Category Archives: Happiness

ACT: A Mental Health Strategy for Overcoming Obstacles

project-mom-dev-kneeSometimes you are just rolling along and – WHAM! – you are broadsided by an unexpected obstacle. It might be a physical obstacle, such a being stuck in traffic. Or it might be another kind of obstacle, one that is more ‘internal’, an emotion or a way of thinking that is having a negative impact on you.

No matter the obstacle, there is a simple and practical strategy that can help you move through the obstacle and either get back on track, or find a new track all together!

Let’s look at the first example. You are heading to an important appointment and suddenly you find yourself stuck in a congested roadway. Traffic is not moving. You begin to notice your anxiety (and maybe your anger) increasing as you realize that you may be late for your appointment. If you stay in that state, your body will tense, you might grip the wheel tighter, you might furrow your brow, you eyes might widen, your heart might increase. All of these physical symptoms are congruent with a threat state. In neuroscience, this state is described as an AWAY state; your body is preparing to protect you from the threat before you. Interestingly, when you are in a threat state, you expereince tunnel vision; you quite literally are limited in your ability to perceive and to think.

Instead of staying in the threat state, you could try this simple strategy, called ACT:

A – Accept your current reality

C – Choose a vision of what you want in this situation

T – Take action to move TOWARD your vision

So…instead of gripping the wheel, furrowing your brow, and maybe releasing some unpleasant expletives, you say the following (to yourself, or out loud):

A – I accept that I am stuck in traffic and I might be late for my appointment

C – I want to look for an opportunity to get to my appointment as soon as possible and I want to feel good when I arrive

T – I will:

  • take a deep breath
  • call ahead and indicate that I am stuck in traffic and might be late for the appointment
  • look around to see if I can make eye contact with someone to let me cut in front of them
  • smile at the person with whom I make eye contact
  • prepare for what I will say when I arrive at the appointment, and visualize myself there
  • remind myself that it is most important to arrive safe and feeling good

You might do all or some of these things, or you might choose to do other things such as listen to calming music or recite a mantra that has meaning for you. The idea is, while you are taking action to move TOWARD your vision, you are NOT wasting energy and valuable neural resources focusing on moving AWAY from your obstacle. A positive, toward state provides you will a broadened perspective; you are able to access more internal and external resources to help you in that moment.

Chances are, you will get to your appointment sooner. Or, at the very least, you’ll arrive much more positive and calm when you do arrive.

Let’s look at another example. My beautiful mother has dementia. It sucks. When she first started experiencing symptoms, it was overwhelming. I found myself becoming anxious and sad just at the thought of going to see her. I felt helpless, angry, and vulnerable. Then, I felt guilty; here I was thinking of myself when my poor mother was mentally deteriorating.

Then, I decided to ACT. Here is how that went for me:

A – I accept that mom has dementia and it sucks – for her and for those of us who love her

C – I want to see her as often as I can, and to feel good when I go and when I leave

T – I will:

  • go to visit only after I have had a good night’s sleep
  • meditate before I go
  • bring people with me; mom always liked lots of noise
  • make physical contact with mom (hold her hand, rub her back)
  • smile when I arrive and when I leave
  • remind myself that any unpleasantries are not my mom, they are the disease that grips her brain

I decided to ACT in this situation well over 5 years ago, and I never, ever, not once, hesitate to go and see my mom. I truly and completely look forward to it. I feel good when I arrive and when I leave. Because I am moving TOWARD my vision, I am not stuck in the negativity that arrives when I focus on moving AWAY from the reality of her disease.

So, give it a try the next time you feel stuck! Make sure you address and acknowledge all three elements of ACT. The ‘I accept’ element is very important. Do not leave it out. It simply means that you acknowledge that ‘it is what it is’. It does not mean you like it or that you are happy that it happened; it just means that you accept that it is.

Deri Latimer is an expert in positive possibilities for people! A TEDx Speaker and Author, Deri’s message reinforces that positive habits are the pathway to a happier and healthier life – at work, at home and at any age! www.derilatimer.com

 

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year? Strategies to Thrive in the School Year Ahead

dancer3_May9Remember the Staples commercial a few years ago, the one that featured parents happily shopping for school supplies with a modified version of the Andy Williams song ‘The Most Wonderful Time of the Year’ playing in the background? The idea was, parents were thrilled to see the kids return to school; the kids…not so much.

Well, whether you are entering grade school, high school, college or university, this time of year can indeed bring conflicting emotions – for everyone. In this post, I am writing specifically to the returning student…the content will be useful for parents and teachers of those students as well.

It is no surprise that schools – just like workplaces – are focusing time, attention and financial resources on initiatives aimed at providing information and strategies for maximizing positive mental health. In fact, pick up any newspaper or magazine, and I’ll bet you will find an article related to mental health before turning the first page.

I know what you are thinking…this sounds like more blah, blah, blah…

What’s it all about? you wonder. What does it have to do with you?

Here is my proposition for you: You can start to positively impact your mental health – RIGHT NOW – and, every action you take to improve your mental health will positively impact your results (that includes your grades, your relationships and your overall sense of joy)!

And, we are going to keep it simple. You all know about ‘Stop, Drop and Roll’, the simple fire safety technique you learned as a young child. Well, we are going to use the same terms to remember what to do to maximize your positive mental health. We’ll use them in a different way, however, because the best approach when it comes to your mental health is one of prevention of mental illness/distress/unproductive negativity (i.e. we aren’t waiting to ‘smell smoke’ before we jump into action).

Rather than waiting until the state of your mental health is potentially life-threatening, STOP at the beginning of every day and choose a mantra, a positive affirmation, a motivating message to your self. It might be something simple like ‘It’s going to be a great day, today’ or ‘I am looking forward to meeting some new people this year’ or ‘I know I can do well in this course if I set my mind to it and work hard’ or ‘I am not alone; most other students feel exactly the same as I do’. When you begin each day with a message like this, and keep repeating it (perhaps while you brush your teeth, on your bus ride to school), you are helping to ‘program’ your brain to look for evidence to support this message, and to help yourself behave in alignment with the repeated message. When you begin each day with a positive message, your automatic default narrative has no chance to start circling in your mind. You have intercepted it, and added a positive message that will become your new mental ‘play list’.

DROP in throughout the day to see how you are doing. You have regular times for breaks during the school day. Rather than burying your face and your mind in your iphone or other device, take a few seconds to close your eyes and ‘drop in’ to observe how you are feeling and what you are thinking. If you are noticing some negative thoughts or less than productive feelings, recall your mantra, re-frame it for the current or future situation, and repeat it a few times to yourself.

Remind yourself of all of the strategies you have already developed that help you ROLL with whatever comes your way. Here are a few of my favourite strategies to keep rolling. They each include three thinking questions and a body exercise:

FEELING WORRIED/ANXIOUS?

Thinking Questions:

  1. What is the worst thing that could possibly happen?
  2. Is it possible? Is it probable?
  3. If it did happen, who can I call on to help me? Who are my resources? What can I do?

Body Exercise:

Deep Breaths: Take up to 20 slow, deep breaths in through the nose (repeating ‘I breathe in calm’, and out through the nose (repeating ‘I breathe out anxiety). If you lose count, start over. Notice when you start to feel more calm.

FEELING OVERWHELMED/INUNDATED?

Thinking Questions:

  1. What am I saying to myself?
  2. What’s the opposite message?
  3. What can I let go of to feel peaceful?

Body Exercise:

Hands Over Eyes: Rub your hands together rapidly until they are warm. Place a hand over each eye. Notice how the soothing heat from your hands calms the state of your mind.

FEELING SELF-CONSCIOUS/EMBARRASSED?

Thinking Questions:

  1. What is funny about this situation?
  2. What can I learn from this experience?
  3. What do I admire about myself going through this experience?

Body Exercise:

Sink and Rise: Imagine your body sinking into the floor. What do you notice? Imagine your body light as air. Notice where in your body you ‘rise above’ the moment.

So, remember that you can STOP, DROP, and ROLL as a preventative measure (to build long-term resources for internal, mental well-being), not just a reactive one (to protect yourself from imminent, external, threats to your physical well-being)!

Deri Latimer is an expert in positive possibilities for people! A TEDx Speaker and Author, Deri’s message reinforces that positive habits are the pathway to a happier and healthier life – at work, at home and at any age! www.derilatimer.com

 

 

 

 

 

The Joy of Slow: Time Out to Tune In and Turn On

_MG_8251My friend, Jennifer, told me about a fantastic App called Insight Timer. I’ve been using it over the last few weeks. It’s filled with hundreds of thousands of meditations to choose from, and you get to see yourself amid a world-wide community of meditators. It is very cool! And, it’s free!

One meditation I tried last night reminded me again about the simplicity – and the power – of a meditative practice. It is called ‘How to Fall Asleep Mindfully’ and is a short (6:48) guided experience led by Sean Fargo. Sean’s voice is soothing and relaxing, and he begins by reminding listeners of the noise – the busy-ness – in our minds. That noise can negatively impact sleep (we have all had the experience of lying restlessly being nagged by thoughts of the day gone by or worries about the day ahead) as much as it negatively impacts wakefulness!

Sean guides listeners to tune into their bodies; one ‘part’ at a time. I was only at my knees and I could already notice a shift (we started, by the way, at our feet)!

The simplicity of meditation is in being able to change your state by changing your focus. Mindfully choosing to tune into our bodies helps us to tune out of our busy minds. This simple process induces relaxation and ‘sleepiness’. While I have selected sleep meditations before, I like this one because it taught me how to fall asleep mindfully when I don’t have my headphones in my ears and my Insight Timer turned on. I can learn to slow myself down and fall asleep easily. Every year I get older, I am more grateful for the gift of a good night’s sleep!

I awoke this morning feeling energized and awake! This is where the power of a meditation practice is realized. When I arise energized and awake, I am better able to navigate my day; I begin with more joy in my heart, I proceed with more spring in my step, I make better (more mindful) decisions, and I am more equipped to deal with frustrations and irritations that inevitably come along.

In this world of ‘hurry’, you can choose to pause on purpose…either at the end of your day to fall asleep, at the beginning of your day to awaken positively, or any time throughout your day to engage energetically. And then, just notice what you notice….

I know you will find as I do….there is real joy in ‘slow’. What do you think?

Deri Latimer is an expert in positive possibilities for people! A TEDx Speaker and Author, Deri’s message reinforces that positive habits are the pathway to a happier and healthier life – at work, at home and at any age! www.derilatimer.com

April Showers Bring May Flowers: What Are You Nourishing Today?

Untitled-2I love this time of year. Here in Central Canada, we look forward to April showers. The rain not only helps to clean up our streets and wipe away (along with our wonderful City services) the mess from winter, it also begins to nourish what will soon be blooming all over our beautiful city.

I think this is a great metaphor for life. In fact, for how to approach each day.

Your thoughts are “April Showers”. What you allow to take up residence in your mind impacts what will bloom (or not) in your life. Your thoughts are constantly streaming, just as the rain in April can seem to be doing. What will you allow to swirl around in your mind? If your thoughts were a movie, would you pay money to go see it?

In other words, what will you choose to think that will provide the best nourishment for the kind of outcomes you wish to create in your life?

Here are some ideas for you to GROW the kind of mindset that helps you get what you want:

Greet each day with a moment of gratitude. When your alarm goes off, or when you awake naturally, pause. When you pause, take a deep breath and connect with your body. Wake up and connect with your toes, shins, knees, thighs, and so on. Then, take a moment to reflect on something for which you are grateful (being able to take a breath, having another day to live…these are two very obvious and easy things to start with!)

Reframe negative situations. Perhaps as you are driving to work, someone cuts you off in traffic. You might experience frustration and anger at the driver for not noticing you. You might also experience fear because you missed a fender-bender by mere seconds!  You might notice that the thoughts you are having about that driver are negative ‘What’s up with that guy?’ ‘She didn’t even signal!” “Crazy driver!!” “People are so rude!”. In an instant you can choose other thoughts – you can reframe this negative situation into something more positive. You can decide to think “He must be in a hurry since he did not see me here; I am glad my brakes work well.” “Perhaps she has just left her sick mother’s side, and she is distracted. I hope she gets to her destination okay.” The reframe is a gift to your brain…it helps you to be able to move past this negative situation and to experience more positive feelings…like empathy, compassion, and gratitude.

Open your eyes. Notice all of the moments of wonder around you. You might notice those new buds on the trees as you walk outside. You might notice the joyful sound of children playing in the park. You might notice the faces in the photos on your desk, and take a few seconds to connect with their smiling eyes. You do not need technology to help you experience the amazing things going on in this world. You only need to look around.

Welcome other people into your life. You are always better when you connect with other people. You do less well, mentally and emotionally, when you isolate yourself. You can welcome other people into your life in many ways; smile at people when you walk down the street or through your office, look into the eyes of the person passing you your coffee over the counter, join in the conversation taking place in the office lunch room, invite a co-worker to join you for break, phone a friend.

April showers bring May flowers….what possibilities will begin to sprout for you this month?

Deri Latimer is an expert in positive possibilities for people! A TEDx Speaker and Author, Deri’s message reinforces that positive habits are the pathway to a happier and healthier life – at work, at home and at any age! www.derilatimer.com

 

 

Six Strategies to Add Some Bounce to Your Step this Spring!

Jasmine and Deri

Jasmine and Deri

It’s Spring! A time of birth, of renewal, and awakening! Here are six strategies to help you Bounce (or ‘spring’) into Spring!

Be Positive

Begin each day with a minute of mindfulness. As soon as your alarm goes off, lay quietly for a minute…to ‘arrive’ in your body (try a body scan to ‘wake up’ all of your parts), and to set your intention for the day. You will naturally be in a positive mindset if you look toward what you want to create that day. Also, remind yourself of at least one thing you love about being YOU! We are our biggest criticizers. Waking up feeling good about yourself will help to energize you for the rest of the day!

Own Your Story

No matter what has happened to you in your life, remember that you own the story. You decide how an event will impact your life and the people who experience you. Sometimes the stories we tell ourselves were ones given to us by influential people in our lives. Sometimes those stories serve us. Sometimes they do not. Choose stories that add strength, vitality and energy to you. Focus on times of growth and positivity – even if they stem out of times of struggle. What you’ll soon notice is that the new story IS reality.

Underscore Appreciation

What you appreciate, grows. When you let others know what you appreciate, you tend to get more of it. When you focus on what you are grateful for in your life, your overall sense of happiness increases. Grow what’s good. Notice how much more ‘good’ comes back to you. Take the time every evening to write down three things (big or small) that you are grateful for! This is a perfect bedtime routine to put you in a positive mood before hitting the sheets, and will help put appreciation front and center in your mind.

Nourish Your Body (Mind, Soul)

You’ve heard the expression ‘garbage in, garbage out’. That is true for what you choose to put in your body, just as it is true for what you allow to take up residence in your mind. Take the time to nourish yourself physically, mentally and spiritually. Choose nutritious food that gives you energy, set up a routine of daily exercise and movement, and surround yourself with people who feed your soul. You will begin to feel the positive effects of full-body nourishment all throughout your day. And, hey, who doesn’t like to feel good?

Connect Often

Schedule times to connect with important people in your life. I’ve just done this with a friend of mine. We scheduled one time each month for the next six months that we plan to get together to connect. We realize that if we do not do this, the months slip by. Matthew Lieberman‘s research demonstrates clearly the importance of social connection to our well-being, our happiness, our very survival. So pick up the phone and make plans with the family and friends that matter to you most. Connectedness is essential to feeling whole and pursuing positivity.

Engage Fully

Jump in and participate fully in life! If you are at work, choose to add to the experience of your co-workers and your customers. If you are with family, show an interest in them by asking questions about what is going on in their lives. Connect with those friends you lost touch with and plan your next big adventure together. Engaging is a choice; and you’ll feel better at the end of the day if you are an active participant rather than a passive bystander.

So, BOUNCE into Spring! And as you do, connect with us and share what strategies have worked for you!

This blog post is collaboratively written by two people who embrace these strategies every day:

Jasmine Zyzniewski is a fourth and final year student completing her BA in Psychology with a minor in Peace and Conflict Transformation studies. She aims to normalize and contribute to mental health awareness through optimistic and positive reflections on herself and her surroundings. Alongside her studies, she loves DIY crafts, spending time with family and any good book she can get her hands on.

Deri Latimer is an expert in positive possibilities for people! A TEDx Speaker and Author, Deri’s message reinforces that positive habits are the pathway to a happier and healthier life – at work, at home and at any age! www.derilatimer.com