Many people believe that they will function better if they “beat themselves up”. They believe that harsh self criticism is an effective way to motivate themselves.
Actually, research shows that those people that are high in self compassion, which does not imply self indulgence or self deception, are better adjusted and recover better from life crisis. They do not waste their energy on self blame.
For those who struggle with being compassionate to themselves, the best path is to focus on the compassion they have for others. It is beneficial to view those things that anger us about ourselves through the prism of those around us. We are often more forgiving to failings in those around us than those failings in ourselves. We may perceive this as a strength but it is actually a weakness. Through compassion to others it is possible to learn a degree of self compassion.
You can find recorded meditation for self compassion here:
According to Kristin Neff, The power of self compassion.
One great difficulty in dealing with trauma is that there is at its root a contradiction. Dwelling on the trauma is often debilitating but we cannot ignore or erase it. One way of dealing with trauma is to tell ourselves a story that captures the essence of the trauma but strengthens us. At its essence the life of Pi delves into how we deal with trauma and illustrates one way that we may handle severe trauma. Do I choose to concentrate on the horror, the loss, the anger? Or do I choose to concentrate on my own resourcefulness, ability to overcome hardships, the lessons that I learned? Do I concentrate on the loss of loved ones, and the void that was left in my life, or do I concentrate on the good memories I had with them, the lessons they taught me?
I highly recommend both the book or the movie.
Many people experience stress and depression around the holiday season. There are many factors that can contribute to this feeling of stress. The incessant message of cheer and happiness can seem in stark contrast to our mundane lives and can accentuate our feelings of unhappiness or dissatisfaction. For those of us who are alone during the holidays, or not in a fulfilling relationship, the holiday is a reminder of our unsatisfied state. it is challenging when many rituals and festivities during the holidays focus around family. Family itself can often be the source of stress. Families congregate during the holidays, old tensions surface, people may say tactless hurtful things. Indeed it often seems that, among our larger family, we revert to some earlier unfinished version of ourselves. For those of us who are alone during the holidays, the period of year seems to exclude us, as if we are standing on the outside in the cold with our face pressed up against the pane looking at the warmth and cheer inside.
If you don’t have family to be with and are feeling lonely and left out make an effort to comfort and support yourself. Do things that bring you pleasure. Be on your guard for destructive behavior that you will regret such as overeating and excessive drinking, which is a pale and false stand in for happiness.
There are additional sources of stress which may be financial, with expectations of gifts and particularly children’s expectation which may be difficult to fulfill. There are many complications over sharing family among sets of parents that expect you to come to one festive occasion or another.
Make an effort to remember that the holidays are meant to be a joyous time. If the holiday is causing you stress because of some demand on your wallet, your time or a strained relationship, take a step back and remember that you are in control. You can decide not to purchase a gift or can take some time to disconnect from a stressful situation.
Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life
This book is a valuable introduction to the concept of mindfulness. Dr. Zinn brought the concept of mindfulness from Buddhist meditation, and has shown how it can be applied as a basic technique for improved well being and stress relief. The practice of mindfulness has been shown to increase one’s quality of life.
Mindfulness means the ability to live in the present moment, to be absorbed completely, fully aware of each thought, feeling or sensation that arises. This awareness implies a nonjudgmental attitude towards our flow of thoughts, even unpleasant sensations or mental events.
The mere act of watching our mind, allows us to distance ourselves from our emotions. This enables us to gain a better perspective on our challenges. Through mindfulness we realize that our emotions are just that, not the ultimate truth about reality. The common thought distortion “I feel, therefore it is reality” loses its hold on us.
Living in the present means that we do not dwell on the past, or think anxiously about the future . Many people believe that if they immerse themselves in painful emotions, it will provide them an insight and ultimately lead to inner transformation. Delving into the past must be done with care, as it may strengthen and reinforce the neural pathways of pain and depression. This reinforcement may lead to further deepening of the depression and pain, as opposed to the hoped for alleviation. Mindfulness offers an additional method for dealing with one’s challenges.
Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness is a good tool for stress management, depression management, and it leads to better quality of life, enhance creativity, and can improve chronic pain and other medical conditions.
Deficiency in vitamin D is linked to depression, Parkinson disease and to cognitive decline according to a new article in Scientific American. According to the article, about three quarters of the population in the USA suffer from vitamin D deficiency. Here, in Michigan, the percentage may be even higher because of the lack of sunlight.
If you suffer from depression, it would be prudent to ask for a blood test, to determine whether your blood levels are within normal limits. Do not take extra supplements of Vitamin D without consulting your primary care physician, as it can be toxic in large doses.
Recommended movie: Up
This poignant movie describes the grief process of an older man who has lost his wife, the love of his life. We witness both his pain and despair and his process of recovery. His recovery is initiated by his determination to carry out a dream that they had together, in spite of his wife’s absence. Underneath the adventure story and amusing animation lies a deeper truth about the need, not to forget but to continue living , forming new bonds and connections while remembering .
Depression contributes, and is maintained by common distorted thought patterns. It is a vicious circle, which keep us depressed.
This checklist is taken from the Wikipedia, “Feeling Good” book and other sources, with some changes and additions. As you go through this list try to identify these patterns that you tend to use. It may be an eye opener: You will realize that what sounded like “the reality”, is indeed very subjective. This is the first step to start controlling those thought patterns, and influence your mood. You may want to keep track of these thought patterns in a journal.
- Black and white thinking – No shades of grey. Thinking of things in absolute terms, like “always”, “every”, “never”. If it is not perfect, it is a failure.
- Overgeneralization – Taking isolated cases and using them to make wide generalizations. Generalization from one detail , or aspect of a situation, to the whole situation.
- Mental filter – Focusing almost exclusively on negative or upsetting aspects of an event while ignoring other positive aspects.
- Disqualifying the positive – Continually deemphasizing positive experiences.
- Jumping to conclusions – Drawing negative conclusions from little evidence. Two specific subtypes:
- Mind reading – Assuming you can read the feelings and thoughts of others. You know for sure what other people think of you, and of course is it negative.
- Future reading – Catastrophizing. You expect the worst possible outcome, however unlikely. You ruminate about “What if”.
- Magnification and minimization – Distorting aspects of a memory or situation through magnifying or minimizing them such that they no longer correspond to objective reality. If you are depressed, often the positive characteristics of other people are exaggerated and negative characteristics are understated. The reverse happens when you think about yourself.
- Emotional reasoning – Accept your emotions as a valid evidence. “I feel therfore it is true”. If you feel stupid , than you are stupid.
- Should statements – You know the way things “should” be. You have rigid rules which always apply, no matter what the circumstances are. Using “should” statement leaves you and others feeling preasured, guilty, and on the long run jeopardizes any motivation for change. It does not allow you to be flexible and adapt to changing circumstances.
- Labeling – Rather than describing a specific behavior, you assign a negative label to yourself. it is not the action that was a mistake, you are the mistake. Frequntly, you judge others as harshly as you judge yourself.
- Personalization – Attribution of personal responsibility and guilt to yourself for events over which you have no control.
- False expectations: Assuming that other people should be able to read your mind, without any need of your part to express your emotions and needs. Assuming that your happiness depends on somebody else.
Managing Social Anxiety
Social anxiety can reduce you quality of life, not let you achieve your full potential, and ultimately lead to depression. What results is a vicious cycle – the more anxious you are, the more barriers you will encounter in your life, the more depressed you become, which ultimately contribute to your anxiety. I recommend this self-help book. It is part of a series published by Oxford University Press. All the books adhere to cognitive-behavioral approach. They come in pairs – one for the client, one for the therapists. All those I have seen so far, were excellent. If you read this book, and work along its guideline, you may not even need to see me. And if you do, it will shorten the treatment and make my work easier.
A different approach to mental health. Historically, psychology and psychiatry developed though trying to understand – and correct – pathology. Prof. Zeligman, one of the prominent psychologists today, recommends using our strengths. According to him our mental health consists not in overcoming our weaknesses but recognizing and using our strengths. It give a fresh look at the ancient saying “know thyself”. The site contains articles, videos, and self tests. The self tests are particularly helpful. We are so used to think in terms of our faults, that we forget to look at our strengths and use them more.
Positive Psychology Website