Browsing the archives for the depression tag.
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How Writing Can Help Cure Depression

Techniques

An excellent article on MedicineNet.com interviews medical professionals and therapists about using writing to cure depression. Creative writing might very well have positive effects on depression, but the kind of writing the article discusses, and the kind I recommend for working on almost any emotional or motivational issue, is journaling.

Before I go much further than this, I’ll add this disclaimer: of course not all emotional concerns can be addressed through writing and self-help. This is one tool for helping address depression, but it’s not meant to be a cure-all, something that does everything for everyone.

What can a journal accomplish for a depressed person? There appear to be a whole range of benefits:

  • Dr. Michael Rank calls journaling the “most effective and cheapest” form of self-help.
  • A journal can be used with an understanding of idea repair to help fix broken ideas. This is one of the most powerful contributions of cognitive psychology: a tool we can use to change our own thoughts and feelings from damaging to constructive.
  • A journal can create a feedback loop, which can help a person break an old habit, start a new one, or make progress with motivation in general.
  • Dr. James Pennebaker, a psychology professor at the University of Austin, reportedly has found that “writing about upsetting personal experiences for just 20 minutes at a time, over three or four days, can result in a significant drop in blood pressure and a healthier immune system.”
  • Therapist Catherine Carlo credits journaling with giving journal writers “a better sense of where they’ve been, where they are, and where they’re going,” according to the article.

In the article, Rank points out that people can feel resistance to starting a journal. This is an understandable feeling, but reversing any habit or emotional condition requires something either internal or external going in a new and not entirely comfortable direction. However, my experience writing about even very disturbing issues in my own life is that it rapidly becomes not only comfortable but actively a relief.

There are several approaches to journaling that can be useful. Carlo recommends journaling in a group. “Just having that unspoken support and encouragement gives [journal writers] courage to write about their feelings” even if the journals aren’t shared, the article quotes her as saying. Carlo also suggests envisioning yourself in a medieval castle while writing, in order to get some distance and perspective.

Recording journal entries with a tape recorder, computer, or smartphone is a viable alternative to written journaling for anyone who doesn’t like to write.

Sharing a journal with someone else can invite help and understanding. On the other hand, some journal writers may prefer to never share what they write in order to create a feeling of complete privacy about the process. When I write about something especially sensitive in my life, I go beyond even that by writing the journal entry and then immediately deleting it. I still reap all the benefits of writing the entry, even though there’s no outward trace left over when I’m done.

People who like to draw, even if only stick figures are involved, can substitute drawings for writing some of the time. While these drawings aren’t usually as clearly-communicated as words, they can sometimes be more expressive and exploratory.

Journaling can also be used to understand how we might not be using time well by logging everything we do (even down to stopping to pick up the phone or take a bathroom break), to provide insight into why we’re acting the way we are (see my article on “How To Improve Willpower Through Writing Things Down: Decision Logging“), or to create a record we can use to go back and understand parts of our lives better, after the fact.

It doesn’t have to be difficult to start journaling. If you can get yourself to sit down at a computer and open a word processor or to pick up a pen and a notebook, you can just write, with no pressure about how much or how often you’ll write, nor what you’ll write about. Journaling gives us each the choice of how to approach difficulties in our lives … and often, even the tools to overcome them.

Photo by paperbackwriter

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Four Ways to Fight Depression

Techniques

Last week, a reader e-mailed me about a struggle with depression: while this person was working, good moods were possible, but at other times depression would creep in. Here are some suggestions that came out of that discussion.

In terms of immediate help, here are some things that might be especially helpful to try but that require at least a little time and effort.

First, walking somewhere beautiful–by a stream, in a park, in a quiet and beautiful park of town, or anything like that, especially near water and in natural places–can quickly make a difference in mood. It’s a calming practice that allows time to think, but it also gets your body moving and puts you in an environment that will tend to lift your spirits. I know it sounds so simple that it’s almost silly, but the research suggests this is an unusually good way to change your mood: see The Benefits of Quick, Easy, Pleasant Exercise .

A second approach is to get out and do something with people you enjoy spending time with, or to find a group that does something you enjoy (www.meetup.com is a good place to look). The moods of people nearby us affect our own moods, so that just spending time with happy people can help us be happier. (See Want to Reduce Stress? Increase Social Time.)

It seems that you can get some similar benefits sometimes with a pet (especially a dog or cat), if you enjoy pets, and I’ve certainly experienced pet-driven happiness myself.

Third, volunteering can be an enormous boost to mood and feelings of self-worth: there’s a different feeling to doing something good that you don’t have to do and don’t get paid for. Anything from donating blood to volunteering to shelve books at a local library to helping out at a fundraising event for a local charity can offer these benefits. Alternatively, you could just reach out to people you know, helping them with a difficult job–moving, for example.

A fourth thing that I can think of takes very little time and effort, although it will probably also sound silly: make yourself smile. Surprisingly, making an expression as though you have an emotion can set off the same neurophysiological reactions you would have if you actually have that emotion, so that a fake smile can become a real smile. See Using Body Language to Change Our Moods.

Each of these approaches is a short-term fix that reflects a long-term habit that can help mood: exercise, time in nature, time with friends, a sense of helping others, and a conscious effort to encourage positive emotions all can help create happiness as they become more habitual.

If you find that short-term approaches like this aren’t helping, a good cognitive therapist really might be able to open up new doors, provide essential support, and cultivate habits that support lasting happiness. I’d like to be sure to mention that I’m not  a licensed therapist myself, and this shouldn’t be construed as professional or expert advice.

Photo by tanakawho

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Cures for Sadness, Part I: Ideas and People

Handling negative emotions

Stuck in sadness
In his classic book Emotional Intelligence, Dr. Daniel Goleman describes one of the most common responses to sadness: rumination. Something happens; we get sad; and then that sadness encourages us to sit and think the situation over, reliving it or elaborating on it or beating ourselves up. These kinds of rumination tend to keep the sadness going.

Being sad can actually be a helpful in some circumstances, as described in “The Benefits of Feeling Bad.” For instance, if I’m sad because I’ve done something unkind to a friend so that the friend is now upset with me, ruminating may help me understand where I went wrong and how I can handle things differently next time. It can also help me formulate an apology and convince my friend that I’m truly sorry.

In many situations, though, being stuck in sadness is simply painful. When this is the case, according to the research Goleman cites and much other research that has come out since he wrote the book, we have several options for finding our way out of sadness.

Thinking our way out
One of the most powerful means of getting out of any kind of negative emotion, a mainstay of cognitive therapies, is using idea repair (officially known as “cognitive restructuring”): see “All About Broken Ideas and Idea Repair.” With this approach we eavesdrop on our own thoughts, find out what it is we’re doing to make ourselves sadder, and change our thinking to relieve that pressure.

Socialization vs. sadness
Another method–one you’ve probably used on yourself or on a friend–is social time. According to research, says Goleman, sad or depressed people who spend time with people they enjoy very often experience a big boost in mood. The barrier here is that a sad or depressed person often avoids the company of others, and activities don’t sound as appealing when a person’s mood is low. This makes friends who are willing to drag you out to have fun when you’re down very valuable.

Without going into great detail, a few of the reasons social time improves mood are:

  • Moods tend to be contagious, so a single sad person in a group of happy people has a good chance of being influenced by the mood of the others.
  • A person who is out in a group is likely to make a greater effort not to act depressed, and acting out a mood is a good way of encouraging that mood. For instance, the act of smiling tends to make people happier even if the smile is completely fake.
  • In a group, broken ideas are more likely to be challenged and functional ideas more likely to be offered as replacements.

In further articles in this series, I’ll talk about other techniques for trumping sadness.

Photo by Beni Ishaque Luthor

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Recovering After a Failure of Willpower

States of mind

We’re well into a season in which, for Americans at least, restraint isn’t very popular. We start out with a holiday that celebrates eating as much as possible, work up to a holiday that celebrates spending as much as possible, and cap it off with a holiday that celebrates staying up late and drinking.

All right, I admit that this isn’t the kindest or even most accurate depiction I could give of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, but the point is that whether or not you happen to celebrate any of these holidays, it’s likely you run into times when you don’t exercise the amount of willpower and restraint you would like to. Practically everyone does sometimes. Over time we can get better at exercising restraint even when we’re receiving messages to do otherwise, but what do we do to get back on track after losing our willpower for a while? Here are some specific things that can help:

  1. Don’t beat yourself up. Feelings of guilt, shame, frustration, disappointment, and depression are common after a failure of willpower. These are traps: avoid them. If you get caught up in destructive emotions, it will be hard to learn well and regain your focus. Identify broken ideas that aren’t doing you any good, then repair them: see “All About Broken Ideas and Idea Repair.”
  2. Get smarter. After a failure of willpower, you have an ideal opportunity to learn from your mistakes. Start a feedback loop to figure out how to change your behavior next time, and keep using it to see how well your new approaches work. Your feedback loop (which could be journaling, talking with a friend, talking to yourself, etc.) will include a description of exactly what you don’t like that you did, what you were thinking when you did it, and some ideas for changing what you do in the future. It will also include acknowledgments of any good decisions you made.
  3. Look ahead. One of the best ways to do well with willpower is to prepare solutions in advance. For instance, if you ate much more than you wanted to at your last family gathering, you might want to plan what you’re going to eat before you go to the next one. See “How Preparation Enables Stronger Willpower.”

You might also be interested in reading “How to Recover When You’ve Completely Blown It,” which talks more about failure in general and its role in successfully pursuing a goal.

Photo by kharied

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A Solution to Depression?

Guest posts

Today’s guest post is from Kari Wolfe, whose blog Imperfect Clarity passes on everything she’s learning as she works toward building a writing career, interviews fascinating people, parents her daughter in ways she never expected, and forges her own habits of success.


For years, I complained of back and knee pain.

For years, I received the same advice from lots of well-meaning friends and family: go on a diet, lose weight, breast reduction surgery, walk more.

I ignored the advice.  And my muscle pain became worse.

In April 2010, I started a 12-week-long session of physical therapy.

And everything began to change.

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My assignment, should I choose to accept it…

My physical therapist gave me exercises to do, every night, six nights a week.  And I did my exercises.

Begrudgingly.

I did my exercises, focusing on the point where they would not only be done.  I stretched all the muscles that I needed to stretch, worked all the muscle groups I needed to work.

I’m still doing my exercises.

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Well, while I’m working on this, I want to do this too…

Strangely enough, (I thought at the time, anyway) once I started focusing on my physical problems, I started paying more attention to my life.

I started focusing on an idea for a business.  My writing, both fiction and non-fiction.  I started looking for motivational material, books< and blogs, to read, to get my spirits up and centered on what I wanted to do.

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Is there a solution to depression?

The solution to depression isn’t always a pill.  While medication can be helpful, it’s honestly not the “end-all, be-all” wonder cure for depression.

The downward spiral of depression can convince you there is nothing out there.  If you take a walk, you’ll just end up walking back.  If you exercise, you’ll look funny and people will laugh at you (my very own problem).  If you try to solve the problem, you’re going to fail.

Or if you have back and neck problems, what you really need is a drug to numb the pain.

I’ve been there.

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My solution, thus far.

The solution to depression can be as simple as getting up and going for a walk.  Or starting an exercise routine.  Or tackling a long-existing problem and working toward it’s solution.  It’s not so much exactly what you do, but what you focus on.

Oddly enough, I think I like exercising when I wake up in the morning.  Yep, first thing.  Just don’t tell anyone.  Please–I don’t want to ruin my reputation.

Once my heart begins to pump faster and my physical needs (shhhh…) are met, I’m ready to rest for a few minutes and then start to take on the day.

Kari Wolfe is a stay-at-home mother of a very curious three-year-old daughter who happens to be autistic. She is a writer and maintains her own blog, Imperfect Clarity where her focus is becoming the best writer (and person) she can be by living her life to the fullest 🙂

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The 5 Stages of Grief for a Parent

Guest posts

Today’s guest post is from Kari Wolfe, whose blog Imperfect Clarity passes on everything she’s learning as she works toward building a writing career, interviews fascinating people, parents her daughter in ways she never expected, and forges her own habits of success.


When you’re pregnant (or your significant other is), you spend a lot of your time thinking about the baby. You think about what he/she is going to look like. Will he/she look more like her father or her mother?

You think about what he/she will be like as a baby, how you will treat him/her. Are you going to co-sleep or have a bassinet and/or a crib? Are you going to nurse or use formula? What kind of diapers are you going to use?

I dreamt of giving my baby the type of education I wished I had. The best day cares, the best schools, the best teachers. The best programs. I wanted to give my daughter every opportunity in the world.

When you’re a mother, you can’t help but have these dreams and aspirations for your child. It’s part of your nature.

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When Natasha was 18 months old, her father, Tom, and I started to worry. She hadn’t said her first word. When she played, she played in “her own little world,” paying no attention to the kids or adults around her. She batted and flapped her hands at toys she liked. She didn’t pay any attention to us–we could call her name, but she wouldn’t usually react.

Her doctor said for us to sit back, not to worry–this could be just a normal delay in her development. Not a big deal at this age.

He had her tested for autism at 2. We patiently waited a year, going to every therapy we could think of, hoping and praying maybe she was simply developmentally delayed.

She was diagnosed as having autism at 3.

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In Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief, the original first stage is denial. In the expanded stages, the first effect is shock.

In my case, my husband and I suspected there was something different about Natasha. We had seen it when we went to the playground or visited neighbors–there was a difference in the children.

I was at Starbucks, having a cup of coffee with a behavioral therapist, when she told me that Natasha might be autistic. Here was someone else, outside of the family, who noticed something wasn’t quite right. She didn’t have the education to diagnose; what we wanted was an educated opinion.

I was calm; after all, I knew what she was going to say. Mentally, I had prepared myself; however, my heart broke into pieces.

Watching as she went over the therapies Natasha should receive to help her with her social and communication skills, I froze, a black pit in my stomach growing with every thought and every dollar amount she mentioned.

I saw my dreams for my daughter, my hopes and wishes and desires, vanish into thin air.

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When Natasha was evaluated at two-years old, the behavioral pediatrician spoke candidly about the likelihood of Natasha being autistic and the possibility of her symptoms being only a developmental delay. She gave us the option to have Natasha diagnosed as having a global developmental delay rather than autism then having her evaluated again in a year, and we took it.

I made appointments for Natasha’s occupational therapy and arranged evaluations for her to be seen by the early intervention people to be evaluated for state and federal programs for developmentally delayed and autistic children from birth to three-years of age.

She stopped going to day care because I realized the teacher-student ratio may have been great for typically developing children, but Natasha needed someone to guide her activities rather than to let her wander for herself. Not long afterward, I left school so I could focus on her.

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The second stage of Dr. Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief is anger.

It’s not fair. Why did this happen to us? Why did God allow this to happen?

I was angry at life. When I was alone, I screamed my anger out in the car with extremely loud guitars and a fast beat coming out of the speakers.  Sometimes I would rant and rave in the shower.

I was angry at myself because it was always possible that I could have done something wrong. Babies don’t come with instruction manuals–what if this was all my fault for not doing something I should have done? What if I didn’t spend enough time with her?

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Bargaining is the third stage.

While Dr. Kubler-Ross lists anger and bargaining (“I’ll do anything if ___ wasn’t so.”) as different sections, it’s very difficult in my mind to separate the two. Mentally, I bargained with everyone. I would have made a deal with the devil, had I thought it might have worked.

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The fourth stage is depression.

After I gave birth to Natasha, I suffered from post-partum depression. My OB/GYN prescribed an anti-depressant and told me to consult with my family doctor.

Due to Natasha’s developmental delay and subsequent diagnosis, my family doctor would increase that dosage twice in three years.

For me, this was a much-needed part of the solution.

Throughout my entire life, I have had problems with depression. The anti-depressant helped me have the willpower to overcome the despair and the apathy I felt when in a stage of deep depression. Six months ago, my doctor lowered the dose after I felt that I didn’t need quite as much anymore.

Of the stages of grief, I believe this is the one that can be the most harmful. You can stagnate. Depression can lead to inaction–in my case, that was the last thing I could do.

** NOTE: Please don’t think I’m advocating a particular method of dealing with or working through depression. This is what worked for me. The best way to determine what is right for you is to discuss your options with a therapist or your doctor.

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The first year of Natasha’s occupational therapy was my redemption.

Weekly, Natasha and I would go to the clinic where our therapist, L., would take us to the sensory gym. She would show Natasha how to take her shoes and socks off and we would go play on the trampoline, in the ball pit, or on the swings.

My mother tells me that teachers would talk to her during parent-teacher meetings and tell her she needed to get me to play. I didn’t play–from the time I could read, I’ve had my nose in a book.

L. taught me to play while teaching me how to help Natasha get the sensory information she craves. Not only was L. Natasha’s therapist, but she counseled me when I came to the appointments heart-broken and lost.

During this time, we saw all sorts of kids, some with autism, some with other problems, of varying ages and abilities. I watched the kids as they played and the therapists as they interacted with the kids and the other therapists. Some of the kids had problems that seemed to me much worse than Natasha’s–kids with feeding issues, sensory avoidance, physical disabilities. Watching them gave me hope.

Sometimes I talked with the parents of these kids. We would share stories and progress reports. It was nice to know I wasn’t alone.

Through this year, we played games, bounced on the trampoline, jumped or swung into the foam pit, and surfed in the ball pit.  Slowly but surely, Natasha began to progress.  She started to sign “more,” “open” and “all done.” After a year of what felt like no progress whatsoever, she started to communicate with us.

My heart began to mend.

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The final stage of grief is acceptance.

It’s been a very long, rough road, but I’m mostly there. Sure, I have my moments of sadness that Natasha is autistic–but I’m realizing more and more that being autistic isn’t the end of the world.  It felt like it in the beginning but, through listening to Natasha’s therapists and seeing Natasha making progress in things Tom and I questioned whether she would ever do, I’m learning that it’s not.

It’s still hard.  I still have problems when I talk to mothers of children who are around the same age and they tell me their child never stops talking.  They inevitably always ask if Natasha does the same thing. Part of me knows it’s just making conversation, small talk–but it doesn’t stop a little pain going through my heart.

Natasha is in hippotherapy (therapy performed while on horseback) for occupational therapy, soon to be for speech therapy, and the stimulation she receives from riding a horse has been extremely beneficial to her. In the past few months, we have seen her go from not really wanting to pay attention to saying her alphabet and drawing smiley faces to actually beginning to mimic the words her father and I are saying. She’s beginning to understand we want to communicate with her and she’s beginning to want to communicate with us as well.

And acceptance seems a perfectly natural thing after all. This is who Natasha is and neither her father nor I want her to change into something she’s not.

Kari Wolfe is a stay-at-home mother of a very curious three-year-old daughter who happens to be autistic. She is a writer and maintains her own blog, Imperfect Clarity where her focus is becoming the best writer (and person) she can be by living her life to the fullest 🙂

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Why Lousy Is a Great Place to Start

Handling negative emotions

I’m reading a book called Start Where You Are by Pema Chödrön, an American Buddhist nun, about meditation, coming to terms with suffering (our own and others’), and connecting to the world in a compassionate way. Much of the book is about meditative and partly spiritual practices that I won’t go into here, but there’s one particular section where she says something very striking that applies equally well to any process of self-improvement:

Start where you are. This is very important. [Meditation practice] is not about later, when you get it all together and you’re this person you really respect. You may be the most violent person in the world–that’s a fine place to start. That’s a very rich place to start–juicy, smelly. You might be the most depressed person in the world, the most addicted person in the world, the most jealous person in the world. You might think that there are no others on the planet who hate themselves as much as you do. All of that is a good place to start. Just where you are—that’s the place to start.

And later, she continues:

Suppose you are involved in a horrific relationship: every time you think of a particular person you get furious. That is very useful for tonglen [the practice the book describes]! Or perhaps you feel depressed. It was all you could do to get out of bed today. You’re so depressed that you want to stay in bed for the rest of your life; you have considered hiding under your bed. That is very useful for tonglen practice. The specific fixation should be real, just like that.

She goes on to describe how to harness these emotions in meditation, but the point I’d like to make is that they’re essential to any process of improving your life through changing the way you think. There are a few reasons for this. First, feelings like this that go unacknowledged tend to continue to torment us, because if we don’t take them in and really pay attention to how we’re experiencing them, we only have our habitual ways of responding to them, which won’t change anything (by definition, because habits are what we automatically do already). Second, if I’m going to improve my life, why should I wait for a time when I feel better? If I’m feeling bad now, then now is when improvement would be the most welcome, and there’s nothing preventing me from improving more when I feel better some other time too. And third, as Chödrön points out, strong negative emotions have a lot of juice. Someone who doesn’t feel excited (in a good or a bad way) about anything much at the moment doesn’t have a strong emotional incentive to change their lives. Someone who’s feeling something strong, whether it’s delight or love or anger or despair, has an immediate emotional reason to change things for the better.

Chödrön has specific recommendations for using negative emotions in meditation practice, and for anyone interested in Buddhist meditation, I strongly suggest the book for that purpose. For our intentions here, though, there are also specific ways we can harness negative emotions. In tomorrow’s post, I’ll talk about how to use pain and trouble to repair broken ideas.

Photo by Pensiero

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The Benefits of Feeling Bad

Handling negative emotions

The most anxious time of my life to date was soon after separating from my son’s mom. The marriage had turned out to be very much a mismatch, so I wasn’t unhappy that it was ending–but I was worried about my relationship with my then-2-year-old son. If I wasn’t able to work something out about custody arrangements with his mother or through a court, I might be relegated to the every-other-weekend schedule of parenting, and while that might be a good arrangement for many dads, I emphatically wanted to be more involved.

It all came out well in the end: after a lot of work and discussion, we settled on a workable arrangement for custody, and I never did get bumped to “every other weekend” status. So all that anxiety and unhappiness while the situation was up in the air: what was the use of it? To put it another way, do negative emotions have any value, or are they always trouble?

My friend Oz Drummond pointed me to a recent New York Times Magazine article called “Depression’s Upside“, which examines some of the potentially positive effects of some kinds of depression. The particular advantage the article describes is a neurological process in which a painful event (like a divorce or death of a friend) causes the left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) to create intense mental focus on a problem, offering an unusually powerful ability to examine and possibly learn from it. This doesn’t necessarily seem to be the case with all depression, and even when it is the case, the person isn’t necessarily better off going through the depression than not. But we can pull a useful lesson out of this research, which is that negative emotions can be extremely useful in focusing attention. Some examples:

Anger: Focuses attention on a potential threat so that we can act against it if we need to.
Fear: Keeps attention on a dangerous situation so that we won’t drop our guard.
Guilt and shame: Brings our attention to actions we regret, with the possible result that we will avoid those actions in future.

… and so on.

In other words, many negative emotions have the specific purpose of making us mindful of something. There are two useful things that come out of this realization: first, when a negative emotion occurs, there may be a lot to gain out of figuring out what it’s trying to tell us. Second, negative emotions can often be addressed simply by paying proper attention to what they’re trying to tell us.

In the Times Magazine article, University of Virginia psychiatrist Andy Thomson talks about this process:

“What you’re trying to do is speed along the rumination process,” Thomson says. “Once you show people the dilemma they need to solve, they almost always start feeling better.” He cites as evidence a recent study that found “expressive writing” — asking depressed subjects to write essays about their feelings–led to significantly shorter depressive episodes. The reason, Thomson suggests is that writing is a form of thinking, which enhances our natural problem-solving abilities.

Image by MissCartier

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Nothing to Do With Weight Loss: 17 Ways Exercise Promotes Willpower and Motivation

Habits

Mother and son doing pilates

I’m continuing to enjoy reading Dr. Daniel Kirschenbaum’s The 9 Truths About Weight Loss, which contains a lot of very pointed and useful information about diet, exercise, and getting fit. Interestingly, it also points out some of the side benefits of these subjects, and in one place particularly, Kirschenbaum lists 50 meaningful benefits exercise provides, most of which have nothing to do with weight loss, and some of which have a lot to do with self-motivation.

I was already aware of most of these benefits, but it had never occurred to me to list out all the ones I knew, and the effect of Kirschenbaum doing so was impressive. Taking his list for inspiration, I’d like to point out 17 benefits of exercise on mood, motivation, and willpower, many of them paraphrased from Kirschenbaum’s list.

Regular exercise …

1. can provide an uninterrupted opportunity to think
2. relieves stress, while helping to prevent future stress
3. stimulates release of endorphins, brain chemicals that promote feelings of happiness and well-being (this is sometimes known as “runner’s high”)
4. improves social opportunities–and the people you meet when you exercise tend to be happier, better-balanced, more reliable, and more proactive people than the general population due to the effects of regular exercise in their lives
5. improves self-esteem, self-image, and confidence
6. promotes self-awareness if done without distractions
7. fights depression, both temporary and chronic
8. reduces anxiety
9. improves sleep, making you better-rested and more focused
10. contibutes to greater energy and alertness
11. increases endurance for non-exercise activities, both physical (for instance, housework) and mental
12. helps reduce pain and weakness that might otherwise get in the way of other activities
13. improves our ability to relax quickly
14. promotes clear thinking
15. improves willpower through practice
16. makes it possible to get a larger perspective on other parts of our lives
17. provides a model for self-improvement in other areas

Of course, exercise is also nearly indispensable if you’re seeking weight loss and has many non-weight-loss-related health benefits, such as lowering blood pressure and triglycerides, improving cardiovascular health, preventing problems with posture as we age, extending lifespan, lessening back pain, improving digestion, improving cholesterol levels, preventing osteoperosis, and many others.

As long as I’m plugging exercise, I’ll also mention that not only does strenuous exercise get progressively easier and more pleasurable as you go from trying it out to doing it regularly, but it also doesn’t even have to be strenuous to provide good effects. For example, both in terms of mood and weight loss (two of exercise’s greatest benefits) walking alone, done very regularly and preferably for at least 30 minutes at a time, can yield enormous returns.

The most impressive benefits of exercise start when you exercise at least 3 times a week for 30 minutes or longer each time, and they increase dramatically if you exercise every day or close to it (for aerobic exercise: strength exercise seems to work best if you give that a resting day between days you work out).

Photo by Sean Dreilinger

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How to Stop Having a Bad Day

Handling negative emotions

rainbow

Wednesday’s post talked about what it means to have a bad day and how that kind of day can often be turned around, even in really difficult circumstances, by changing our thinking. Today’s post goes into some practical approaches for using our thoughts to improve our mood on all levels. Here are some specific strategies.

Idea repair: Our emotions are profoundly influenced by what we tell ourselves. If we’re coming up with thoughts that are misleading and destructive, we can break through that interference and feel relief quickly with idea repair.

Emotional antidotes: Emotions tend to keep themselves going, while going out of our way to think of things that make us happy or inspire compassion or love tends to counteract negative thoughts.

Mindfulness meditation: Meditation can relieve stress and give us more emotional resilience. If you haven’t tried mindfulness meditation and want to, you might take a class or look up materials by Jon Kabat Zinn.

Music: Music can be a direct path to emotional responses. Listening to exactly the right kind of music can turn your mood around quickly and powerfully.

Changing the environment: Opening the curtains, going to a place you enjoy, sitting in a garden … anything that tends to make you happier or to remind you of what’s good in the world can get you out of a negative mental rut.

Writing things down: Problems are easier to deal with if they’re clear instead of vague anxieties. Listing things that are bothering you or that you need to do can create clarity and a sense of purpose in place of general stress. More generally, writing freely about your thoughts can accomplish the same thing when you’ve got a bad mood going on and are not sure why.

Talking things out: Like writing, talking things out with a friend who’s a good listener can help clarify the situation and relieve stress.

Changing facial expressions: As silly as it sounds, research seems to show that changing our expressions–especially smiling–can help change our mood on a chemical level.

Working with a good therapist: If anxiety, stress, or bad moods come up for you a lot more than you’d like, a good therapist can make all the difference. Unfortunately, a lot of people associate therapy with mental illness, but it’s clear from recent research that psychology has a lot to say about how even an entirely healthy person can become happier and more effective in the world, and there are some therapists who are very good at helping make that happen.

Photo by Today is a good day (again)

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