The Importance of Keeping Busy

The idea of ‘keeping busy’ may seem exhausting to an already overworked generation of individuals out there in the workforce. They can’t bear the thought of adding one more thing to their packed schedule and may wonder about the sustainability of their ventures. In theory, these individuals know the merits of relaxation, however, the messaging may seem at odds at first to find that a healthy existence values both.  Keeping busy involves one’s ability to separate the important from the trivial. It is dependent upon prioritizing what actions are meaningful and pursuing them while refraining from getting caught up with those that waste precious time. A person who keeps themselves busy embraces change and hard work and acts accordingly to achieve their goals in life.

Staying busy for your mental health

However, for those who are anxious or depressed, their life likely reflects a diminished capacity to go on with ‘life as usual’ or to do things that they would otherwise enjoy were they not experiencing such mood disorders. They have likely lost sight of all values for their life, of pursuing health, security, personal growth or development, of taking time to build positive relationships or make time for social activities.  Truly, it can become a vicious cycle, as inactivity can be a source of depression, of boredom and unhappiness, and it is these individuals that most benefit from creating more structure and activity in their daily lives. To be clear, however, the advice is not simply to fill your days with more Netflix, or more “chill”. It is getting your butt out of bed, out of the house, even if it is just a walk to the end of the block to start. 

Behavioral Activation Strategies

Behavioral Activation is a specific Cognitive Behavioral Therapy technique that focuses on the ability of our actions to influence how we feel and is the process for assisting individuals in creating routines to fill their life with positive practices.  Think of your mind as a car’s battery, that has gone cold from not being used in a long time. It will likely have a hard time getting started, or building any sort of momentum. This is what it’s like to be depressed– You become more detached from people, places and things that once brought you joy. Behavioral activation, in this case, is like the jumper cables, that presents a strategy to activate the proverbial “stalled engine” by helping you regain your focus by closely examining yourself and daily routine. Researchers have found behavioral activation to be slightly superior to medication because it shifts away from cognitions and feelings to focus on an individual’s behavior and environment and works to identify and observe patterns of behavior. Negative life events such as grief, trauma, life stressors, or even just having a genetic tendency toward depression can lead someone turn to unhealthy behaviors like alcohol and drug use, or even social withdrawal in an attempt to avoid the uncomfortable emotions associated with certain activities. Behavioral activation will not only help in replacing negative avoidance behaviors with new ones but it also increases the amount of positive reinforcement a person experiences in real life. One main symptom of depression is loss of interest in things that were enjoyable. In this case, this therapy can help an individual engage more enjoyable activities and experience the rewards of feeling accomplished and even leading to having a sense of meaning.    Working with a therapist and implementing behavioral activation strategies will also encourage people to schedule enjoyable experiences and taking actions that steer them toward a positive solution and goal. Consequently, it moves them past the paralyzing inaction that once locked them in the clasps of depression.

The Importance of Relaxation

When we picture ‘relaxation’, we may allow our minds to drift to a scene complete with some exotic island, a beautiful view, and our toes in the sand, where the stresses of our daily to-do list are far from our awareness. In this place, we are calm, we are centered, and uninhibited by the prisons of our minds.  For many of us, relaxation feels like it can only exist in this other world, as the reality of our everyday life is demanding: dishes piling up in the sink as one reminder of all of the housework that needs attention, countless emails to respond to and errands to run to stay on top of your job, workouts to complete to stay healthy, and in the midst of it all, remembering to feed yourself, and select good options at that. We all know that in order to stay healthy, we must have well-exercised, well-rested, and well-fed body, therefore, we work extra hard to achieve this, but we neglect our mental health. Or you may even find yourself desperate to find ways to unwind, but incapable of doing so. Some studies even suggest that when you are working too hard at relaxing or stress too much about it, you simply cannot let go enough to induce the feeling.

The Mind-Body Connection

Keep in mind that our bodies affect our minds and emotional wellbeing and vice versa, therefore psychological issues ranging from traumatic stress, depression, anxiety or even a lack of sleep all create a physical response. These and other forms of mental disorders often heighten the “fight or flight” mechanism of the nervous system, leaving the body on high alert. Consequently, this makes it virtually impossible to induce relaxation even in the best of circumstances or environment.  Between the round-the-clock demands of family responsibilities, commitments to work, and all the indeterminable stressors that add up to leave you too exhausted to be bothered with practicing self-care until your body is tense, your neck is full of knots, and your brain is fried. Our bodies often intuitively know what we need, and all but demand that we remember to tune into our internal states. 

How do I find relaxation?

To make it worse, most of us can rarely find the time, let alone the money to afford time away from work to create the sort of imagined scene we think is necessary to relax. Fortunately, just making small lifestyle changes can help you achieve relaxation here and now, and ultimately find a bit more serenity in your life. When it comes to relaxation, one of the most significant barriers that most people face is overcoming a negative mindset about what ‘relaxation’ really is all about. For example, you may sit down to relax, but you may sense that you can’t let go simply because your mind will be spinning thinking about everything that needs to be done. Remember: the world won’t end if you do press-pause once in a while, and there is a reason that most guided imagery tapes begin with something along the lines of, “become aware that there is nothing that you need to do, and no one that you need to respond to for a while”. The key is allowing yourself the time to become present at the moment, trusting that the future will work itself out, and making an investment in one form of relaxation for your physical and mental well-being. Something as small as sitting in a relaxed but uplifted posture or a 5 to 10-minute yoga session while breathing through some poses for a few seconds will not only relax your mind and body, but it can alleviate issues ranging from problems with digestion, stress, and even aid in addiction recovery. Practicing a few minutes of relaxation techniques can have profound benefits, such as:
  • Lowering mental fatigue, improving concentration, mood, and sleep quality
  • Reducing the activity of stress hormones
  • Alleviating frustration and anger
  • Improving digestion 
  • Increasing blood flow to major muscles
  • Reducing muscle tension and chronic pain
  • Aiding in slowing down your heart rate and consequently lowering blood pressure
   In moments of turmoil or uncertainty, just going outside for a few minutes observing nature and focusing in the stillness of your surroundings can center you and induce relaxation. Whether you’re listening to a guided visualization or meditation script, or even just decided to leave your phone at home for a neighborhood walk or while you sit in a sauna, true opportunities for relaxation are present, if only we’ll value them enough to seek them out and commit. 

How to Quit Drinking

Do you ever think to yourself that perhaps it’s time to quit drinking? Maybe you’ve managed to skate by unnoticed at work, and for the most part, been able to keep up with appearances. Maybe your family member has expressed concerns about your patterns, but you never wanted to believe them.  But how can you stop drinking because, in essence, it is much easier to overindulge and grow addicted to alcohol than it is to quit drinking, right? Quitting would mean owning up to that thing you said, or that thing you did. It would mean making apologies, trying new things, and changing your way of life. You may hear all of the difficulty and the challenge written in those words, and it is true, that will come, but also contained within those words, within a life of pursuing sobriety, is hope.

Alcohol Use and Alcohol Dependence

Understanding the dangers as well as the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse and its impact on overall life and society at large can help you make healthier choices and eventually quit drinking. Alcohol dependence affects people from all walks of life and has profound negative effects, especially on the brain, as well as the heart, pancreas, liver, and immune system.    Despite its negative impact, alcohol continues to be one of the causes of preventable death, followed closely by tobacco, a poor diet, and living a sedentary lifestyle.  According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 15 million people struggle with an alcohol use disorder, and at least 88,000 people die each year from alcohol-related deaths.    Do you suspect that you might be struggling with an alcohol use disorder?  Here are the warning signs to look out for:
  • Sub-par or worse performance at work or school
  • Engaging in risky behaviors: drunk driving, sexual promiscuity, and the resulting legal problems
  • Experiencing temporary blackouts or memory loss after drinking
  • Continuing to drink despite health issues like liver or heart disease including diabetes that is made worse by alcohol
  • Failed interventions from family members and friends who are worried about your drinking
  • Making excuses for drinking like to help deal with stress, to relax or feel normal
  • Choosing to drink instead of following through with responsibilities 
  • Distancing yourself from people which may result to drinking in secrecy
  If you exhibit any of the abovementioned warning signs that detect potential alcohol abuse, don’t stop alcohol use abruptly because depending on the severity you may put your life at risk. You may need to attend a detox facility or call in a professional to safely detox from the comfort of your own home   Alcohol abuse can begin to impact a person’s life negatively and tends to spiral out of control quickly if left unaddressed. Of course, signing up for a treatment program is an excellent place to start, as they can assist you with all of the following, but until then, here are a few tips to help you quit drinking:
  1.     Before you can successfully kick alcohol to the curb, you must first take the time to discover why you no longer need it in your life anymore
  2.     Accept that you have a problem and realize you have control over what enters your body. By so doing, you empower yourself, not your addiction
  3.     Recognize and admit your weaknesses when it comes to alcohol and enact change. For example, you may want to avoid going to bars, or being around any alcoholic beverage, and cleaning out your home of all temptations. Remember, you’re only weak if you give weakness a foothold.
  4.     When you catch yourself in the throes of “a happy drinking memory,” stop for a moment and play that memory all the way through and remember how it felt when you woke up the next day.  Use that feeling to fuel your determination to quit drinking
  5.     Reaffirm the benefits you will notice in your life from quitting drinking
  6.     Seek help from family and counseling support groups for a judgment-free, supportive environment
  7.     Contact us today to get started on your treatment journey!

What are practical ways to start loving myself?

In an earlier blog, we discussed how to begin to love and care for yourself (LINK) and the aim of this article is to pick up right where that one left off, to give our readers practical tips and ways to build self- love. Some may feel that it is inherently selfish to begin to take care of oneself, however, it truly is one of the most beneficial things we can do for one another, as when we feel good about ourselves, we are kinder, more generous and patient as we move through the world and interact with others. This makes for a world built on mutual understanding and respect. 

1. Seek out meaningful experiences

Spend time with others who bring happiness to your life, and seek to engage with them in a meaningful way, whether that means talking about shared interests, philosophies or ideas about the world, or engaging in vulnerability with trusted others. Allow others to see different sides of you, and pursue avenues where you are able to be known by them. But first, spend some alone time getting to know yourself, what you like, and how you want to exist in the world. 

2. Make a list of your accomplishments

Write a paper and pen copy, or save it as a file on your computer. Think about all the different realms of your life, be it academics, work or hobbies, your home life, athletics or the arts. Don’t forget to include all the intangible things accomplished as well, whether it was an important life lesson learned, a time of personal growth and self-improvement, something immaterial given to others including wisdom or assistance, or times you may have functioned in an important leadership role. When you get stuck, enlist the help of another who can help give you perspective and allow you to see outside of the story you have always told yourself. Throughout your day, draw attention to your successes, no matter how small and celebrate them. Cultivate in yourself gratitude for the path you have taken thus far, and do your best to focus on yourself, and not to play the comparison game

3. Envision your ideal you & ideal future

Make a vision board represent who you are now, and make a separate one for the life you want to live. Fill it with quotes, favorite sayings, images that bring you joy, or other things to remind you who you are right now and the life you are pursuing. Notice the differences between them as well as the ways that you are on the right track. Focus on one small difference and make that your goal for the week or month. 

4. Forgive yourself for your mistakes

Give yourself the benefit of the doubt that you are doing the best that you can with the resources available to you. Extend to yourself some self-compassion, whether that’s to the future, past or present you. Do the work to dig deeper and understand yourself and your motives, but remember that many times you’re doing the best you can. Stop being so hard on yourself, accept that it is a human quality to make mistakes sometimes or make a poor choice here or there. Owning up to your mistakes in the past actually helps to give you the power to help make a change in the future moving forward.  

5. Surprise yourself

Say “yes” to something that you would normally say “no” to, or would typically count out right away.  Follow through with something you normally may not have, start a new project and carry it to completion, or push yourself 10 extra minutes of exercising, journaling, reading or walking. Challenge yourself to try something new and to step outside of your comfort zone. Make sure to take joy in completing something that you were not always sure you could accomplish. And in that same vein, learn to say “no” also in order to protect your own boundaries. Surprise yourself by choosing “discomfort over resentment” in moments when you feel overextended, overworked, and allow your own needs to come first for a change.  

6. Work on self- trust

Begin to believe that you can accomplish the things in life that you seek. Have confidence in future you, and in your problem-solving skills, that no presenting issue will be too great to tackle.  
  • Avoid people who are unsupportive.
  Think about the people that you have in your life: Do they undermine your attempts at bettering yourself? Do they really deserve a place in your life?  
  •  Keep the promises you make to yourself.
  Just as our actions are constantly communicating messages to others about what they can expect from us, we are also constantly crafting our own identity based on what fits for us and what doesn’t. Be willing to challenge unhelpful ideas about who you are and what you’re capable of and be the type of person that you can count on.   
  • Speak kindly to yourself.
  Be willing to erase the tapes that have been playing in your mind long enough about your worth, and what you have to contribute to the world. Preach to yourself the beauty of your own humanity, and seek and practice understanding. 

7. Practice loving-kindness meditations

Spend some time in mindfulness meditations meant to increase your sense of self and ability to extend a sense of compassion and love inward.  Begin by picturing someone in your life who has loved you without hesitation, judgement or expectation. Imagine them in the room with you; picture that sense of love and compassion flowing freely from them and directed towards you, and imagine yourself receiving and basking in their love. Expound upon the love you have felt from them, and what it’s like to be accepted regardless of your flaws. Allow yourself to sit in this experience of compassion.  Move to allow this person to fade from conscious thought, and to instead become yourself both the source and object of the feelings, sending kindness, compassion and love inward. Observe how this feels, in your body and mind, and realize that you are worthy of acceptance and belonging even if you have flaws, have made mistakes, or have done things you are not proud of. Assume ownership over the task of giving unconditional positive regard just as was possible for the imagined person in first part of this exercise.   Allow all judgments to fade, especially regarding the difficulty of the practice. You may find that it is difficult to focus or latch onto more than just one moment of kindness and compassion.  Rest in the following intentions, and allow them to seep in and resonate within: May I be free from suffering.  May I know peace.  May I experience contentment

8. Take care of yourself

Strive to find balance in your life between work and play, and look to fill your life and your schedule with more positivity, including setting aside time for the care and keeping of you.  Give yourself breaks when you’re working hard, recognize your own importance, and seek to implement your own self-care plan, taking into account your physical, emotional, intellectual, social and spiritual wellbeing needs. At Nsight Psychology and Addiction, we want to help you find your way back to yourself, and meeting with a counselor may be an important step in doing so, as is recognizing that you are worthy of love and compassion.