The Pursuit of Mindfulness

“It is not the man who has little, but the man who craves more, that is poor” – Seneca

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Integrated into our everyday lives are ideas of how we can achieve happiness – buy the next best car, gain a promotion, find your ideal partner… We are rarely made to feel content in our own skin and current state. Sadly, we have become accustomed to this; we see it everywhere and many of us recognise how such messages buy into our feelings of dissatisfaction and insecurity. Living in such an environment, how can we ever believe enough is enough? 

Psychologists Brickman and Campbell first coined the term ‘hedonic adaptation’ in 1971. They suggest each person has a ‘set point’ of happinesswhich remains constant until we experience sudden highs or downfalls. For instance, when receiving an exam grade, one might initially feel intense happiness or disappointment that will eventually return to that set point. The same goes in the context of a romantic relationship: we fall in love ecstatically, and over time reach a state of equilibrium that makes us think, “is this it?” – a thought which characterises many break-ups.18nat_married

Positive Psychology research has looked into the idea of a ‘hedonic treadmill’ – a permanent cycle of desire fuelled by dissatisfaction. Particularly in an environment where things like money and success are highly valued, once you’re on that treadmill, you don’t want to simply feel content. You want all your hard work to pay off with feelings of ecstasy and triumph; you sacrifice the present moment in the hope that it will bring you greater satisfaction in the future. In this way, many people obtain motivation as it serves a path for ambitions. However, it can lead to anxious or depressive states in cases where people devote themselves to unattainable goals or feel a lack of appreciation for what is already within their reach.

To help combat this negative cycle, a great body of recent research points to the value of mindfulness – focusing awareness on the present moment and all its encompassing sensations. In doing so, we can free ourselves from our attachment to the past and the future and find satisfaction in the present. Mindfulness has been found to significantly improve symptoms of mental disorders like anxiety, depression and ADHD. There are some great blog articles that write more in depth on mindfulness techniques, such as herehere and here.

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On the other hand, research has shown that our happiness levels are not always determined by the environment we are in; they are 50% heritable in our genes. In addition to this, it is found that not everyone is hedonically neutral – we all have differing set points meaning we feel pleasure differently. For example, people with depression can experience anhedonia – a total inability to feel pleasure. Some research suggests that hedonic set points can be raised using new antidepressant compounds that are currently being investigated.

Psychological research has thrown light on how our desires can lead to dissatisfaction, and provides interventions that can be used to reframe negative mind-sets. If you have any experience with subjects I have mentioned or have any ideas or questions, please comment or send me a message.

 

Works Cited

Brickman, P., & Campbell, D. T. (1971). Hedonic relativism and planning the good society. Adaptation-level theory, 287-305.

Eysenck, H. J., & Eysenck, M. W. (1994). Happiness: Facts and myths. Psychology Press.

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Self-Efficacy: Turning Doubt Into Drive

 An efficacious attitude works as a driving force – an individual with a strong sense of efficacy is more likely to become self-motivated, committed and assured in the face of a challenge. With high self-efficacy, one can attempt goals and conquer stress more readily, and as a result, experience better wellbeing. On the contrary, those who have doubts about their own abilities ruminate on personal flaws, slacken efforts and lose faith in the face of failure – a mind-set that in the long run can act as a brake on one’s ambitions and increase proneness to mental illness. But how does one develop self-efficacy? Is it something that can be moulded and strengthened to the level we want it to be?

Efficacy beliefs shape the course of our lives – what goals we choose to pursue, how much we commit to those goals and how much effort we put into given endeavours. Our everyday realities are filled with obstacles, frustrations and limitations. However, it is not the difficulties we face that influence our strength and wellbeing, but the beliefs we hold about them. Our beliefs determine how much stress we experience when confronting challenges, and how long it takes before we give up altogether. We must, therefore, develop a robust sense of self-worth to sustain the enduring effort needed to flourish.

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Psychologist Albert Bandura, known primarily for his research on behavioural modelling, suggests we can improve our self-efficacy, ironically, through failure. After all, if people only experience straightforward successes, it becomes an expectation that makes them far more vulnerable when things don’t go as planned. Therefore, if one comes to realise their self-worth and capability through sustained effort in overcoming adversity, they can emerge with more resilience rather than disheartenment. He discovered this during his research on fear arousal, where he saw the mediating effect that strong self-efficacy had on phobics, war veterans and hurricane survivors in overcoming incapacitating trauma.

“In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, to struggle together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life” – Albert Bandura

A second way in which Bandura suggests we can shape our efficacy beliefs is through second-hand experiences provided by social role models. When we see people similar to ourselves accomplish goals, we can foster our own beliefs that we too have it in us to master similar challenges. With this in mind, we can see others’ achievements not as unattainable comparisons, but as an inspirational framework to guide our own aspirations and plans of action we set ourselves. So, instead of becoming envious and measuring our success through triumphs over others, we can do so through focusing on our own self-improvement and sharing encouragement.

Finally, because our self-efficacy can vary as a function of our physical and mental state, it can be difficult to approach a task that arouses a sense of debility or anxiety. Some people experience a nervous state as an added driving force to their motivation, whereas others view it as a sign to remove themselves from the situation as quickly as possible. This can be a particularly tough thought pattern to eradicate in the moment, but through a structured process of identifying, eliminating and replacing maladaptive or irrational thoughts and behaviours (such as through cognitive behavioural therapy), we can transform what holds us back into a force that pushes us forward. For example, we can break down large challenges into smaller, more manageable steps.

Demetri-Martin_tumblr_lo9k5j8SE31qhtggqo1_500.jpgBandura offers some extremely useful suggestions for how we can manage our own levels of self-efficacy – a skill that can motivate us to change ineffective attitudes and behaviours that might be holding us back. However, these are not limited to themselves – there are a range of other methods to be explored if these do not fit for you or every aspect of life. If you have any ideas or have had personal experience trying the above strategies or any others, please comment or message me with your thoughts and suggestions.

 

WORKS CITED

Bandura, A. (1994). Self‐efficacy. John Wiley & Sons, Inc..

Bandura, A., & Adams, N. E. (1977). Analysis of self-efficacy theory of behavioral change. Cognitive therapy and research, 1(4), 287-310.

Bandura, A. (2005). The primacy of self‐regulation in health promotion. Applied Psychology, 54(2), 245-254.

Benight, C.C. & Bandura, A. (2004). Social cognitive theory of post-traumatic recovery: The role of perceived self-efficacy. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 42 (10), 1129–1148

Mental Health New Years Resolutions

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It’s that time of year again, tinsel and fairy lights adorn houses and trees, Christmas songs blare from the radio, mulled wine is served and not to mention advent calendars, nativity plays and more. This time of year is a time to be with family and friends, whatever faith you are.  This can mean that the Christmas period can be a challenging time for those suffering from mental ill health- either due to isolation and loneliness or because of the overtly social time frame.

So, if you are feeling like this the best thing to do is to either talk to someone you trust, phone a helpline or charity if you need , speak to a psychotherapist or use other coping mechanisms, eg.  journalling, mindfulness, deep breathing or relaxation CD’s.  Whichever works for you make sure you don’t bottle things up.

Being that it is coming to the end of the year and looking ahead to 2017, I thought I would share some new years resolutions for positive mental health that you can implement in your life.

1) I will make sure to invest in self-care this year.

Self-care means I will actually take time out of my day to check in with myself and decide what I need. This isn’t selfish, it is vital to survival of the bleak winter period in particular.  Each day  I will invest in self care, whether its running a warm bubble bath and soaking for half an hour, journaling out my negative feelings and replacing it with positive ones, colouring for relaxation or just getting some much needed down time in front of the TV in my PJs- make sure I invest every day and you do too, in self-care activities.

2) I will make sure I go outside more.

In the winter, I am definitely more prone to curling up like a doormouse and hibernating inside- in the comfort of my warm home, chatting to friends on my smart phone and computer.  I am also a sucker for my blanket and a warm mug of hot chocolate. While this is good some of the time, I know that I need to push myself out more into the cold and bright mornings.  So, my resolution is to make sure I go out and get enough light and Vitamin D to boost my mood and health and enough exercise to keep my mind and heart healthy.

3) I will make sure to be present.

A friend of mine gave me this tip when she said –‘Stay in the Now and Enjoy the Moment’ .  I definitely need to do this more and not worry myself too much.  Staying present means that the only moment is now- try and focus on something positive in the present and not worry too far ahead.

4) I will try not to worry what others think and don’t beat myself up.

Easier said than done, this resolution had come about due to having people pleasing tendencies.  I hate upsetting anyone.  This means that I will often overthink or worry about others and what they think.  This year I resolve to spend less time fretting and not to beat myself up over small things that turn from a mountain into a molehill!

5) I will have a more positive mind-set.

This means I will not be ashamed of how I am feeling and feel bad because of it.  I will be more accepting of my feelings and needs.  I will know that even if I am at rock bottom, ‘This too shall pass’ and I will find a way to get through adversity and be positive.  I will actively think positive thoughts and push myself to achieve my goals.

If you are suffering from depression, anxiety or any other mental illness please reach out for help.  Contact The Brighton Wellness Centre at http://www.brightonwellnesscentre.co.uk or 07810 744 821.  Phone sessions, online sessions and face-to-face sessions are available.

Looking forward to a happier, healthier 2017 and wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah!

 

Clearing out the clutter in your life: Be the change you want to be.

Making changes in one’s life isn’t easy.  It’s not easy to stop habits such as eating too much, smoking, drinking too much, shopping, spending or whatever thing you do in utter excess.  But, how can we stop the ups and downs of the addiction see-saw?

When I was younger and at university our professors taught us that the only way to kick a bad habit was to quit it ‘cold turkey.’  This method works, but you need to have will-power and discipline.  I have this…if I set my mind to do something- I will do it! (that’s self-affirmation by the way!) You need to be willing to work throuhelpmechangemylifegh the fear and like Nike’s slogan boasts- just do it!

However, I am sitting here drinking my second cup of coffee wondering if I poured myself a third cup would I be classified in the DSM-V as having ‘three out of five symptoms’ of having a coffee addiction.  I think that sometimes quitting cold turkey isn’t always easy as it sounds.

If cutting an excessive habit ‘cold turkey’ were easy, everyone would do it.  And, if obtaining balance of eating and drinking were easy there would be no diets, no Facebook quotes on how to obtain a balanced diet, and I wouldn’t be sitting here reflecting on how to obtain balance in the crazy world of eating, drinking and partying.

But how do we obtain balance in our life?  How do we kick the bad habits, move forward, and become healthier, stronger, and happier?

The question you need to ask yourself is this…do you want change in your life? If you do…then make it!  But how? Be the change you want to be.  Start by de-cluttering your life.

De-clutter your mind, your room, your house, your friends, and/or whatever it is you think you need to de-clutter in order to take the next step of moving forward with your life.

You’ve read about toxic people- get rid of them.  You are a hoarder and you have too much dusty ornaments- clear it out- take that bric-a-brac to your local charity.  Just do it! You want to quit smoking- clear out everything in the house that reminds you of smoking.  You think you drink too much- don’t have booze in the house.  Crisps are your Achilles tendon- don’t buy them.

Changing things immediately in your life, clearing out the clutter and de-cluttering your life will help you make those life changes you want to make.

You can do anything you set your mind to if you really WANT to make changes in your life- do it!

If these simple tasks don’t seem so simple then you need to take it to the next level…finding out what makes you have these addictions.  Are you filling a void in your life?  Are you depressed?  Are you lonely?  Did you have a crappy childhood?  Do you suffer from anxiety?  Are you stuck in the actual cycle of addiction?  Do you have a rubber arm (my friends say this about me)? Whatever your ‘bag’ is there is a solution.  Every cycle can be broken.  It is up to you though to start the process.