Small Things I Do Every Day to Manage My Depression

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Some days you feel well, and other days, darkness envelopes you. You feel achingly sad, or you feel absolutely nothing. You’re exhausted, and every task feels too big to start. You feel weighed down, as though there are sandbags attached to your shoulders.

Managing the symptoms of depression can be hard. But even the smallest steps taken every day (or on most days) can make a significant difference.

Below, you’ll learn how five different women live with depression on a daily basis, and the small, yet pivotal actions they take.

Having a daily routine. “Having a daily routine helps me push through the days when I’m not feeling my best,” said Denita Stevens, a writer and author of the recently released poetry collection Invisible Veils, which delves into her experiences with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Stevens’s routine starts at night with two morning alarms: one alarm is optional, the second one, which rings around 7 a.m., is not. “I take a moment to gauge how I’m feeling before deciding which one I wake up to.  Sometimes I don’t always have a good night’s sleep and an extra hour of rest helps.”

When she’s up, she drinks coffee and reads. Then she focuses on work. The evenings are dedicated to personal time. This “gives me motivation to accomplish what I need to do during the workday in a timely manner and allows me to end the day investing my time in myself,” Stevens said. This me-time might mean socializing, exercising, relaxing, or working on a writing project—right now she’s working on a memoir about what it was like to live with undiagnosed PTSD and how she recovered.

On weekends, Stevens doesn’t have a schedule. “A balance between scheduled and unscheduled time every week seems to work best for me,” she said.

Setting boundaries. “Setting boundaries is extremely important to my mental and emotional well-being,” said T-Kea Blackman, a mental health advocate who hosts a weekly podcast called Fireflies Unite With Kea.

For instance, Blackman has set her phone to go into “Do Not Disturb” mode every night at 9 p.m., because she wakes up at 4:45 a.m. to exercise. “Working out has been beneficial as it helps to improve my mood and I sleep much better.” Going to bed around the same time and waking up around the same time helps her get consistent rest. “When I am not well rested, I am unable to function throughout the day.”

Exercising. “I make myself exercise even if I don’t feel like it,” said Mary Cregan, author of the memoir The Scar: A Personal History of Depression and Recovery. “If my mind is troubling me, I’ll try using my body instead.”

If Cregan’s energy is really low, she goes for a walk. And these walks have a powerful benefit: She gets to see other people—“little kids in playgrounds, old people walking with their shopping bags, teenage girls all dressed alike. People can be interesting or amusing, and help me get out of my own head.”

Cregan, who lives in New York City, also likes to walk along the Hudson or around the reservoir in Central Park, and admire the water. She likes to look at the plants and trees, too. “If the sun is out, I’ll sit on a bench with the sun on my face.”

Tidying up. Cregan also regularly makes her bed and cleans up the kitchen. This way, she said, “things don’t feel messy or ugly, because that would be depressing in itself.” Sometimes, she buys flowers for her home, since looking at them cheers her up.

Having downtime. Blackman prioritizes downtime to help her unplug and recharge. Sometimes, this looks like listening to water sounds—waves crashing onto the shore, water hitting the rocks—and putting on her essential oil diffuser as she listens to a podcast or reads a book. Other times, it looks like lying in bed and letting her mind wander, as she listens to the water sounds and breathes in the essential oils.

Wearing comfortable clothes. Fiona Thomas, author of the book Depression in a Digital Age: The Highs and Lows of Perfectionism, regularly tunes into her inner dialogue. When she notices the chatter is negative—“you’re so lazy”—she decides to actively challenge the voice and be kind to herself instead.

“One small way that I’m kind to myself every day is by wearing clothes that I feel comfortable in as opposed to what I think people expect me to wear. If I want to wear leggings and a baggy jumper to the supermarket, then I do it.”

Creating small moments of self-care. Another way that Thomas is kind to herself is by going out for coffee, or taking several minutes to stand by a canal and watch the ducks go by.

Practicing self-compassion. In addition to depression, Leah Beth Carrier, a mental health advocate working on her master’s in public health, also has obsessive-compulsive disorder and PTSD. When her brain tells her that she isn’t worthy, doesn’t deserve to take up space, and won’t ever amount to anything, she gives herself grace. “This grace I give myself allows me to be able to hear these old tapes, acknowledge that they are fear based and my fear has a purpose, and then continue to go about my day.”

Taking a shower. “I try my hardest to take a shower every day even though I find this really difficult with depression,” Thomas said. “Even if [showering is the] last thing [I do] at night, I know it helps me feel healthier in the long run.”

Looking in the mirror. “I have also found that the simple act of looking at myself in the mirror, eye to eye, each morning and making a point to say hello to myself—as silly as it sounds—keeps me grounded,” Carrier said. “It is also a little reminder that my existence here on earth is allowed and OK, maybe even something to be celebrated.”

Of course, the specific small actions you take will depend on the severity of your depression, and how you’re feeling that day. The above actions are examples that speak to the power of small. Of course, it’s also vital to get treatment, which might include working with a therapist and/or taking medication.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that the pain isn’t permanent, even though it absolutely feels permanent in the moment. You won’t feel this way forever. “Having lived with depression since I was a teenager, I’ve discovered that even at my lowest points, I can still survive and it will get better,” Stevens said. “It always gets better. May not seem like it at the moment, but those feelings are only temporary.”

“I never believed it when people told me it would get better when I was in my darkest days and attempted suicide, but I remained committed to my recovery…,” Blackman said. She’s made various changes, and has seen a huge improvement in her mental health.

Don’t discount the power of small daily acts and steps. After all, before you know it, those small steps have helped you walk several miles—a lot more than had you been standing still. And if you do stand still on some days, remember that this is OK, too. Try to treat yourself gently on those days, to sit down, and extend yourself some compassion.

Small Things I Do Every Day to Manage My Depression

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Controlling Emotions: Is it Possible?

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When struggling with anxiety or depression it’s common to feel like you don’t have control over your emotions. Emotions can feel like they come out of nowhere, and they can be confusing if they are stronger than you think they should be in light of the current situation. For example, if you start crying when you see a prescription drug commercial because it felt so moving. Or when you feel enraged just because you partner didn’t do the dishes, but then again they did them last night.

All people have had those moments, where you feel a strong emotion and aren’t sure why. Emotions are the minds automatic response to stimuli.

When you see an abandoned puppy on a commercial your brain is processing those images on a subconscious level and the feeling of sadness may start to emerge whether you want them to or not. Depending on your past experiences with puppies your emotional response may be stronger or weaker. If you volunteer in a dog shelter once a week, your mind may be used to the situation and you may feel less reactive. If you lost a dog recently, you may feel a flood of emotions. All of these emotions are normal, and they are a signal that you are human.

In a popular therapy called dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), the emotional response is labeled the “emotional mind” and the intellectual or thinking response is labeled the “rational mind.” Either one by itself is not sufficient because it doesn’t really give you the full picture. The combination of the emotional and rational minds is what results in the “wise mind” which is a more balanced response.

When we routinely ignore our mind’s emotional responses we are stifling the mind’s natural way of processing these situations and we miss out on the wise mind approach. It’s only when you accept and notice what your emotional mind is telling you that you can you find the balance of the wise mind.

3 Strategies to Accept & Manage Your Emotions:

1. Emotions are clues:

Try taking the stance that your emotions are clues to something your mind is trying to tell you. Be curious about what you are feeling and why. Your emotion will be a clue to getting to your wise mind, and actually, you can’t accomplish a wise mind approach without it. Emotions are not just clues, they are vital information.

2. Emotions are neither good nor bad:

Everyone’s automatic emotional responses are going to be different based on a number of different factors including past experiences, current context, and how much sleep you got the night before! Your emotional reaction is not better or worse than anyone else’s. Sadness or fear do not have to be negative; emotions are just neutral.

3. Emotions do not equal actions:

While you can’t control what emotions surface for you, you can control how you act. Just because you feel angry at someone, doesn’t mean you are necessarily going to say something to that person. When someone says they don’t have control over their emotions, the bigger concern is usually that they feel they don’t have control over their actions. It makes it okay to feel angry when you know that you don’t have to punch someone every time you feel that way. You can just feel and process an emotion without taking action.

When you acknowledge your emotions as clues to what’s going on and you don’t judge yourself for feeling what you’re feeling, then you have a choice about how to act or respond. You are combining the emotional mind and the rational mind to problem solve and come up with the best decision for you.

So, the short answer is no, you cannot “control” your emotions. But if you follow the strategies to accept your emotions as they come, you will find that you do not have to let your emotions control you.

Reference:

The Wise Mind (Worksheet). (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2019, from https://www.therapistaid.com/therapy-worksheet/wise-mind/dbt/none

Controlling Emotions: Is it Possible?

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How Writers Write About Heartbreaking Things and Care for Themselves in the Process

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For more than 20 years, Mary Cregan wanted to write her recently published memoir The Scar: A Personal History of Depression and Recovery, but she felt that she couldn’t. It’s primarily because she wasn’t ready to face the exposure required to be so honest about such a devastating, difficult part of her life.

Because that’s the thing about writing: We let readers into our innermost thoughts and feelings, into our souls, and that can be scary.

We tackle topics we’d never bring up with a close friend, let alone a stranger, and yet that’s exactly what we do. We share our stories with thousands of strangers.

Writing about heartbreaking things and publishing that work makes the private very, very public, a process that we, of course, can’t reverse. This is especially difficult if you were taught to keep your stories to yourself, behind closed doors. As Cregan writes in The Scar, “In my large Irish Catholic family, the tacit understanding was that it was best not to draw attention to oneself.”

Nita Sweeney thought she was writing a memoir about running, but after many, many drafts realized that she was writing a memoir about how running saved her life—from depression, bipolar disorder, panic attacks, agoraphobia, and alcoholism.

“The fact that I’d gone from a woman who could barely walk around the block into a marathoner was important, but the real story was that I’d gone from a woman who wanted to kill herself into one who wants to live,” said Sweeney, whose forthcoming memoir Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink will be published mid May.

Mental health advocate and writer Hannah Blum regularly writes about her experiences living with bipolar disorder on her blog “I’m Bipolar Too” and her website Halfway2Hannah.com. While there are many parts of her story she’s not ready to share, writing about difficult things actually isn’t that difficult for her.

“Turning my pain into art gives power to any of the challenges I have faced throughout my life.”

“It’s when I am writing about the people I have met along my journey who were not given a chance because of their mental illness that I struggle to write about the most,” Blum said.

Author, mental health advocate, and Psych Central editor Therese Borchard has been writing online about her experiences with mental illness for many years (and before that she shared her story in her print column). But that doesn’t make sharing any easier.

“It’s extremely difficult to share the more personal posts. My index finger hovers over the publish button sometimes for an hour before I have the courage to press it,” Borchard said.

Why Write About Such Hard Things?

When a friend asked Cregan why on earth she’d want to revisit the worst days of her life—the death of her infant daughter, and her descent into a deep, unrelenting, suicidal depression—Cregan realized that it was because she’d spent decades trying to conceal that time. “…I wanted to turn to the past and face it squarely,” she writes in her memoir.

Cregan also wrote her story as a way to reject the stigma and shame surrounding mental illness. She wrote it for her younger self, and for the young women in her family who, too, live with depression.

“It is also for the countless people who find themselves struggling to cope with internal forces that feel overwhelming but—as I try to show in these pages—are survivable,” she writes.

She writes at the end of her book: “Most importantly, I want to encourage people in the depths of hopelessness to believe that they can come through, and to find help from a compassionate, responsible professional who will care for them until they do. People in the grip of severe depression might take as their mantra a line from Rilke so relevant to all kinds of human trouble that it has become an Internet meme: ‘Just keep going. No feeling is final.’”

Sometimes after publishing a vulnerable post, Borchard feels like she’s “walking around naked,” and wonders if it’s really worth it. “However, then I will get an email or comment from a reader who tells me she feels less alone because I shared it, and it makes it worth it.”

Blum, too, is propelled by the people who read her work, along with the mental health community in general. “Knowing that I may help someone not feel so alone or encourage them to accept themselves is a gift to me. Relating to people emotionally through words inspires me every day to write.”

For Borchard, writing about the more challenging parts of her recovery helps her in another powerful way, as well: “I get to recognize the voice within me that doesn’t necessarily come out in casual conversation with friends or even in therapy. There is something about writing about your experience that clarifies it…”

Self-Care During the Writing (and Publishing) Process

After Borchard pens a difficult piece, she’ll often walk in the woods or over to the creek by her house. This is when she processes what she’s written—and tells “myself that should I get scathing responses, it doesn’t detract from my truth—that I am a good person who speaks from the heart, even if that truth isn’t received well.”

Blum finds it helpful to sit with her thoughts, and journal what she feels. She also reads books by Hemingway along with pieces from modern-day poets, such as April Green, Lang Leav, and JM Storm.

For Cregan, when the writing became especially difficult, self-care looked like refocusing her attention toward researching or writing less personal sections of her book. On the days it felt unbearable, she’d schedule several sessions with her psychiatrist.

She also found it helpful to “change the channel” in her mind, something she still does today when she’s getting depressed. “I read or watch a movie or see a friend—anything, really, to get my mind out of the track it’s stuck in.”

Exercise is equally critical for Cregan’s well-being, which she does regularly, whether it’s indoor cycling or yoga.

For Sweeney, self-care while writing includes: hugging her husband, cuddling her dog, running, spending time with a supportive community, meditating, taking medication, going to therapy, not drinking, and calling her sister.

Because Sweeney writes regularly, the actual process isn’t so difficult (more on that below). But the after is.

“My mindfulness meditation practice helps with the aftermath, the ‘post-writing’ emotional hangover…During the time I’ve allotted for this practice, the huge rock in the pit of my stomach or the noose tightening around my neck becomes the object on which I focus. Awareness and a non-judgmental attitude transform these unpleasant sensations into something more neutral. It might sound like hocus pocus, but it’s quite intensely practical and for me, effective.”

And sometimes, Sweeney said, she needs a good “scream-cry.” “I do my best to experience heaving chest, stinging tears, and howling, with awareness and equanimity. If I find myself judging any of this, that becomes the object of meditation.”

The Power of a Regular Writing Practice

Sweeney also has developed a consistent, strong writing practice. Thanks to studying with Natalie Goldberg, she’s learned to “shut up and write,” and “go for the jugular.”

“Following [Goldberg’s] suggestion, I’ve spent years, no, decades, pushing my pen or pounding keys into painful and unpleasant memories. Hours reading aloud to small groups of people then listening to others who are also sharing their difficult situations by reading aloud, developed my spine.”

Plus, Sweeney has participated in National Novel Writing Month every year for a decade, writing or revising nonfiction. “Producing 1667 words a day during the 30 days of November, trained me to write on a regular schedule the rest of the year.”

Because she’s always writing, nearly every day since 1994, she doesn’t think about it. “It’s just what I do. If I thought about it too much, I’d never do it.”

Borchard views writing from the heart as “just another way of living sincerely, or with integrity.”

“It’s not for everyone, but I’ve found that the more transparent I can be in my life, the more I create opportunities to bond with readers and others on their journey. You are like a travel guide of sorts. So it’s also a privilege and one I take seriously.”

How Writers Write About Heartbreaking Things and Care for Themselves in the Process

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6 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Recovery from Depression and Anxiety

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Recovering from depression and anxiety call for the same kind of shrewdness and amount of perspiration as does running a 4,000-person company. I say that having never done the latter. But hear out my logic: great leaders must master impeccable governing skills, develop the discipline of a triathlete, and build enough stamina to manage multiple personalities. And so does anyone wanting to get outside of her head and live a little.

So I think it’s fitting to translate the insight of a book about business success, The Wisdom of Failure: How to Learn the Tough Leadership Lessons Without Paying the Price by Laurence Weinzimmer and Jim McConoughey, to victory over a mood disorder, or even mild but annoying anxiety and depression.

Weinzimmer and McConoughey describe their “taxonomy of leadership mistakes,” or nine common ways an executive falls flat on his face and is made fun of by his peers. The business world is replete with calculated risks. It’s a chess game, and a few too many wrong moves will have you packing up your stuff from the corner office.

As I read through them, I kept thinking about my main job — managing my depression as best I can — and the pitfalls that I so often run into. Many are the same listed in this book. Here are six mistakes business leaders make that are appropriate for our purposes:

Mistake one: Trying to be all things to all people.

The “just say no” problem that I have all the time. If you think of requests from friends, families, bosses, co-workers, and golden retrievers as customers asking you for all kinds of products that you can’t simultaneously produce, then you see the logic in your having to draw the line at some point. You must hang on to your resources to stay well.

Mistake two: Roaming outside the box.

Clarification: thinking outside the box is good. Hanging out there, strolling around in pursuit of some meaning that you keep finding in everything that passes by — that’s dangerous. When it comes to recovery, this is very important to remember. I like to try new things: yoga, new fish oil supplements, a new light lamp, different support groups.

What gets me in trouble is when I start to think that I don’t have bipolar disorder and can go off all meds, healing myself through meditation alone. I tried that once and landed in the hospital twice. Now I double check to make sure the box is still in my peripheral vision.

Mistake three: Efficiencies before effectiveness.

This has to do with seeing the forest behind the trees, and subscribing to a policy of making decisions based on the view of the forest, not the trees that are blocking everything from your sight. The authors cite the example of Circuit City’s CEO who cut 3,400 sales people to decrease costs despite the fact that their research said that customers want knowledgeable sales people to help them make decisions when buying electronics. His approach was efficient, but not all that effective.

When you are desperate to feel better, it’s so easy to reach for the Band-Aid — booze, cigarettes, toxic relationships — that might do an efficient job of killing the pain. Effective in the longterm? Not so much.

Mistake four: Dysfunctional harmony.

Like me! Like me! Please like me! Dysfunctional harmony involves abandoning your needs to please others, which jeopardizes your recovery efforts.

“Being an effective leader [or person in charge of one’s health] means that sometimes you will not make the most popular decisions,” the authors explain. “By doing what is necessary, you will sometimes make some people angry. That’s okay. It’s part of the job. If you are in a leadership role and you try to be liked by everyone all of the time, you will inevitably create drama and undercut your own authority and effectiveness.”

So think of yourself as the CEO of you and start making some authoritative decisions that are in the best interest of You, Inc.

Mistake five: Hoarding

I’m not talking about your sister’s stash of peanuts and Q-Tips. This is about hoarding responsibility. For those of us trying like hell to live a good and happy life, this means giving over the reins now and then to other people, persons, and things that can help us: doctors, husbands, sisters, even pets. It means relying on the people in your life who say they love you and letting them do the small things so that you can try your best to be the best boss of yourself again.

Mistake six: Disengagement

Burnout. It happens in all recovery. I have yet to meet someone who can continue a regiment of daily meditation, boot camp, and spinach and cucumber smoothies for more than three months without calling uncle and reaching for the pepperoni pizza. That’s why it is so critical to pace yourself in your recovery. What’s a realistic number of times to exercise during the week? Are you really going to do that at 4:30 am? Why not allow yourself one day of hotdogs and ice-cream in order to not throw out the whole healthy living initiative at once?

Imagine yourself a great leader of your mind, body, and spirit — managing a staff of personalities inside yourself that need direction. Take it from these two corporate leaders, and don’t make the same mistakes.

6 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Recovery from Depression and Anxiety

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Finding Your Yes: A Powerful Strategy for Shifting from Negative Habits to Positive Ones

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Try this short experiment and say the following statements to yourself: I want to stop eating junk food. I want to stop yelling at my kids. I want to stop worrying about things I can’t control. (Feel free to substitute behaviors that might be more relevant in your life).

Notice how this feels in your body when you say these things to yourself. Do you feel tight and constricted or more open and expansive? Do you feel motivated and energized to change these habits, or do you tend to feel stuck, closed off, or perhaps even some sense of guilt or shame?

Now try these statements out (and again feel free to change them to fit the behaviors that are relevant in your life): I want to commit to making food choices that support and nourish radiant health and wholeness. I want to parent my kids so that they feel deeply supported and valued; I want to fully engage in as many precious, present moments of my life as possible. Notice how this feels in your body as you say these things, and ask yourself the same questions as above.

Chances are, these first and second statements have a different feeling tone for you.

To simplify this experiment even further, you might say the word “no” out loud several times and notice what happens in your body. Now say the word “yes” several times. For most people, the first has a feeling of resisting or rejecting something, and it feels constricted and closed, whereas the second has a feeling of embracing or moving toward something that is more energizing, open and hopeful.

Focusing on the “Yes”

According to the work of researcher and health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, focusing on what you can say “yes” to, choosing a value-based commitment that reflects something important to you in your life, and taking a positive action toward something, are more effective ways to change behavior than trying to say no to something or trying to stop engaging in a behavior you are unhappy with. In other words, committing to what you want is more powerful than trying to resist something that you don’t want.

As simple as this shift may sound, it is a new idea for many people, especially when it comes to wanting to change difficult behaviors. It is human nature to want to resist, push away, and fight against what is unpleasant or undesirable. In addition, it is common to be self-critical and to beat ourselves up when we aren’t able to stop engaging in an unhelpful behavior. We sometimes think that if we are hard on ourselves this will help us stick to our goals. According to researcher Dr. Kristen Neff, the research is quite compelling to support the power of self-compassion over self-criticism, as a vehicle for behavior change.

I know for me, during my teen years and into my early college years, I struggled with a very unhealthy relationship to food and a negative body image. I would binge eat, and then try to punish myself by restricting my eating. I would berate myself and feel shame when I couldn’t stick to my goals of eliminating junk food and losing weight. Then one day, I read a book that completely shifted my focus and how I was approaching my goals. It was a book about the benefits of aerobic exercise and it sparked my interest in becoming healthier and stronger by adding a positive behavior instead of trying to eliminate a negative one.

As I moved toward incorporating this new behavior (exercise) into my life, my struggle with food began to fall away. I was no longer battling myself and focusing on constantly saying “no” throughout my day; instead, I was saying “yes” to something that I found meaningful and that I enjoyed. When I look back at other big changes in my life, they too involved saying “yes” to something rather than saying “no” and trying to stop myself from doing something (which often didn’t work).

Finding Your YES

So I invite you to ask yourself what you might say YES to in your life today. Instead of trying to stop something that isn’t working, what might you add into your life that encompasses a value that is deeply important to you? For example, instead of trying to stop binge watching TV or playing on your phone at night, you might focus instead on adding in 30 minutes of quality time with your children or partner or friends each night, and notice how that shifts your experience with TV.

Here are a few questions that you can ask yourself to get started:

  1. What do you want to say yes to, go after, create or cultivate in your life?
  2. What is your WHY? Why is this important to you? How does it connect to your deepest values about how you want to live your life?
  3. What can you do today, and what small, specific and committed actions can you take each day that are consistent with your long-term values (from question 2).
  4. How might your inner dialogue (that voice in your head and the things you say to yourself all day long) support your long-term goals and be self-compassionate when you are struggling? In other words, imagine what you would say to a good friend who was trying to say “yes” to something in their life and at times experiencing setbacks, that would be supportive and encouraging. Try to speak to yourself that way.

Finding Your Yes: A Powerful Strategy for Shifting from Negative Habits to Positive Ones

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An Introduction to the Neuroscience Behind Creating Your Reality

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Have you ever wondered why two people can share the exact same situation, yet experience it differently?

Neural pathways are often described as a type of super-highway of nerve cells, the function of which is to transmit messages. Much like a walking track in the bush, the more you walk over it, the more trodden and clear it becomes. The same thing happens when we engage in behaviors such as thinking certain thoughts with a high degree of regularity.

You see the brain consumes between 20-30% of the caloric burn in our body at rest. It uses so much energy because it’s so complex and so it has needed to evolve and adapt in order to automate various processes as a way of conserving energy. This is why and how regular behaviors become habits (or things we seemingly do without a great deal of conscious thought).

Think about something simple like brushing your teeth. You can brush them just fine, no problem but what if I asked you to use your non-dominant hand to do that instead? You’d suddenly have to think about the action of your arm and the motion of your wrist or hand. It would be hard at first because it’s unfamiliar, but if you persevered with it, over time, it would become easier as the task became more familiar. This is an example of neuroplasticity and can be thought of as “re-wiring your brain.”

So now you know in general terms how neural pathways work and their function, we can proceed to look at beliefs. Perhaps you are familiar with the famous metaphor of the iceberg where the tip represents conscious thought and everything below the water line represents subconscious thought. The subconscious mind holds our beliefs, many of which we acquired as we were growing up. The function of a belief is in part to help us make sense of the world around us. It creates a filter for our brain to receive, store, interpret and recall information picked up from the world around us by our senses and it automates the way our brain processes information.

In order for a thought (which occurs in the conscious mind) to become a belief, it must be repeated. It’s this repetition that allows a neural pathway to be created. Here’s an example. Let’s imagine that growing up, you heard your parents say things like “you have to work hard to get ahead.” You heard it a lot. Now imagine that you too now hold the belief (without realizing it) that you have to work hard in order to make money. So you work long hours nearly every day. It affects your marriage, you stop seeing your friends due to your work commitments, and you stop going to the gym. You don’t sleep well at night and you are often irritable or grumpy because you feel pressured to make the money.

If you hold a belief that “you have to work hard to make money”, then that is what will show up in your reality. Your mind will filter out all of the information that it thinks is unimportant and will only bring you the information you’ve told it is important with your belief. So that’s all you see when, in fact, the reality might be very different.

Sometimes beliefs are healthy and other times, they work against us. The good news is that there is a part of the brain called the Reticular Activating System or the RAS and part of its role is to actively seek out the information that you tell it to. So, if you want to change a belief the RAS can be your greatest asset! The RAS transmits information between the conscious and subconscious minds and the other beautiful thing about it is that it doesn’t question you at all. Whatever you tell it, it will believe because it does not distinguish between fact and fiction. It simply obeys commands from your conscious mind.

But changing a belief takes time and consistent practice. There are many ways to help your subconscious mind adopt new thinking styles though and these include things like visualization, using your imagination, meditating, acting as-if, using journal prompts to uncover beliefs and develop healthier alternatives, using affirmations (they work on repetition and hence create new neural pathways) and through the use of story.

Hypnosis is another effective way of speeding up the process of changing beliefs because it goes almost directly to the subconscious. It can be more efficient than some other approaches but as with all interventions, is not without its limitations so won’t work for everyone.

One very effective tool that you can use to change a belief is listening to audio narrative such a meditation recording or an affirmation recording. This works best in the last five minutes before you go to sleep and in the first five minutes upon waking because that is when the subconscious mind is most receptive to information. You can prime your brain to develop the neural pathways that you prefer to have by doing things like listening to audio at these times.

When you change your beliefs by redirecting your conscious thought, you can change your belief (filter) and when you change your filter, you change your experience of the world around you, otherwise referred to as your reality. If you are consistent with your practice, you will be begin to see things differently in no time.

How would you prefer to feel today?

References

Goldstein, E. (2011). Cognitive Psychology (Third ed., pp. 24-76). N.p.: Linda Schreiber-Ganster.

Liou, S. (2010, June 26). Neuroplasticity. In web.stanford.edu. Retrieved February 6, 2019, from http://web.stanford.edu/group/hopes/cgi-bin/hopes_test/neuroplasticity/

Martindale, C. (1991). Cognitive psychology: A neural-network approach. Belmont, CA, US: Thomson Brooks/Cole Publishing Co.

Neurons, . (2013, May 6). Neurons. In www.biology-pages.info. Retrieved February 6, 2019, from http://www.biology-pages.info/N/Neurons.html

Tassell, D. V. (2004). Neural Pathway Development. In www.brains.org. Retrieved February 6, 2019, from http://www.brains.org

Walker, A. (2014, July 1). How Your Thought Pathways Affect Your Life. In www.drwalker.com. Retrieved February 6, 2019, from http://www.drawalker.com/blog/how-your-thought-pathways-create-your-life

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