bit longer before you begin this process. Time is a great healer and with some time you will get stronger and be ready to take on this challenging task.

Either way, ask yourself some tough questions about this relationship and make a conscious decision to stay or go. Doing so, making a purposeful move, will help you start respecting and loving yourself again which is a key part of letting go toxic love.

2. Block Him Everywhere.

We all think that we need “closure” at the end of a relationship, that final conversation where everyone gets to say what they want to say and you understand each other and walk away as friends.

But closure is a myth. Closure is actually one last chance to spend time with and talk to that person you still love. If you could have a conversation and finally understand each other, why couldn’t you make it work as a couple?

So, when you’ve decided that the relationship is over, cut him off. Block him on your phone, disconnect on social media, and stay away from places where you know he will be.

Why? Because what you need to do is break the addiction you have to this person, to change your habits.

Think about Oreo cookies. You know how hard it is to eat just one? It’s the same with your man. Even one point of contact can draw you back into his circle, the circle that you have decided that you are determined to break yourself out of.

So, go no contact right away. It will make the process way easier!

As a side benefit, not spending your time and energy stalking him on Facebook but doing something that makes you feel good is exactly what you need to do to start loving yourself again.

3. Define What You Need to Let Go Of.

This is very important. What is it that you need to let go of to move on?

You may be ready to let go of a man that you know isn’t the one for you, but you still struggle with your decision because of the love you feel.

What you should do is to look at it like an onion —​ feelings are layers that must be removed to get to the core. What was the top layer?

The first layer might be anger. Perhaps anger at your man and how he treated you. Or maybe anger with yourself for wasting time on him. You have to deal with your issues and let them go, separating them out one by one.

By examining each layer of the onion, you’ll be able to peel back and discard one layer of emotion at a time which leaves you with the one piece that you want to hold on to; one that won’t hold you back from moving on. It’s the final piece you can carry in your heart going forward.

4. Question What Is True and What Is Not.

This is such an important piece of letting go.

You have ideas in your head about truths in your relationships but, unfortunately, often these truths are not so true — they are just hopes and dreams you’ve made up over the course of the relationship.

Are your hopes and dreams of a life that you want with your boyfriend that have absolutely no basis in reality? For example, are you hoping he’ll want to move to the woods, raise sheep, have kids, and grow old together? You might have this idea firmly stuck in your head that this is what you want, and believe that if your boyfriend loved you enough, he would embrace that dream, too.

What you don’t realize is that although this dream of yours is wonderful, there’s possibly no way you’re going to have it with your boyfriend. Maybe he loves the city, hates livestock, and doesn’t want kids for at least another decade.

Consider the things you know to be true, which is what he doesn’t want, and stack them up next to what you do want: your hopes and dreams. When you do, you’ll finally see the truth of the situation is different from what you’ve been telling yourself in your head.

Armed with that knowledge, you are one step closer to letting him go.

Solving the Toughest Relationship Problems Without Breaking Up

5. Figure Out What You Really Want in a Relationship.

The final part of letting go is getting to know what exactly it is that you want from someone in a relationship. Without knowing what you want you are going to have a hard time getting it.

So, make a list. Make a list of what you want from a man in a relationship with you. It doesn’t have to be long, but make it comprehensive.

Perhaps it can be something like: “Someone who makes me laugh, who knows who he is and what he wants, who loves my kids and who wants to make me a priority in his life.”

So, make your list and run through it with your current guy in mind. Chances are, if you are reading this article, he won’t match up with many of the things on that list and you will finally understand because you will see it there clearly, in black and white.

And your emotions just can’t argue with black and white. He is not what you want. Time to move on.

Right now, take a moment and picture the guy who has all the traits that you want in a man, sitting right next to you. How good would that feel, to be loved by someone who was the right person for you? And what a great way to get back to loving yourself.

Letting go of something that once seemed so promising is very difficult and will take some steadfast determination on your part but you can do it. Learning how to let go of toxic love can seem difficult but if you can master it your life will only get better.

So, cut off contact, peel back the onion, question your assumptions, and define what you want. Before you know it, you will have clarity that you are making the right decision and will be able to let go.

6. Get Yourself Back Out There.

Right now, you probably feel like you might never love again, but putting yourself back out there doesn’t mean you have to fall in love. Putting yourself back out there means that you get to dress up, flirt, date, and have a lot of fun.

And maybe, just maybe, you will find another love. But in the meantime, you can enjoy yourself and the freedom you have as a single girl. Embrace it!

This guest article originally appeared on YourTango.com: How To Let Go Of A Toxic Love (So You Can Heal & Move On).

5 Reasons Why Daily Journaling Will Make You Happier

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By Natasha Nurse

American writer, filmmaker, philosopher, teacher, and political activist Susan Sontag once said, “In the journal, I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself. The journal is a vehicle for my sense of selfhood. It represents me as emotionally and spiritually independent. Therefore (alas) it does not simply record my actual, daily life but rather — in many cases — offers an alternative to it.”I couldn’t agree with her more. For me, life makes much more sense when I sit down and write out my experiences, thoughts, and lessons learned. In fact, I believe more people would be happier and more fulfilled if they journaled each day. Why? Let’s discuss …

1. Awareness

There is a lot going in our lives. We wake up and begin our day with our typical morning regiment. For me, I take Oprah’s lead and I say Thank You. Beginning the day from a place of gratitude is a clear sign to the Universe that you are inviting more things to be grateful for. What is next for me? My days are jampacked with working on my business, my podcastwritingcreating videos, running errands, and everything else that life requires.

What do I always make time for? Journaling. It is a moment for me to have Me Time where I can critically think about my decisions and the direction of my life. If you never take time to think and reflect about your life, you will be too busy and miss opportunities or universal signs indicating it is time for you to act to improve your life. Here are some examples of journals that I love:

  • Prayer Journal – If you are a faith-based person, this journal helps you maintain your daily faith and support your spiritual growth.
  • Poetry Journal – Calling all poets (or poetry fans) this journal will help you write a poem a day. How cool is that?
  • Memoir Journal – Would you like to reflect on the last five years of your life? This type of journal is the perfect pick.
  • Journal for Self-Exploration – If you want to answer questions and work on YOU, then this is the journal to get.
  • Classic Journal – If you prefer to just write your thoughts without writing prompts this beautiful journal will absolutely work for you.

2. Resolution

Have you ever had a nasty exchange with someone, and you couldn’t stop thinking about the incident in your head long after it took place? Instead of torturing yourself with words exchanged or thoughts about what you should have said. Why not write out your experience in a journal? You can identify what the problem was and how you can act differently in similar events that might take place in the future.

Personally, I have found tremendous peace and resolve addressing toxic people and situations in my journal. It is a safe space to work through your anger, hurt or frustration.

3. Appreciation

What makes your life amazing? What do you love to do? Who are the people that truly support you? These are some of the questions that I ask my clients and so many of them are unable to answer. Why? Too many people refuse to actively focus on goodness in their life. We are so caught up tweeting and ranting about what is wrong in the world, politics, or our lives.

Yet, we can’t forget about the incredible careers, dedicated support systems, loving partners, and loyal friends that make our lives truly amazing. These are the reasons that should be motivating us to wake up and show up for our lives. Writing about these assets you have will solidify the joy and appreciation in your life.

4. Effective Goal Setting

Goal setting is key to achieving your goals. Most people need to write (or type) their goals down. If you are like me, your calendar is filled with multiple goals you want to achieve each day. In addition to writing your goals in your calendar, it can be extremely helpful to journal about your goals for the following reasons:

  • Work through fears and insecurities
  • Develop new ideas and projects
  • Identify help or support you need
  • Create mantras and affirmations to help you stay motivated
  • Document memorable moments or quotes
  • Correct or Address changes needed to move forward
  • Solidify your excitement and happiness about the project or venture
  • Growth

There is so much growth that comes from doing new things or feeling uncomfortable. Journaling can fall into either of those categories for you. Is it easy being honest and open to write down your fears or dreams? No. Does that mean you shouldn’t do it? Definitely Not! If you aren’t already doing it, this is exactly why you should start journaling today. Growth is how we become better versions of ourselves.

As we develop as people, we can become better parents, role models, business owners, employees, managers, content creators, writers, and leaders in this world. If you think about it, growth isn’t optional. It is an integral part of living the lives we want. Isn’t it great that you can accomplish this with pen and paper (or your phone and stylus pen)?

I would be remiss if I didn’t share last minute journaling tips. Don’t forget the following:

  • There is no right or wrong way to journal – just write
  • Whether you write your words or type them, just journal in a way that works best for you
  • Stay committed to writing every day (even if it is just 5 minutes)
  • It is up to you to make time for yourself in your own life

Natasha Nurse started Dressing Room 8 to provide a web-based resource where women can gain personal and professional empowerment through her fashion and lifestyle focused blog. Dressing Room 8 helps women learn how to think with clarity, dress with confidence, and live with purpose.

 

When Family Members And Friends Don’t Understand Depression

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pexels-photo-341378We’ve come a little way in reducing the stigma that’s associated with mental illness, but not nearly far enough.

Consider these results pulled from a public attitude survey in Tarrant County, Texas, conducted by the county’s Mental Health Connection and the University of North Texas in Denton to determine the community’s view of mental illness:

  • More than 50 percent believe major depression might be caused by the way someone was raised, while more than one in five believe it is “God’s will.”
  • More than 50 percent believe major depression might result from people “expecting too much from life,” and more than 40 percent believe it is the result of a lack of willpower.
  • More than 60 percent said an effective treatment for major depression is to “pull yourself together.”

Unfortunately, these beliefs are often held by those closest to us, by the very people from whom we so desperately want support.

Resenting them for their lack of understanding isn’t going to make things better, though. It almost always makes things worse. Whenever I hit a severe depressive episode, I am reminded once more that I can’t make people understand depression any more than I can make a person who hasn’t gone through labor understand the intense experience that is unique to that situation. Some people are able to respond with compassion to something that they don’t understand. But that is very rare.

Don’t Mistake Their Lack of Understanding for a Lack of Love

Whenever I try to open the doors of communication and express to a family member or friend how I am feeling, when I try to articulate to them the pain of depression, and am shut down, I usually come away extremely hurt. I immediately assume that they don’t want to hear it because they don’t love me. They don’t care enough about me to want to know how I am doing.

But distinguishing between the two is critical in maintaining a loving relationship with them. My husband explained this to me very clearly the other day. Just because someone doesn’t understand depression or the complexity of mood disorders doesn’t mean they don’t love me. Not at all. They just have no capability of wrapping their brain around an experience they haven’t had, or to a reality that is invisible, confusing, and intricate.

“I wouldn’t understand depression if I didn’t live with you,” he explained. “I would change the subject, too, when it comes up, because it’s very uncomfortable to a person who isn’t immersed in the daily challenges of the illness.”

This is a common mistake that many of us who are in emotional pain make. We assume that if a person loves us, he or she would want to be there for us, would want to hear about our struggle, and would want to make it better. We want more than anything for the person to say, “I’m so sorry. I hope you feel better soon.”

The fact that they aren’t able to do that, however, does not mean they don’t love us. It just means there is a cognitive block, if you will, on their part — a disconnect — that prevents them from comprehending things beyond the scope of their experience, and from things they can see, touch, taste, smell, and feel.

Don’t Take It Personally

It is incredibly difficult not to take a person’s lack of response or less-than-compassionate remark personally, but when we fall into this trap, we give away our power and become prey to other people’s opinions of us. “Don’t Take Anything Personally” is the second agreement of Don Miguel Ruiz’s classic The Four Agreementsthe idea saves me from lots of suffering if I am strong enough to absorb the wisdom. He writes:

Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally … Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world.

Even when a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to do with you. What they say, what they do, and the opinions they give are according to the agreements they have in their own minds … Taking things personally makes you easy prey for these predators, the black magicians. They can hook you easily with one little opinion and feed you whatever poison they want, and because you take it personally, you eat it up ….

Protect Yourself

I have learned that when I fall into a dangerous place — when I am so low that mindfulness and other techniques that can be helpful for mild to moderate depression simply don’t work — I have to avoid, to the best of my ability, people who trigger feelings of self-loathing. For example, some people in my life adhere tightly to the law of attraction and the philosophies of the book The Secret by Rhonda Byrne that preach that we create our reality with our thoughts. They have been able to successfully navigate their emotions with lots of mind control and therefore have trouble grasping when mind control isn’t enough to pull someone out of a deep depression.

I struggle with this whenever I fall into a depressive episode, as I feel inherently weak and pathetic for not being able to pull myself out of my pain, even if it means simply not crying in front of my daughter, with the type of mind control they practice, or even mindfulness or attention to my thoughts. This, then, feeds the ruminations and the self-hatred, and I’m caught in a loop of self-flagellation.

Even if they aren’t thinking I’m a weak person, their philosophies trigger this self-denigration and angst in me, so it’s better to wait until I reach a place where I can embrace myself with self-compassion before I spend an afternoon or evening with them. If I do need to be with people who trigger toxic thoughts, I sometimes practice visualizations, like picturing them as children (they simply can’t understand the complexity of mood disorders), or visualizing myself as a stable water wall, untouched by their words that can rush over me.

Focus on the People Who Do Understand

In order to survive depression, we must concentrate on the people who DO get it and surround ourselves with that support, especially when we are fragile. I consider myself extremely lucky. I have six people who understand what I’m going through and are ready to dole out compassion whenever I dial up their numbers. I live with an extraordinary man who reminds me on a daily basis that I am a strong, persevering person and that I will get through this. Whenever my symptoms overtake me and I feel lost inside a haunted house of a brain, he reminds me that I have a five hundred pound gorilla on my back, and that my struggle doesn’t mean that I am a weak person not capable of mind control. At critical periods when I’m easily crushed by people’s perceptions of me, I must rely on the people in my life that truly get it. I must surround myself with folks who can pump me up and fill me with courage and self-compassion.

Depression support groups — both online and in person — are invaluable in this regard for offering peer support: perspectives from people in the trenches who can offer key insights on how to deal with the invisible beast. I created two online groups, Group Beyond Blue on Facebook and Project Beyond Blue, but there are many forums worth checking out, like the ones at Psych Central. Actual support groups hosted by such organizations as National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), and support offered by a therapist, are also great resources to help give you the coping tools you need to get by in a world that doesn’t get it.

7 New Self-Help Books That Are Actually Helpful

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By Lizzy Francis

We live in busy times. Burnout is real. With the advent of remote work and the connected work place, people have less of an opportunity to disconnect than ever. Parents are over-worked and trying to be there for their kids and wonder how to make time in the day when they can’t even leave their office behind at the end of the day. Authors and experts have made note of that, and there’s been a bit of a cultural shift of self-help books that focus on helping people, you know, chill out a little. But which are worth checking out? We think that these books, each tailored at making more out of your life through simple steps, paring down distractions, figuring out what you need, and by accepting who you are, are worthwhile. They don’t ask you to give 110 percent all the time and learn to love the office like a family. In fact, the vast majority of them ask the opposite and they have some pretty poignant advice to help keep burnout at bay.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown
In Essentialismauthor Greg McKeown, a CEO of THIS, Inc., and business consultant, makes a case for a more decluttered life. This book could have a lesson for anyone, but Essentialism’s questions: “Are you stretched too thin? Do you feel overworked but unfulfilled? Are you busy but not feeling like you’re getting anything done?,” are particularly trenchant for the modern parent. McKeown asks the reader to engage with what he refers to as a “systematic discipline” in order to get ‘only the right things done.’ This book is helpful for readers who just want to make their lives less busy but more meaningfully full.

Digital Minimalism: The Case for a Focused Life in a Noisy World,Cal NewportIn Digital MinimalismCal Newport, a computer scientist at Georgetown and author of Deep Work, makes a case for a ‘digital detox.’ He argues that smartphones, apps, and screen time have greatly diminished our quality of life, not just because we’re looking at screens and engaging in a non-physical social world, but largely because of what he refers to as a ‘fragmenting’ effect — that the 10 seconds it takes for you to look at your phone greatly diminishes the quality of any in-person experience you may be having at that time. In Digital Minimalism, Newport offers a 30-day plan where followers pare down all non-essential technology, and after those 30 days are over, begin using tech again with intention. It’s something from which all of us can benefit.

10% Happier: How I Tamed The Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, And Found Self-Help That Actually Works, Dan Harris
Although 10% Happier is one of the older entries on the list, having been published some five years ago, it deserves a spot simply because of its measured approach to meditation and happiness. Dan Harris, the author of the book, had a panic attack on national television. This book takes the reader on his journey deconstructing Harris’ own, harmful thought processes about incessant workaholism and explaining how he found meditation that helped him chill but still remain productive. For any parent on the boiling point, a reasonable approach to meditation could be seriously helpful.

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, Brene Brown
The desire to be the perfect parent, employee, partner or person does not serve you, argues Brene Brown in The Gifts of ImperfectionTrying to be the ‘perfect’ parent or employee is only going to leave you frustrated and let down. So Brown offers ten “guideposts” that will help the reader accept their imperfections and live a more honest and happy life.

#Chill: Turn off Your Job, Turn on Your Life, Bryan Robinson
#Chill is the book for the guy who knows that they can’t really change overnight. For those who bring the office home with them at night and over the weekends, and would rather spend that time relaxing with family and friends, this book gives a bit of a guidebook to engage with a monthly program to “stop the cycle of over-work.” Bryan Robinson largely employs the use of mindfulness and meditation practices that help the over-worked take a deep breath and remain present.

Off The Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done, Laura Vanderkam
Time management guru Laura Vanderkam managed to deal with feeling overworked and overbusy by letting go a little bit and telling herself that she has ‘all the time in the world.’ In short, she changed her outlook. And that’s the heart of Off The Clock, a book about personal attitude that employs readers with real tools for dealing with stress from the days where you feel too busy or stretched too thin, requires some brain-training. It also utilizes examples of real people, which helps the concepts feel less abstract and helps the reader see what this looks like in practice.

Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day, Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky
If you lack focus at work, feel like you waste time on social media, or feel like you’ve been busy all day with nothing to show for it, Make Time might be helpful. It’s written by two former creators of Google’s ‘design sprint’, which is known as a period where a lot of work gets done in a lot less time than required by a lot of people working together. Make Time obviously draws on their experiencing “sprinting” by optimizing to-do lists, focusing professional energy, and designating time appropriately. It doesn’t ask for people to go 100 percent at all times — in fact, it asks quite the opposite. Engaging in productivity isn’t the same thing in being healthily productive. This book delineates the difference.