How I Practice Self-Care: Choosing Happiness

The practice of self-care is incredibly important to maintain a healthy and positive mindset. One topic that I would have found incredibly helpful during my practice of self-care is to focus on the concept of “choosing happiness”.

More broadly and, in my opinion, less eloquently, the concept of choosing happiness is simply the choice to remain positive. I find the concept of happiness is often skewed by society. Society tends to view happiness as s state of being that is attained when everything in life is going perfectly: you’ve achieved all of your goals, you’ve travelled the world, you’ve married the love of your life, and you have all of the money in the world. But, why must we wait until that point or to decide that they can finally describe themselves as “happy”? The truth of the matter is that we do not. But, for some reason, there is a hesitation to share with others that you are genuinely happy if your life is anything less than perfect. The fact is that life will never be problem-free. It’s just absurd to be waiting for the magical moment when all your troubles will suddenly slip away. I think society is so stuck on the fact that we can never be happy because that day will never come. But, why have we forced ourselves to believe that these two concepts cannot exist separately—that happiness cannot exist if there are problems in one’s life. Instead, we can choose to see these concepts as mutually exclusive instead. Unfortunately, that is way easier said than done.

So, how can you choose to be happy? I’ve asked myself this often. Mostly because I tend to be a pessimist and focus on all of the problems that I’ve got going. To be quite honest, it can be pretty difficult for me to choose happiness, especially in moments where I am the most upset, hurt, angry, or anxious. Here are the steps that I take to choose happiness: when I’m feeling very overwhelmed by any type of negative emotion or find myself ranting about the same topic, I stop and take a few deep breaths. Usually, it begins with me saying, “Everything is going to be fine”. Next, I try to accept these negative emotions or feelings as they are. I tell myself that the situation I am facing is allowed to make me upset, that it’s okay to be upset, and that my feelings are completely valid. Then, I will focus on what is going well in my life…I begin to choose happiness. Typically, I will repeat aloud or write down all of the positive things in my life: I am healthy, I am surrounded by family and friends who love and support me, I get to live in country where I am allowed to think, feel, dress, and act the way I want to, etc. Essentially, I begin counting my blessings. Once I have listed the many reasons why I am blessed or grateful (or happy!), I tell myself that I am happy. Despite the negative situation(s), there are many reasons why I will choose to be happy rather than upset. There are many reasons why, before I go to bed, I don’t have to cry or be anxious, but rather be grateful for all that I have.

Now, as I said earlier, this is definitely easier said that done. It is a work in progress, but you can always give yourself little reminders of choosing happiness. Write it in your agenda or set a reminder on your phone. Do things that make you happy like writing in a journal, spending time with friends, going for a hike/run, or watching the sunset. There are little things in life that pass us by so quickly that I have found make me incredibly happy. This form of self-care definitely isn’t easy and it takes practice, but it is so important. If we don’t take the time to choose happiness, our entire life will pass by and we will have spent the entirety of it waiting for happiness to suddenly slap us in the face. It doesn’t work that way. Although you will have to work for your happiness every single day, the pay-off will definitely be worth it.

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5 Tips to Avoid Feeling Lonely Over the Summer Holidays

While the summer should be a time of fun and relaxation, spending it alone can be rather difficult. Before you begin to worry too much, check out the following 5 tips to avoid feeling lonely over the summer:

 

  1. Reach out to others

 

Call a friend, or even a co-worker to spend the day shopping, going to an amusement park, or going to the beach. It may be particularly helpful to connect with friends and family who are also feeling lonely over the summer; having another person who truly understands your feelings can help you feel less alone in this situation. One cool idea is to seek out community events, allowing the opportunity to create new connections and broaden your friendships.

 

  1. Volunteer

 

Spend a day or even a couple of hours volunteering. Whether it is at a soup kitchen, organizing toys, or at a local place of worship, the act of helping others will leave you feeling fulfilled and happy. Volunteering will allow you to meet new people, and spread kindness and happiness. You will likely end up being exceptionally appreciative how fortunate you truly are.

 

  1. Be grateful

 

Maintain a gratitude journal. This can be as simple as writing a list of things that you are thankful. Focusing on the positives will decrease your ability to focus on the negatives. Plus, having a written record of all the things you value in your life is something you can read over anytime you are feeling down or lonely.

 

  1. Take a break from social media

 

Social media, especially during the summer, can cause a significant amount of unnecessary stress. We often feel pressured to have as amazing of a summer as all your friends on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. These comparisons lead us into a downward spiral of negative feelings. If you find yourself becoming upset, limit or stop using social media during the summer. Besides, you’ll probably enjoy yourself much more if your phone isn’t glued to your hand!

 

  1. Treat yourself

 

Treating yourself to something nice can help you feel better and enjoy your alone time. Take a bubble bath, sit outside with a good book, or splurge on that item you’ve been eyeing for the past few months. One fun way to treat yourself is to learn something new; putting your energy into a new hobby will be healthy and fun!

 

My First Experience with Therapy

Going to therapy for the first time was undoubtedly the most difficult thing I have ever had to do in my entire life. I had barely slept and no appetite the day before my first appointment. Even the reassurance from my closest friend, who waited in the waiting room the entire time, was not enough to calm my nerves. I thought that making the appointment was difficult, but it was nothing compared to actually having to sit down and recount all of my “problems” to a complete and utter stranger. Nevertheless, I knew that going to therapy was an integral part of finally obtaining a healthy state of mind. So, in September 2016, I walked the 800 metres to the Student Wellness Centre at my university and waited for my name to be called out by a counselor. While it’s only been a short 4 months since I began therapy, it has been extremely comforting and useful.

 

Originally, I began seeing a counselor to begin healing from an abusive relationship that I was unable to heal from on my own. Through my bi-weekly sessions with my counselor, I have been able to make incredible progress in healing and moving forward from my past. She has been a voice of comfort, reason, and encouragement through difficult moments and empowering milestones for me. Although it did take some time for me to begin truly trusting my counselor, I have now realized that she will never judge me and is only there to support me.

 

As I found my counselor’s support in one important aspect of my life helpful, I decided to share with her some of my other mental health concerns. Opening up to her about these issues was difficult; I feared that she might turn me to someone else who would focus on these issues more. Instead, she was very happy that I had shared my concerns with her and has begun supporting me in another aspect of my mental health. Through my sessions with her and with the tools she has given me, I have been able to significantly improve my mental wellbeing. I have gained a better, more holistic understanding of my strengths and weaknesses, enabling me to thrive in areas of my life that I did not think were possible.

 

I’ve been seeing a counselor (on and off) for approximately two years now. The amount of growth that I have seen in myself is quite amazing. Although some days are more difficult than others, I have learned skills that I can apply in moments when I am feeling particularly low or anxious. I have learned healthy ways to get through the difficult days—something that I could have never done on my own.

 

Although I still have much to learn and areas of improvement, I would have never made it this far if I had not sought out the help of a professional. Going to therapy for the first time was undoubtedly the most difficult thing I have ever had to do in my entire life. But, seeking support through therapy is undoubtedly the most rewarding and empowering thing I have ever done in my entire life. You have the power to change your feelings, thoughts, and behaviours more than you know. Some of us need a bit more help in seeing that, and you know what I’ve realized? That’s completely okay.

Being an Introvert 101

What do you think of when you hear the word “introvert”? Is it the stereotypical image of a shy person who stays locked in their room with a book under their nose to avoid interacting with the world around them? Sure, an introvert might look like that, but that definitely isn’t what being introverted means. While it is accurate that introverts tend not to be extremely outgoing and enjoy spending time alone, that is not the crux of introversion. Instead, introverts draw their energy from themselves, whereas extroverts draw their energy from others. Here are some other characteristics of an introvert:

  • Introverted individuals enjoy spending time alone.
  • Introverted individuals do their best thinking when they are alone.
  • Introverted individuals typically avoid sharing their opinion, especially in a group setting, unless asked by others.
  • Introverted individuals tend to avoid initiating small talk with others.
  • Introverted individuals prefer wearing headphones in public settings to avoid interacting with strangers.

If any or all of that description sounds like you, maybe you—like me—identify as an introvert.

 

Why are introverts so often stereotyped in a negative light, as individuals who hate to interact with others, or even hate people in general? When I have identified myself as an introvert to others, I have sometimes been made to feel as though it is a part of me that I should be ashamed of. Individuals who are more extroverted will try to push me to “step out of my comfort zone” or “break out of my shell” as if being an introvert means that I shelter myself from having fun or spending time with others. For myself, at least, that is definitely not the case. In addition, introverts are often regarded aloof or thinking that they are superior to others, which is not necessarily true. In times where I feel that I am being judged for being an introvert, I remind myself that those who truly deserve to be in my life will get to know me without judgment.

 

Throughout the years, I have learned to love and accept myself as a person who is introverted. Being an introvert given me many qualities that I am proud of. For one, I am someone who genuinely enjoys spending time alone, reflecting on my own thoughts. I can sit for hours on my own and be completely entertained by the thoughts in my head, which I think, is pretty awesome. The opinions that I have are rarely based on others, but rather on the time that I have spent reflecting on my own beliefs and values. My friends and family have accepted me as someone who does not always feel like talking, and I can often just be “stuck in my head”. Being an introvert does not have to be something that I am ashamed of, but rather something that I can accept about myself wholeheartedly.

 

For more information, check out: https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201403/nine-signs-you-re-really-introvert

 

Anxiety for Me

(Anxiety Series) Summer 2018

Describing the anxiety I feel is difficult. I often find myself at different points on the high – to – low spectrum and can easily forget what each experience is like. There are a minority of times when it’s like I don’t have anxiety at all- no chest pains and I’m not too worried about anything in particular. This happens once or twice a year and doesn’t last beyond a couple of weeks. I might slide into this state after a period of lesser anxiety, and forgetful as I am, I always feel like my experience with anxiety is over for good before it emerges again. This happened to me just recently. Now that I think about it, the times of lesser anxiety have been pretty rare in these last four years, but slowly becoming more frequent as I improve my anxiety management.  The best way I can define this period is by the absent of some of the stronger physical manifestations of anxiety. Stronger manifestations include fast, irregular, and loud heartbeats that become loudest when I lay down to sleep, preventing me from sleeping.

Constant chest pain may occur at the same time as the fast hear rate, but over the past year it has also occurred by itself. I sometimes feel sharp, shooting pains through my chest and back, but this hasn’t happened often over the last four years.  A doctor did send me for testing to be sure it wasn’t a heart condition.  I experience difficulties maintaining a steady breathing pattern and may feel out of breath, even when inactive.  My hands and/or whole body can feel shaky. That’s what I can remember at this point. The last extended period (about 6 months) of strong physical manifestations ended before school did. I don’t describe them in writing because I don’t really want to remember, but it would probably be useful so I can see how I’ve improved and which anxiety reduction practices are most effective.

Those were the physical manifestations, but the changes in my thinking patters are harder to remember at a time when I no longer feel that way. I know that I have trouble focusing and my concentration seems to break down into little pieces. That’s probably why I no longer like the idea of watching movies and need 2-3 other activities to occupy my attention if I do. There are different ways that anxiety impacts my thought processes.  The impact can be characterized by concern about what people think of me, concern about success/failure, augmented apprehension towards activities that generally make me anxious, and fear of consequences. As I will mention in another post, fear of consequences has been extremely helpful in counteracting the effects of depression, as it motivates me to accomplish tasks that otherwise lose meaning.

Rather than explaining how all of these different styles manifest – which is more than even I want to get into – I will just say that generally, the constant worry makes my mind feel hyper-occupied. Sleep, which I strongly desired as a reprieve, is typically light and discontinuous and never delivers the feeling of restoration that I seek. Incessant anxious thoughts make me want to escape my own mind, which is where I previously withdrew to escape real world problems. This description will make more sense if you consider the mind as an actual room. If an external issue causes extreme anxiety, I try to retreat into my mind, but run back out because it’s teaming with all sorts of ‘red-alert’ thoughts. The entire process makes me feel displaced and not myself. This state of mind, which has not been uncommon in the last 4 years, prevents me from feeling safe or finding any source of comfort, amplifying the overall anxious experience. Activities like reading fiction or drawing are no longer enjoyable for me, because both require imagination, created inside my head.

I can tell I’ve been managing better, because I can do a little drawing now, just simple things, and enjoy it. My creativity is slowly coming back, and I think that is also connected to improvements in the area of depression. I also do a bit more leisurely reading now, although only non-fiction and I’ve been on the same 3 books for a month now.

By seeing a counselor and psychologist (both made available through school services) I have been able to make sense of my experiences, rather than simply suffering with them. Not only have they helped me work through current issues affecting my anxiety, but also past issues. Understanding these past issues helps me make better choices and develop relationships in a way that improves my overall mental health. Although my family initially discouraged me from using school services, doing so has helped me make immense improvements over the last 4 years and also address thought and behavioural patterns have always affected me negatively.

Now, my main strategy is to simply allow the physical manifestations of anxiety without becoming too alarmed by them, which further turn compromises my mental health. It took me the longest time to realize that such an approach would be helpful. Certain circumstances basically forced me into this realization, but as cycles of anxiety continue, I’m extremely grateful to have learned that lesson. It also makes me hopeful that I can continuously find better ways to cope with physical symptoms while doing the consistent work of improving my thinking patterns so that I will experience fewer anxious thoughts as well. I am becoming more aware of which foods, activities and people have a positive or negative effect on my levels of anxiety.  By continuously creating a healthier lifestyle for myself, I feel that my resistance towards anxiety will naturally improve.