“Don’t take pictures mama – push my swing?“, my two-year old quietly asked when we were visiting the playground recently. Now I had given her my undivided attention all morning until that point. Still, my daughter’s message hit home: stop looking at your screen and enjoy what’s happening right in front of you. Experience … Read more >
Thoughts pop up in our heads all day long, uninvitedly.
It happens so automatically that we rarely take the time to wonder if what we’re thinking is actually true. Instead, we take our thoughts at face value and instantly respond with feelings and actions. But when your inner critic or negative Nancy is taking over your mind, it’s time to take back control and change your thought patterns.
Because thoughts are powerful. They influence your mood, your decisions and even your neurobiology. Every time you have a thought (“Oh god, everybody is staring at me!“), your brain releases neurotransmitters and hormones that prepare your body and mind to respond to the (imaginary) situation – by blushing, stumbling, running off or making a self-deprecating joke.
That’s why automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) take a toll on your mental health: they trigger a cascade of biochemical reactions and emotions that adversely affect how you feel and behave.
“God, I’m such a loser for blowing that presentation. What must my colleagues think of me?”
“It’s not fair! Why did he do that to me?”
We’ve all been there. In your mind, you keep going over that argument with your friend or the stupid mistake you made, thinking about what you should have done differently.
You try to make sense of the confusing or upsetting situation by meticulously thinking it through. And normally, that kind of reflection can give you new insights, help you learn and improve, so it won’t happen a second time. But when rehashing the negative experience takes over your thoughts, like a broken record that plays the same lyrics again and again, it becomes a serious risk for your health and happiness.
“The most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved.” – Mother Theresa
When you think of loneliness, a bright and sunny day is probably not the first scenario that comes to mind. Long, dark winter nights seem to represent those hollow feelings inside so much better.
And yet, summer time can be a lonely season for anyone who’s not able to fully participate in the festivities during these months, like the chronically ill. Family and friends are away on vacation and caregiving facilities can be closed down for summer or short on staff. This makes getting out and about and socializing even more challenging than usual if you have limited mobility.
And it’s not just about literally being alone and not having someone to talk to and hang out with. Loneliness also refers to feeling alone, like nobody understands what you’re going through. Like Carl Jung said, “loneliness does not come from having no people around you, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to you“. When you have a chronic or invisible illness, being lonely is often a combination of the two, a cruel mix of social isolation and not feeling heard. Because for the people in your life it can be hard to understand why you may not be able to do seemingly relaxing things like spending a day at the beach.
And during summer, the gorgeous weather and ecstatic Facebook updates about festivals, BBQ’s and exotic holiday destinations only seem to rub your nose in the fact that you’re stuck at home, not being able to join in on the fun.
We all have days when we’re feeling sad and empty, wishing we could curl up in our beds instead of going through the motions again. It’s completely normal to go through periods of unhappiness, especially after upsetting events. But what if you keep finding yourself bursting into tears for no apparent reason or feeling numb more often than not? What should you do when you no longer enjoy things you used to consider fun and you’re struggling to ‘fake’ a normal conversation?
‘Fifty shades of blue’: Mild depressive symptoms
Depression is one of the most common mental health problems, with approximately 8 – 17% of people worldwide suffering from a major depressive disorder during their lifetime. But an even larger number of us are dealing with mild depressive symptoms that are not severe enough to meet the diagnostic criteria for a clinical depression. For example, maybe you’re often feeling down, restless and tired, without much interest in doing something fun, but never for two weeks straight or never more than four symptoms to be able to call it a depressive disorder.
And yet, struggling with the blues can still cause a lot of grief and make it difficult to function normally at work or during social occasions. What’s more, experiencing mild depressive symptoms is an important risk factor for developing a full-blown depression.
Unfortunately, when you’re living with chronic health problems, you’re even more likely to experience symptoms of depression. Having a serious disease doesn’t just throw your whole life upside down and makes it harder to pursue activities that used to make you happy, but the physical effect of chronic illness can also lead to neurochemical imbalances associated with a depressed mood.
Luckily, there are things you can do to lift your spirit and slowly start feeling better. Research shows that following self-help strategies can be an effective way to reduce mild depressive symptoms. So here’s a small selection of proven methods to help you beat the blues.
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