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Filtering by Tag: Values

My Horcrux Diary

Jill Stoddard

guest blog post by Dr. Nic Hooper

Have you read the quote below by T.E. Lawrence?

"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”  

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I’m a dreamer. Always have been. Ever since I could remember, I wanted to do remarkable things that would make the world a better place. Over the years, I’ve had lots of ideas for how to do this but often I would ‘wake up in the day to find it was vanity’. In other words, the ideas remained just that; ideas. On a recent project, I became a ‘dreamer of the day’.

I research an approach to human suffering named Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). The pitch of ACT goes something like this: if we can be willing to experience all of our thoughts and feelings, both positive and negative, whilst continuing to move in valued directions, then we will do a decent job at this game of life. One night, after delivering an ACT intervention to teachers, I had this thought: “It is really easy to forget our values; I need to create something that will remind people of what is important to them.” In the following weeks I came up with the idea of an annual diary. For the most part, this diary would be like any other diary i.e. it would have days and dates and spaces to record meetings. However, it would also provide an opportunity for the user to record what is important to them at the beginning of each week.

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Ok, so there was the idea. Now I had to do something with it. The first step was easy; I loaded Microsoft Word and spent hours and hours and hours (with my co-author Dr. Freddy Jackson Brown) shaping the words and lines that would make up the inside of the diary. The second step was more difficult. I had to figure out how to take that file and turn it into a product. First question: a publisher or a printing house? No publisher was interested so we went with a printing house. Then, more questions. What sort of spine to go for? How thick should the paper be? How many copies should we buy? How should we sell it? What are the best postage and packaging options? How should we advertise it? How should we accept payment for it? How do we pay tax? Who is going to post them? How should we grow the product over time?

During the first and second steps I faced a fair bit of discomfort (i.e. seemingly powerful negative thoughts often crossed my mind: “this is a waste of time”, “nobody will like it” or “you should be spending this time with Max”). However, the third step of making my idea a reality brought the most discomfort: once I had the completed product, I sent it out there into the scary world. And given that success or failure has implications for how I feel about myself, my diary is a bit like a Horcrux in the Harry Potter story. In that story, the bad guy (Voldemort) poured his soul into a number of items and placed them out there in the world. Those items were called ‘Horcruxes’. His thinking was that this strategy would make him more difficult to kill.

Like Voldemort, I poured my soul into this Horcrux. And like Voldemort, any attack on the Horcrux feels like it kills a part of my soul (‘attack’ is an extreme word that is possibly misplaced here. By ‘attack’, what I mean is any evidence I see that the diary is not worthy, whether it be a lack of sales, little interest on social media or negative feedback). My Horcrux diary is now out there in the world fending not just for itself but, in some ways, for me also. A bit of my soul is unprotected; it can be scrutinized, criticized or ignored. It can fail. And if it fails then it will hurt like hell.

The feeling of vulnerability that comes with trying to do something remarkable is tiring, and it often makes me question whether it would have been better to stay a ‘dreamer of the night’. If my Horcrux is inside my mind then nobody can see it; nobody can hurt me. However, every time I think about this I come to the same conclusion. Although being a ‘dreamer of the night’ comes with built-in safety, if I didn’t do something with my dreams then I’d be living a life out of step with my value of making the world a better place, and consequently, I’d feel empty.

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Why am I telling you all this? For two reasons. Firstly, I want you to see how ACT is in my blood. Just in this blog you will spot how I used important ACT processes (willingness, defusion, self-as-context, values). Secondly, and more importantly, I want you to see that having ACT in my blood helped me to chase my dreams, and that it can help you to do the same. Chasing dreams will bring vulnerability but if you know what to do with vulnerability then you will be free.

Interested in checking out Dr. Hooper’s Annual Diary for Valued Action? Check it out here.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) for anxiety, stress, PTSD, insomnia, or chronic illness, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at info@csamsandiego.com

Mental Health Awareness Month: Fitness #4Mind4Body

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Every year, Mental Health America designates a particular theme for the month to highlight an important aspect of mental health. This year’s theme is Fitness #4Mind4Body, and it focuses on acknowledging the connection between mental and physical wellbeing. #4Mind4Body explores the role of nutrition, exercise, the gut-brain connection, sleep, and stress in our overall wellbeing and examines the ways each of these areas impact our functioning. Below is a summary of the topics covered in the Mental Health Toolkit from Mental Health America.

Diet and Nutrition

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Eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet is an integral part of health. Diets high in processed, fried, and sugary foods can increase the risk not only for developing physical health problems like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and cancer, but are also linked to mental health problems, including increased risk for depression symptoms. A healthy diet consists of a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fish, nuts, and olive oil. Maintaining a balanced, nutritious diet is linked with a lower risk for depression and even an improvement in depression symptoms.

Exercise

Regular exercise not only helps control weight, increase strength, and reduce the risk of health problems like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers, but it also helps boost endorphins and serotonin, among other important proteins and neurotransmitters that impact mental health. Endorphins serve to mitigate pain in the face of stress and increase pleasure in the body. Serotonin affects appetite, sleep, and mood, and is the target of SSRIs, a class of antidepressant commonly used to treat anxiety and depression. Just thirty minutes of exercise per day can help improve mood and mental health.

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The Gut-Brain Connection

The gut, also known as the “second brain,” communicates directly with the brain via the vagus nerve and via hormones and neurotransmitters. The communication goes both ways, so anxiety, stress, and depression can impact the gut and result in gastrointestinal symptoms, but changes in the gut microbiome can impact the brain and mood, exacerbating or even resulting in symptoms of anxiety and depression. Eating a nutritious diet that includes prebiotics and probiotics is an important part of maintaining a healthy gut and a healthy mind. 

Sleep

Quality of sleep impacts the immune system, metabolism, appetite, the ability to learn and make new memories, and mood. Good sleep for adults means getting between 7-9 hours of mostly uninterrupted sleep per night. Problems with getting good quality sleep can increase the risk of developing mental health symptoms, and symptoms of anxiety and depression can negatively impact sleep, creating a negative cycle. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) can help clients reestablish healthy sleep patterns through addressing negative thoughts and worries as well as behavioral patterns that are impacting sleep habits.

Stress

Stress is a normal part of life, and the body is equipped with a fight or flight response designed to help mobilize internal resources to manage stressors. After the stress has passed, the body can return to its regular equilibrium state. However, when stress becomes chronic, it can cause inflammation, impaired immune system functioning, muscle aches, gastrointestinal problems, sexual dysfunction, changes in appetite, and increased risk for heart disease. Too much stress can also impact mental health.

Mental health involves a complex interplay between numerous factors, including but certainly not limited to the areas listed above. Furthermore, though maintaining a healthy diet, regular exercise routine, good sleep habits, and utilizing stress management techniques can help prevent or improve existing mental health symptoms, if you are struggling with mental health issues, it can be difficult to attend to these areas.

If you are struggling with anxiety, stress management, depression, chronic illness, or insomnia, seeking professional assistance can be helpful. Evidence based therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can help to address problematic thoughts and behaviors that are contributing to emotional distress. Therapy offers a warm, supportive, safe environment to explore painful issues. A therapist can also provide support in helping the client to develop good self-care habits, like those mentioned above.

This year’s mental health awareness theme reminds us of the importance of recognizing the multiple avenues through which we can approach mental health, and the variety of tools we have at our disposal to improve overall wellbeing.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) for anxiety, depression, stress, PTSD, insomnia, or chronic illness, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at info@csamsandiego.com

References

Mental Health America. (2018). 2018 Mental Health Month Toolkit. Retrieved from http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/sites/default/files/Full_2018_MHM_Toolkit_FINAL.pdf

An Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Approach to New Year's Resolutions

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

As we enter another new year, many of us have set our 2017 resolutions. Maybe you make resolutions, maybe not, but either way this is generally a time of reflection. In what ways do we hope this year will be different from last? What are we hoping to change in our lives? What goals do we have going forward?

 The new year always seems to be a good time to think about making some changes because it gives us the chance to start fresh in some ways. But in other ways it is simply just another day. Nothing changed automatically on January first. What can change is our perspective, and it is our job to ensure that our actions follow. This is the tough part. Do you find yourself already struggling to maintain your resolution? Do you wonder why we have such a hard time keeping our resolutions for more than a few weeks? How do we make our resolutions stick?

The truth is, change is often slow. Occasionally we are able to make huge changes immediately, but more often than not change takes time. New year's resolutions often fail to take into account that it may actually take you all year to create the change you were hoping to see on January second. When we fail to recognize all the small steps on the road toward change, we set ourselves up for disappointment and failure. A new year's resolution sounds like an easy solution: set a major goal for the new year ahead. But our resolutions are empty unless they are backed by action, and creating a resolution doesn't necessarily help us to make an action plan.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) offers some ideas and tools that can be very helpful in guiding us along the process of change. Whether you come in to see a therapist for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or whether you apply the wisdom it can offer to your life on your own, this model can help us to keep our resolutions all year long.

ACT aims to increase psychological flexibility, which means that you are able to connect to the present moment consciously and choose to behave in a manner as consistent with your values as the situation allows. Part of the purpose behind ACT is to get in touch with your personal values (not those determined for you by society, family, friends, or any other external source), and then use these values to guide your actions and formulate specific goals. This is usually what we are aiming for with our new year's resolutions.

For example, if my resolution is that I want to eat healthier, a good place to start is to examine my values. Do I feel like I "should" eat healthier because I feel pressured by our health conscious culture or by my friends, family or partner? Or do I want to eat healthier because I value my physical health, deep in my heart? Or perhaps I value my role as a model to my children, and want to eat healthier for this reason. Once I determine my values and make sure that my resolution is driven by my own intrinsic motivation, then I can create a concrete plan of action to move forward.

The Choice Point Model, another helpful ACT tool, offers us a framework to use when we face a decision. A choice point is a moment in time where we can choose to act in a manner that is either consistent or inconsistent with our values. The Choice Point is about identifying the hundreds of moments in a day where we can be on autopilot and be driven by thoughts and feelings, or we can make a conscious, deliberate choice that is in the service of our values. When in this moment, we can use the acronym STOP:

S: Slow down. Take 3 mindful breaths.

T: Take notice. What are you thinking and feeling?

O: Open up. Make room for those thoughts and feelings instead of trying to avoid the discomfort.

P: Pursue values. Do what matters to you.

Sometimes, in a Choice Point, we will choose to avoid or procrastinate acting in a values consistent manner, and that is okay. Give yourself grace when this happens. But remember that though avoidance may provide relief for the moment, in the long run it will make us feel worse. So if we can STOP and choose to act in accordance with our values as frequently as possible, it will serve us.

As you approach this new year and begin thinking about your potential resolutions, remember that big change happens slowly, choice point by choice point. Remember to consider your values, and to STOP when you hit a choice point. If you feel you need some extra support along the road to change or healing...

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or biofeedback for anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at csamsandiego@gmail.com.

Part I: Thriving through the Embrace of Life: To Thrive or to Suffer

Jill Stoddard

Part I

Thriving through the Embrace of Life:

To Thrive or to Suffer

By Lauren Helm, M.A.

 

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style” ― Maya Angelou

 

If you were to ask yourself, “Am I thriving in life?” what would your honest answer be?  Is there a palpable fullness, or a vibrant, colorful aliveness that paints the story of your life? There are as many different ways to thrive as there are individuals on the planet, and each person likely has a unique story to tell about what thriving means to them. What does thriving mean to you? You may not have a ready answer, but perhaps you have a general sense of what the experience is like when you are living a life that is full, satisfying, and meaningful to you. Is the experience of moving forward in life in a deeply satisfying way your current reality? Or do you only catch glimpses or taste brief moments of thriving, without being able to maintain this as a steady flow? These are challenging and potentially uncomfortable questions to ask yourself.  It may seem that living a truly vital life is without reach, where it is possible for others to attain it, but you cannot.  

“Pain is universal, suffering is optional.”

If you experience a regular sense of enlivenment, this is excellent. The chances are, however, that life has peaks, and it has its valleys too. In our society, we may often misconstrue what it means to live fully and thrive. Often we equate successful living with happiness. If we feel pain, we assume that something is wrong, and we must immediately fix the situation in order to feel happy again. Unfortunately, pain simply is going to be experienced throughout our lives. It will occur, again and again, in various domains, including our relationships, career, and other life experiences. We will experience psychological pain   (i.e. painful thoughts and emotions) and physical pain (e.g. back pain or migraines). Does this mean that we will never be able to truly thrive, or live a deeply rewarding life? Certainly not! Pain, in and of itself, is just that – the experience of discomfort (in its many forms). Though it may not sound pleasant, pain is not the problem. Rather, our reactions or responses to the pain, is what leads to suffering. Suffering is pain’s more dramatic and pervasive cousin – suffering often wrenches, grips, and gnaws at us—and typically stems from our efforts to move away from our pain. It draws in all of our attention and sucks away all of our vital energy or life force. Generally speaking, to suffer is not to thrive.

It is within our nature to attempt to avoid, escape, or prevent pain. As a species, this is how we survived and persevered. However, in our modern day society, we are rarely threatened by actual physically dangerous situations that we need to remove ourselves from to survive (e.g.  if you see a rattlesnake, you turn and walk the other way instead of stepping onto it to avoid the painful bite which may also lead to physical damage). Many painful experiences that we currently face are internal experiences – the worried thought that your boss is negatively evaluating you, the anxiety in the pit of your stomach when the bills are difficult to pay, or the sadness that results from the loss of a friendship. Often, the mind reacts to these painful events in more or less the same way that it would react to a painful physical experience (such as stubbing a toe) – avoid this pain, and get rid of it right away, or else survival is threatened! Unfortunately, as our minds get to work at problem-solving how to control and get rid of a painful thought or a painful emotion, it often unsuspectingly steps onto the path of suffering.

 

 

“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dream.” – Paulo Coelho 

As the mind begins to systematically focus more and more time, attention, and energy to ridding itself of painful thoughts and emotions (like anxiety, sadness, guilt, anger, etc.) a paradoxical effect occurs – it begins to feed the beast. The very labeling of an emotion or a thought as “bad” creates a spiraling effect of distress. For example, if you experience anxiety, and then believe that it is a bad or harmful thing to experience anxiety (i.e. it is threatening), then you will likely feel an increase in anxiety or distress (because now you are anxious about anxiety), and also begin to do whatever you can to get rid of this threat (the escalating anxiety). You may try to control it by distracting yourself with drugs or alcohol, or perhaps you try to control it by avoiding whatever triggers the anxiety in the first place (e.g., not going to a party for fear of being disliked). Though this may reduce anxiety in the short-term and you may experience some brief sense of relief, the anxiety is unlikely to permanently disappear. In fact, it is guaranteed to reappear and your mind will likely respond to the reappearance of anxiety in a similar way, becoming like a rat on a wheel, running with all of its will and might to escape the relentless pursuit of anxiety (or any other uncomfortable thought or emotion). Thus, suffering grows, as more and more time and energy is needed to escape growing discomfort that returns again and again. Most importantly, the more attention is spent on avoiding, the less it is spent engaged in areas of life that may be important to you. “Life” can be put on hold while you invest your energy in “managing” the pain of life. Sometimes, in more minor cases, this works. But often, it can become a bottomless pit, and we can lose our way. To merely survive does not mean to thrive.

Though many of us would rather not fully acknowledge that this process occurs in our lives, it often characterizes the human condition. However, with awareness and recognition, we can begin to consciously alter how we respond, and thus begin to craft a way of living that supports thriving and fullness.

Part 2: Thriving through the Embrace of Life: Learning to Open through the Pain is the second segment of our blog which continues the discussion of thriving versus suffering, and introduces an alternative approach to responding to emotional or physical pain or discomfort.

 

 

If you'd like to speak with someone at the Center for Stress and Anxiety Management for help learning about how to thrive and relieve psychological suffering, please click here.

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References

Harris, R. (2006). Embracing your demons: an overview of acceptance and commitment therapy. Psychotherapy in Australia, 12(4), 70.

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